A Sip Of Matcha

Published: Monday April 14, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday April 14, 2014 MYT 1:08:03 PM

'Jichikai', Japanese-style Rukun Tetangga

Joint effort: Committee members hard at work setting up the stage for the Bon Odori festival.

Joint effort: Committee members hard at work setting up the stage for the Bon Odori festival.

Neighbourhood associations help residents work together for the good of the community.

MALAYSIA has its own neighbourhood watch known as Rukun Tetangga. Well, what about Japan? Rukun Tetangga in Japan has long existed in the form of self-governing neighbourhood associations known as chonaikai or jichikai. The associations help residents to connect and work together – through various activities and voluntary services – for the common good of the community.

Jichikai generally has a room to hold meetings and other functions. Administrative costs are taken care of by funds raised through festivals and membership fees from each household. The fees are about ¥300 to ¥400 (RM9.50 to RM12.70) per month, depending on the jichikai.

Jichikai’s committee members normally serve for a year. The executive body often comprises retirees and housewives. Besides planning and running events, the committee addresses complaints and problems in the community. All these involve a lot of work.

Although joining the jichikai is voluntary, every household is expected to do so. A few, however, refuse for some reasons.

When you belong to a jichikai, you are somewhat obligated to perform some duties, and more so if you hold a post. Working people thus find the duties burdensome.

Committee members are delegated different responsibilities. Someone would supervise and tidy the garbage dumping site on the designated collection day. He or she ensures that recyclable items are correctly sorted out and garbage is properly covered.

One feature of jichikai is the bulletin board standing on the wayside. Somebody would be in charge of posting notices and information on the respective boards.

Most jichikai organise a monthly clean-up of the surroundings and the playgrounds. You’ll see residents sweeping the grounds, cleaning the gutters, weeding and cutting grass, and even planting flowers to beautify the vicinity.

Membership fees go towards installing and maintaining street lights, recreational activities, disaster prevention drills, seasonal festivals, and sports and cultural events. Cherry blossom viewing parties, pounding rice cake in winter and summer’s Bon Odori festival are popular events that promote camaraderie among the residents.

Residents cleaning up the playground in their community.
Residents cleaning up the playground in their community.

My Japanese friend’s jichikai even organised and subsidised a recreational trip to Sky Tree tower in Tokyo. How nice! But then, her annual membership fees are higher than ours.

Last April was my husband’s turn to be the hancho (team leader in the neighbourhood section) of our jichikai for a year. The former hancho had handed over to Koji some paperwork and a red box containing a fire extinguisher which was to be placed at our house entrance.

First, Koji collected annual membership fees from 18 households in our section. Then every month, he would distribute a set of bulletins and pass around a folder containing circulars on recycling, garbage collection, children’s association, old folks association, PTA, craft lessons, events, festivals, and health and safety issues.

Groups of committee members and residents take turns to patrol their neighbourhood. There is also a fire patrol which reminds residents to take precautions against fire. Armed with flashlights, each group patrols an assigned area. Children would sometimes join in for fun.

Fire patrol in our community is at 8pm on Mondays. To draw attention, the leader claps a wooden pair of clappers thrice. The thwacks of the clappers are rhythmically followed by a chorus: “Hi no Youjin” (literally “fire caution”). If it rains, the patrol is cancelled. The end of the year sees more fire patrols.

Once a year, the jichikai holds a disaster prevention exercise such as a fire-fighting drill or a first aid demonstration. The fire department was roped in to train the community. Any interested residents can participate in the drill. As hancho, my husband had to attend the training, while I just tagged along.

Last year, our jichikai gave each household a form and a special cylindrical container, which was labelled “Emergency Kit”. For life-saving purposes, residents had to fill up the questionnaires in the form and list the names of the medication they are currently taking. They then stored it in the plastic container which had to be kept in the fridge. When an ambulance is called in an emergency, paramedics would know where to find that important information.

Residents participating in a fire prevention drill organised by the neighbourhood association.
Residents participating in a fire prevention drill organised by the neighbourhood association.

Jichikai supports the community associations for children and the elderly, and fund-raising and volunteering activities. Committee members raise funds by selling food and drinks during festivals. As for Koji, he helped to sell shaved ice during last summer’s festival.

Now April has arrived and Koji can relinquish his post to our next neighbour. It will probably take another 17 years before our turn comes round again.

Sarah Mori, a Malaysian married to a Japanese, resides in Japan.

Tags / Keywords: Opinion, Lifestyle, Family, rukun tetangga

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