So, Japan being a country of social, group minded people, there are a lot of social groups in Japan; for example, groups of people with similar interests, similar jobs, or even people of similar age within a company. One of the most popular types of group are 県人会 (kenjinkai). These are groups of people from the same prefecture living somewhere else, and they exist within Japan as well as around the world.
I first discovered 県人会 when I was reading JetWit and read a story about an ex-JET who had met up for a party in New York with the 県人会 from their prefecture. This got me interested in whether or not Fukui(福井, the prefecture I lived in while I was in Japan) had a 県人会 in New York. So off to google I went. As expected, I immediately found 福井県人会 all over Japan, in places like Osaka, Tokyo, Kyoto, Nagoya, Hiroshima, Okinawa and so on, but the only place outside of Japan that was immediately noticeable was in Brazil.
After a bit more searching, I discovered a pdf file of some kind of newsletter for Fukui “friendship ambassadors” from 2010 with some news about Japan and Fukui, an interview with a Chinese person living in Fukui, a link to this informational video about Fukui,
and buried inside was a small blurb with a picture about the New York 福井県人会 (turns out they also exist in China, Thailand, and Argentina!). And at the bottom of this small blurb was an email address. So anyway, I sent an email to the address asking to be added to the group and very quickly got a response telling me that there wasn’t really a “group” to join, but that they get together twice a year (once for a beginning of the year party and once again in the summer) and that I was more than welcome to join.
So last Friday I made my way to Azusa in New York City for the beginning of the year party with not much idea what to expect. Glad I did too, the group turned out to be 14 people including me and it was a pretty fun night. Here’s a picture of all the people there.
The people were of all different kinds of backgrounds. There were a few who have been living in New York for a really long time (one of which had just come back from a business trip to Japan) and some who are only here for a short term. There was a guy who used to live in New York, has since returned to Fukui to live, but just happened to be in New York on business last weekend. There were a few students; one a law student at Columbia and another who is actually studying abroad in China, but is in New York right now. There was even another Fukui JET there, but not someone I knew before hand since he was actually a JET from 1994-1997, back in the earlier days of the program. The last person there was actually not from Fukui, but from Hiroshima, who I’ll talk about more in a minute.
The party was a typical Japanese style party with several family style courses and free flowing beer and wine. Even better, at the start of the party we were visited by a guy from JFC (the Japan food corporation). He talked about he has been to parties with his prefecture’s 県人会 and that he always enjoys it when you can enjoy some food or drink from your home prefecture. So, as a gift, he brought us two bottles of alcohol from 一本木 (Ippongi, a famous Fukui sake company), one bottle of 伝心(denshin) sake and one bottle of 吟香梅 (ginkoubai) umeshu (plum wine). I had some of both and enjoyed every drop. The food was pretty good too. We had an assortment of snack type foods (edamame, chicken wings, tamagoyaki with crab), a plate of random kushiage, some nabe, some ochazuke (or something similar) and then fruit to finish.
I mentioned before that one of the people from the party was actually from Hiroshima (at least originally). Well, like the sake guy, she was there for another reason as well. In fact she works for CLAIR (the people in charge of the JET Program) and is now working at the Japan Local Government Center in New York as a representative of Shimane prefecture. The reason she was at the party though was to show us a new Fukui magazine called Fukuist. It’s a little free monthly magazine about life and culture in Fukui that is given out all over Japan, and recently also in other countries (France is the only one I can remember off hand). Anyway, they are apparently looking for places in New York to start distribution as well, so she was there to show us the magazine and ask for input on where would be a good place for it.
The last thing we did at the party was play a quiz game. Every person who came was asked to bring one question related to Fukui and some kind of small prize (I brought a can of crab salsa and a crab bottle opener magnet). Then one by one we asked our questions and everyone wrote their answers down on an answer sheet. The questions ranged from crazy hard history questions, data and fact based questions (record snow falls, # of prefectures with no airport or shinkansen station, etc…), and more. Here’s my question: Which foreign talent in Japan was once an English teacher in Fukui? I think it was a pretty easy one, but it stumped quite a few people. By the way, click on “Fukui” in the question for the answer. Did you get it? So anyway, after everyone had asked their question, we gave the correct answers and tallied our points. The person with the most points got to pick a prize first, and then going down in points one-by-one, we each got a prize. My prize actually got picked first (you can see the guy in the back third from the right holding it in the picture). I went home with a nice bottle of chianti that I regifted to my mom as I’m not much of a wine drinker.
All in all, it was a real good time. It felt nice to spend a night speaking a majority of Japanese while eating Japanese food and drinking Japanese liquor in a Japanese environment. Can you tell I miss Japan? Heh. Anyway, I’m sorry I didn’t let any of you Fukui JETs in the New York area know about the party, but I’m a little selfish and I didn’t want it turning into a JET event. I’ve had my fun now though, so I won’t be so selfish next time. It looks like the next event will probably be a barbecue sometime in the summer, so let me know if you are interested and I can pass along the email address of the head of the group or pass along the information once it’s decided.