I didn’t mention this earlier (because giving speeches makes me nervous!), but I am giving at talk about “International Relations in Tsukuba” at the January Coffee Hour today from 2pm at the Tsukuba Information Center.
I am going to talk about whether Tsukuba really is an “international” city. I think that it hasn’t reached that goal yet. I am going to give some suggestions for making Tsukuba a more welcoming place for foreign people.
First of all, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I think that we should offer an orientation program or seminar session two times a year (April and October) for people who arrive in Tsukuba. Also, we should develop a welcome package of information that can be given to foreign people when they register at city hall. And, ideally, we should offer a homestay/buddy program to help newcomers make connections with Japanese people and foreign people in the city as soon as they arrive.
Second, I think the Ibaraki International Association needs to offer more activities that allow for true interaction between foreign people and Japanese people. Ikebana and tea ceremony lessons put Japanese people above foreigners, and coffee hour speeches put foreigners above Japanese people. We need to have more events where people can interact on an equal footing, such as sporting events or classes in something that is not necessarily related to Japanese culture (so we can learn about it together, as equals).
Third, I think that the international community in Tsukuba lacks a focus. I think that Tsukuba Information Center could serve a greater purpose in the lives of foreigners as a focal point to the community. As it is now, I think a few people make use of the center, but it is not living up to its potential. The facilities are incredible, the location is prime, but the programs that it offers are somewhat uninspired. We need to shake things up and make it more of an entity that plays a part in the lives of foreigners here in Tsukuba.
Finally, I think the city and the prefecture should put their resources together to hire a full-time, foreign “Co-ordinator for International Relations” (CIR). Right now, there are one or two foreigners working in the city hall, but they are not full-time and, in my opinion, the pay that they receive is not commensurate with their abilities, so there is no incentive for them to stay for very long or for them to want to implement new and exciting programs. Also, working within the framework of city hall is very restrictive. The prefecture’s international association might be able to offer a better working environment. I think that Tsukuba desperately needs some qualified, innovative, and enthusiastic foreign people working to improve international relations in the city. Without that input or stimulus, the city just seems to recycle the same old ideas over and over again.
So, in case you miss it, that is what I am planning on saying. The speech will be in Japanese mainly, but the slides are bilingual and I am including a discussion session in the middle of the speech to try to stimulate conversation about this topic. If you are interested in these ideas, please feel free to come by and voice your opinion.