When I first applied to JET, the question of “What sort of person becomes a JET?” was not at the forefront of my mind, but I certainly had an image. The image I had, of a young, straight out of university, genki American or British person, was certainly reinforced the sorts of people who appoint themselves representatives of the programme on social media.
A fundamental part of this blog is, and always has been, reviews. Shaping our own experiences in such a way that others can get something out of them is a powerful way to communicate with audiences, and when that experience is something someone else can also take part in, a review is the most direct way to express that. Nowadays, the pop culture idea of what a review is still has this idea of being connected to a star rating or a number out of 100, but the reviews I’ve seen published in the last year are nothing like that. Take Joshua Hill’s review of his experience at Matsuyama castle, or Niall McGee’s experiences with VR in Tokyo. Both are very different ways of approaching very different materials, but both are essentially reviews.
In her poem “Nothing Lasts,” American poet
Jane Hirshfield writes: ” ‘Nothing lasts’—/ how bitterly the thought
attends each loss. / “‘Nothing lasts’ – / a promise also of consolation.”
While Hirshfield may have not been speaking
about the JET program, her words are applicable here. There are good and bad
days in the Japan Exchange Teaching (JET) Program. There are things, people,
and moments that you love as much as there things, people, and moments that you
detest. You can be bitter that it doesn’t last. You can also be relieved.
As I reestablish my life in America, I am
reflecting on Hirshfield’s words, and considering all the things I miss and
don’t miss about JET. Here’s what I collected:
As an elementary school ALT, I’ve played many roles. I have been the tape-recorder: reading dialogue from a script as the children fidget and try to match pictures to numbers based on what I’m saying. I have been the planner. I have prepared materials and designed lessons. I have adjusted things between classes and addressed problems that came up unexpectedly. I have been a kind of class pet: little children literally climbing on me, pulling at my hair, shouting for my attention, comparing hand and foot sizes, marvelling at my non-brown eyes and occasionally trying for that elusive kancho – and that’s where I draw the line.
Every three years, a contemporary art festival draws thousands of Japanese tourists and foreign visitors into the sparsely populated islands resting in the sea between Honshu and Shikoku. The Setouchi Triennale, also known as the Setouchi International Art Festival, began just nine years ago in 2010, but it has already garnered acclaim as a top destination in the contemporary art world and as one of the most unique events to take place in Japan. Whether you’re an art lover or an island adventurer (or both!), the Setouchi Triennale offers something for every kind of Shikoku explorer. As JETs in Ehime, we are extremely lucky that the Setouchi Triennale happens in our backyard. Here’s a short guide to the festival, general background and visiting information, and a brief snippet on one of my favorite islands of the area.
A few weeks before leaving for Japan, I found out from my predecessor that I would be teaching in five high schools within the Nanyo B region and two special needs schools. Now, I already expected that there would be quite a bit of travel involved in the position since it’s not uncommon for ALTs to have more than one school but teaching in a special needs school wasn’t something I was ever prepared for—hence the panic. While my degree provided a short course on special education, I only had theories and no hands-on training in an environment with special needs learners.
I’m a high school ALT in Imabari, Ehime and I’ve been here for almost four years. I know many of you have different schools you go to, but I am one of the lucky ones. I only have one school because my school is not an ordinary high school. It’s a secondary school. There are few secondary schools in Ehime so when I first got here, I didn’t know what that was. Let me explain what that means.
Japan’s ministry of education announced earlier this week that it would again increase funding for its bread baking programs run out of the department of home economics, making it the most well-funded school culinary program in Japan and more funded than any baking program run by its neighbors to the west, China and South Korea. The funding comes on the heels of a recent third-party review of Japan’s baking education which concluded that the Japanese student graduating from high school are less competent at baking than other students in east Asia and thus unable to compete in the growing demand for baking internationally. Now, instead of baking education beginning upon entrance into middle school, this decision starts baking classes two years earlier, or fifth grade in elementary. Eventually it seeks to by 2020 have children as young as third grade measuring flour and singing “Do You Know the Muffin Man?”
Last summer I had the opportunity to be invited to an all-expenses-paid trip to the coast of Ainan to test a promotion by their tourist board. The trip promised a boat ride out to a nearby island, some underwater sightseeing, and a class held by a local artisan. All I needed to bring was a swimsuit, ¥1,000 for lunch, and a willingness to smile in the group photos.
I honestly did not think that the trip would happen. It had already been postponed once, due to it being ‘a little windy,’ and the weekend of the postponement date was approaching in lock step with not one, but two typhoons. Luckily, I did not schedule anything for that day except a Netflix marathon, so when the call came through that it was time to pack my bags and head down to Ehime’s southernmost town, I was eager to do so.
On March 2nd, Ehime AJET hosted their annual Murder Mystery Dinner. I’m a first year ALT, so this was the first event of its kind that I could go to. I’m a sucker for true crime, thrillers, and mysteries so I had always wanted to attend a murder mystery event of some kind and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I booked a spot immediately and was happy to see that several of my friends had, too.