With New Years fast approaching it’s time to forget 2011 and look forward to what next year has to offer. While making your resolutions for 2012 why not use this fresh start as a way to get more involved with Japan and meet new people– right inside your community in the US? Today I’d like to talk about Japan-America Societies and how you can get involved and have Japan related fun all year round.
What IS a Japan-America Society?
Japan-America Societies are located throughout the United States and they strive to strengthen the bonds and understanding between Japanese and Americans through various programs and events. You can find your local Japan-America Society using the National Association of Japan-America Societies (NAJAS) website directory as well as our Shinpai Deshou resource post.
From fun events like karaoke contests or baseball outings, to serious lectures on the future of Japanese car companies or rebuilding in Tohoku, Japan-America Societies offer a wide variety of programs for you to enjoy. If they’re not offering programming on something your interested in, chances are they would love to hear your ideas for new events too!
Obviously the easiest way to get involved with your local Japan-America Society is to attend events! What kind of programming can you expect to see? Educational lectures, special guest speakers, sake tastings, Japan themed pub quizzes, Japanese language classes, networking happy hour, happy hour in Japanese, ikebana lessons, calligraphy lessons, cooking classes, annual dinners, Otsukimi, Bonenkai, Shinnenkai, Aki Matsuri, Hanami, Tanabata, sport outings, martial arts exhibitions, martial arts classes, tea ceremony, Japanese literature book club, art gallery visits, movie screenings… the list goes on and on!
For starters, check out your local society’s website or call them to learn about upcoming events and sign up for a mailing list. Although the majority of societies are membership based, non-members are also welcome to participate in many events. Membership fees and benefits vary depending on the society so if you are hesitant to commit into a year or two of membership you can always check out events as a non-member first!
Students and those watching their wallet might feel a bit overwhelmed getting invitations to $60 washoku dinner parties or $45 ikebana lessons but keep your eyes peeled for programming that matches your interests as well as low price or even free events. Some societies offer discounts for students, young professionals, family membership or senior citizens so be sure to take advantage of those specials if you apply.
Another great way to get involved in your local Japan-America Society is through internships. Many societies are seasonally looking for new interns so be sure to check with your society about any upcoming openings. Students and those with flexible work schedules can take advantage of internships as a way to help out, get involved in your community, meet new people and learn more about Japan. It’s also great to add to your resume!
Even if your local society is not currently accepting interns, if you have the time and motivation to help out you can discuss opportunities for volunteering with the society. Japan-America Societies are often run by only a few staff which means there’s always something to help with! Some societies have large events that they regularly need volunteers to help with, weeks or even months in advance. Contact your local society to find out if they would be interested in having you help with upcoming events.
You can also propose your own ideas to the society. Maybe you’re a “book worm” who loves Japanese literature and wants to start a monthly book club or maybe you’re a martial arts fanatic who’d like to volunteer with others practicing Japanese martial arts to teach basic moves to local children for charity. If you have a passion and an idea for a related program, your local society may be able to provide the space or the outreach to turn your idea into an event for the local community to enjoy (And if they can’t help you, why not try your regional JETAA or nearby university Japanese departments… where there’s a will there’s a way, don’t give up on your idea!).
Even if the society doesn’t have any specific programs that need assistance and you don’t have any ideas for new programs, that doesn’t mean you can’t help out. Consider any strengths and special skills you might have and talk with the society– perhaps you’re talented in visual graphics and website design, or you have experience in event planning and catering. What can you do to help?
If you don’t have the time to volunteer regularly, you can also look into volunteering just occasionally for specific events or programs. Talk with your society about any upcoming events on days you’re free that they might need assistance in running. Some societies will even call for volunteers for big events on their websites or through their newsletter. Even without thorough knowledge of the event or specialized skills you can help with general management– registration, passing out flyers, set-up and clean-up, etc.
Many societies offer ways for companies to get involved as well. It could be as simple as donating to advertise at an event or something more involved, such as sponsoring a program. There are often also corporate membership options. Talk with your coworkers and local society to consider if this could mutually benefit your office and the Japan-America Society.
If you’re still wondering whether or not to get involved, my advice would be: Why not!
Whether you become an intern or occasional volunteer, member or an elusive drop-in, getting involved with your local Japan-America Society is a great way to meet new people interested in Japan, network, learn new things and enjoy Japan while living State-side. Many societies also often Japanese language classes which can be a fun way to keep up your nihongo skills while meeting other Japanese language learners in the area.
I had thought about joining my local Cincinnati chapter, especially since they have a young professionals group. The company I work for is a donating member, so I get to read their updates in our inbox. I’m often working during their events, though, so I had wondered if it might be a waste of money to join.
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