JQ Magazine: 2013 JETAA Oceania National Conference Spotlights Sister City Relationships

Hiromi Hakuta, assistant director of CLAIR Sydney, addresses alumni at the JETAA Oceania National Conference, Brisbane, Nov. 2013. (Courtesy of Hiromi Hakuta)

Hiromi Hakuta, assistant director of CLAIR Sydney, addresses alumni at the JETAA Oceania National Conference, Brisbane, Nov. 2013. (Courtesy of Hiromi Hakuta)

By Eden Law (Fukushima-ken, 2010-11). After the JET Programme more than fulfilled its promise of “an experience of a lifetime,” Eden returned to Sydney, Australia, where he joined the JETAA New South Wales chapter to take advantage of the network and connections available to undertake projects such as an uchiwa design competition for the Sydney Japan Festival. He also maintains the JETAANSW website and social media. Other than that, he’s a web designer and a poet, gentlemen and raconteur.

One of the best things about being a member of JETAA is the community, and over the weekend of 15-17 of November, the Oceania community of JETAA got together for our annual antipodean regional conference. For those of you up north who don’t know, JETAA Oceania comprises of five Australian chapters (the state chapters of QueenslandNew South WalesCanberra, the uber-chapter of South Australia-Victoria-TasmaniaWestern Australia) and three New Zealand chapters (South IslandAuckland and Wellington). Representatives from Sydney’s CLAIR office (Tsuyoshi ItoHiromi Hakuta and Julien Ansart) attended as observers of the proceedings. This year, JETAA Queensland played host in Brisbane, the northern capital that looks to Asia and is close to the Gold Coast, a favoured destination for young Japanese looking for sun, surf and sand. Appropriately, we had our first lunch meet on Friday at MOS Burger, the famous Japanese fast food chain whose only non-Asian presence internationally is right in Brisbane.

JETAA Oceania was invited to attend the Welcome Back Reception for returning JETs at the Japanese Consul General’s home in Brisbane on the Friday night, a chance of course for us to network and hobnob with the cream of Brisbane’s Japanese cultural community. And after the reception finished (early, predictably), JETAA kicked on in town for a night out (hint: it’ll always involve karaoke—usually lots of obscure Japanese songs sung by that one quiet serious person who turns into a blurry, hip-thrusting maniac).

The first day of the conference began on Saturday, early (for some, too early) at our hotel and Laura Tasharofi, president of JETAA Qld, began proceedings by explaining the theme of this year: Australia-Japan sister-city relationships. As explained by Hakuta-san, of all countries, Japan has the most links in Oceania, with 108 sister city relationships in Australia and 44 in New Zealand. Therefore, the potential for JETAA to get involved is great, and the conference’s objective is to find ways to participate and be more prominent in our local communities. To start discussions and provide ideas and examples, two guest speakers, Ross Humphreys and Barry Hancock, were invited who are respected members of the Brisbane community and its influential sister city relationships.

Humphreys is president of the National Federation of Australia Japan Societies and a past president of the Queensland chapter of the Australia Japan Society who has unlocked more life accomplishments and accolades than a teenager on his PlayStation during school holidays. As Brisbane is the sister city of Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture, Humphreys has developed close business, cultural and personal ties with the city. As a start for JETAA chapters looking to get involved, he recommends identifying what is of interest to both cities in the relationship in order to come up with ideas for projects. Towards that end, Humphreys, through the Australia Japan Society, established the Brisbane Kobe Bridge initiative to facilitate and remove impediments to expanding business, cultural, education, government and knowledge relationships between the two cities. To illustrate, Humphreys related how he helped facilitate the expansion of a local Brisbane company Name Badges International into the Kobe market. Humphreys helped established office space in both Brisbane and Kobe, which gave international representatives a place to work and meet, reducing impediments and cost. Of course, these things needing constant and voluntary effort to maintain, constant reinforcement is required in order to keep the relationship and network alive, which requires every member of the team to do their part as an ambassador for the relationship.

Hancock, the second speaker, is the international relations manager for the Brisbane City Council, which is more focused on maximising business and economic development for Brisbane. Hancock urged JETAA conference attendees to “work locally, think globally” and that understanding culture is important to economic development in order to understand how “things work.” Certainly, the picture Hancock paints of Brisbane is one that seems very active and interested in the Asia Pacific region, maintaining relationships with nine partner cities from India to Taiwan. Forming relationships is important, he says, but everything always begins by taking the first step in starting the process, be it a phone conversation or a email sent, in order to see what comes out of the discussion: “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

Each chapter also gave short presentations on what sister city arrangements existed in each area of jurisdiction, and what we’ve done to get involved. For many of us, researching for our presentations is frequently the first time any of us acquired knowledge of the local environment as far as sister city arrangements are concerned. Apart from the fact it has a low profile in the media, being that most activities take place at the local level, particularly the smaller ones who may only have two active committee members at any one time, there’s not been much opportunity, scope or resources to get involved.

However, some chapters have managed to get involved in more quirky activities (like Wellington’s participation in making arguably the world’s longest sushi roll recently). Brainstorming yielded some interesting ideas, such as getting a JETAA representative on the local sister city committee, or reaching out to country JET alumni residents who would be willing to get involved in their towns. However, general agreement leaned towards a more realistic approach, at least for the shorter term, which was to fit sister city relationship events and projects into existing JETAA work and activity, and positioning JETAA as one of the primary sources and authority to be approached for any local sister city, due to our network and knowledge of having lived and worked in Japan.

As always, reaching out is a first step, forming relationships by networking with those involved locally in sister city relationships at JETAA functions and events. All of which is hard work, and so JETAA Oceania wrapped up the first day with a boat cruise on Brisbane River to celebrate JETAA Qld’s 20th anniversary in yukata and geta style (a hard lesson in realising how impractical geta are as footwear).

The last day of the conference (after another typical night of karaoke and drinking after the anniversary cruise—it’s JETAA and it’s tradition) is always fun and interesting, as each chapter generally reports on what they had been getting up to since the last conference. This is the time when we applaud and most importantly, steal ideas from each other for future planning and events. Wellington wins for most ambitious future project, with their idea of bringing a replica Gundam robot to New Zealand. However, most of us were a bit more small-scaled in scope, from organising fundraising events to creating competitions and cultural eikaiwa nights.

Although the ideas exchanged at the conference were interesting and invaluable, as mentioned before, the best part of conferences is meeting and networking with all the other chapter members. Such conferences are important in knowing that each chapter isn’t working in isolation, that we all face similar challenges, and that we reconnect with our past as JETs, even if it was only for three days. It serves to remind us why we joined and spend our time and energy in a volunteer organisation, and realise that yep, we are all mad, but there’s a method to our madness, and it usually involves karaoke and singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” at 1 a.m. JETAA Oceania may not assemble for another year, but we all come away with renewed enthusiasm (and a deeper appreciation for Bon Jovi).

To read JQ magazine’s recap of the 2013 JETAA USA National Conference, click here.