March 26, 13 | nobu Kawashima
The Otaru Snow Light Path took place from February 8th through the 15th this year.
Throughout the event streets and canals throughout the city, lined with large piles of snow, are lit up with colorful lights. This year marked the 15th anniversary of the Light Path event and many people came to take in the beautifully illuminated night atmosphere.
Although the event has a peaceful and relaxed feeling to it, behind the scenes there are quite a few volunteers who are working ard to make it all possible. Naturally, members of local organizations are a large part of the volunteer force, but sightseers visiting the area are welcome to help out as well. Anyone in good health who registers as a volunteer with event administration is able to join in!
There is also an organization which makes it possible for people overseas to volunteers for the event as well, and they have a specific selection process for their members. The organization is "OKOVO" and is it based in Seoul, South Korea.
To find out who exactly the members of their group were, I visited the event to talk with them in person!
OKOVO is actually an abbreviation, created from the title "Otaru snow light festival KOrean VOlunteers."
That's right, a unique group dedicated to finding college students in Korea who want to participate in the Otaru Snow Light Path event!
The group began after Korean exchange students took part in the event back in 2002. Not wanting to miss out on the fun the following year, the students created the organization to make sure they had a way to come back.
In Korea study groups which allow students to participate in volunteer opportunities are quite common, and they hold regular meetings every month!
Not only do they volunteer, they also make the trip a learning experience. After participating in the Otaru event the students are often asked to speak about Japanese culture.
This photo is one of the group before heading to Japan to volunteer.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about these groups is the test that applicants must pass to join. It seems that the group is quite popular, receiving around 100 new applicants a year!
"Many people that love Japan hear about our group either from friends or they find out about it on the internet. They are drawn to the group by a desire to meet new people, create great memories, experience the snow, things like that. Many companies here in Korea place a high value on experience volunteering abroad, so of course some students will want to participate just to help out their future job hunts, though we tend to drop candidates that are only interested in building their resumes."
The man who I spoke to about the group is Mr. Kim Douyon, leader of the OKOVO group. (He's pictured on the right.) He has participated in the event a whopping eight times!
The selection process is "open to any members who complete the document screening and participate in the monthly meetings."
"After that we look at the students' participation in the group, their behavior at group parties or group sports events to make sure that they aren't just interested in building their resume. And eventually we cut those that we think are not truly interested in the group so much as their record."
So the group is entirely devoted to the volunteering job the members are striving for.
On top of that, first time participants are expected to stay in Otaru for three weeks in order to gain a level of seriousness and dedication to the group. While in Otaru they interview locals (in Japanese of course) to learn more about the area.
Each year about 40 or 50 new members are chosen to join the group. This year a total of 53 participants came to Japan to volunteer.
So let's see what they did while they were here!
▼ After arriving in Japan the participants met with the event executive committee.
▼ Before beginning their work on the event the new volunteers had a get together with locals. (A barbecue on a snowy Otaru night!)
▼ During the production of the event, volunteers worked on individual creations daily, tweaking and perfecting their work.
▼ Candles were lit just before dusk.
▼ The day's work ended as the event began!
▼ During the event the volunteers relit candles that had gone out, and replaced those that burned out.
▼ They also reused the old candles to make new ones!
At first the event seems like a ton of fun, but after watching the volunteers at work I realized how much work they had to put into their jobs. Korean participants and locals alike share the burden of keeping the event flowing smoothly.
Every year the Korean volunteers come to help out, and it seems that lately they have inspired the locals to head abroad as well.
Hitomi Goto is an Otaru resident who spent a year studying in South Korea after her experience working alongside OKOVO. (She is on the right of this photo.)
"I was invited to volunteer at the Snow Light Path event by a friend, and it was there that I got to talk to some visitors from South Korea, and after that experience I decided to study abroad."
Hitomi is still friends with many OKOVO members, when I went to interview her she was actually in the middle of talking with several curent members.
There is also a Chinese volunteer group from Shenzhen that comes to help out with the event. In the picture below you can find the group leader, Ko Shouen, on the left.
"I found out about the volunteering opportunity on the internet. I'm really glad that I joined because I've been able to make friends with many Japanese and Korean people. There are also many people from China who experience snow for the first time when they visit Otaru, so that's very exciting to see."
This year ten participants from China came to volunteer. The group from China began after news of OKOVO made it to their university.
I also spoke with OKOVO Head Ming Boram (on the right) and Lee Zeo (on the left).
"It's not just a local event anymore, Otaru Snow Light Path has become an international event that includes a ton of international culture exchange."
These two have been to Japan several times each. Their interest in Japanese TV shows and music is what inspired them to join originally, so I asked them what their first time participating was like.
"After joining I made new friends from both Japan and China, they're all great!"
"The residents of Otaru were really friendly and helped guide me through the town. So when folks from Otaru visit Korea I make sure to help them out!"
Not only do the groups work together well, but they get along great with the locals.
The Otaru Snow Light Path event is put together with the help of many volunteers. OKOVO is a fantastic group that takes its selection of members seriously and is dedicated to sending over the right volunteers to get the job done.
Everyone involved in the event generally has the same thing to say. "Not only can you make new friends, but the people who visit the event are really nice. I'm definitely coming next year!"
The event is perfect for enjoying the beauty of Otaru lit with hundreds of candles, and for spending time with friends new and old.
In South Korea, the application process for joining OKOVU has already begun (it starts in March every year). So be sure to visit next year and greet the newcomers and repeat volunteers alike while you enjoy the beautifully lit paths.
OKOVO Official Homepage:
Otaru Snow Light Path Official Homepage:
(Hokkaido Likers Photo Writer - Nobuhiro Kawashima)
※ Some Photographs provided by OKOVO事務局. Photos from the 2012 event are also included.