By Laura Bowker / Special to The Japan NewsMy name is Laura Bowker and I’m an Assistant Language Teacher on the Japanese Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme working for the Akiota-cho Board of Education, Hiroshima Prefecture. Originally from the U.K., I have enjoyed living and teaching in rural Japan since August 2017. SpeechMount Osorakan is the highest peak in Hiroshima Prefecture, boasting fantastic conditions for skiing and snowboarding in winter. My first experience there, however, was spent running up Osorakan’s steep slopes in 25-degree heat rather than flying down it on skis. I competed in a three-hour relay marathon in aid of Smile Africa with four colleagues. The “Satoyama Smile Run” relay was a fantastically successful example of grassroots intercultural exchange, bringing us all out of our comfort zone, breaking down communication barriers and strengthening our friendships as we worked towards a shared goal — essentially the JET Programme’s goal in microcosm. It struck me then that the challenge, competition and cooperation that sports require make it a wonderful way to promote grassroots inter-cultural exchange.
It would be impossible to write about the impact of sport in Japan as a Hiroshima JET without mentioning Hiroshima Toyo Carp, Hiroshima’s adored baseball team. Carp receives remarkable levels of support from both members of the baseball community and what appears to be almost everyone else; even the 80-year-old ladies in my fan-dancing class insisted the first dance that we learnt together was to the Carp anthem. Baseball in Hiroshima unites people. Whether you’re playing it, watching it, wearing your highly sought after goods, attempting to discuss last night’s game in broken Japanese to your hairdresser or dancing elegantly in a kimono to an anthem, Carp demonstrates the power of sports in uniting people despite differences, culturally or otherwise.
On a personal level, sports have enabled me to make the most of my experience in Japan. Not only have I been able to build friendships in my rural community by joining the town’s badminton club, but I have also competed in several “marathons” and explored Japan’s natural beauty hiking and skiing. Running the Hiroshima Peace Marathon and climbing Mt. Daisen in Tottori Prefecture stand out as moments when I experienced amazing Japanese community spirit, friendliness and support. Through sports I have found a real sense of belonging and achievement in Japan as well as discovering new, stunning parts of this beautiful country.
I urge everyone, wherever they live, wherever they’re from and however great the linguistic or cultural differences may be to take up a sport, enter a competition or watch a game. No doubt during the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics the focus on sports will be a means of sharing greater cultural understanding, strengthening relationships and sparking conversations, but you don’t need to wait until then!
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The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme is administered through the collaboration of Japan’s local and national government authorities and promotes grass-roots internationalisation at the local level. Learn more: http://www.jetprogramme.orgSpeech