I just wanted to take a little time to reflect on our busy summer here at YIFA. As the BBQ/ canoe race was cancelled (again!), there were three main events for me over this summer period: the tea parties, the summer English club for elementary school students, and a new event, World Watching in English.
The new event came at the same time as last year’s Japanese Culture in English event, and was somewhat similar in theme. Whereas last year we talked about various elements of Japanese culture in English, this year’s idea was to do the same for foreign cultures, whilst also learning about different people’s experiences living in Japan.
We had six separate mornings, each covering a different nation and a different theme. I took the first morning and introduced the UK and my own background, before we had a general discussion about moving to a new country and difficulties thereof. The following sessions were as follows: 2. Liyana from Malaysia (Theme: Religious differences/ Islam in Japan) 3. Andrew from Malawi (Theme: Race and Microaggressions in Japan)
4. Jennifer from the Philippines (Theme: Working in Japan)
5. Paul from New Zealand (Theme: Marriage and Divorce in Japan) 6. Susan from America (Ageing and the Elderly in Japan)
The themes were quite diverse and the content was very interesting for me. I’m still not sure how much of a success the event was as a whole though. For a start I had hoped for quite a lot of people to come and support the event, but each day had only a few people. As I recall now, mine and Andrew’s events had the highest level of participation with perhaps 12-14 people, while some others only had 7 or 8 people, depending on the day. Another issue that we had was that some of the speakers who came ended up speaking too quickly, so that the Japanese participants weren’t able to understand them well. I did ask them all to speak as slowly and clearly as possible, but I suppose, with nervousness they weren’t able to control that so well. Anyway, the PowerPoints that they used were very clear and easy to follow so that will have helped understanding. The discussion time towards the end of each session, which I led, was hopefully more inclusive, though I expect sometimes the themes may have been somewhat challenging.
I was quite excited about the idea of this event, thinking it would be a really positive chance to be open about cultural differences and challenges of foreign residents in Japan. In the event the lack of interest from YIFA members led me to be somewhat regretful about my planning. I’m not sure what we could have done differently to market the event in order to get more interest, but we ended up thinking that perhaps the content appeared too challenging for speakers of English as a second language. I’m obligated to put on a special event such as this one each summer, for as long as we aren’t able to hold the sister city exchange programme, so it could be that this is the last one. If we still aren’t able to visit America next year, I will have to strongly consider what direction to take next year’s English event in. I can’t give a basic English class as we already have our English Salon classes each week. Also, as the CIR, I feel whatever I do should be somewhat related to international and cultural exchange. Obviously Japanese people tend to like talking about Japanese culture and society, so perhaps I will return to that theme next year in some way. That will at least guarantee a better level of participation than we had this year. There were some real positives to take out of the event overall though. Liyana’s talk about Malaysia and Islam was really informative and interesting. Although some people had trouble following her rapid-fire English, it was a really engaging discussion about her country and I especially found the introduction of Islamic way of life interesting. We didn’t go too deep into a discussion about homophobia etc. but it still gave everyone good food for thought I’m sure. Also really nice was that Liyana brought lots of Malaysian goods (e.g. tea, snacks, soap) to hand out to everybody. People certainly left with a smile on their face! Other sessions had lots of positives as well. Andrew's talk about Malawi was really fascinating, as it is not a country people know well at all. Jennifer’s introduction of the Philippines was very interesting, and my particular recollection of this session is how engaged everyone was in terms of asking questions. Paul spoke a lot about New Zealand and some parts of it were very interesting. He then went on to talk about his own experiences regarding getting divorced in Japan which led to a valuable discussion. Finally, Susan on the final day gave us a really engaging introduction of her home state, California, before talking about her background and life in Japan as an elderly resident. We ended the session by chatting about ageing and what difficulties elderly foreign residents might face living in Japan. Hopefully this theme, as with the others, was thought-provoking and somewhat meaningful to the participants that came. I took quite many learnings from this event, as I have alluded to above. The main thing relates to ‘control’. When I set out planning the event, months ahead of time, I thought with enough time, I could control the nature of the event down to the finest detail whereby issues such as participants being able understanding the content, being able to participate in the discussion openly, etc could be perfected. However, I learned that there are too many uncontrollables at play; from the ability of speakers to adjust the level of their English speech and the relative English abilities of the participants (there was a great range as always), to the level of interest and participation in the event and even the personal hygiene of one of the guest speakers (this unfortunately was an issue!). I learned that I can’t control all elements, but I can manage them. In terms of the issue with personal hygiene for example, it was a speaker I hadn’t met before the event, who had contacted me online. I should always be sure to meet someone in person beforehand to be sure of their character and suitability as a volunteer for an event or school visit. With regards to the difficult language (and speed of speech) of some of the speakers, I should have made more of an effort to flag that issue with them well in advance, so that they could make adjustments to their presentation. I was sure to mention it to each of the speakers, but only once or twice, wrongly assuming that it was self-evident and that a simple reminder was only necessary. In the event, I was so anxious about the understanding of the Japanese participants that I was even forced to interrupt a couple of the speakers mid-presentation to ask them to slow down!
Overall, I’m very glad that we help the event, and here were lots of positives to come out of it. In terms of the issues raised, I will be sure to reflect on them as I strive to improve in my work here. I try to view everything as a learning experience, and that inevitably leads to me looking at things with a critical eye, but I should say that it was a real positive to be able to hold this event, and I’m sure the people who came had an enjoyable and interesting time with us.