On February 22, 2020, the New England JET Alumni Association (NEJETAA) and the Japan Society of Boston (JSB) co-hosted the event, One Bite at a Time: Building Bridges with Japanese Culinary Arts. This educational workshop highlighted the history and cultural significance of Japanese cuisine and how it has facilitated stronger U.S.-Japan relations. USJETAA was pleased to co-sponsor this event through the Chapter Grant Program funded by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA. It was NEJETAA’s largest event ever with a total of 68 registrants, including NEJETAA members, JSB members, and members of the local community who are interested in Japanese culture!
The event kicked off with opening remarks from Josephine Chong (Kumamoto, 2015-2017), President of NEJETAA, about NEJETAA’s central mission and their motivation for organizing this event. There were also opening remarks by Yuko Handa, Manager Director of the Japan Society of Boston; Shanti Shoji (Kagawa, 2002-2004), Program Director of Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA; and, Bahia Simons-Lane (Gunma, 2005-2007), Executive Director of USJETAA, who introduced their organizations and talked about how these organizations can work together to further strengthen the U.S. Japan relationship.
After the opening remarks, Kayla Potter (Kochi 2012-2015), NEJETAA Membership Coordinator, introduced the keynote speaker, Debra Samuels, a cookbook author and former contributor to the Boston Globe. Debra is a part of Table for Two USA (TFT), a non-profit organization that aims to eliminate global hunger and reduce health issues related to unhealthy eating. She gave a presentation on her experiences with Japanese food, including the cultural and historical significance of Japanese cuisine and how it has influenced the U.S. Japan relationship. In particular, she discussed Japanese comfort foods, which have been influenced by other cultures, and how Japanese concepts such as umami are used with all types of cuisines.
The discussion on Japanese cuisine led into an interactive workshop teaching attendees how to prepare and appreciate a healthy, traditional Japanese bento lunch. The ingredients were prepared beforehand, so participants could assemble a bento using pre-cooked ingredients. Debra demonstrated how to make a bunny out of an apple, and how to use various accessories to create and decorate the bentos. Participants were encouraged to be creative, and style their bento into animals or cartoon characters to reinforce the Japanese concept of me de taberu (to eat with your eyes). While making and eating the bentos, participants had the opportunity to interact, talk about their ties to Japan, and network with the people around them.
During the second half of the event, Alexis Agliano Sanborn (Shimane, 2009-2011) presented the Boston premiere of her new documentary, “Nourishing Japan”, about kyushoku (Japanese school lunch) and shokuiku (food education in Japan). The documentary was inspired by Alexis’ time as a JET, and was the result of many years of relationship building, which enabled Alexis to give a behind the scenes look at the Japanese school lunch and education system.
There was a brief Q&A about the documentary, which led to an engaging discussion on key differences between Japan and U.S. school lunches and gave attendees an opportunity to learn more about the making of the documentary. After the Q&A, Josephine gave closing remarks for the event, and attendees stayed to chat and continue networking. Volunteers had on NEJETAA branded t-shirts, and everyone was able to take home reusable NEJETAA engraved bamboo chopsticks as souvenirs.
The event was a huge success! As NEJETAA largest event ever, it encouraged inactive NEJETAA members and several attendees who had been on the JET program in the 80s and 90s to get reinvolved in the JETAA community. This event also enabled NEJETAA to strengthen ties with the JSB, NEJETAA members, and the local Japanese community. It is the second time that NEJETAA has received the grant from the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA and USJETAA. Receiving this grant two years in a row has helped NEJETAA build momentum and create a stronger presence in their local community. With these newly created bonds, they hope to host more large-scale events like this in the future.