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Life as a Municipal CIR

A unique opportunity offered by the JET Programme is the chance to be placed in a rural setting or small town, and experience a side of Japan often inaccessible to those who stay within the bounds of the well-known metropolitan areas. On top of this, working as a Coordinator of International Relations (CIR) within this environment allows you to improve your Japanese, meet new people, gain experience in working in a Japanese office, and also utilize your position to reach out to the local community.

In Okagaki Machi, a small town mid-way between Fukuoka and Kitakyushu, the CIR position involves working in the Regional Development Division of the Town Hall – a general ‘dog’s body’ department – and so you really begin to understand the workings of the local government and what makes this small town buzz. The CIR job itself is varied, but for the most part has a focus on getting out and getting to know the local people and places, and offering them a chance to make contact, and exchange with someone from a different country and culture. Such cultural exchanges are made easier in a small town setting, as the opportunity for such exchanges is rarer in the more rural areas, and also not taken for granted by the people who live there.

Kindergarten visits and English classes are a fun way to meet people of all ages – all of whom are very energetic and interested in learning about you and your country, but my favourite part of the job is creating and attending various events. Some of the events I have organized include an annual Christmas party, a monthly cooking class, and an eco-friendly kids event and Luau-style party. The process of organizing and seeing-through large-scale events can be quite a lengthy and demanding one, but the feeling of satisfaction during and after the event makes it all worthwhile! The people of the town also love to get involved in and lend a hand at my events, which only helps to strengthen the cultural exchanges that take place.

Working in a small town you really come to understand the sense of community that I feel can only be found outside of city. Because of the small size of the town and the frequent interaction between the CIR and p
eople of Okagaki, the CIR position also comes with a certain celebrity status, and many strangers will come up to me on the street to strike up a conversation, saying that they have seen me on the local TV channel or in the town newsletter. This sheer friendliness and generosity shown by the people living in my town is something I truly treasure. It seems like it should  be the other way around, but I feel that the lesser populated the area, the more opportunity there is to make contact with greater numbers of Japanese people, and in the three years I have been here I have made a broad network of Japanese friends whether they be my workmates, my baseball team, Taiko drumming buddies, fellow surfers or students.

Having previously lived in Tokyo when I was a student, I was somewhat accustomed to the Japanese lifestyle, and already knew Japan was somewhere I would always return to, but it wasn’t until I came back this time on the JET programme to the small town of Okagaki, that I realized I had not seen half of what Japan had to offer and that there was a second home here waiting for me.