Jay Hideki Horita is a resource assistant in the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s Office of Communications and Community Engagement. In this “Field Note,” he shares his first week on the job, which he spent working with a pair of Japanese Exchange students volunteering at the region’s Portland, Ore. office.
“As a new Resource Assistant with the Northwest Youth Corps and the U.S. Forest Service, I knew much of my job as a Youth & Community Engagement Specialist would be to act as a liaison between the Forest Service and improve information and access to the agency’s services for under-served communities in Oregon and Washington.
“I didn’t know that this would mean using my experience as a Japanese-American who is fluent in Japanese in my first week on the job!
“As a participant in the Resource Assistants Program, folks like me have an internship of at least six months, after which we have a shot at becoming a permanent employee of the Forest Service. It’s one of the ways the Forest Service is trying to attract a younger and more diverse workforce.
“Recently, the Forest Service hosted two volunteers from Musashino University 武蔵野大学at the agency’s Regional Office in downtown Portland. The students were studying in the U.S. as part as an exchange program, and required to complete a volunteer service project while they were here.
“My first assignment, as a recent graduate – more importantly, Japanese-language speaker, was to guide our new volunteers during their time with us in Portland.
“During job interviews in Japan, one often explains their motivation, or 切っ掛け (kikkake), for applying to an organization or company.
“For Yukime Nakajima and Kousuke Yoshida, their motivation aligns with many others who choose to work or volunteer for the Forest Service; an interest in forests, wildlife, and nature in general.
“Their assignment seemed simple enough: to help develop social media and other conservation education material by researching related pictures, quotations, and facts for 25 topics. The 25 topics ranged from universal themes like “employment” and “rivers” to more culturally-specific terms, like ‘Woodsy Owl’ and ‘Smokey Bear,’ ‘trail work,’ ‘wilderness,’ ‘mushroom foraging,’ and ‘veteran employment.’
“To understand these, the volunteers dove deep into the complicated history and culture surrounding U.S. land management.
“I asked Yukime what her favorite term was, and she expressed her affection for “Holiday Trees.” She was intrigued – and delighted – to learn that each year since 1970, the Forest Service provides the U.S. Capitol with a carefully chosen conifer, now known as “the People’s Tree.”
“These trees often complete cross-country trips to the National Mall in Washington D.C., where they are decorated with ornaments created by residents of the state where the trees originate.
“This charming tradition marries the Forest Service’s efforts with those of the many volunteers involved.
“The tradition also manifests more locally; the Forest Service encourages the public to harvest their own Christmas trees from National Forest -lands across the U.S., offering Christmas Tree cutting permits for only $5.
“Our two volunteers were delighted to hear about these traditions, as Christmas tree-harvesting is unheard of in Japan; indeed, Christmas itself is a holiday seldom celebrated in their country, as either a secular or religious holiday.
“Kousuke was surprised to learn about the darker history of land management in the United States. When looking at a map of Oregon, he asked me about the large tracts of reservation land.
“The ensuing conversation focused on the U.S. government’s displacement of and systemic discrimination against Native Americans and how this dark history laid the groundwork for public land management in the United States, including our national forests and parks.
“Through our work, our volunteers gained a more comprehensive and realistic understanding of the federal government’s role in U.S. land management.
“They also learned about the Forest Service’s more recent efforts to right these wrongs and to share perspectives often left out of the standard environmental education curriculum.
“Other terms, like ‘trail work’ or ‘wilderness,’ were completely foreign to our guests, who are both residents of Tokyo — Japan’s capital, and one of the worlds most densely populated cities.
“They learned about the creation of wilderness areas, and the trail work crews employed to maintain the nation’s many trails.
“We had sobering discussions about the accessibility of outdoor spaces for city residents across the world; in a mega-metropolis like Tokyo, these accessibility problems are often magnified.
“For their final day, the volunteers hiked the nearby Hoyt Arboretum, a 189-acre forest preserving 6,000 plant specimens from around the world. There, they gained a behind-the-scenes perspective on land management work.
Portland Parks & Recreation Trails Coordinator Jill Van-Winkle gave them a tour of the Arboretum’s facility, and the two experienced wielding a ‘double-jack’ and ‘Pulaski,’ among other classic trail work tools.
“Next, they visited the World Forestry Center, where they learned about the diverse forests across the world, including those in their home country Japan.
“Throughout these two weeks, both the Forest Service and the volunteers gained much insight into cross-cultural conservation work.
“As their journey in Oregon concluded, Yukime and Kousuke said they’d miss the Pacific Northwest’s vibrant landscapes, and wished they could stay longer.
“As the day ended, we said our final farewells in true cross-cultural spirit: with a big hug, and a low bow.
“When I asked Yukime what message she plans to bring home, she offered the phrase自然に触れる大切さ, which roughly translates as “the significance gained from nature.”
“She said she was moved by the love and care that people place on wilder places in this country and how nature gives its humans a way to understand love, care, and significance.
“For the many who live, work, and play in outdoor spaces – whether in the city or beyond – perhaps the same sentiments are true after an early morning wildlife sighting, an afternoon walk in the woods, or even an evening outdoors playing basketball on the blacktop, in a park surrounded by some of the trees that comprise Portland’s urban forest.”
USDA Forest Service – Resource Assistant Program:
Source Information: Jay Hideki Horita is a resource assistant in the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s Office of Communications and Community Engagement.