Last year I was excited to receive information about the study tours hosted by Fukushima Prefecture, but ended up not going due to prior plans. This year I was expecting the email. I had barely glanced over the itinerary before I cancelled the plans I had made for that weekend and sent in the application form.
Although the itinerary varies slightly from year to year, the main activities generally remain the same. There are usually two study tours, one in October and one in November which are open to all Fukushima JETs. This year I participated in the October study tour, which fell on a three-day weekend.
It was a busy tour packed with activities, but it was well organized and went smoothly with 13 of us plus 3 organizers. On the first day, we were picked up at either Fukushima or Koriyama station. I was only familiar with a couple of JETs and a few others I had only met once. By the end of the trip, however, we were like family (there is just something about getting naked together in a hot spring that really solidifies the bond…).
Over the course of three days, we participated in fun events such as painting akabekos (the famous red cow of Aizu), touring sake breweries, making handmade soba, and visiting tourist spots. However, the most unique and key point of the tour for me was the “study” part of the study tour. We visited a rice inspection facility in addition to the Agricultural Technology Centre, and learned about alternative energy resources.
I learned a lot about food inspection in Fukushima and the different levels of safety standards set in Japan compared with other countries like the US and the EU. Did you know the radiation safety levels in Japan are set at 100 bq, while the US is 1,000 bq and the EU is 1,200 q? I could consume food 10 containing radiation that is times higher than the safety standard set by Japan and it would still be considered safe in the US and the EU. All the information I have gathered on this trip was mindboggling, informative, and made me more aware of what I consume and how the energy I use is produced.
While visiting tourist spots are fun, you can do that anytime and can be managed even if you don’t speak Japanese. The more academic tours we took were only possible thanks to the hard work of our translator and CIR, William, and the effort put into organizing and booking all these tours for us. It is an opportunity that I wouldn’t have been able to participate in if it wasn’t for this tour.
As for our lodging, I had a great time with one other JET staying on a farm for a home stay. Every group had their own experience, but in my case we stayed in a storage room that had been remodeled into a beautiful little cabin, complete with a bar and sauna (shipped from Korea!). We really bonded with our host family and I look forward to visiting them again on my own in the future!
The second night we stayed in Higashiyama, a hot spring town in the mountains of Aizuwakamatsu. I have stayed in Higashiyama a few times, and it was great as always. This was the night all the JETs on the trip got to bond as a group rather than the small groups of friends we made with our neighbors on the bus.
If you missed your chance to partake in this unforgettable trip, I highly recommend signing up for next year! The best part? It is completely paid for by Fukushima Prefecture. If you have any questions about the study tour, feel free to contact me! Don’t let the word “study” scare you out of participating, it is a lot of fun, you can make lots of new friends, and expand your knowledge about important issues not only in the prefecture, but in the rest of the world.
Also be on the lookout for another JET’s experience during the November Study Tour so you can see which experience you prefer for next year!