The Ideal International Association

Speech given to members of the Aizu Bange International Association, Aizu Bange, Fukushima, Japan
Friday, July 17, 1998

Definition of “Internationalization”

The word “internationalization” has been in the Japanese vocabulary for several years now, but I’m not sure if anyone knows what it means.
Before I start today’s talk, please tell me some words that define “internationalization” to you.

What does internationalization mean in Japan (as a whole)?

– trade with other countries, English (and other languages) necessary in schools, new laws/policies (ie. immigration, voting, etc.)

What does internationalization mean in Aizu?

– seeing more foreigners in the town, assistant teachers in local schools (25), international associations (7)

What does internationalization mean to me?

– living and working in Japan, trying to learn and teach about understanding the “human condition” in the largest sense possible — “standing in someone else’s shoes”, being able to identify and sympathize with the largest number of people, local diplomacy

What does this have to do with you??

As a member of an international association, perhaps you think that attending the association’s events is enough. However, as far as I have seen, the focus of international associations in the Aizu area is somewhat narrow. I would like to talk today about my “dream international association”.

Overview of International Associations


How many international associations are there in the Aizu area? (7)
Can you name them? (see below)
Which is the oldest one? (Kitakata)
Which is the newest one? (Shiokawa)
Who has the most members? (Aizu Wakamatsu)
Who has the second most members? (Shiokawa)
If we combined all of our members, how many people would we have? (around 1200)


Aizu Bange IA 1994 151 people, 18 groups 2000, 1000, 10000 yen
Aizu Wakamatsu-shi IA 1996 530 people, 101 groups 2000, 1000, 10000 yen
Bandai-machi IA 1989 128 people 10 groups 1000, 5000 yen
Ina-mura IA 1989 32 people 1000, 3000 yen
Inawashiro-machi IA 1995 88 people, 33 ?, 20 families 1000, 5000, 2000, 10000 yen
Kitakata-shi IA 1988 80 people, 60 groups 3000, 10000 yen
Shiokawa-machi IA 1996 179 16
7 offices 1988~present 1188 people, 238 groups

Focus of the International Associations

QUESTION: What should be the main focus of an international association?

When I think of IAs, I think of parties and events. Aizu Bange has their party in the summer, Aizu Wakamatsu has their festival in October, Shiokawa has their party at Christmas, and both Bange and Aizu Wakamatsu have a New Year’s party. Are parties the main purpose of IAs? I think that is a common way of thinking. It is easy to think that you are making Aizu more international if you can show in your budget that you have had many events. In my opinion, events, especially the way they are organized in Japan, are one of the least effective ways to promote international understanding. Usually, Japanese people do all of the planning, then they invite foreigners to attend a “foreign exchange” which lasts for about two hours. Often the foreign people talk amongst themselves and the Japanese talk amongst themselves. What is the benefit of that?

If I were in charge of an international association, here are the areas that I would focus on.

1. Education – teaching the local community about the rest of the world, and teaching the foreign community about Japan, also learning about the rest of the world through seminars/speeches/events

2. Fundraising, aid – using the resources at the IA to raise money for various projects at home and abroad, thus raising people’s awareness of local and global issues

3. Services – there are several services that IAs can provide — translation, interpretation, speeches, resources (library), introducing human resources (if you can’t do it, find someone who can), advice/counselling for foreigners

4. Information – IAs should take a position of leadership in the community and become the “voice of all things international”. The staff at the offices should collect as much information as they can and distribute it to as many people as possible, also they should provide information to all foreigners in the area

5. Liaison – between city hall and foreigners, between local community and foreigners, between foreigners and other foreigners, etc. — for example, leaving the office and going out on the town to see what changes need to be made (English menus, signs, instructions)

Notice that my dream international association does not focus on parties or English classes. Neither of these is particularly international. The main problem with such events is that they force the issue of internationalization. At its best, internationalization should be an invisible process. We should provide opportunities for Japanese and foreign members to interact naturally and with a common aim. Parties for no reason are not natural and they don’t serve any specific aim. On the other hand, working together in a rice field is much more natural and has an aim. I think that they rice planting project is a perfect example of a good event which promotes international understanding. However, I do think there was a bit of a lost opportunity in that the planning for the planting was entirely done by Japanese people. Planning together for an event is the ideal way to have “invisible internationalization”.

Evaluating Programs

Of course, it is very difficult to look objectively at our plans and decide whether we are actually promoting international understanding. In order to make sure that we are meeting all of our goals, I would like to suggest that each of us choose a motto for our international associations. I don’t know if any of you have ever been to a Rotary Club meeting, but at the beginning of each meeting, the members recite their motto. It consists of about 4 questions that they must ask themselves before starting any new project.

真実かどうか (Is it true?)
みんなに公平かどうか (Is it fair?)
好意と友情を深めるかどうか (Does it deepen friendship and goodwill?)
みんなのためになるかどうか (Is it for the greater good?)

QUESTION: Please write one motto for the Aizu Bange International Association.

Questions We Need to Ask Ourselves

Are we making the best use of our resources?

“Resources” doesn’t just mean “money”. We have to consider the best way to use our human resources, our time, our materials, our efforts, and of course our money. If any of these things is being wasted or misused, we should have to reconsider our plans.

Does it promote deeper understanding of others?

We should be working to help everyone understand about other cultures, other ways of thinking, other options, other viewpoints, other ways of life, etc.

Are we being environmentally friendly?

This is closely related to #1. Are we wasting paper? Are we considering our effect on the environment?

Does it form a foundation for ongoing international relations?

Are the programmes that we endorse (or undertake) going to make a longterm difference to the people who participate — for example, one-off parties and English classes do not have any longterm benefits unless they are linked to further projects. For example, a party to celebrate the end of a longterm project where everyone has been working together is a great idea. Also, English classes that are linked to homestay projects or penpal projects have real meaning. Unless there is a link to real “international exchange”, short term, one-shot projects are not beneficial.

In addition, I would try to enlarge the focus of the international association. For example, just because the IA is located in a certain town or city doesn’t mean that the city borders define the limits of the staff’s thinking. As I mentioned earlier, there are sevens IAs in the Aizu area, but we have never had a meeting to discuss good ways to share resources, implement “internationalization”, or find our focus. I think that this makes all of the associations somewhat lazy. We all feel like anything that is outside our borders doesn’t concern us. However, if we shared our resources, we could form an incredible union! We have seven offices staffed with a fair number of bilingual staff, a combined membership of 1200 people, and a huge number of foreigners to exchange with. If we put our minds together to create a monthly (or even bi- or tri-monthly) newsletter, we could reach a huge number of people. Working alone, we have half-decent programs, but if we worked together, we would be able to use our huge manpower resources, our wide audience, and our improved way of thinking to make almost anything possible.

Stick with it!

I want to tell you a story that demonstrates quite clearly one of the idiosyncrasies of Japan. Last year, when I started working at the AWIA, I had to get new business cards. In my previous job, I had double-sided business cards, with English on one side and Japanese on the other. When I asked if I could have the same thing in Wakamatsu, I was told it was impossible. So, I just ordered one set of Japanese cards and one set of English cards. However, this was somewhat awkward because most people wanted both my English card and my Japanese card. Since I have only been in my job for one year, I am always meeting new people, and so I use my cards up pretty quickly. So, when I used up all of the English and Japanese cards, I ordered more. This time, I wanted to order one-sided cards with both English and Japanese on the cards. I was told that this was impossible because they couldn’t print both languages at the same time. However, they were able to print my email address — which was entirely in English (romaji). So, I decided to go about it a different way. I asked them just to print my name in English in really small letters under my name in katakana. For some reason, that was okay. So my new cards had my name in English. I used up all of those cards again and had to print more, so I asked them this time to put my office’s name in English under the Japanese. They hesitated a bit, but they finally agreed to do it. So, my cards now have my name and my office’s name in English. I haven’t used all of those cards up yet, but when I do, I plan to ask them to write “Co-ordinator for International Relations” under the Japanese words for my title. When (if) they finally agree to do that, I will finally have my bilingual cards. They are a year late, but at least I’ll have gotten what I wanted! In the same way, we need to work within the system to get what we want — and if we are patient and do our planning well, we should be able to get what we want. We need to take things step by step, perhaps starting with the mottos and working from there.

In Closing…

I realize that I am giving this speech with only three years’ experience in Japan and only one year of working specifically to improve international relations. However, I think that you should be able to find some truth in some of my comments. I hope that you enjoyed today’s talk and that you could get some understanding of my ideas. Thank you for your time and attention.