Arigato event as through the eyes of the technical guy. And tea!

Trying out tea ceremony in yukatas in Uda
Trying out tea ceremony in yukatas in Uda

Saturday was the final activity day and the Arigato Event day of Uda. For me, as I’m responsible for the technical area of World Campus Japan, the Arigato Event day looks quite different from the other participants’ day. It’s a very busy day and it can be stressful if I don’t have a good plan.

I woke up about 7.30 and started working on the slideshow that I had created the day prior. The slideshow is an integral part of the Arigato Event where we show a collage of photos and videos from our stay with the host families, and for many it’s the highlight of the event. As such, I take the job of creating it very seriously. However, due to a lot of work and lack of time lately, I had to finish the slideshow on the same day as the event, which made my schedule very tight.

After eating breakfast and washing myself, my host mother drove me to the Shinkou center, where we would spend most of the day. In the morning I was informed that I had to hold a presentation about World Campus Norway to the ten-or-so students that came from Nara prefectural university to visit us that day. That meant less time for me to make the slideshow, so I had to take every opportunity I could during the morning to work on it.

Our first activity of the day was a tea ceremony experience. We all got to dress up in a Japanese yukata, a lighter summer version of kimono. While there are a lot of different customs to follow during a tea ceremony, our teacher was very casual and wanted us to enjoy the experience of drinking Japanese matcha tea (green tea,) so we only learned some basics. When drinking, we had to turn our cup three times such that the front was facing away from us, and then we had to turn it back before placing it in front of us so the front was facing ourselves. We also tried to sit in the seiza position, which can be very painful if done for a long time, but looks very beautiful.

Next up was lunch. We walked to a nearby facility with the newly arrived university students from Nara. This day was extremely hot, reaching 35 degrees celsius, which is typical of Japanese summer. At the facility we had a buffet style lunch, made by some very kind local ladies. We enjoyed the delicious local food, including rice, cooked bamboo, fried chicken and eggplant, among other things, while talking with the Japanese students.

Having had lunch, we returned to our original location where Juuso and I held a presentation and led a discussion with the Japanese students, while the other participants were doing team building activities. Juuso is in charge of World Campus Finland, while I’m a local staff of World Campus Norway. The students seemed very interested, and it made me happy to see that we could spread the word of World Campus to other people.

Finally, it was time for final practice for the Arigatou Event before the real thing. I had to finish the slideshow first, and then I had to test the sound and video system of the facility, while the others were practicing. Trying to figure out how this ancient system works, mainly made for playing CDs and cassettes(!), while the others are practicing and expecting me to participate and support them with music while not being in their way, is one of the hardest part of my job. I kept my cool and had to accept working with a very old projector for displaying our videos, and we eventually managed to do a full rundown of the event using the outdated sound system. It was time for the event.

The event went exceptionally well. As expected of the second city, the other participants knew their dances and other parts very well, with only minor hiccups. The slideshow was well received, which made me very happy. When people laugh and enjoy my work, I’m very glad for all the effort I put in it. In the very end, after our performance, I was suddenly asked to play a cassette with some music over the sound system, because a local student was going to dance. I had not prepared for that, and it took me a few minutes to figure out how to do it, which caused a small delay. That’s a typical part of my job, but I have managed to accept that I can’t always be perfect and that I have to improvise.

Being content with the work of the day, I went home with my host family and enjoyed tempura and a beer with my host father. I went early to bed in anticipation of the next day, which would be the last day of Uda, the host family day.

Joakim Gåsøy (Norway)

Tourism advisor gig and playing with kids during elementary school visit

Emma talking about ways to improve Uda's tourism at the city hall
Emma talking about ways to improve Uda’s tourism at the city hall

Yesterday we had a fun day of Zen meditation and some interesting ninja training. One of the most difficult activities was the crossing of the Akame river, using only a small floating device, which I completely failed at. Returning home I was looking forward to a much appreciated rest.

The house of my host family, the Okuda family, is amazing. It is a really relaxing environment with an absolutely wonderful forest view accompanied with the whining of the nearby cicadas. The house itself is made by my host father himself using only natural resources that can be found around the building. It is such an amazing and relaxing environment that it makes me want to stay a lot longer than a week.

However, today we had two activities planned; visiting Murou elementary school, and Uda city hall. Before meeting with the schoolkids we were invited to their morning meeting in the gymnasium, so that we could formally introduce ourselves. We were also introduced to some Chinese school kids who also were invited that day. We showed them our Japan medley dances too. After that we were divided into groups, meeting four different grades. My group was going to meet the third graders.

When we met the kids in their classroom they were really excited to see us. They all welcomed us with a song, and then we played a game. The World Campus Japan members were asked some questions and the kids had to guess the right answer. They asked me what my favourite colour was, but none of them guessed the right answer, which is blue if you were wondering. Then we ate lunch with the kids in the classroom and we got some more time to interact with them. Kana-chan absolutely loves playing the piano and Ibuki-kun is absolutely crazy about labels and ketchup cups.

After saying our goodbyes we went by train to Uda city hall and met up with the members of the tourist committee. They told us what Uda’s must see spots and attractions are. Because we have not been here long we did not yet really know a lot about the city and its surroundings but I have the impression that Uda is a wonderful place witch does not yet know the mass tourism that places like Kyoto and Nara knows, which means that it is a place where you can enjoy the many temples and shrines, without feeling swarmed, but able to visit them in a peaceful and relaxing way.

We sat together with the committee members to talk about the possible ways to attract more foreign tourist; as of now Uda mainly attracts Japanese tourists and only a handful of foreign tourists. This led to some interesting discussions about the future paths Uda’s tourism can take. I hope that they can take some of our ideas into consideration.

This afternoon did convince me that Uda is certainly a place were I want to return to, hopefully in the near future.

Then we returned home to our host families and at night I had a lovely dinner with my host mum, Hinomi-san and the kids, Akiha-chan and Kiharu-chan. In the beginning they were incredibly shy but after a few games they opened up. We probably were too busy yesterday so after watching sumo, first time for me, they went to bed. I spent the rest of the night with my host mum and talked to her some more until my host father came home. After some nice cold beer and some more chatting, I went to bed.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the weeks activities.

Emma Vermandez (Belgium)

Making a change (in plans)

Shaima written in Kanji
Shaima written in Kanji

Yesterday was the personal day for the World Campus Japan class, and unfortunately the heavy rain did not seem to want to stop. It caused many delays and trains to stop driving. Luckily there was still quite a lot to do and we all had fun and arrived back to our host families safely.

The rain however caused our plans for today, the 7th of July, and also the day of the Tanabata festival, to be changed for the most part. The plan was to visit a museum and university, but due to the heavy and constant rain, we could not go. Thankfully our lovely World Campus staff and counsellors came up with a solution, we were to spend the day doing various activities at Mai Theater.

We started off as usual with going over the schedule and explaining the changes in this case. We were joined by some of the host families aswell in the morning which was very fun. First we were divided into 2 groups so each group could go into a room to do an activity and afterwards switch rooms and also activities.

The 2 morning activities were ‘Shoudo’ (Japanese calligraphy) and writing wishes and making origami for the Tanabata festival. The group I was in, started with the Tanabata activities. First, we wrote 2 wishes each to hang in a bamboo tree for Tanabata. I wished to come back to Japan someday again, and for my Japanese to improve. After hanging the wishes up, we moved on to the origami. I love origami but don’t always have the time for it, so it was fun to pick it up again. We learned how to make a 4-pointed shuriken by Kengo, one of the volunteers of the LOC. It was quite funny to watch everyone, including me, struggle with the last step but in the end we all made our shuriken. After that, the children of one of the host families that were present, taught us how to make an origami heart. They were very good teachers and we could easily follow along!

I made a functional ‘beating’- heart out of paper aswell, which Kengo was very excited about. I ended up teaching him how to make it during our lunchtime. He tried his best, but I think he used the wrong paper, so he had a slightly broken heart.

Then came Shoudo. Our sensei was very kind and patient in explaining and individually correcting the Kanji we wrote. We wrote the Kanji for mountain (‘yama’) and river (‘gawa’), aswell as learning how to write our own names as Kanji. At the cultural fair the day before, we could ask how our name would be written with Kanji. For those that still remembered those Kanji or brought it, they showed how the stroke order works. For those without a Kanji-version of their name yet, they quickly thought it over and provided one.

Shoudo was difficult, but it was very satisfying when you finally received the ‘ok’ from Sensei, which was an orange coloured spiral she would draw over your well-drawn Kanji. We were of course allowed to take home all of the things we made and drew/wrote.

Lunch came around and we were surprised with quite some options, I personally had sushi, but I saw some eat a rice dish and even omurice. During this lunch hour, I made an 8-pointed shuriken that turns into a Frisbee, which I gifted to Rina, one of the volunteers. Rina, Kengo, and I chatted for a while and exchanged information, after which I attempted to teach Kengo how to make the paper heart I mentioned earlier.

After lunch we had a variety of games in store for us, provided and guided by Yui. We played name games to learn to remember each other’s names easier, aswell as funny ice-breaking games to get to know each other better and become closer.

We ended up playing a game called ‘Take your stand’. The point of the game was to share opinions with each other, without interrupting each other and to expand each other’s horizons. The questions that divided us ranged from, ‘Which do you like better, Pepsi or Coca-Cola?’ to more serious questions such as, ‘Do you think diversity is positive or negative?’. You had to stand on the side of the room corresponding to your opinion and then if you received Yui’s permission (in the form of a ball being thrown at you), you were allowed to voice that opinion.

We discussed a lot but everyone remained respectful and friendly, which was very nice to see. I am glad this group can get along so well and that games like these are in the program. I almost dare say, maybe it wasn’t a bad thing that the schedule changed. In the end it led to healthy discussions, friendships being formed or further expanded, and a group of people from different backgrounds, ethnicities and with different opinions becoming closer.

We ended this interesting and fun day with a wrap-up meeting discussing the schedule for Monday. Long after arriving home to my host family, I kept replaying today in my mind, with a smile on my face. I think today was a success, despite previous setbacks and elemental struggles. Thank you to the counsellors, World Campus Japan staff and collaborators and everyone involved really. I made the right decision applying to join this group, and I am extremely happy that I was accepted and am meeting so many interesting people.

This was a glimpse into one of my and our days in Suita, Japan. There aren’t enough words to fully explain all I experienced but I hope this message still comes across quite well.

Shaïmaa Samouh