Interview : Tohoku University Festival Committee 2017

In November last year, Tohoku University Festival Committee spoke to ‘The Sentinel‘ in an exclusive interview about what it is like to organise a student event at such a scale. With internationalisation of the festival being a key feature in 2017, the organisers have tales to tell. The organising committee is primarily represented by the 2017 Festival Director, Ryuhei Notsuke. Other interviewee profiles are mentioned at the end of the interview.

  1. What do you think needs to be changed or kept for the festival next year?

I think we have to interact more with students and work as a team.

  1. Where do you want Tohoku University Festival to be in the next 50 years or near future?

Well, though we cannot exactly but we hope it attracts a lot more people and that students can express what they have learnt.

  1. Have you attended any other university festival? Is there anything that makes the Tohoku University Festival unique?

I have attended the festivals at University of Tokyo and Tohoku Gakuin but I think that what makes the Tohoku University Festival different is our focus on what we have learnt and not just entertainment. Invited lectures are a reflection of the same.

  1. Is it the first time you decided to make festival more international? Why? What were the initiatives taken under this process?

Yes, it is the first time. Our idea was to create a school festival where foreign students can truly enjoy. To facilitate the same, we had an English website, signboards in English and also the map in English.

  1. Tohoku University International Festival (TUIF) is chiefly organised by TUFSA. Have you ever considered to have just one festival which includes both international and Japanese students?

For organising the current festival itself, we have to take permission for hosting and cooperate with the authorities. Maybe in the future, we can think about having one festival.

 

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2017 Festival in numbers

 

  1. How many months do you take to prepare for the festival? What is the process of organising?

For organising the festival in November 2017, we began planning in December 2016. Organising the festival itself is a club activity and anyone who is interested can join. Anyone who wants to make a change and has a strong feeling for the school can join the club. The selection of the executive committee is random and this year we chose the members through lottery as the number of interested applicants were many.

The leader of the festival is chosen through voting by former members. The leader is always a sophomore and this activity is meant for freshmen and sophomores only.

 

  1. How did you decide this year’s theme (もどれどうしん、おどれわこうど), mascot (Peton) and theme song (Mellow Grace)?

The theme was decided by sophomores in around May or June but the discussions regarding the same began right from December. For the song and the mascot, we asked the student community to contribute something and then vote upon the same. Therefore, both the song and the mascot, are original creations.

  1. What is your fondest memory of the festival?

Ryuhei : Well, the entire process of organising was fun but most importantly, smiles of the people would remain as my fondest memory.

Ryota : Being responsible for the internet promotions and pamphlets, I saw many people looking up for what we sent out and that made me happy. Personally, I felt a sense of accomplishment when my best friend said that he had great fun.

Yuto : Not many people knew what I did in the team but a lot of them told me that I was shinig in the spotlight. That made me really happy.

Naohiro : This year, the number of people who watched the stand-up comedy live were more than 1,000! This was much more than the last year. This remains as my fondest memory.

  1. Any message/comments for our readers?

Ryuhei : I really hope that everyone, both Japanese and international students, enjoy the school festival next year too!

Naohiro : I would like more international students to attend the festival. This year, it was only the website that we worked on. Next year, I hope we can publish something too so that more international students. The university is investing its time and effort for bringing in more international students and I think that the festival should be reflective of the same too.

Interviewee profiles :

Ryuhei Notsuke (Festival Leader, 2017) : 3rd year student of psychology (Department of Literature) from Gunma. He loves swimming and is good at apologising as he always did so on behalf of the executive committee to the school authorities.

Yuto Sano (Translator during the interview and organising committee member) : 2nd year student of Mechanical and Aerospace engineering from Tokyo. He loves solo traveling and tends to be alone a lot.

Ryota Saeki : 3rd year student of Economics from Miyagi. He loves statistical analysis and he analysed all the festival data this time.

Naohiro Kobayashi (Organising committee member and the person who came up with the idea of internationalisation of the university festival) : 3rd year student of Mechanical and Aerospace engineering from Miyagi. He loves taking photos and was the photographer for the festival committee.

This interview was ideated by Tanach Rojrungsasithorn. A 3rd year student of IMAC-U at Tohoku University, he is a member of the editorial borad at ‘The Sentinel’. 

The 70th Tohoku University Festival would be held in November 2018 under the leadership of Shu Takeda. You can join the festival through this link

 

Royal meets Rural: One Sendai Hotel’s Inbound Tourism Strategy

“How do we attract more tourists?” continues to be the big question asked by government agencies, tourism and travel companies, restaurants and finally major hotels here in Japan.

Several of the major luxury hotels here in Sendai, such as Metropolitan, Westin, and Kokusai Hotel, already boast high level service and partial, or complete, multilingual websites with multilingual staff, in addition to their excellent facilities. These hotels are also quite famous for their restaurants, which would be expected of any luxury hotel in the world. But what really sets these hotels apart from each other?

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While each are sure to have valid points to argue, one luxury hotel in Sendai is setting itself apart by combining the comfort of staying at a luxury hotel with the raw experience of rural nature, farming, and adventure.

Sendai Royal Park Hotel opened in 1995 with the theme of a European Manor. It appears almost castle-like in appearance, with an elegant interior and property-wide outside garden. Its location is both a blessing and a curse for tourism. Freeway access and the adjacent Izumi Premium Outlet shopping mall make this a great pitstop for those coming by car. However, while there is a free shuttle from Sendai Station, tourists from abroad are tempted to stay at more central hotels in the city center.

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In fact, Royal Park Hotel is on the border of Sendai’s suburbs and Izumi Ward’s farm country. And for this reason, as of last year, the hotel has started creating outdoor activities and programs specifically to attract international visitors– something other Sendai luxury hotels here have not yet started or simply can’t because of their confined location.

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Strawberry or mushroom picking, a cycle tour through rice fields and forest to a hidden waterfall, stargazing, and wintertime snowshoe trekking are starting to put the hotel on the radar of travelers. Another well-known program is “glamping” or “glamorous camping”. Think top quality cuisine paired with fine wine enjoyed inside a tent lit by a miniature chandelier. This was one of the activities introduced by Sendai-based YouTuber Chris Broad through his video “What does a $3000 Japanese Hotel Room look like?“, uploaded August 2017. The video has amassed over 910,000 views.

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Olga Zielińska, a Sendai resident with experience in Tohoku region travelling and tour guiding, recently tried the half-day cycling program. She remarked: “This is what none of the big metropolis in Japan have. The calm countryside of Sendai, lunch with fresh locally grown ingredients, the real traditional Japan experience within one hour drive from the city center, and, more importantly, without overwhelming crowds. Cycling along creeks and rice paddies while enjoying the view of Mt. Izumi, and later coming back for English-style teatime at the hotel was the perfect ending of an incredible stay at the hotel”

Director of the hotel, Katsuhiko Kasai, made it clear that that he wants to work together with locals and make sure they are happy during promotion efforts. He was surprised with the responses so far: “Farmers welcome us with waves and smiles, and once a tour group was flagged down and given freshly made sweets by a housewife! Sometimes our tours do lunch with farmers that have prepared rice balls from the same fields we cycle through!”. He also emphasized he wants participants to think about where their food comes from and to appreciate nature on a deeper level.

As the hotel has fewer rooms than other major hotels in Sendai, travel site reviews and word-of-mouth is challenging as there are just fewer guests compared with other hotels who are sharing their experiences. However, as Royal Park Hotel tours are also open for people in Sendai just visiting for the day, and there is a global trend in tourism for experiences over destinations, time will tell if such inbound tourism strategy will work—and how other hotels in Sendai will react. In the grand scheme of things, competition is good for business, especially when that business is promoting our city Sendai.

As reported by guest-writer Justin Velgus. Justin is an American who currently works with the Fukushima Prefectural Government but loves to explore Tohoku. He enjoys cycling and onsen and you can definitely treat him with gyozas!

A few additional comments were added by Manuel Campos. Manuel was born and brought up in Venezuela and is currently serving as the Managing Editor of ‘The Sentinel’.

Drugs and controversy in Sendai

The reality, in which all our lives take place, is a complex system subdued to a seemingly chaotic algorithm responsible for creating stories that could deride even the most gifted of writers.  Albeit it concedes, among other altruistic pleasures, joy, realization, and satisfaction; it also leads to their counterparts, deception, anguish, and agony, among other crippling misfortunes. When this dichotomy is balanced or tilted towards pleasures, existence is a perennial gratification. Nevertheless, it can also become an endless punishment when life’s vicissitudes accumulate without enjoyment.  Naturally, for those living in the latter condition, a temporary escape can be the only way to subsist. This ephemeral transition to a blurred reality comes in form of drugs; substances that are able to numb the senses by altering the brain’s chemical equilibrium.

As logic ought to dictate, this dilemma has existed as long as humans have but, interestingly, it is not limited to our species.  From wallabies getting intoxicated on opium, by nibbling on poppy flowers, up to dolphins that have been recorded squeezing a puffer fish, with the intention to make it release a small dosage of trance-inducing neurotoxin, and even without taking into account the consumption of alcohol, observed in several animals, it appears that the dulling of the senses is a natural phenomenon. However, despite occurring naturally, numbing senses and taking hallucinogenic trips for recreational purposes is an extremely sensitive topic in our current society.

Virtually, every sovereign country of the world has laws to punish, the possession, consumption, and commercialization of a myriad of drugs. In some of these nations, the debate on which substances are dangerous enough to be banned, and which can be legally consumed, is on its apogee. Yet in others, like Japan, there is no debate. While some drugs (dangerous and statistically innocuous) are indisputably taboo, from the social and legal perspective, alcohol (responsible of an estimated 6,000 violent deaths on 2017) and Tabaco (linked to several diseases that cause approximately 157,800 deaths yearly) are available throughout the country.

This austerity was brought out into the light when 7 Tohoku University’s international students were linked to drug consumption.  These 6 men and a woman, from ages between 20 to 26 years old, came from 6 different countries, and, except for one, were short-term exchange students who lived at the Tohoku University’s Sanjo-Machi dorms complex. Peculiarly, while all the students confessed to the same misdeed, only 4 suspect’s names were fully disclosed, whereas 3 were kept anonymous. According to the police report, one of them, a 20 year old male originally from Australia, received an international parcel from the UK with 0.98 g of heroin and 6.99 g of MDMA, on last year’s October 29th. This student was taken into custody on December the 6th of the same year; during the raid to his apartment, the police found 0.07 g of heroin and 6.53 g of cocaine.  In addition, he allegedly distributed cocaine, without charge, to all the other 6 students involved in the case. The police stated that the drugs were distributed in the University’s dorm, and in an undisclosed local night club.

Despite the verdict of his trial has not been made public, if found guilty of the imputed charges, he could spend 3 years in an Australian penal facility. The home university of this student refused to comment on the matter. Regarding the 6 remaining suspects, even though they were not charged with possession of any illegal substances, according to the Japanese law, their confession was enough to grant them an expulsion from the university and a consequent deportation. As it could be expected, due to the historical significance of the event, the news became national. A few articles were written in English. However, in contrast with their Japanese counterparts, the discretion, regarding the details of the case, was kept; the names of all the students remained anonymous.

As controversy arose in the city of Sendai, the local Japanese community, despite isolated comments backing up the closing of the university’s dorm, showed support to the uninvolved foreign students of Tohoku University.  Concurrently, the institution issued the following statement, in Japanese: “As the police strive to elucidate the details of the event, we will work thoroughly to strengthen our criteria for accepting international students and provide them with education regarding prohibited drugs”.

Among rumors, gossips, and anecdotes, all conflux on an incident that took place during a trip to Ishinomaki (Approx. 50 kms from Sendai). The Australian student allegedly showed off syringes and a substance he stated was heroin. Others confirm that he was openly stating he was in possession of illegal drugs. Whether these are speculations or not, it was ratified what everyone knows but only a few understand, despite Japanese judicial procedures may seem irregular to some, immigrants are judged by the laws of their new country of residence.

As reported by Manuel Campos. Born and brought up in Venezuela, Manuel is a senior writer for ‘The Sentinel’.