[ Opinion ] Issue 7 - 23 July 1996

Asian Month: Exploration or Exhibit?

"Asian Month provides the residents of the city with the opportunity to enjoy learning about the rest of Asia, while helping people from other lands understand Fukuoka "

The Mayor of Fukuoka City in the Asian Month Official Guidebook

"... growing closer, as well as developing better understanding and more friendly relationships between the citizens of Fukuoka and those of Asia and the Pacific region, is one of the main objects of the 'Month'

"RAINBOW", newsletter of the Fukuoka International Association"

This is my fourth year as a participant in Asian Month. As a spectator and a volunteer I have found many of the experiences rewarding. I have enjoyed the stage performances and met some of the performers, tasted the food and learned something about the cooking and cuisine from other Asian countries, met interesting people and made lasting friendships. The premise of Asian Month as an event of international exchange is a good one, yet there are aspects of it that I find troubling.
Asian Month, (like many events sponsored by the city), bills itself as promoting exchange between the people of Fukuoka and people from other Asian cities and countries. Yet, the role Japanese people are being asked to play is that of spectator, and the "exchange" seems to be rather a one way process. Last year I proposed to senior officials in the Asian Month Section of Fukuoka City to hold, or have the city itself hold, a charity event; the proceeds would benefit charities in other Asian countries. Apart from helping to raise the consciousness of Fukuoka citizens it would provide some concrete help. I had researched two charities, a fund to help restore the ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and a Bangkok slum charity, but other charities could be proposed. At first I was encouraged and asked to do research, hold discussions and submit a proposal; but as I did more work setting up the project and it came time to implement practical decisions, the proposal began to meet with a cold reception. Finally, after months of discussion and research, it was turned down, one of the reasons given was that 3really Asian Month is for the Japanese." Of course Asia Month is for Japanese people , but it is surely not exclusively so. It is after all, a festival of exchange. I was also told that through the various food stalls Asia Month raises a fairly large amount of money and that if the city wished to make a d onation it would not be necessary to raise money through a charitable event. I felt, and still feel, that this misses the point, that Japanese people should be encouraged and made able, to make a personal contribution to the Asian connexion.
Another largely unpublicized fact is that much if not most of the work for Asian Month is organized and carried out by Dentsu and other agencies. (Dentsu, for those who don1t know, is one of the largest advertising agencies in the world.) Other commercial enterprises include Iwataya, the department store, which had a booth last year at the Asian Festival which was staffed by clerks posing as volunteers. In fact, not just most, but all of the 'volunteers' wearing uniforms that I talked to were being paid not just expenses, but an hourly wage. When I first started as a volunteer for Asia month it was fun; many ordinary Japanese were involved. I have noted sadly that each year brings a glossier more impersonal festival involving fewer ordinary, unpaid people. This year, despite my best efforts, I was unable to volunteer. This is unfortunate - part of the appeal of Asia Month is surely that many, many people should be able to get involved in roles other than that of spectator.

I am not trying to argue here that Fukuoka City should not engage in public relation activities, nor that the city's political and commercial interests should not work hand-in-hand. Indeed, it could be argued that some aspects of Asia month are not commercial enough. One of the best form of international exchange is travel. Comparatively few Japanese seem to have visited even one other Asian country; certainly fewer than have visited Europe or the States. To remedy this, the city could persuade the big travel companies to provide special Asia Month tours and cheap air tickets to Asian countries represented in the festival. Asia Month could become a "Visit Asia" month.
I still feel there is room in Asia Month for a charitable event of some kind. This might be no more than a raffle, or an event one pays slightly more to go to. Charitable events are not just about raising money, they help to focus people1s minds. Some cities donate bicycles to Cambodia. I have been to the ruins of Angkor Wat. Amidst the rubble and desolation is a sign saying that the people of (as I recollect) Kanagawa-ken are contributing to the restoration of this great temple complex. There must be many such purely cultural projects in the region that ordinary Fukuokans could take a pride in sponsoring as part of a shared diverse and responsible Asian culture.

The author has travelled extensively in Asia and lived in several Asian countries. An American, he has been involved in previous Asian Month's as a volunteer. He has lived in Japan for the past3 years.

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