29 Jun 2012

JETAA USA Support for Communities in Japan

One way that the many JET alumni chapters in the US work to stay connected to Japan is through their support for prefecture and local governments and their involvement with communities here that have links to Japan. Alumni are active in contributing to sister city and sister state relationships, assisting groups or officials visiting from Japan, helping out at events and exhibits to promote tourism and local products, and participating in kenjinkai and other Japanese groups here in the US.

Sister State & Sister City Relationships

While almost every chapter reported involvement with sister states and cities in some way, a few of the more substantive examples are mentioned here.

Even though Washington DC, does not have a sister city itself, members of the JETAA DC chapter there took part in the Sister Cities International grant selection process that determined the 2011 funding recipients for SCI’s new exchange initiative, Leading Asia: Renewing the U.S. and Japan Sister City Network.

The New England chapter, in Boston, is actively looking for ways to contribute to the sister city relationships that Boston has with Kyoto, Springfield with Takikawa, and Concord with Nanae. The Kyoto connection is especially interesting because both cities share a thriving anime & manga culture. The current chapter president is also a member of the Massachusetts-Hokkaido Association.

The New Orleans chapter helped host a delegation including the mayor and officials from their sister city of Matsue who came to participate in the annual Japan Fest, held at the New Orleans Museum of Art in October 2011.

The Heartland chapter, based in Kansas City, has a longstanding relationship with the Heart of America Japan-America Society, and its subchapters in Nebraska and Kansas are also supportive of the sister city relationships in their areas (Omaha / Shizuoka and Lawrence / Hiratsuka). Although an older example, one of the biggest alumni-supported exchange events has to have been the visit by the mayor and 500 citizens of Kurashiki to Kansas City in 2007 to celebrate the 35th anniversary of their sister city relationship, accomplished with the help of the Heartland chapter.

The Pacific Northwest chapter benefits from and contributes to the strong relationships between Seattle and its sister city, Kobe, and Washington State and its sister state, Hyogo Prefecture. Alumni are active in the Hyogo Business and Cultural Center (HBCC), attending events like the talk by Governor Ido in August 2011, and making a presentation on their JET experiences and the ways in which they have remained connected with Japan. PNWJETAA members also play key roles in the Seattle-Kobe Sister City Association (SKSCA) (the president and two board members), the HBCC (the Cultural & Educational Program Director and many volunteers and interns), and the Tukwila-Miyoshi Sister City Association (a committee chair and translator). JET alumna Karin Zaugg Black, SKSCA President, and Seattle Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith also led a group of about 30 people to Kobe in May 2012 to celebrate the 55th anniversary of their sister city relationship.

Hoping to strengthen its ties with the Portland-Sapporo Sister City Association, the Portland chapter now has a member sitting on its Board of Directors and serving as the official representative of JETAA Portland.

Members from the Southern California (Los Angeles) chapter participated in the Sister Cities International conference held in Riverside, California. Russell Iriye, one of the chapter’s co-presidents, participated in a panel discussion on “Best Practices in Youth Programming” held on October 1, 2011, and Audrey Shiomi, a former Sendai JET, volunteered to help out at the City of Sendai display, held the next day to thank the citizens of Riverside for their generous support to Sendai after the March 11th disasters and to tell them about the city’s recovery. Audrey has also encouraged chapter members to reach out to the sister cities in their areas and has worked to promote the revitalization of tourism and the local economy in Miyagi over the last year.

Several members of the Hawaii chapter came out to support a visit in June 2012 by a delegation from Hiroshima City, including the mayor, to help in their efforts to promote tourism to the city and the prefecture. Chapter members participated both in a stage presentation with the mayor about the attractions of Hiroshima and in a booth set up to provide information to prospective visitors, all done in conjunction with the Pan Pacific Festival held in Honolulu.

The Great Lakes (Detroit) chapter supplied a number of volunteers to help out with the wagashi (Japanese confectionary) promotion event held in Novi in 2010 and organized by the Michigan – Shiga Sister State Board. This event was very successful, and benefited greatly from the hard work of the alumni volunteers.

Other Communities and Groups

Chapters have also been glad to help other visitors from Japan, even if they are not from sister cities or states. They are always looking for opportunities to collaborate with Japan-related groups or organizations and to promote Japan and Japanese products.

The New York chapter has a strong relationship with the various kenjinkai here, especially the Kyushu Battenkai. Several alumni also volunteered to help out with the booth at the New York Times Travel Show in March 2012, working alongside representatives from JLGC, JNTO, and other organizations to promote tourism to Japan, and especially to Tohoku.

Besides participating in events to promote Japanese products such as sake and tea hosted by the Japan Society of Boston and the Japanese Consulate, in May 2012 the Boston chapter kicked off a photo exhibition at Boston Logan International Airport in the International Terminal, featuring 39 photos taken by 16 chapter members around Japan. The show is scheduled to run through the summer.

Though it was not organized through the chapter, an alumnus in Miami who has gone on to work for the US affiliate of a Japanese company recently gave a tour with his colleague of the train system linking Miami to the airport to a visiting delegation from Kagoshima. Several alumni around the state report being active in their local sister city organizations, but because the membership is so dispersed it is difficult for the chapter leadership to keep track of what everyone is doing.

The Chicago chapter has been making efforts to promote tourism to Japan through activities such as giving away guide books and other travel-related prizes at their events, and is also planning future events like a talk by authors of travel books on Japan and a photo contest and exhibit. One of the chapter’s most interesting activities is their monthly visit to Heiwa Terrace, a Japanese retirement home, where chapter members play bingo and spend time with the residents.

Several members of the Portland chapter volunteered to help out at the Sake Fest PDX in April and the chapter collaborated on promoting the event. Sake Fest events are held around the country as fundraising events for nonprofit organizations, and a part of the proceeds from the Portland event was donated to the Japan-America Society of Oregon. The festival showcased sake from around Japan and the US to promote greater appreciation for this traditional Japanese drink and to help put it into a modern context by demonstrating ways to pair it with cheese, chocolate, and other non-traditional foods that complement its various sophisticated flavors. The chapter also just held an Iron Chef competition, featuring many Japanese-inspired dishes along with a sake tasting by the renowned sake sommelier Marcus Pakiser.

The Northern California (San Francisco) chapter worked with the Japan Information Center to put on an event held in March entitled “Eco-tourism and Ancient Kumano Pilgrimage Routes in Wakayama”. They also helped support the visit of the Living National Treasure, Nomura Mansaku, during his visit to San Francisco in May to appear in a rare performance of kyogen, by working with the sponsors of the show to supply interpreters and to publicize the event.

The Hawaii chapter has been involved in both the Hiroshima and Fukuoka kenjinkai, participating in events and helping to publicize them through the chapter’s list serve.

During a visit to Anchorage by three Maritime Self Defense Force ships in June of 2011 the chapter there helped host a dinner for members of the SDF contingent and people from the various Japan-related organizations in the city.

The president of the Minnesota chapter, Alexandra Howes, has been involved in a travel website (http://japantourist.jp/) that allows volunteers to write articles about Japan to encourage and inform people who might be interested in traveling there. She is specifically hoping to highlight her community in Japan, Kasuga City, Fukuoka. Chapter members also provided information on the Twin Cities for a delegation of officials and business people who visited from Japan recently.

Increased Alumni Support for Community Relationships

As can be seen, alumni around the country have been working to support and strengthen cultural and economic relations between their communities here and communities and groups in Japan. However, recognizing that more can be done, JETAA USA has launched an initiative to provide advice and communication support (including interpretation / translation) to groups wishing to conduct visits or exchanges between the two countries. The timing is especially fortuitous now, with the Sister Cities International project to revitalize relations between US and Japanese sister cities, and within the broader context of a renewed understanding of just how vital strong grassroots US / Japan relations are to the world. For more information on JET alumni support for sister states and cities, as well as other groups, please go to http://www.jetaausa.com/national-initiatives/sister-cities-states/support-services/.