Every year JET teachers are required to take part in a midyear conference hosted by the prefecture. Ours is branded as a skills development conference and involves a number of lesson demos and speakers over two days. In addition to the business side of things our prefecture always adds an activity that focuses on a local Kagawa art or handicraft.
In the past, we have stitched intricate patterns into balls packed with rice husks, and also shaped bonsai using the black pine variety that was first cultivated in this region. For this year’s conference, a third day was added so that we could go to Tadotsu and hear a lecture on Japan’s aging population problem. We also spent half a day getting a crash course in Shorinji Kempo, a Japanese martial art with ties to Chinese Shaolin Kung Fu that was founded in this region.
We met the first day at Tadotsu Station and then bused over to a home for the elderly. When we arrived, we all had to wear masks so as not to infect the residents with our foreigner cooties. Once we made our way over to the conference room, we kicked things off with an introduction to the facilities. They apologized incessantly for their aging buildings, but assured us that the quality of the staff more than compensated for that. Had they not kept mentioning it, I’m sure that none of us would have shared in their observation.
The talk was fairly straightforward and addressed the issues surrounding the massive population imbalance that is, and will continue to befall this country. Due to a declining birthrate, lack of immigration, and especially their staunch unwillingness to die, by 2055 it is estimated that the number of people aged 65 and above will represent 38% of the total population. The population is also expected to fall by about 30% within the same time frame. It is a topic that I researched a bit back in my student days so some of this was review, but it was interesting to hear him speculate that in the future over 50% of employee income will need to go to the welfare system just to keep it afloat.
Following the stats, he talked a bit on the ethics of helping those who don’t want to receive care. It turned into a lengthy debate by people who began debating their topic armed only with the irrelevant knowledge of how things work in their home countries. Most of us checked out mentally until this portion had ended. When it at last had, we all took a tour though the facilities. It was a little bit strange passing though the milling elderly. Our purpose for being there was not well understood by us, them, or anybody I assume.
The state-of-the-art bathing facilities.
From the retirement resort, we walked over to an udon restaurant for some lunch. I can understand people loving it on a basis of price and convenience, but certainly not the taste. I can see no reason why it should be held with such regard.
We carried on walking to our next destination, the Shorinji Kempo world headquarters. I didn’t know anything about this martial art, but it is apparently practiced world wide and is officially recognized on a short list of Japan’s martial arts, along with the likes of karate and sumo. The first thing we did here was tour the facilities. The place doubled as a school and we were able to see a number of the students training together. After we changed into our battle gear, we gathered in the main hall for a demonstration and training session.
Approaching the world headquarters.
After two highly skilled practitioners sparred and demonstrated the skills, we broke into pairs to attempt them ourselves. I was paired with Ryan, and though I was fairly bad, we still had a good time of it. In this martial art, everything seemed to follow a defend/counterattack formula. The grabs and maneuvers that we were learning seemed extremely applicable to self-defense, if only I know how to best use them.
After we finished with the day’s lesson, we learned the proper way to cross our legs, close our eyes, and meditate on the day’s training. When time was up, one of the leaders spanked a massive wooden rod against the ground. The thunderous sound jolted us all back to reality and marked the end of the session. From there we went to a classroom where we learned a bit about the spiritual aspect of the martial art and also the history. Here we learned that it was founded after the war so that people could help themselves and also each other. Mastering both the physical and the spiritual were essential to accomplishing that.
Our instructors for the day.
This was a really interesting opportunity for me to see just how badly I would fare in a fight against something who actually knew what they were doing. For a moment, it even inspired me to start learning a martial art myself, but here I am a month later still having done nothing towards that. After walking back to the station, the day was done and we were free to go.
The following Thursday and Friday meetings were a bit more ordinary, with a day each dedicated to elementary and middle school lessons. I dodged the bullet of having to present anything this year, so I was able to sit back and ‘enjoy’ it. the highlight of the conference was as alway my boss, whose zany and spontaneous English keeps us very entertained. Usually our discourse with him is limited to E-mail, but the speeches that come out at these conferences are the crème de la crème. In order to preserve his legacy, I hit record every time someone handed him a mic.
Our great leader, Hiramatsu.
Overall, it was a good three days of vacation from the classroom. I did get some good ideas for new games and activities, but the highlights were of course seeing my friends during the otherwise lonely midweek. This is the only event each year that brings all of the teachers from across the prefecture into one place. So even the opportunity to remember the existence of the less social members by forcing them out of their recluses was good too. When everything was over on Friday, we decided to have a good Bear mauling and join together for some karaoke.