| As I mentioned in a previous column, in the next few articles I would like to introduce some of the services that the consulate provides to the people of the Midwest, starting in this issue with the Japan Information Center (JIC). Whereas many of the other sections of the consulate mainly serve Japanese nationals in the U.S. or report information to the Japanese government, the JIC is wholly dedicated to providing services and information about Japan to Americans. Following are some of the ways in which it does this.
Most generally, the JIC acts as a kind of clearinghouse of information about Japan and Japanese resources in our 10-state jurisdiction. The JIC sends free books, pamphlets, magazines, and CD-ROMS upon request to those interested in Japan. In addition, the JIC maintains contact lists of local individuals and organizations, from anime fan clubs to Zen temples.
Several times a year, the JIC organizes Japanese cultural events. Recent events held at the JIC include a lecture by anime producer Hiroaki Inoue, a screening of the recent film "The Face of Jizo," and an exhibition of architectural photographs. Such JIC events are always free and open to the public. In addition, the JIC maintains a web-based events calendar that lists all the Japan-related events that come to our attention. Examples of such events include exhibitions at museums, such as "Toshiko Takaezu: Heaven and Earth Exhibition" at the Racine Art Museum; cultural festivals, such as Milwaukee's Asian Moon Festival; and regular conversation groups, such as the Madison-Japan Association's Japanese conversation group.
JIC staff also delivers presentations on Japan and Japanese culture to organizations in our jurisdiction. The vast majority of these presentations are given to schools, but we have also presented to elder hostels, public libraries, and park districts. Unfortunately, JIC staff members cannot travel far beyond Chicago, but groups are more than welcome to visit the JIC for a presentation.
Another educational resource is the JIC library. The library lends both English and Japanese books and offers fiction and nonfiction selections. For organizations, the library lends videos on various aspects of Japan, from shinkansen to sumo wrestling. The library also subscribes to an array of Japanese periodicals, including fashion magazines, political magazines, and language booklets.
One of the most important tasks charged to the JIC is to foster and support Americans' direct involvement with Japan. One of the largest and most important programs for doing so is the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, known as the JET Program. Each year, more than 2500 young Americans teach English in Japanese public schools as part of JET. JIC staff members conduct recruiting, interviewing, and orientation activities for the participants from our jurisdiction. The program offers wonderful experience and opportunities, and I encourage college students and graduates interested in teaching in Japan to consider doing so on the JET Program.
For those who consider themselves more student than teacher, the Japanese Ministry of Education (Monbukagakusho) offers five different scholarships for studying in Japan. Each of the five is aimed at a different demographic, from high school students (Vocational Training Scholarship) to graduate students (Research Scholarship). The scholarships have different qualifications and benefits, but all are administered by the JIC.
Another program to support interest in Japan is the speech contest. For nearly 20 years, the JIC has hosted a Japanese language speech contest for nonnative Japanese language learners. The contest divides participants into four categories that include beginning youngsters, experienced adults, and everyone in between. These contestants compete for both overall prizes and category-specific awards; the grand prize is a round-trip ticket to Japan. We hope this serves as a strong incentive to take advantage of school- and community-based Japanese classes.
All of the services and programs I have discussed briefly above are represented in greater detail on the JIC portion of the consulate Web site at www.chicago.us.emb-japan.go.jp/jic.html./Anyone interested in learning more about them is also welcome to contact the JIC directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-280-0430. I hope you will take advantage of the many services and resources of the Japan Information Center.
The Japan Information Center
By The Honorable Yutaka Yoshizawa, Consul General of Japan at Chicago
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