Quick trip in the WABAC Machine to a couple of weeks ago. I had the pleasure of working as a staff member of Japan Tent, an annual event that brings 300 international students from around the country to Ishikawa. While here, they participate in symposia and cultural workshops, as well as short homestays in 19 participating towns and cities around the prefecture. It’s a great opportunity for the students, who often don’t have much occasion to leave their university environment, to see a different part of the country and experience life in a Japanese household. But Japan Tent can be a great experience for those of us on the staff end as well.
This year, Tsubata welcomed 10 students from 9 different countries. They spend the majority of their time here with their host families, but our department also prepares one day of planned activities every year that families and students can enjoy together. This year, hoping to raise the profile of this event and promote international exchange beyond our usual network, we decided to open up the activity day to members of the community as well. It was difficult to decide on a plan, but we eventually settled on three events:
1) Mochi tsuki (mochi making). Involves pounding mochi rice with a large wooden mallet until smooth and pliable. More on this in a later post.)
2) World Food Exchange. We asked each exchange student to make a food from their home country and share it with everyone at lunch.
3) Hatagenpei. A traditional Kanazawa game.
The food exchange was new this year, and seemed to have the greatest potential for going awry, so I think we were all a little nervous. The students looked nervous too, but they arrived on time in the morning with their bags of groceries.
I had this moment of horror when they started to unwrap their ingredients… and they were all the same! Perhaps I had expected something more exotic, but everywhere I looked there were vegetables, potatoes and meat, cutting boards, knives and frying pans. I should have known better, but at that moment, it really looked like we were going to end up with a lot of the same thing.
I spent the next half hour nervously pacing the industrial kitchen, taking photographs and running to fetch ingredients. As I was doing this, something magical began to happen. Vegetables began to assume different shapes, and sauces began bubbling in frying pans. Aromas of tens of different spices filled the room. And as each student finished their dish and began to plate it in preparation for lunch, it became apparent that my anxiety had been completely ridiculous. Everyone had started with the same ingredients, sure – but within an hour, we had a spread of dishes that were, for the most part, new to everyone else but the chef.
Most importantly, everything was extremely delicious.