By Mark Flanigan (Nagasaki-ken, 2000-04) for JQ magazine. Mark is a program director with The Japan ICU Foundation in New York. Prior to his current position, he was a Rotary Peace Fellow at International Christian University in Tokyo.
The JET Alumni Association of New York is fortunate to benefit from the diversity of such a major metropolitan area like greater NYC. As JET alumni, the members also have the pleasure of joining in with various events and activities with other Japan-related organizations. One of the most active of these organizations over the past few years is the Kyushu Battenkai. JETAANY members have been fortunate to be able to enjoy many get-togethers with them here in the city.
What is Kyushu Battenkai? It’s a very friendly and casual New York civic-based organization that was founded in 1997. Unlike many more formal Japanese organizations, they have no membership fee or official application process. They communicate with their approximately 150 members primarily by email as well as with updates on their website, which was launched in 2007.
The organization was started by a small group of New York-based Japanese people primarily from Nagasaki and Saga Prefectures. They later expanded to include people from all over Kyushu, and have added more activities over the years. They used to celebrate with just the Bonnenkai and Shinnenkai events, but now include about five events throughout the year, including festive spring and summer festival parties and, more recently, exciting jointly planned events with JETAANY.
When asked how the collaboration with JETAANY came about, Tetsuya Sato, chief representative of the Battenkai operating committee, said that he’d been in initial contact with Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03) and Monica Yuki (Saitama-ken, 2002-04) of JETAANY as a way to connect with Americans who had some strong affiliation with and love of Japan. He found them to be quite helpful and welcoming, much to the delight of Battenkai members. “Partnering with JETAANY thus turned out to be the perfect vehicle,” recalls Sato, “and we were able to plan our first joint happy hour and a Fall Gathering in 2011 as well.”
Another aspect of their outreach has been maintaining connections with people in Kyushu as well as those who are locally based in the tri-state area. Last September, the Battenkai warmly welcomed Governor Hodo Nakamura of Nagasaki Prefecture and his 15-member delegation of prefectural officials. They were traveling back through New York from Brazil, where they had celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Nagasaki Prefecture Association. Forty-five members joined Governor Nakamura and his party at Nikkeijin-kai Hall in Manhattan for an exchange of ideas to increase business and tourist interest in the Nagasaki region of Kyushu. In addition to Battenkai members, the host group included four alumni members of the JET Program who had taught English in different parts of Nagasaki.
The program was unique for Battenkai because its gatherings usually offer networking opportunities through concerts, picnics and other events for its members. During the meeting with the Nagasaki delegation and at the reception afterwards, there was a lively exchange of ideas such as developing accessibility to Nagasaki with better highways and an extension of the Shinkansen. Such a development would be a wonderful thing for JETs from outside of Kyushu looking for faster and more convenient ways to discover Nagasaki’s most historic sites while they’re traveling in Japan.
The event was considered to be so successful that there are plans to repeat it in the future. It added a new dimension to the Battenkai experience, along with the joint happy hours and other cultural celebrations. In this new Year of the Snake, the Kyushu Battenkai looks forward to further strengthening their relationship with JETAANY through more joint events. According to Battenkai chairman Takeshi Yamaguchi and its operating committee member Yoko Arimura, they greatly appreciate JETAANY’s support in their mutual goal for Japanese and American networking opportunities, for people with interests in Kyushu and beyond.
Visit Kyushu Battenkai’s homepage (in Japanese) at http://battenkai.at-newyork.com.