By SACHIKO KAWANO
The sweet smell of crepe, the curl of smoke rising from Gyukushi (grilled beef skewers), and the streets busy with people and their laughter. You can experience the joyous mood just by walking around the campus and exploring various food stalls during May Festival, the school festival at the University of Tokyo. However, this is not the only way to join this annual event. I was in charge of a stall this year and managed everything necessary from purchasing ingredients to giving instructions to the members. It was not easy at all, but I felt a great sense of achievement afterwards, and learned good lessons and useful skills to live in society.
Our stall (Bistro FUKUI). Photo by Makoto Iwasaki.
It is common for freshmen classes, school sport teams, and culture clubs to sell various foods at May Festival. Our group was a bit different from them as we were the participants of the Fukui program last summer, which is a program of about ten people in total visiting either the Echizen area or Wakasa area of Fukui Prefecture in order to see and experience farming and fishing. Since we were impressed by the rich natural environment, we wanted to introduce the prefecture to other people and decided to sell its local products, boar meat skewers and plum wine, at our school festival.
However, the preparation did not go as smoothly as I had expected.
One difficulty was that I had to contact many people outside the university, such as the brandy company, the prefectural government and the local media outlets in Fukui. Not only did I write many emails to buy products from the prefecture, I also made a lot of calls to media outlets who were interested in our project. It was my first time to receive and send so many business letters and calls, so I was nervous about whether I used polite enough language.
Plum Brandy. Photo by Makoto IwasakI
Moreover, there were so many application procedures to operate a stand and rent the necessary materials. All the students who are responsible for projects at the festival were assembled for an orientation in February. After that until May, we had to fill in different forms to explain our products, get permission for selling alcohol, select the location of our stall. When the committee of the May Festival told us that we would not be able to sell boar meat because of its risk of food poisoning, we were baffled and felt hopeless. However, we finally received a green light from the committee after long emails to convince its safety.
We continued to have difficulties on the days of the festival though. Our team was small from the beginning, and what was worse was that many of the members were busy with other activities, so we managed our store with only a few people at any given time. I was really busy with managing the members and treating customers at the same time. Also, I had to stay at our stall as the person in charge most of the time due to the rule the committee established.
Why did I decide to do the work despite these challenges? Sometimes this thought came to my mind, but I realized that the struggles yielded much more important learnings. Many people supported me throughout the festival; for example, the members of the adjoining stall helped us set up our tent during the preparation. Smiling faces of the visitors who ate our boar skewers and drank our brandy encouraged us as well. A couple of girls liked our brandy so much that they ordered another cup and spread news about our stall by word-of-mouth. It strongly reaffirmed the kindness of people around me.
Boar meat skewers. Photo by Makoto Yanase.
In addition, I acquired skills to communicate in a decent manner with people whom I met for the first time and business people who are much older than me. It was my first time to organize a group at such a big event as May Festival, which even attracts media attention. This project became a good chance to repay people in Fukui for their kindness during the program last summer. They said they were glad about our intention to do something for Fukui. We could not have been happier, relieved, and proud of ourselves to manage the project successfully when we sold the last cup of brandy.