How a Simple Clipboard Can Help You Be a Great Neighbor

My neighborhood in Shiga Prefecture reminds me of the Beatles’ song “Penny Lane,” where small shops with friendly shopkeepers line the streets, and where everyone knows what everyone else is doing. Neighbors greet you warmly each day and keep watch as children walk to school. They share vegetables from their gardens and are always happy to give you a hand with something. They inform you if anyone suspicious comes around your house and would surely be counted on to help in times of disaster. Maintaining harmony in the community is highly valued in Japan, and relationships with neighbors are reinforced not only through such face-to-face interactions, but also through a simple “neighborhood clipboard.”

This clipboard, called kairanban (回覧板), is an ordinary clipboard with notices attached to it that circulates from house to house within the Neighborhood Association (町内会ちょうないかい), the group of neighbors who live in a certain area. The clipboard starts its journey with the association’s chief, a person chosen each year by a rotation system. By the way, you could theoretically be selected as chief one year!

The chief receives notices from the city government, usually about upcoming events such as lectures and festivals, check-ups and vaccinations for children, changes in garbage pick-up schedules, and so on. He or she then fastens these notices onto the clipboard along with a list of the association households and brings it to the first house on the list. The people in that home read the notices, check off their name on the list, and bring the clipboard over to the next member.

Easy, you think. Yes, but if you have a busy schedule or cannot read Japanese well, it is so tempting to put it off until another day. Many of the notices have dates and deadlines, so if you delay passing on the clipboard, those further down the list may end up missing an event. Sometimes there is even an “emergency kairanban” with urgent notices, such as of a funeral, road construction, water or gas pipeline maintenance, and so on, which needs to be read and passed on even more promptly.

I encourage you to actively join some of the upcoming events and neighborhood activities you read about in your kairanban. Community service events are held regularly in which parks, rivers, lakeshores, school grounds, and other common areas are cleaned by neighborhood volunteers. They will lend you a rake or any tools you need, and it is a good opportunity to chat with your neighbors as you work. As one of the highlights of the year, most towns hold an annual sports festival in which people of any age can participate. You may be asked to run for your town’s team as it competes against another town. As further incentive to join, my town provides free boxed lunches to both the “athletes” and the “cheerers.”

Many towns have a local shrine, and most of these have an annual festival honoring the associated deities. Neighbors are generally invited to participate in the celebrations, which may include helping to carry a portable shrine around the streets! You might be offered traditional festival clothes and a headband to wear for the occasion. Some neighborhood associations also hold barbecues, New Year’s gatherings, and recently even Halloween and Christmas parties. I urge you to attend as many of these as you can. If you have time, you can also volunteer to help with these events. Even if you can’t speak Japanese well, you can help carry chairs, decorate, pass out tea, or assist in other ways. It will be a good chance to experience Japanese local culture, and also to make friends with people of various ages and interests.

At first glance, you may think this seemingly ordinary neighborhood clipboard is just another bit of paperwork to decipher. But it helps keep harmony within the community, and you will have a more fulfilling experience here if you take time to read about the events and notices contained in it, and place a high value on your relationship with your community. So, when the kairanban is brought to your home, don’t delay in reading it or passing it on. And by all means, join in some of the neighborhood activities and events!

[Image Credits: himawariin/]

Jeanette May Fukao

Jeanette May Fukao is an artist, poet, writer, and translator living in Shiga, Japan. Her paintings and poems depict microcosms of nature and life in Japan. She has lived here since the 1980s, and has a deep understanding of the culture.


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