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Citizens' International Plaza, Council of Local Authorities for International Relations We promote international cooperation and multicultural activities throughout Japan!

Citizen's International Plaza coordinators Chihiro Tatsuki (right) and Makoto Tsukahara (left)

Citizen's International Plaza coordinators Chihiro Tatsuki (right) and Makoto Tsukahara (left)

This month's Close Up features the Citizens' International Plaza, an organization established in 1999 to act as a conduit between local authorities and non-governmental organizations (NGO). The Plaza is jointly run by the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR) and the Japan NGO Center for International Cooperation (JANIC); it leveraging both the network that CLAIR enjoys with local authorities, as well as the NGO network of JANIC. The Plaza engages in a variety of activities that are geared towards promoting internationalization throughout Japan. Moreover, rather than limiting access only to parties related to local authorities, NGO and non-profit organizations (NPO), the Plaza is designed to be an open forum for everybody to freely seek materials and consultations regarding international cooperation and multicultural activities. On this occasion, we spoke to coordinators Chihiro Tatsuki and Makoto Tsukahara, both of whom have been dispatched to the Citizens' International Plaza from JANIC.

Q.Please tell us how and why the Citizen's International Plaza was established.

A variety of materials regarding international cooperation and multicultural activities are available.

A variety of materials regarding international cooperation and multicultural activities are available.

A.Ms. Tatsuki CLAIR is an organization that supports the internationalization of local authorities throughout Japan, and the Citizen's International Plaza was established with the aim of more effectively developing international and multicultural activities within local communities via the strengthening of cooperation among local authorities, NGO and NPO. Individually, local authorities may experience difficulty developing necessary networks and expertise when trying to launch projects that encourage international cooperation and multicultural activities. However, with the help of NGO and NPO that possess overseas networks and specializations, such projects on the part of local authorities can be achieved more effectively and efficiently. This is why the Citizen's International Plaza was established, to support such cooperations among local authorities, NGO and NPO.

Q.You are making active efforts to provide a chance for local authorities to meet with NGO and NPO representatives.

A.Ms. Tatsuki Cooperation will only commence when people can meet each other. Thus, we conduct a variety of seminars that offer meeting opportunities to participants. One of our seminars is called "Promoting Collaborations Between Local Authorities, NGO and NPO." It is conducted three or four times a year, with participants drawn from local authorities, associations for international communication and exchange, and NGO representatives, etc. At these events, we always set aside time for workshops that encourage communication among participants. Of course, participation in a single seminar does not instantly lead to the development of collaborations. However, we have received reports that participants have subsequently been invited to speak at other lectures and participate in projects in advisory roles due to contacts created through their original participation in our seminars.

Picture taken at a "Promoting Collaborations Between Local Authorities, NGO and NPO" seminar.

Picture taken at a "Promoting Collaborations Between Local Authorities, NGO and NPO" seminar.

A.Ms. Tsukahara After a seminar where we offered a presentation on a project dealing with fair trade coffee, a participant from an association for international communication and exchange reported "our organization subsequently launched a similar fair trade coffee project." It was gratifying to know that our seminar offered the opportunity for the participant's organization to develop this new project.

Q.The seminars you conduct are places where the "seeds of collaboration" are planted.

Ms. Tatsuki and Ms. Tsukahara answering our questions.

Ms. Tatsuki and Ms. Tsukahara answering our questions.

A.Ms. Tatsuki Exactly. In some cases, people who met in a seminar some years ago have found themselves working together on different projects more recently. The seminars are also where the participants can meet with us, the staff of the Citizen's International Plaza. We often receive inquiries from participants after seminars have concluded and we then introduce them to other organizations for new collaborations. Of course, we are also always trying to expand our own network by visiting a wide variety of local authorities and organizations.

Q.What kinds of question do you receive frequently from local authorities?

A.Ms. Tatsuki A common question is "Will you introduce us to an NGO that is engaged in a certain kind of activity?" Some local authorities also want to know what kinds of NGO are working nationwide, not just in their local communities. One association for international communication and exchange asked us "To which NGO should we send the proceeds if we hold an event to help raise funds for areas impacted by natural disasters?"

Q.What kind of questions do you receive from NGO and NPO?

A.Ms. Tatsuki They often ask for "the cooperation of local authorities with regard to publicity activities." Famous NGO are capable of generating publicity quite effectively on their own, but less well-known entities often find it quite effective to have announcements placed in the newsletters of local authorities. As such, they approach us for introductions to these local authorities.

Q.The Plaza is open to everyone to access materials regarding international cooperation and multicultural activities.

Materials filed by prefecture.

Materials filed by prefecture.

A.Ms. Tatsuki We keep materials sent to us by the local authorities of the different prefectures of Japan, the authorities of the twelve designated major cities of Japan, and from associations for international communication and exchange throughout the country; all such materials concerning international cooperation and multicultural activities. Also, we sometimes receive visits from students, etc., who are "researching theses for cases of international cooperation and multicultural activities within a particular prefecture" We also offer access to older materials previously developed by CLAIR.

Materials created by local authorities and associations for international communication and exchange nationwide can be viewed at the Plaza.

Materials created by local authorities and associations for international communication and exchange nationwide can be viewed at the Plaza.

A.Ms. Tsukahara Recently, many local authorities and associations for international communication and exchange have focused on multicultural activities. More and more are now attempting to develop booklets and help guides, etc., in multiple languages regarding lifestyle issues. They are also developing resources that will help non-Japanese speakers during times of emergency. Many people involved in such projects visit the Plaza to develop their own ideas about such resources after referring to the booklets and help guides developed by other organizations that we have on file. I must say that the people involved in such tasks are very passionate about their work.

Q.Is it OK to come here for no particular purpose, just because you are interested in the Plaza?

A.Ms. Tsukahara Of course. The Citizen's International Plaza is an open space that anyone can come and visit. We hope that people will just drop in, look at our NGO pamphlets, and enjoy the exhibits that we have on display.
A.Ms. Tatsuki We have an area set aside to collect PET bottle caps, used ink cartridges, spoiled postcards and other goods for recycling. One day we put up a sign saying that we collect and donate such items to NGO, and people working in this building and nearby offices began to support our activities. For us, collecting goods for recycling also represents a tool to publicize international cooperation and multicultural activities among the general population.

Area set aside to collect goods for recycling. Some people even collect PET bottle caps after meetings and bring them to the collection point.

Area set aside to collect goods for recycling. Some people even collect PET bottle caps after meetings and bring them to the collection point.

any NGO and NPO pamphlets for people to look at and even take home.

Many NGO and NPO pamphlets for people to look at and even take home.

Q.You are also actively sending out information via SNS?

A.Ms. Tsukahara We have Twitter and Facebook accounts, as well as a blog. We send out information so that people can learn about international cooperation and multicultural activities in a manner with which they can identify. We're very happy if what people read in our messages tweaks their interest and induces them to come and visit us.
A.Ms. Tatsuki You may feel that international cooperation and multicultural activities are done somewhere detached from this world, or they are matters concerning certain people only. Changing the mentality from something that is "somebody else's concern" to something that is "my own concern" among people is a major issue for us. Thus, through our blog we try and show "how we work here every day" in order that people can more easily identify with what we do.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/janic_plaza
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Siminkokusaiplaza.janic
Blog: http://ameblo.jp/janic-plaza/
(in Japanese)

Q.Will you please send a message to our readers who are interested in international cooperation and multicultural activities?

A.Ms. Tatsuki I recommend people read the blogs, tweets, and Facebook pages, etc., of many different organizations, not just those of the Citizen's International Plaza. If there is something that captures an individual's interest, then they should look to participate in the events or seminars of the organization, or try and join them as either a volunteer or as an intern. Volunteering for such organizations even for just one day helps people appreciate an organization's activities from the on-site perspective. An activity that anyone can join easily is the Global Festa.
A.Ms. Tsukahara Please come and visit us at the Citizen's International Plaza. We can show you information regarding many different local authorities, associations for international communication and exchange, events organized by NGO and NPO, as well as volunteering opportunities. You may find several different ways to get involved in international cooperation and multicultural activities. We're happy if you use the Plaza as a comprehensive destination to gather such information.