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JICA Global Plaza, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) - With a World-Wise Global Concierge, Learn of Developing-Nation Issues & International Cooperation -

JICA Global Plaza Concierge Yoshikazu Sakata, who welcomed us in ethnic costume.

JICA Global Plaza Concierge Yoshikazu Sakata,
who welcomed us in ethnic costume.

This month's Close Up introduces JICA Global Plaza. As an entity established to be "a hub for citizen participation in international cooperation," JICA Global Plaza offers a Virtual Global Experience Area where visitors can appreciate issues that directly confront the world, an Intercultural Communication Area where various events and seminars on international cooperation and exchange are conducted, and other facilities such as J's Café, somewhere where a global experience can be appreciated through the medium of food. In order that as many citizens as possible hold an interest in international cooperation, and that it is possible for them to actually participate in international cooperation activities, JICA Global Plaza provides a wide range of services. On this occasion we spoke to Global Concierge Yoshikazu Sakata, who after working in Bolivia as a member of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV), now acts as a guide who supports visitor education at JICA Global Plaza.

Q.Please tell us what led to the establishment of JICA Global Plaza?

A. In April of 2006, JICA Global Plaza was initially established in Hiroo, Shibuya City. Although JICA dispatches numerous people to work on the front lines of international cooperation as JOCV members, etc., another important mission for those who have been JICA volunteers is to return something to Japan in the form of their experiences. For people with wide-ranging needs, whether such are an interest in international cooperation, an interest in becoming a JOCV member, or an interest in doing something as a school in the field of international cooperation, etc., JICA Global Plaza was created to allow them to more closely identify with the wider world through initially visiting our facilities, seeing our displays that highlight issues confronting the world, and listening to the experiences of those who have actually worked in the various countries. While saying all this, however, I should point out that JICA Global Plaza relocated to Ichigaya in Shinjuku City in October of 2012. That being said, however, we would like more and more citizens to come and continue to use JICA Global Plaza.

JICA Global Plaza relocated from Hiroo to Ichigaya in October, 2012. (It is now located within the JICA Ichigaya Building). © JICA Global Plaza

JICA Global Plaza relocated
from Hiroo to Ichigaya in October, 2012.
(It is now located within
the JICA Ichigaya Building).
© JICA Global Plaza

Cycle rickshaw displayed at the entrance of JICA Global Plaza. © JICA Global Plaza

Cycle rickshaw displayed
at the entrance of JICA Global Plaza.
© JICA Global Plaza

Q.Almost a year has passed since relocation, have you witnessed any changes in visitor demographics?

A. With the relocation to Ichigaya, we now get more visits from junior and senior high school students located along the Chuo and Sobu railway lines. Some of these visits are encouraged by schools, others by parents who suggest to children that they come and check us out. Moreover, it is currently summer vacation. Thus, we are seeing a lot of children who are visiting us in order to hear what we have to say. This is being done because the children have open-topic assignments to complete. I should also point out that many grandchildren visit us by being brought along by grandparents. Speaking of the older generations, when we introduce the displays, in addition to those whose impressions are that "Japan is very fortunate," we also get a lot of comments that the display simplicity brings back recollections of a bygone era "similar to what Japan was some 50 years ago." Additionally, in carrying on how things have always been, we still get lots of student groups on school excursions or social studies field trips. Recently, we are also seeing greater numbers of families and children who make an effort to come in and see things for themselves.

Q.Could you tell me something of the displays in the Virtual Global Experience Area?

Displays based on the seven themes of "poverty," "healthcare," "education," "children," "co-existence," "water" and "civil war," which have been constructed in such a way as to deepen understanding.

Displays based on the seven themes of
"poverty," "healthcare," "education,"children,"
"co-existence," "water"and "civil war,"
which have been constructed in such a way
as to deepen understanding.

A.The displays have been developed so that visitors are able to see, touch and experience a great variety of things, thus being given an opportunity to consider what they can personally do with respect to the global status quo. In the basic display entitled, "Human Security –Worldwide Joy and Sorrow,"* issues that confront developing nations are raised such as poverty, healthcare, civil war, education, child labor, and water, etc. Actually, I might mention that this display is based on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (UN MDGs). What we hope to achieve by our displays is having visitors realize there are people worldwide who are unable to escape from poverty, and who are unable to receive services such as healthcare that we take for granted. For the purpose of having our visitors appreciate such issues, Global Concierges like me don't just offer an explanation of the displays. Rather, as people who have worked in different countries, we talk to visitors about our experiences.
(*Please note that the basic display will be removed from August 6th through to December 1st to make way for a planned exhibition. It is scheduled that the basic display will resume from December 3rd.)

Q.And what about the displays you explain, are there any themes that especially resonate with visitors?

A. In my case I would nominate "water" as one of these. There are many occasions when I raise the themes of "water" and "co-existence" with visitors. I start on the "water" theme by asking; "Have you brushed your teeth today? Do you know where the water with which you brush your teeth comes from?" In response, everybody answers; "the tap." I then ask; "what happens in regions where they don't have taps," the answer being that inhabitants have to go and get water themselves. However, while getting water, school starts. In light of this, I try and direct the flow of conversation so visitors consider it to be better if closer running water sources were available for inhabitants, and then I shift to a discussion of the water that underpins our food. For example, everyone is amazed when I tell them it takes one ton of water to create 50 grams of beef. It is at this point that I ask; "So what can we do about this?" Through such questions I help visitors appreciate the importance of issues that are often taken for granted in our society, such as not wasting food or handling water as a precious resource.

At the "water" display, it’s possible to experience the weight of water that children in developing countries have to collect.

At the "water" display, it's possible
to experience the weight of water
that children in developing
countries have to collect.

At the "co-existence" display, if a barcode is scanned, information regarding foodstuffs is presented on a screen in a quiz format.

At the "co-existence" display,
if a barcode is scanned,
information regarding foodstuffs
is presented on a screen in a quiz format.

Q.If somebody views the displays and decides they want to know more about international cooperation, how should they proceed?

A. Within the Virtual Global Experience Area, we have spaces set aside where there is regularly-alternating information displayed regarding specific countries, and also displays that introduce the international cooperation activities of private industry. Additionally, at JICA Global Plaza we also conduct seminars related to such topics. These events are open to everybody, so if somebody is interested in a particular topic, we would recommend that they come and attend. Furthermore, in Virtual Global Experience Area, Global Concierges are able to respond to visitors in any number of ways. In matching the needs of an individual, we can pass on information about programs, events and seminars conducted at JICA Global Plaza. We also have pamphlets from organizations registered with us. Thus, we sometimes introduce "a certain type of NGO" to people interested in volunteering. In this respect, we could also be considered as a disseminator of information.

On an ongoing basis at JICA Global Plaza there are a wide-range of events and seminars held concerning "international cooperation". © JICA Global Plaza
There are also seminars conducted by foreign instructors. © JICA Global Plaza

On an ongoing basis at JICA Global Plaza there are a wide-range of
events and seminars held concerning "international cooperation".
There are also seminars conducted by foreign instructors. (R)
© JICA Global Plaza

Q.And I have heard that you also have programs in place for visits by groups?

An outreach lesson conducted at Zuiko Elementary School in Arakawa City.  Persons with experience as JICA volunteers assume the role of instructor, and talk about the nature of developing countries and their relationships with Japan. © JICA Global Plaza

An outreach lesson conducted at Zuiko
Elementary School in Arakawa City.
Persons with experience as JICA volunteers
assume the role of instructor, and talk about
the nature of developing countries
and their relationships with Japan.
© JICA Global Plaza

A. Programs can be comprised of viewing our displays, discussing the experiences of JICA volunteers, and workshops. These components are often incorporated into school excursions, social studies field trips or integrated learning classes, etc. In that it is possible to tailor theme or content in response to individual wishes, we would ask that interested parties consult with us. Furthermore, in addition to visiting JICA Global Plaza, we also dispatch people with experience as JOCV members or Senior Overseas Volunteers (SOV) members to conduct outreach lessons on international cooperation.

Q.And what about education professionals? Do you also offer support regarding education that targets international understanding, development education?

JICA地球ひろばが作成している教育関係者向けの教材。ホームページからもダウンロードできます。© JICA地球ひろば

Teaching materials created by JICA Global Plaza
for education professionals. These can be downloaded
from the JICA Global Plaza website.
© JICA Global Plaza

A. These days, having foreign children in Japanese classrooms is no longer a rarity. However, there are both teachers and children who are uncertain as how to interact with non-Japanese people. Thus, here at JICA Global Plaza, we do provide teaching materials to help teach international understanding and development education, we also hold seminars on the teaching of international understanding, and we offer support by dispatching teachers on overseas study tours. For teachers with little experience, for those worried about how to proceed in the teaching of international understanding, we are involved in the creation of materials, etc. Looking at teachers who have participated in overseas study tours, more and more have a vision of the "international cooperation" they should personally aim for. If teachers change, children will also change. If children at least turn their eyes overseas and begin to appreciate their wider world, isn't it the case Japan's future will also be that much brighter?

Q.Could you please tell us something about yourself? Why did you end up participating in the JOCV program?

A. Originally, I taught social studies at junior high school. One day, a student asked; "what sort of country is the Philippines?" Although I was able to tell them certain facts I knew from books, I was conscious that I was unable to convey any knowledge actually based on personal experience of having been overseas. Concurrently, I was also conscious that Japanese children were unable to see at all, the world beyond these shores. With these thoughts in mind, I applied to JOCV because I felt it necessary for me to grow personally. Anyway, from a number of different job categories, due to a desire to teach environmental education, I ended up being dispatched to Bolivia. Although it wasn't planned from the outset that I would be off to Bolivia, I now feel blessed by the opportunity. This is because I learned an awful lot from my time there.

Q.So what about what you learned in Bolivia; was there anything in particular that left a strong impression?

Mr. Sakata teaching a lesson at a Bolivian school as a JOVC member. © JICA Global Plaza

Mr. Sakata teaching a lesson
at a Bolivian school as a JOVC member.
© JICA Global Plaza

A. On a daily basis, I came into contact with many children. Some subsequently died from illness; others were forced to quit school because they had to help their families. Despite such hardships, however, these children still had smiles. When asked why, they said "because life was to be enjoyed." Moreover, they found enjoyment in the most mundane things. "It's great to be able to eat a meal with my parents," "I want to grow up quickly in order to bring enjoyment to my family," etc. Such simple happiness and gentleness are things that have disappeared from contemporary Japan. I was greatly moved in that I regained in Bolivia such emotions that I had previously lost.

Q.After returning to Japan, what led you to become a Global Concierge?

A. My parents actually live in Miyagi Prefecture, and it was shortly before I was to return to Japan from Bolivia that the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. After the quake, the telephone to Japan wasn't working for the first couple of days. While wondering what to do, I went to work. Work colleagues said; "You don't have to turn up. Until you get in contact with your family, just keep trying to call them." Furthermore, I received numerous phone calls from acquaintances inquiring about my welfare. There were even strangers in town asking; "Are you Japanese? I heard there was a big earthquake, is everything alright?" It was under such circumstances that I again became aware that so many people were looking out for me. If there was no Tohoku to start with, and my parents had not existed, I wouldn't have been born. When I thought of such things, I realized I had to give something back to Japan. It was for this reason I decided to become a Global Concierge. These days, not as a teacher, but rather through JICA Global Plaza, I want to pass on my experiences to Japanese children to whom the future of this country will be entrusted.

Mr. Sakata explaining a display in his role as a Global Concierge. © JICA Global Plaza
Helping support a visitor who is juggling a water container on his head. © JICA Global Plaza

Mr. Sakata explaining a display in his role as a Global Concierge.
Helping support a visitor who is juggling a water container on his head. (R)
© JICA Global Plaza

Q.In your role as a Global Concierge, what sort of information do you want to convey?

Mr. Sakata; "We would like a wide range of people to come and see us.  This is because we also have a lot to learn." © JICA Global Plaza

Mr. Sakata; "We would like a
wide range of people to come
and see us. This is because
we also have a lot to learn."

A. Despite there being a very diverse world around us, I believe the current situation in Japan is that we don't have time to see it. Through talking with Global Concierges like myself, I would like people to appreciate that there is both a big world out there, and it is something that is in close proximity to Japan. Although I am not quite sure what words will resonate with visitors to JICA Global Plaza, if as a result of me talking about Bolivia, somebody gives thought as to how might revise their life or consider what they could do; that would make me very happy. I would like to see a wide range of visitors come and see us, from very small children to the elderly. Moreover, rather than just listening, I want people to participate. As with playing catch, it would be good if some back and forth between people was possible.

Q.Please feel free to offer a message to our readers.

A. Concerning the world, if your readers are even slightly interested in something, or there is something about which they have questions, Global Concierges like me would be really happy if they visited JICA Global Plaza and asked us. As somewhere to start, I would like your readers to be aware that facilities such as ours exist, I would like a wide variety of people to realize that they can visit us and enjoy our facilities in a relaxed frame of mind. On a personal level, I realize there is an image of the hurdles of international cooperation being set rather high, and it is my hope that something is done to lower these perceived thresholds. I also realize many people might have preconceptions such to English ability and specialist knowledge being necessary for involvement in international cooperation; however, I would encourage everybody to leap in and get involved. Our doors are always open and we look forward to your visit.

© JICA Global Plaza

© JICA Global Plaza

*From August 6th until December 1st at the Virtual Global Experience Area of JICA Global Plaza, a planned exhibition entitled; "Challenge towards Disaster Preparedness, Response, Recovery and Reconstruction," will be held. Furthermore, the specific country display in September will feature the Republic of Colombia. At J's Café on the 2nd Floor, visitors will also be able to experience Colombian cuisine. Please take this opportunity to come and visit!