As you probably know from the description, the Ibarakey blog is run by Coordinators for International Relations (CIRs) working at the Ibaraki Prefectural Office, but we aren’t the only CIRs in Ibaraki – there are several working at municipal government offices around the prefecture. We’d like to introduce Keeping Up With Kasama, the blog of Jordan Okenyi, a CIR from the USA working in the Civic Activities Division at Kasama City Hall. Jordan writes about Kasama from the perspective of a foreign resident – he covers local events and news.
We asked Jordan to answer a few questions about himself and his work. You can check out his answers below.
How did you become interested in Japan?
I became interested in Japan during my sophomore year of university. Not knowing anything about Japan or Japanese I joined a language class, and I’ve been hooked ever since! In particular, I like kanji and written Japanese. The desire to improve my language skills brought me here in 2013 as a foreign exchange student, and again last year as a CIR.]
What’s your favourite thing about living in Kasama and Ibaraki?
I love the slow pace and small-town feel of Kasama and Ibaraki. My lifestyle now closely resembles my lifestyle back in my home state of California, USA. I’m from Fresno, a suburban sprawl surrounded by farmlands, hours by car from the excitement of San Francisco and Los Angeles. While big cities are fun, I prefer living in quieter areas. The same way that I might take a day trip to the beach or the city back home in California before retreating to the countryside, I can easily visit the beach or Tokyo for the day and then come back to Kasama.
What’s your favourite part of the CIR job? What contributions do you
think CIRs can make to Japan?
I enjoy the variety of tasks that CIRs handle, as well as the challenge of having to work in a fast-paced (and occasionally high-pressure) environment in a foreign language. On top of the work I do in the office, my position allows me ample opportunities to get out and interact with the community, from my regular kindergarten visits to speeches in front of local organizations and events I run introducing aspects of my culture to the citizens of Kasama.
I believe that CIRs play a vital role at the forefront of grassroots internationalization in Japan. While there are many non-CIRs with excellent Japanese ability, with the resources CIRs have as government workers, we have a unique platform with which to reach out and connect with the communities we’re placed in.
What has been your favourite experience here so far?
My favorite experience would have to be running the Kasama Tougei-no-Sato Half-Marathon last December. I’ve always loved running, but had never ran a half-marathon before. The night prior to the race, I was informed that I would have to interpret for the mayor and ambassador to Ethiopia who would both be running the half-marathon as well. Needless to say this made me extra nervous! Ultimately, the interpretation went well, and I finished the half-marathon without incident, and faster than the mayor and the ambassador! That day I felt both professionally and personally accomplished.
Do you have a goal that you want to achieve as a CIR?
Cities and regions across Japan are currently very concerned with preparing themselves for an expected influx of foreign tourism during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. While I think that there is merit to such efforts, I see this movement as a greater opportunity to transform communities into being more open and accessible to foreigners to stay and live in. My goal is to teach more language and omotenashi workshops, as well as work to execute and promote the spread of multilingual access to goods and services, from simple things like menus at restaurants and signs on the road to more crucial things like information about healthcare and legal services.