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The following articles were originally published in The Shelbyville News in the column “Letters Home:  A Hoosier in Japan.”



Send questions and comments to me at toddjayleonard@yahoo.com.

Book Description

Letters Home

What types of holidays do Japanese people celebrate? What is the educational system like in Japan? What are Japanese festivals like? What are some of the customs and traditions of the Japanese people? Professor Todd Jay Leonard, writing from the perspective of living and working in Japan, provides in this fascinating book the answers to these and many other questions.
Letters Home: Musings of an American Expatriate Living in Japan delivers a firsthand account of daily Japanese life through the eyes and personal experiences of Professor Leonard who has enjoyed an ongoing relationship with Japan and the Japanese people for nearly twenty-five years. 

This anecdotal book of essays, written in the style of personal letters, offers commentary on a wide range of topics and issues including culture, history, education, language, society, and religion of modern Japan from the point-of-view of an American expatriate who has made Japan his home. 

The author’s friendly, down-to-earth, yet authoritative, style of writing will transport you to modern Japan, where you will learn about the customs and traditions of this most fascinating country. This book can be enjoyed by anyone who has an interest in learning about Japan and its people.http://www.amazon.com/Letters-Home-Musings-American-Expatriate/dp/0595283098/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299907225&sr=1-2

Neighborhood system transmits information


Communities all over Japan have a unique system of “neighborhood associations” known as “chonaikai” in Japanese. These quasi-governmental organizations are responsible for assisting in local administrative functions, distributing important information, coordinating social activities, and planning neighborhood festivals.

The history of chonaikai dates back to the Edo Period (1600-1868); the current system is directly descended from the original prototype which, was initially formed to hold local residents communally responsible for maintaining law and order in their neighborhoods, preserving moral propriety and even to collect taxes.

Once the Meiji Restoration (1868) started and a push to modernize Japan began (this was the subject featured in Tom Cruise’s film “The Last Samurai”), these local associations lost favor with governmental officials and eventually forfeited the legal authority they once enjoyed.

However, in the 1920s, the system gradually reappeared in neighborhoods in the urban centers and slowly spread over the country. In 1940, the militarists who were running Japan saw a very lucrative and efficient way to maintain order and made chonaikai mandatory in all cities across the country.

At this time, the neighborhood associations were given a variety of responsibilities which expanded their authority including the distribution of government rations, training residents in the civil defense of the community, and even being in charge of silencing any protests against the government.

After World War II, the U.S. Occupation Forces abolished the system because it was viewed as being too authoritarian and even anti-democratic. Gradually, however, the 1950s reintroduced a pared down system of community organizations, making these neighborhood associations largely volunteer bodies that assisted the local governments in the distribution of materials — including community announcements, city-related information (like various governmental reports) and local notices regarding neighborhood festivals and social activities.

Today, just as it was in the 1950s, these associations maintain a significant role in the social lifeline for communities all across Japan. The system allows for regular contact between neighbors and neighborhoods, giving them a social purpose. In my case, I look forward to receiving the telltale clipboard (kairanban) propped up against my door, placed there by the neighbor to the right of my home.

Once I have perused all of the announcements and notices, I walk it over to my neighbor on the other side. After they read through all of the information, they take it to the next neighbor until everyone has had a chance to see it. Often is the case where neighbors will stand and chat for a bit when exchanging the kairanban.

This system saves quite a bit of money. Since announcements (and the paper they come on) are shared, there is no need for mass-producing reams of notices. Also, this system reduces the cost of having to pay someone to walk them door to door, or potentially more costly, mailing them to each individual household. The local government makes great use of this system, saving it manpower and money.

Each household in the association takes a turn being in charge of collecting the yearly dues, passing out the newsletter, and overseeing the general running of the association for that particular street.

Each of these leaders from the local associations reports to a general leader who oversees a larger area that encompasses a number of the smaller associations. This person then meets with the other larger associations and the local government.

A few years ago, the general association in the expanded area that my neighborhood group is attached to built a beautiful new community center that can be reserved by residents living in one of the connected associations.

Often, elderly people will use the facility for informal luncheons (it has a kitchen), making handicrafts, and to have social gatherings and get-togethers. Of course, the various neighborhood associations hold meetings there as well.

In addition to the clipboard that is passed from house to house, large community bulletin boards are placed in prominent places throughout the neighborhoods that post pertinent information for passersby to read. These include local notices, governmental campaigns and general information that residents may need to know regarding upcoming events and festivals.

One function that the local neighborhood associations have been involved with is overseeing the proper recycling of household garbage. Every so often, as I stumble at the crack of dawn to the designated place where garbage is picked up, I am greeted by a person wearing an officious looking armband who is there to make sure that residents aren’t improperly disposing of garbage on the wrong day.

My city, Hirosaki, has taken recycling very seriously, perhaps having the most stringent recycling program in the country. The exact details of this complicated system we must adhere to in disposing of our refuse, will be the subject of my next column.



Monday, November 07, 2005

A typical neighborhood bulletin board is shown displaying a variety of notices and announcements of upcoming events. This social system provides communication within Japanese communities. Submitted photo