Iwate, and the rest of northern Japan, have a reputation for being…well, rural. The winters are cold, rice fields seem more numerous than people, and you don’t see many foreign faces walking around town. Or so you would think. In reality, Iwate is already home to around 5,600 residents who come from all around the world, ranging from the Philippines to Iceland, Peru to South Korea, Ecuador to the United Kingdom. Those residents got a chance to teach more about their homelands to local Japanese early in December at the 2015 One World Festa in Iwate, a day of friendship and learning held at Aiina, the largest cultural center in the prefecture.
Over 2,500 people came out to travel the world in 80 “steps.” Thirsty? Drink some Vietnamese coffee at the Vietnam booth. Looking to make some decorations for the New Year? Practice paper cutting at the Chinese booth. Where’s that music coming from? It’s the Philippines booth showing off their tinikling dance.
There were also groups representing organizations like the Japan International Cooperation Agency (an entity that assists economic/social growth in developing countries). Food preparation was headed by a local Nepalese curry restaurant, as this year’s theme was support for Nepal after the earthquake that shook the country in April. There were also panels aimed at Japanese students looking to study abroad, a charity concert, and a seminar on the ILC.
In fact, the ILC was everywhere at this year’s Festa. Iwate’s ILC Promotion Office set up a large area with information and walked around the venue talking with residents (with Mr. Dark Matter making another appearance). The ILC Support Committee were also out in full force, and members chatted with local residents about the project.
Oshu City’s Anna Thomas and I headed an hour-long presentation on the ILC aimed at Japanese residents, where we talked about what the ILC would explore as well as what effects we might see from the project: fundamental research, growth in industry, and an international Iwate.
The audience was packed, with young students to senior citizens. Many of the students told us they’d like to work on research at the ILC one day. However, not everyone is sold on the project, which is to be expected. Many people are aware that the ILC will be a device built underground, but the nitty-gritty of subatomic research is hard to pare down into layman’s terms. While there is excitement about the economic effects and scientific advancements, concerns remain about possible radiation and the billions of yen involved in the project.
It’s clear that as we continue to produce educational materials on the ILC, we have to keep the conversation going with the general population. Dr. Atsuto Suzuki (president of Iwate Pref. University and winner of the 2016 Breakthrough Prize) and his idea of an ILC Caravan, traveling through Tohoku giving talks on the ILC, seems like a good thing to get up and running.
The globalization of Iwate remains a powerful, if controversial, image of the future. One older gentleman told us he feared that the classic hometown-feel of Iwate would be irrevocably changed because of the ILC and an influx of foreign residents. I think it’s natural to worry about the impact of immigration on a mostly mono-cultural society. Along with budget issues and radiation fears, I think this – integrating foreign residents into a rural Japanese society – will be the biggest challenge of the ILC project. Iwate is satoyama, the hilly heartland of Japan. People have been farming these lands for a millennia. Change on the scale of the ILC will need to be carefully implemented.
However, the whole vision for the ILC has the facility integrated with the culture of Tohoku. Imagine villages nestled in the mountains, with research facilities close by. Researchers living in classic Japanese homes with tiled roofs. Foreign and Japanese children going to the same school, bridging gaps between cultures. No one can deny that an influx of foreign residents will make things different, but just take a look at One World Festa. Foreign residents are part of Iwate, and Iwate is a part of us. We look forward to a time where the ILC will bring Iwate and the world together.