By Steven Crawford
What an amazing experience I had at the Japan Academy in Karuizawa this month! Everyone who has attended has told me who special it is, but until you go, you will never fully appreciate the magic of it.
The JCI Academy is always held in Japan, and this year was the 32nd one. It had over 73 young leaders, each from a different country, with different backgrounds and cultures. There were also 100 young members from JCI Japan attending along side the worldwide delegates. This academy isn’t just about the training that happens, it is the experience of the Japanese culture, and the lasting connections that are made during the trip.
I took the opportunity to spend some time in the crazy city that is Tokyo, hitting some tourist hotspots, but also finding some unique cafes and bars along the way. Karaoke with a few of the delegates from around Europe was a highlight as well!
After 3 nights in Tokyo, we made our way up to the mountain town of Karuizawa, around 70 miles north east. Sadly, it was rainy season, so the views you would normally see of the mountains were out sadly. However, this didn’t dampen our spirits on the first official day, where we met our head trainer, the 2016 JCI World President, Paschal Dike.
After this, I went with some of my fellow delegates to the local school of Minyota Minimi, to meet with year 6. There, I introduced myself to a class of 30 pupils, telling them all about our wonderful country, Scotland, telling them about how Harry Potter was written and filmed on location here, the truth about Nessie, and some of the wonderful and rich history and culture we have here. I also got to listen to the presentations from Serbia, Moldova and Uruguay, which gave me a lot of insight into their home countries.
At lunch, I learned a lot about how the youth are brought up in Japan. When I was at school, lunch was either a packed lunch, or one served at the cafeteria by the lunch ladies. Not in Japan! When the lunch bell rings, the kids kick into action, going down to the kitchens, collecting the plates, food, and serving utensils, bring it all back to the classroom (on the 2nd floor), then serve it up for everyone. Once finished, it is all cleaned up, returned, then playtime starts. I could never imagine doing this as a child, as I would expect none of you can either. After play time was over, it was then cleaning time. I was ushered by one pupil to help him clean the stairs. He gave me a broom, and told me to sweep the stairs, twice! This is an everyday occurence for them, and they do it with pride. It really was fascinating to watch.
The next big event in the program was the homestay, where we were each paired up with a local family to stay with for 2 evenings. I was welcomed into the home of Tatsumi and Mari, with their two children, Rio and Ayumu. They were extremely friendly, and interested in learning as much from me as I was learning from them. Mari could speak a little but of English, which helped, but Google translate was needed to translate a few words from time to time. We played games, ate some delicious food, and went to the temple in Nagano city, an hour north from where they lived. I could not have wished for a better family to have shared this experience with!
Next up was a 5 days of training, mostly done by Paschal Dike. There, he trained us on how to be better leaders, create and maintain good working relationships with other, and make our plans for the coming year. We were also placed into teams, and everyone got a Japanese buddy. I was buddied up with Kenji, from JCI Tokyo. Also in Team A was Zolko from Mongolia, buddied up with Zone and Jey, Luis from Paraguay who was buddied up with Hiro, and Helena from Croatia and her buddy, Madoka. As a team, we all worked very well together, and bonded very quickly. We learnt a lot from each other, everyone respected everyone’s opinions, even if they were’t the same. We had a project to work on, which, dispite the language barriers, went extremely smoothly. We also had a lot of fun together, particularly when playing the card game 99! If you haven’t heard of it, it is a fun game, that is extremely competitive, but simple to understand. I do believe this helped us connect with each other better.
It wasn’t all hard work, though. We had a number of events to attend to, including a trip out to dicover some Japanese culture and food. They put on a display of a local dragon ledgend, and allowed us to carry the dragon! All I can say was that it was extremely heavy! We also went bowling, which I learned was created in Scotland. Needless to say, I was like Bambi on the ice, and not exactly the best either. Our team did win against Team B, though.
All in all, it was an experience I shall never ever forget. I made connections with people all over the world, many who will be life long friends. This academy is such an amazing experience, and so well organised by the local chaper in Karuizawa. They may be one of the smallest chapters in Japan, but they put on an amazing academy, going above and beyond in so many ways. It was a true honour to have been part of the 32nd JCI Academy.
Now, all that is left to do is to start planning for 2020 as National President of JCI Scotland. If you want to be part of team, locally or nationally, now is the time to step up. JCI has so many opportunities just waiting for you to take advantage of them. If you want to accept the challenge, speak to your local board members, or with myself, to find out more.