As this year’s Deputy National President for JCI UK, I had the great pleasure and honour to attend the JCI Japan Academy in Himeji Japan which is the 31st time this Academy has been run. I joined over 200 delegates from over 100 countries around the world for the ten-day Academy.
This year the course was led by Paschal Dike who was the 2016 World President of JCI and who I had met before on several occasions including when he visited the UK during his year in office.
Pre-Academy Tour in Tokyo
I managed to spend a few days in Tokyo before the Academy started with fellow Deputy National Presidents Keira from JCI Ireland, Vincent from JCI Netherlands, Pepijn from JCI Belgium, Marco from JCI Switzerland, Giorgos from JCI Cyprus and Burcu from JCI Turkey. That was a great opportunity to ease into the Japanese culture and also get to know some of the delegates. Some of the highlights for me over these few days included watching the World Cup football match of Belgium Vs Japan (whilst in Japan!), visiting a karaoke bar (which is massive in Japan!) and trying some traditional Japanese food.
Home Host Family Stay
We then travelled to Himeji via the bullet train to meet other 200 delegates involved in the Academy. One of the first things you do at the start of the ten days is to spend a weekend with a Japanese family for a home-host stay. I was assigned with a couple Ichiro, his wife Chie and their 8-year-old son Somer. The family spoke little English and had volunteered themselves to host a JCI member in order to challenge themselves, have an opportunity to develop their English and because they are interested in other countries, particularly England! I got to sleep in a traditional Japanese room which was like a mat on the floor. During the homestay weekend, there was torrential rain which caused some flooding and landslides near the area I was staying in. There was a scary moment when I was woken up in the early hours of the first morning by a text message that was sent to all phones in the area, warning that the area could be evacuated due to the weather. Fortunately, this did not happen but I was saddened to hear that some local people in different parts of Himeji lost their lives due to landslides.
My host family took me to some traditional sushi restaurants so I could sample some of the local delicacies. This was a challenge as I’m not a huge lover of fish, especially raw fish but I took the chance to try different dishes much to the family’s amusement! They also took me to a monster park, which was as it sounded, a park with various moving monsters in it, some appearing out of the water, much to my surprise! We also popped into a very old fashioned small Japanese sweet shop and it was like going back in time! The family also wanted to watch the England Vs Sweden World Cup match so I got out the union jack flags I brought so we could cheer England on! As well as the family introducing me to local traditions, foods and customs, I introduced them to the delights of Yorkshire Tea with milk which went down well!
I was really surprised how in such a short space of time of a weekend, I developed such a close bond with my host family and shared unforgettable memories. I certainly plan to keep in touch with the family.
The theme of the Academy focused on ‘Wa’ (和) which is a Japanese cultural concept usually translated into English as ‘harmony’. It implies a peaceful unity and conformity within a social group, in which members prefer the continuation of a harmonious community over their personal interests. This idea was consistent with the idea that JCI aims to unite all sectors of society to create positive change and key aspects of the JCI Creed (the JCI values) such as ‘brotherhood of men transcends the sovereignty of nations’.
We were put into groups of 10-12 delegates made up of several Japanese JCI members as well as a few from other countries. In my group, we had delegates from New Zealand, South Africa, Columbi, Japan as well as the UK. What was challenging is several members of my group spoke very basic and broken English. What I found fascinating when we were doing our over-night presentation one evening, was that very few English words easily translate to the Japanese equivalent. Fortunately, one of our Japanese delegates in our group worked as an interpreter so she was able to translate. This really opened my eyes and made me more patient and sensitive regarding language barriers.
Each overseas delegate was assigned a buddy or two who you then shared a room with and basically who you went everywhere with during the Academy. So even if one wanted to go back to their hotel room early from a party (that was me only once!), then you had to get your buddies to agree to go with you. At first this was quite a strange concept to get use to, but by the end of the Academy, it seemed strange when they were not around! The idea is that you mutually support each other as buddies from practical help (such as assisting with carrying bags if needed) to emotional support especially when the Academy pushes you to your limits with often lack of sleep, it being so hot and humid and requiring you to take part in some very challenging exercises such as breaking a block of wood with your wrist!
I found the Academy to be such a worthwhile experience. It gave me the chance to develop key relationships with my peers, especially with countries that the UK tend to work closely with which are great foundations for my year as National President in 2019. Brian Lim this years World President for JCI addressed the delegates on a couple of occasions and some of the things he said really resonated with me. He questioned how do local Chambers fulfil the JCI mission: some provide development opportunities; some empower young people but to what extent do we create positive change? How can we strengthen all these three elements of the JCI mission in terms of our delivery. There is so much I took from the experience that I could write pages and pages so its probably best to ask me over a cuppa or a vodka and coke!
And finally…the our commitment as JCI Academy delegates:
The above collective agreement from the Academy, will feature as part of my plans for next year.
I want to take this opportunity to thank JCI Himeji and JCI Japan for organising such a fantastic Academy, especially the Conference Organising Committee; thank you to course leader Paschal, to my host family, to the fellow delegates, to my wonderful buddies Hiro and Mika, to my amazing Team E and to my Tokyo pre-tour gang…all of you helped me to create some very special memories that I will never forget!
Planning for 2019 begins!
Whilst we are only in July, (just over half way through the year) will still lots to do in 2018, the end of the JCI Japan Academy triggers the start of the planning and preparation for 2019 when I lead JCI UK as your National President. Therefore, I will shortly be publishing information about the roles and several different opportunities to get involved and to step up next year. Watch this space!
In the meantime, please get in touch to talk about how you might want to be involved in 2019. Feel free to call me or whats app me on 07977 422341 or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
2018 Deputy National President – JCI UK
This post was written by Mark Smith