Written by: Betelhem Beka
On September 19th, I went to Choshi City in Chiba prefecture with my three fellow interns Lipikar, Sanhajarin and Rayane, Mr. Kitagaki and Mr. Kushida. ICA Japan has made trips to Chiba prefecture before as a goal to revitalize local communities. We did research about Choshi City as preparation and analyzed community revitalization proposals from former interns to get a clearer view of cities in Chiba prefecture.
In the morning
We met up with Mr. Kushida in the early morning at Tokyo Station. Mr. Kitagaki would wait for us at Choshi Station. During the 2-hour train ride there, Mr. Kushida explained our schedule and what we had to prepare for. As soon as we arrived, the first thing we saw was the main street leading to the station. It was a beautiful sight, but something was missing. Most stores on the main street were closed (permanently) and made it look empty.
We then headed to our first meeting with BeCOM, the tourist information center located 10 minutes from the station. There we had a meeting with Ms. Nishida about the situation in Choshi. She explained that there is a gap between the older and younger generations, despite the many efforts the city made by organizing various events. Many of the younger residents have left and are still leaving the city for more populated areas like Tokyo. The main concern BeCOM has is the disconnection between generations and what the permanent solution(s) could be.
After the meeting, Ms. Nishida and one of the employees brought us to Chiba University of Science, which has a beautiful location next to the shore. The station is far away from the university, which means that students either need a car, scooter or bicycle. We also noticed there was a lack of activities, stores and gathering places for the students around the campus itself. We met the vice president, Mr. Azuma, and discussed the position of the university in the city. Every foreign student at the school, which are mostly from other Asian countries, receive a Japanese language course before they start their education in Japanese. In this way, the school tries to integrate foreign residents into the Japanese culture. Besides keeping young Japanese residents in the city, Mr. Azuma would like for more foreign young people to come to live and study in Choshi by offering a unique experience at the university.
In the afternoon
After lunch, we went from the university to the city hall to attend a meeting with voluntary teachers from all over Choshi. The meeting was organized by Ms. Nukaga, whom also attended the meeting at Chiba University of Science. Every teacher talked about what they did the week before and what they thought about teaching foreign students Japanese. The main concern the teachers had was that the foreign students are learning to use Japanese but are not connecting to Japanese/local culture. This may be because there is not a big identity Choshi City has that the foreign students can participate in or contribute to. From looking around the city, there is a serious lack of gathering places like izakaya’s and restaurants.
Before we left, we visited a soy sauce factory that has been practicing the craft of soy sauce making for over 400 years. It was very informative and an unexpected attraction that the city could advertise more about. In general, Choshi City should advertise about their various activities and sightseeing spots around the city, especially within the station since that is where everyone outside of the city arrives.
Me and my fellow interns have learned a lot about community revitalization through our visit to Choshi City and will follow this article up by describing our ideas for the city in a separate report. We want to thank Mr. Kitagaki, Mr. Kushida and ICA Japan for this experience.