With manufacturing industries and institutions focused on top-level education and research, Nagaoka is considered home by over 2,500 foreign residents. These residents with foreign roots help fill the labor shortage or serve as researchers and knowledge professionals working on innovative and sustainable solutions to help the regional economy. For foreigners and locals alike, building an environment that recognizes different cultures and values, and promotes international exchange and cooperation is important to make anybody realize their position as part of the community.
A citizen action group led by local high school students is paving the way towards this goal. The Nagaoka Review (NR) spoke with Yume, the current president of the organization to learn more about what they do and how they help in making Nagaoka a city of multicultural coexistence.
NR: What is WA!!? How was the group conceptualized and established?
WA!! is a community action group organized by local high school students in Nagaoka. Our goal is to make the city a comfortable place for any people to live in, whether you are a local or from overseas. To achieve this goal, we hold various events, which are opportunities for the local young people and those who come from overseas to interact, communicate, and exchange ideas.
The story of WA!! began when some high school students from Nagaoka attended a sister-city exchange program called AILA (Advance International Leadership Academy). During this program, 52 teenagers from six countries participated in discussions and design thinking activities related to SDGs. Because local young people may or may not be used to accommodating individuals from outside, and people from outside may or may not be familiar on how to best integrate with the local people, we thought of establishing this group to create a comfortable environment that fosters a symbiotic relationship between these two groups.
NR: Tell us the story about the name of the group.
By conducting activities that foster international exchange and cooperation, we hope to create a circle of local and foreign people that live and work together in harmony. With that in mind, we named it WA, which represents a circle and harmony in Japanese.
Right now, there are 14 members who plan and organize fun social events that facilitate cultural exchange between Japanese youth and people from abroad living in the Nagaoka area. The events we have hosted in the past are Halloween Party, Walking Tour in Nagaoka, and Hand-in-Hand Project.
”The group has become a vibrant community with lots of fun and engaging activities. More than having fun, we continue to remain committed with our purpose of enhancing the relationships between the local community and foreigners in Japan. We want Japanese students of Nagaoka to get rid of any prejudice by experiencing international communication. From participating in the group, I was able to grow my confidence when taking in front of many people at events and presentation contest. I hope that the group continues to grow in the future.Urara SakaiFormer Member, WA!!
Tell us about the results of the event.
We had over 150 people who participated in our International Halloween Party in 2019. In 2020, the Nagaoka Walking Tour was held with NUTISA, a community of international students from the Nagaoka University of Technology. Participants enjoyed communicating with each other. It was a fulfilling experience to see local people talk about the charm of Nagaoka and international students sharing their unique experiences from their own respective countries.
”A lot has happened in my life, so I entered high school later than most people. Because of this, I feel that I should try everything I wanted to do in a limited time. I would like to make the most of what I’ve learned in society to contribute to the activities of WA!! and I want to have fun with everyone at WA!!Shu SubaruCurrent Member, WA!!
What were some of the most recent activities of the group?
This year, we held a Beach Cleanup for SDGs on July 17th. Students from Nagaoka High School and International students participated in picking up trash on Taradomari Beach and made sand art together. The aim of this event is to let high school students in Nagaoka feel closer to SDGs. We hope our participants became more aware of the reality of the marine plastic litter problem and felt encouraged to participate in more initiatives that aim to reduce the disposal of unnecessary single-use plastics.
What are your aspirations for the future for WA!!?
We are working on our goal to make Nagaoka a more multicultural symbiotic society. This year, we are thinking of taking it to the next level by making participants experience cultures around the world through an international exchange program. While COVID-19 has limited our freedom to travel abroad, we will conduct activities that promote multicultural exchange, diversity, and inclusion. Our goal is to make Nagaoka a door to multicultural coexistence, making the city both a global and local city. That’s our destination.
”It is important for members of the local community and people from different nationalities to create an environment that fosters diversity and inclusion. By providing an environment that appreciates and respects existing Japanese values and the culture, values, and uniqueness that foreign residents bring, WA!! looks very promising in terms of what it aims to achieve.Sachiko KosugiAdvisor, Advance International Leadership Academy (AILA) 2019