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Inter-University Event — Learning about Working as an International Cooperation Volunteer: Our Trip to Nihonmatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture


(Enjoying nasi goring (Indonesian fried rice)
for lunch at the Training Center.))

On August 2 and 3, 2013, a total of 13 students from Ochanomizu University and Nara Women’s University visited the Japan International Cooperation Agency’s Nihonmatsu Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer Training Center in Fukushima Prefecture. There, we had an opportunity to think about the role of international cooperation volunteers and grassroots international cooperation through exchange with Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCVs) who had either already returned to Japan after completing their service overseas or were now preparing to be dispatched.

After enjoying lunch at the cafeteria, we were given a briefing on the JOCV program and a tour of the Training Center facilities by Director Kitano. The Training Center has classrooms specially designated for the various languages, a laboratory for trainees who will be volunteer science teachers overseas, a gymnasium where trainees can enjoy a workout, and a library with materials and other literature related to the countries where the trainees will be dispatched.

(Touring the laboratory used to train JOCVs who will
teach science overseas. The lab is equipped with science
textbooks used in various Asian and African nations.)

JOCVs who had returned to Japan after completing their service overseas gave a presentation on the entire JOCV process from application to reintegration back into Japanese society after completion of service. Hearing real JOCVs’ accounts of the difficulties, struggles, and sense of accomplishment they experienced while overseas as well as the impact of the JOCV experience on their lives after returning to Japan was very informative for us as we think about participating in international cooperation.

JOCV trainees sat with us during dinner and told us about the training program and their dreams for their work overseas. They also gave us advice about the concerns and doubts we have as university students thinking about the future. Their encouragement and ideas were very valuable to us.

(Engaging in discussions with JOCV trainees.)

After dinner, there was a discussion with the JOCV trainees where we shared our questions and views. The trainees have more life experience than us, and what we learned from them will help us not only as we think about becoming a volunteer but also as we think about our lives in general.

Before going to bed, we divided into three groups and talked about what we had learned on our first day. Based on the views exchanged, each group set a theme for their presentation the next day.

(Maiko Mizutani, first-year undergraduate student,
Faculty of Letters and Education, Ochanomizu University)

(Delivering our group presentations.)

The second day of our two-day program started with a meeting in the morning. We divided into our three groups and each gave a brief presentation of what we had learned on the first day. By verbalizing what we had discovered about international cooperation or found particularly impressive from the previous day’s activities, we were able to solidify everything we had learned.

(Temporary facility of the Obori Soma Ware Association.)

After our presentations, we visited Ceramic Art Center, the Nihonmatsu studio of the Obori Soma Ware Association. Obori Soma ware is a type of Japanese pottery that started 350 years ago in Namie Town, Futaba County, Fukushima Prefecture. The original studio had to be evacuated after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and the accident at the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. The Center was able to reopen in 2012 using a temporary facility in an industrial park in Nihonmatsu City, thanks to the hard work of the Obori Soma Ware Association and the cooperation of Nihonmatsu City. At this temporary facility, they are creating and selling Obori Soma ware and also offering opportunities for visitors to try their hand at making pottery.。

(Listening to Association Director Hangai.)

At the Center, we listened to a talk by Association Director Hangai, who is a victim of the earthquake and nuclear accident. Hearing a personal account of the disaster directly from a victim gave us a deeper understanding of the situation. During the tour of the Center, we were all very interested in the kiln and in the materials used to make the pottery. It is rare for us to have the opportunity to see pottery making so the visit left a strong impression on us as did the story about the impact of the earthquake and nuclear accident on pottery. The raw materials used in the glazes became contaminated because the soil in which the materials were grown had been contaminated by the nuclear radiation. After considerable effort, the potters have been able to once again make glazes that produce the same color as the glazes used before the disaster.

Through stories like this one, we gained a firsthand understanding of how greatly the nuclear accident has impacted both daily life and traditional industries like this one. I believe Japan must meet those citizen requests that have yet to be met and must resolve the issues related to providing continued support. Through this tour and talk, we sensed even more the need for us also to think about the impact of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

(Asuka Takami, third-year undergraduate student,
Faculty of Human Life and Environment, Nara Women’s University)

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