The 2023 Nirasaki Workshop about - Gender-

On the first day of the workshop, everyone from the Atsumi Foundation gathered at the front of the Shinjuku Center Building at 8.45am, and in a large tourist bus we headed towards the venue, the Chateraise Hotel in Nirasaki city, Yamanashi prefecture. It wasn't hot and the temperature was just nice. According to the weather forecast for the day it was going to rain in the afternoon, but in Mongolia we have a saying that "its rains for those who are lucky," and it's taken as good fortune if rain falls at the start of something. Given that this was the first workshop after the pandemic, I felt fortunate. After arriving at the hotel and having a delicious lunch, we split into two groups - the group attending the talk on agriculture and the group going to the museum.

The first group was supposed to participate in an agricultural experience and try out weeding in the rice paddies, but because of the poor weather conditions we instead listened to a talk on agriculture in a meeting room in the hotel. The two speakers were Naito-san and Takahashi-san. Naito-san had written a Masters thesis on "the social behavior of wild animals," focusing on the behavior of wild monkeys in particular. After receiving his Masters degree, he returned to his hometown where he took over his family's farm and established "Paddy Field Company." In addition to being involved in rice production, he is also currently working on animal damage control for the region. Naito-san also shared with us incredibly interesting stories that one wouldn't usually get the chance to listen to about Japanese rice production and rice varieties, as well as the machinery necessary for rice production. Takahashi-san was working as an intern under Naito-san, as well as as a member of Nirasaki city's "local community revitalization taskforce." Naito-san told us about the sort of work the taskforce does, as well as about the types of damage done by animals and the tactics to deal with it. There were more questions than there was time for in the Q&A session. The talk by Naito-san and Takahashi-san was a lot of fun, and we learnt about rice production from the perspectives of producers as well as consumers. Naito-san describing rice production in a nutshell as "animal damage" by wild animals really stuck with me. He said, "whether wild animals come or don't to a field is evidence of how fresh the produce is, and if whether chemicals are used or not."

The second group visited the Nirasaki Omura Art Museum. The museum consists of the art collection of Dr. Omura Satoshi (recipient of the 2015 Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology), who comes from the city of Nirasaki and opened the museum in 2007. Works of art by female artists representing Japan are exhibited on the first floor of the museum. Mementos from Dr. Omura's youth and research materials as well as hobbies are exhibited in the Omura Memorial room. On the second floor is the Suzuki Shintaro Memorial Room, which exhibits works by the Western style painter Suzuki Shintaro from before the war to after. By coincidence, Dr. Omura happened to be at the museum on the day we visited, and we took a picture with him to commemorate the occasion.

After dinner, as a warm-up we played line-up, and got in a line based on the number of countries we'd been to, how often we watched Korean dramas, date of birth, and so on. After that, we had some free time in the recreation room, where we had fun drinking and chatting.

The theme of the workshop this time was "gender." The first session was about "gender and me," the second "let's think about gender in more depth," and the third "media and gender." The facilitators for the workshop were former Atsumi scholars Sonja, Magdalena, Mya and Kato. Each session was characterized by splitting up into groups and making a speech, and making a poster about our thoughts on gender. We got to choose one of two scripts (from "A Doll's House" and "Tea and Sympathy"), and the performance by each group made me think more about gender and left an impression on me. My group did a performance about love between a human and a robot. Each group was really passionate in their performance, and it was interesting to watch them.

During the workshop we broke into groups and had a discussion about "how would your career, social structure, and education change if you were born a different gender." After the discussion a representative from each group shared some points from their discussion. In addition, we also exchanged our opinions about the topic of "if your friend had a child, would you ask about the child's gender/wait for your friend to tell you the child's gender/not ask." From our discussion, I learnt that in China only the doctor knows about the gender of a pregnant woman's child, and there is a law that prevents mothers from learning about the gender of their child.

To end, we wrote a letter to ourselves a year in the future, wrote our address on the envelope, and passed it to the foundation staff. Apparently this letter would be sent to us one year later. I wonder what we'll all be doing one year from now?

On the second evening, we had a barbeque under a tent in the tennis courts. It was raining a little, but the rain didn't bother us and we had a fun barbeque, as well as many fun conversations. There were many delicious foods such as fried noodles, meat, shellfish and vegetables. After the barbeque we returned to the hotel and, like the previous evening, enjoyed conversation with everyone from the foundation, and had a memorable time.

I'm really happy that I got to participate in this Nirasaki workshop with everyone from the Atsumi Foundation, as well as the Raccoons and 2023 fellows. I also managed to gain a deeper understanding of "gender," the main theme of this workshop, as well as enjoyed myself during the group activities and conversations over delicious food. I'm very grateful to everyone at the Atsumi Foundation for giving us this wonderful opportunity.

Photos of the day

Text: Enkh-Amgalan Onon(2023)
Translation: Sonja Dale