Last weekend the CIRs in my office put on our most ambitious international exchange event yet! Our spring event always falls right around the time of the lunar new year, which is a huge deal in Eastern cultures. Before I moved to Japan I didn’t have any idea that people still celebrated this holiday, but China, Korea, Vietnam and so on all observe this holiday like how we might observe Christmas. It’s observed in a few places around Japan, but I don’t know if anywhere else does it as big as Nagasaki does.
Chinese immigration and high Chinese populations in Nagasaki kept the lunar new year celebrations in the forefront of Nagasaki cultural events. From long ago, the Chinese residents would hang red lanterns in their residential areas. Finally, in 1994, the Nagasaki City government got totally onboard and they officially made “Nagasaki Lantern Festival” part of the city’s yearly events. Lanterns are hung all over the city, several different parks and shopping areas are transformed into small worlds of Chinese cultural symbols, figures, and delicious food. Below is the normally sleepy Central Park. People are kept outside that rope because the Dragon Dance Procession is about to come through.
Our international exchange event piggy-backed on this already delightfully intercultural celebration. Our aim was to help locals and expats enjoy the festival together. So, we came up with the “Nagasaki Lunar New Year Quest”. It’s essentially a scavenger hunt, but items are collected through taking pictures and finding information, with a few word puzzles thrown in.
First, we had everyone meet at the Dejima Koryu Kaikan and we listened to a lecture from Professor Honma Sadao on the history of Nagasaki and some background on the festival. Professor Honma is a Nagasaki Studies scholar and works as an advisor to the prefectural government on issues that relate to Nagasaki modern and early-modern history and culture. He told us about the profound influence that Chinese merchants had on Nagasaki, from the food they made to the religion they brought.
The teams were divided up so that there was a mix of locals and expats on each one, then they received a packet with the quest details. All of the teams were named after auspicious animals from Chinese culture, so we had Teams Turtle, Snake, Phoenix, Tiger, and Dragon. The quests were written sometimes in only in English, sometimes only Japanese, and sometimes both. This was our way of encouraging the teammates to cooperate on completing the quests.
After a quick ice-breaker we let the teams loose to scour the city to complete their quests. We purposefully made too many quests to be completed in the two hours we allotted them; we would rather it be a little too hard that too easy.
After the two hours were up we met back up in the Dejima Koryu Kaikan and tallied up the points. The contest was very close! There was a three-way tie for second place, but congratulations to Team Phoenix for grabbing the win!
I hope everyone had a fun time.
This will be my last exchange event I get to help plan and run for the Nagasaki Prefectural Government. I really enjoyed putting on these events, even though I’m thankful they only came around once a year. The work to make these events are just plopped on top of the CIRs’ regular workload, so things get a little hectic in the week or so leading up to them. But, it was all worth it to see so many people enjoying this Nagasaki festival and doing their best to conquer a language barrier. We CIRs actually coordinated some international relations last weekend !
I hope you all are doing well! Last week I took part in a rare kind of seminar and I am very excited to tell you all about it.
On Monday the 16th I acted as an interpreter for Mr. Fukahori Jouji, an atomic bomb survivor. Mr. Fukahori is 86 years old, so he was 14 when the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.
Nagasaki Prefecture puts on Atomic Bomb Survivor Talks (被爆体験講話 – hibaku taiken kouwa) several times a year with a small group of survivors that are willing to talk about their experience. Understandably, not many of the survivors are eager to share their account of that day. In fact, Mr. Fukahori didn’t start talking about his experience until 2009, some 64 years after the incident.
On Monday, he spoke to a group of about 40 exchange students in Kyushu University in Fukuoka Prefecture. The students were from all over the world including places like America, the UK, Germany, and China. He delivered his powerful message in Japanese and I did my best to convey his words and feelings in English to the audience.
I’ll spare you all the harrowing details of his experience, but I want you to know that he survived the attack because he was called in to work that day. At 14 years old, instead of going to school he was ordered to work in a factory that made boat propellers. The factory happened to be in the older part of Nagasaki that was shielded from the explosion by a mountain.
An enormous amount of bravery must be required to recount an experience like he had. His emotion peeked through occasionally during his talk but he did an admirable job of staying composed and delivering his message. I think I was shakier at times than he was, barely holding back my own emotions. As an interpreter, it’s impossible to completely separate yourself from the words and subject matter of your speaker. And if it was difficult for me to relay his descriptions of that day, how much more difficult must it have been for him, who lived through it, to conjure the images that he actually saw, the sounds he actually heard, the smells he actually smelled, to tell it to a group of strangers? I cannot begin to imagine.
I had planned to go to the gym and do some errands once I got back to Nagasaki but instead I curled up with Almas on the couch and watched TV for the rest of the evening. It was a heavy day to deal with. Nagasaki Prefecture and Hiroshima Prefecture are both actively engaged in promoting peace around the world and are some of the loudest proponents of nuclear disarmament. I’m quite proud to be able to help with that work.
I hope things are going well with you! This weekend ended the crazy-busy month of October and it was punctuated by the Nagasaki International Festival! The JET Programme of Nagasaki was given a whole floor to show off our international-ness and provide a way for ALTs to get involved with real grassroots internationalization. It was a big success I think! We had five culture booths, a stage area for lots of different games and activities from all over the world, and a “JET Cafe” area where people could sit and practice their English with our volunteers. Here are two of the culture booths:
On the top is the Australia booth where they had two grown men in Koala and Kangaroo pajamas with lots of other stuffed animals to take pictures with. Protip: Japanese guests love photo booths. The Hawaii Cultural Booth headed by Michael was a place for kids to make their own leis out of yarn and construction paper. Notice the kid with the mask on the right. People, even small children, wear masks when they’re sick to try to prevent spreading their germs. It’s not to keep from getting sick, but to keep your germs to yourself.
My role in our floor was the planning beforehand and making sure things went smoothly on the day of. That meant I got to involve myself where ever I wanted to ^^ You can see me below doing some juggling and banging a small Chinese drum in a Chinese version of musical chairs. Two years teaching in elementary school taught me that if there’s anything kids don’t like, it’s losing. Luckily, only one kid cried, haha.
The guy with me on the left is Matt, who also happens to be from Virginia! Almas ran the juggling portion with him and also helped out with the Hawaii booth.
Here’s a picture of a super cute high-five she got from a satisfied guest.
Grassroots internationalization. Boom.