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 !