Unbeaten Paths: Toyo 2021 (Actually Getting Here Edition)

Edited by Jordan Rocke

G’day everyone! Welcome to our third consecutive (dubiously annual) installment of Unbeaten Paths, where we introduce incoming or recently arrived JETs to the wider Ehime community. For the other half of the incoming JET bios, please check out our May edition here.

It goes without saying that it’s been a hell year. At the time of writing, there are still JETs who were introduced in the previous edition in May who have still not arrived yet, some who have dropped out completely, and many incoming JETs who have no concrete information on where they will be living or working, and a lot of that was true even before the Omicron closures.

However, the machine has whirled back into action, and since June 2021, Ehime has received a steady stream of JETs, both replacements for those who have moved on, and to step into new positions that have been long awaiting the first people to hold those roles. As of right now, 67 Ehime JETs have arrived in Japan this calendar year, and another 18 or so are waiting to find out when they can come in. Japan’s border closure to the Omicron variant has definitely dealt a blow to the smooth arrival of new folks, but hopefully we’ll have a fully staffed prefecture before too long. Anyway , on to the new faces you will see around Ehime. First up, we have our wonderful northern region of Toyo!

Prefectural:

Natalie Williams (Niihama)

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Hello everyone! I’m Natalie and I’m an incoming JET from Northampton, England due to arrive in Niihama, Ehime in mid-December just in time for Christmas!

Even hearing about JET at all was very much by chance for me. On a whim I decided to attend a Careers Fair with my friend while I was studying Psychology at the University of East Anglia. Immediately I was drawn to the international section and a former JET approached me and started to tell me about the program. I was drawn in instantly, because I love working with kids. I have worked in schools before and thoroughly enjoyed it. I knew even as he was talking to me that I was absolutely going to apply, since I have loved Japan since I was literally 12. Like a lot of people my love for Japan, both the culture and the language, started with anime. I loved watching anime, listening to the opening and closing themes. I started learning a bit of Japanese, writing anime themes out in hiragana during science lessons when I got bored. That being said I’m not that great at Japanese but I hoping that I’ll pick it up a lot more when I’m immersed in Japan. Weird how something so insignificant such as watching anime has been the catalyst for a huge life decision, me moving to and teaching in Japan. 

To be honest the pandemic has made me kind of boring. My hobbies include watching Netflix, hanging out with friends, and not much else. I draw sometimes. I used to do karate which I loved and am hoping to pick up again when I’m settled in Niihama. 

I’ll be working in Niihama Higashi High School. This will be interesting and a learning curve for me because my previous experience has only been with much younger kids, like 12 and under. Kind of nervous about teaching and speaking in front of classes, and everything that comes with being an ALT, but I’m hoping that I become more confident and learn everything on the job, fingers crossed.

I’m originally part of the 2020 cohort so I was supposed to arrive in Japan September of last year. It’s been a long time coming but it’s finally happening! I have never been to Japan before, so I am extremely excited but also a bit scared, like everyone else I’m sure. I can’t wait to explore Niihama and travel as much as I can. I’m really excited to meet other JETs. I can’t wait to make friends with you all, よろしく!

Shikokuchuo City:

Talia Fisher

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Hi! My name is Talia Fisher. I come from Ottawa, Canada. I’m 22 and I am currently living in Shikokuchuo in Ehime. Last year I graduated from the University of Ottawa with a degree in International Development and Globalization. I’m an avid hockey player, outdoors activities person and piano player. And of course, I am pretty interested in Japanese language and culture.

I’ve always been very interested in Asia, in large part thanks to my parents. During their wild university days, they went on a nine-month backpacking trip throught Asia, bringing back with them wonderful tales of white water rafting in Nepal, climbing active volcanoes in the middle of the night in Indonesia and having their Walkman stolen in Myanmar. As a kid I remember sitting and looking over their hundreds of photographs they had taken on their travels and dreaming of one day going on a similar adventure.

By the time I entered university I still hadn’t found my way to Asia yet, but I was keen to learn as much as I could. I was lucky enough that my university offered a minor in Asian studies which I was able to take. One of the requirements for this was to learn either Chinese or Japanese. Since I didn’t want to endure learning the different tones of Chinese, I opted for Japanese. It could be said than, that my journey to the JET programme essentially began from a decision to be lazy.

However, during that first Japanese class, I was swept away with Japan. Despite it being a language class, my professor taught me so much about the country itself: the unique values of society, the breathtaking (and sometimes terrifying) environment, and the excitement of the abundant festivals. Needless to say, I finally made it to Japan that summer. From that point on, my fascination snowballed. I learned as much as I could about the country. I enrolled in every class relating to Japan that my university offered, I took extra language classes at my city’s Japanese language school, I found a taiko club which I promptly joined, and I was introduced to Japanese mystery novels and read everything I could get my hands. And throughout this all, I kept going back to Japan.

It was during these years that I first heard about the JET programme, and I instantly knew that this was my next step. I already had experience and enjoyed teaching/working with kids from my job as a swim instructor. To be able to do that in Japan was almost laughably perfect to me. When I was finally nearing the end of my degree, I sent in my application to JET, crossed my fingers and held my breath.

Even though this is my fourth time coming to Japan, I’m so excited to delve deeper and immerse myself in my community. Already I am making friends (which is even more exciting with the pandemic), and having an incredible time hiking, biking and exploring. I can’t wait to experience everything my area has to offer, make long-lasting relationships with the people here, and make these some of the best years of my life.

Niihama City:

Jack Matull

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Hi there! My name is Jack, I’m from San Francisco, California, and I’m going to be an ALT in Niihama. I recently graduated from UCLA in the spring, having studied political science and Japanese. I’m excited to meet everyone in Ehime and get involved in the Niihama community!

Being half Japanese-American, I have always had an interest in the culture and trying to
understand more about my lost heritage. My family came to the US at the turn of the 20th century and by the end of World War II, they eventually lost touch with their Japanese roots and traditions. But I have been able to take Japanese language and cultural classes throughout high school and college to sort of re-bridge the gap between my family and I to our Japanese heritage. I was lucky enough to study abroad at Waseda University in Tokyo during my third year of college and stay with some amazing host families around Japan. I’m excited to continue sharing my experiences with my family to help them learn more about Japanese culture.

In my free time I really enjoy staying active and exercising. I’m really into sports, both watching and playing them. In particular I enjoy running and playing golf, and I like watching baseball, basketball, and football (both kinds). Even though I’m a lousy singer, I love going to karaoke with my friends on the weekends. I also like to travel and am looking forward to exploring the beautiful nature that Ehime and all of Shikoku has to offer.

I’m especially excited about being placed in Niihama even though I have never visited before. That’s because in my senior year of high school a group of 15 high school students from the Niihama-Saijo area came to my school for a week. During that time they told us all about the delicious oranges, crystal spring water, and scenic hikes in Ehime. I knew I wanted to visit someday but it was hard to find time to get to Shikoku while I was studying abroad, especially with coronavirus cutting my program short. But in the meantime I’ve managed to keep in touch with most of those students and now I have the chance to see them all again in person.

I’m super excited to meet all the other JETs and finally arrive in Ehime!

Eoghan Farrell

AJET blog

Hey everybody! I’m Eoghan and I’m a 2021 JET headed to Niihama-shi to work as an ALT! It was a huge setback and disappointment to have my year abroad from September 2020 to August 2021 at KGU cancelled, so getting into JET has been an indescribable turnaround. I’m 24 and was born in Dublin, Ireland, and I’ve lived there my entire life to this point. I just got my degree in July 2021, and that’s in Applied Languages and Translation Studies (Japanese and French (but please don’t ask me to speak French!)). Oh, and I’m the one on the right by the way!

I’m a huge sports fan, big into motorsports, the Irish sports of Gaelic football and hurling, American sports like the NFL and NHL, and soccer of course, so I plan to be as involved with the same in Japan! 

In my free time I enjoy sim-racing and trying new restaurants and foods, though I usually end up becoming a regular at one or two places. I’ve been keeping my local pizza hut in business over the last few years so there’s a lucky business or two in Niihama waiting for my arrival! 

My Japan bucket list includes:

  • – Nightwalks in Osaka and Tokyo
  • – Weekly karaoke trips
  • – Going to a baseball game
  • -Going to the Japanese Grand Prix
  • -Going to see Super GT at Okayama International Circuit
  • -Staying for a week or so in Kanazawa and Kyoto
  • -Travelling around Asia (does that count?)

I love going out and socialising over a few beers, and I’m a very laid back and easy going person, so please add me on LINE (ktdublin) if you’re going to be in or around Niihama! Looking forward to meeting everyone!

Cade Krasnicki

Cade

Hello all! My name is Cade. I am currently teaching in Niihama, Ehime. Traveling to Japan once before and all around Asia (Vietnam, Malaysia) a burning question I always get asked is why I like Japan so much.

I’ll just start from the beginning: my story probably isn’t too different from most. Some of my earliest memories where playing Pokemon with my older brother. I knew how to beat Ocarina of Time and FF 7-10 inside out by the age of 7 or so. Fast forward a few years, even with all the troubles my parents would go through I would always find solace in watching Toonami on Cartoon Network late on Saturday nights. At the time I didn’t know Black Lagoon, Gundam, Inuyasha, Dragon Ball, and Sailor Moon were anime, but I thought that kind of content was so much more appealing than any other cartoon I had seen before. When I was 10 years old Naruto aired in America for the first time. I remember seeing “haram jutsu” on casual tv and being like wtf did I just watch, but being so enticed. Eventually reruns started to play every week and I was livid. One of my friends from elementary told me I could watch the new episodes online for free in Japanese. I couldn’t believe it. I guess that was the moment it all clicked. I watched the entire series in a little under a year and I was back in the same predicament; not enough content. I think at this time I was heavily obsessed with gaming forums like Neoseeker and youtube comments so I eventually got more information that manga exists…

*Open the flood gates*

At the time my parents weren’t doing too well financially so I didn’t even have the internet at home. I was watching anime at my grandmother’s house or downloading manga to a flashdrive at the local library or school. I was fortunate enough that my city library had every current volume of Bleach and One Piece at the time. It was so exciting to have something to look forward to every week and still do for some series today.

After high school I didn’t immediately go to college. I was working at a steakhouse which was very good money for an 18 year old and I was just doing some part time accredited classes at a two year institute. Most of my friends were moving on with their lives or leaving town so it was a very difficult period for me. There were moments where I thought school wasn’t worth it and I may be serving for the rest of my life. My best friend knew how much I loved anime and JRPGs so he suggested I move in with him and go to the same university as him because they offered Japanese courses. To me this sounded like a dream. In fact, I picked a major that only remotely interested me at the time. I was more focused on getting good grades so I could participate in the study abroad at my college. I would be working awfully long 10 to 12 hour shifts at a busy bar just telling myself, “you’ll get through this. You’ll make it to Japan.” Eventually I did! I studied for 5 months in Osaka, and taught at a local high school in my universities’ summer internship program. I think this was the most exciting moment in my life thus far. I wasn’t pressured by friends or family to be doing something, I didn’t have to think about paychecks or grades, I was allowed to just travel and be happy.

After leaving Japan it was an intense emotional rollercoaster of how to return. I was taking 7 classes, doing an internship to graduate, and back working at the bar every weekend. I applied for JET and many other ALT positions in late 2018, not because I wanted those jobs but just to get a feel for how the interview for JET and Japanese companies might go. You must believe I was devastated when I didn’t get into the program. My bounceback was to do something that would benefit my resume and assure myself I could get into JET the next time around. I became TEFL (Teaching English as Foreign Language) certified and taught English in Vietnam for all of 2020. It was such a lovely experience and I met people from so many backgrounds (European and South East Asian), making it very difficult to leave. There were many times when Japan seemed like just a dream and so far away. So I left everything and tried for JET one more time. I’m so blessed to say that I made it back to Japan and Ehime. Every part about being here excites me so much. I can’t wait to see so many things I didn’t get to see last time I was here.

I should mention along the way I found many interests in Japanese culture other than animation and games lol. I really like Japanese cinematography, music, history and literature.

If you are new to Japan and don’t speak the language or don’t know much about their production of media I would like to give some recommendations. 🙂

Japanese Musicians:

Tricot, Asian Kung Fu Generation, Shishamo, Lucie too, Momoiro Clover Z, The Blue Hearts, Jyocho, Nano Ripe, the pillows, The Novembers and The Cabs

Japanese Films:

Ring, Sanotine, Love Exposure(愛のむきだし), Floating Clouds (浮雲), Perfect Blue, Audition, House, Linda Linda Linda, and Tokyo Sonata

Japanese literature must reads:

No Longer Human (人間失格), Silence(沈黙), and Fire on the Plains(野火)

Anime/Manga:

Too many to name… I’ve seen most/read most Shonen. I’ll just give a top 5 Hajime no Ippo, DanMachi, Demon Slayer, Madoka Magika, and Cowboy Bebop

In summary, there are lots of things I like about Japan. Most may be material… but coming from an urban planning background, I love the convenience of Japan. Hot, cheap food is so widely available which is not as easy to access in over-expensive America, that requires long commutes by cars. I love the Japanese train system and how Japanese cities incorporate the old preserved architecture and tradition in modern cities. Do I want to stay in Japan long term? Probably not, actually, but by coming to Japan it definitely opened my eyes to new cultures and an interest in Asia as a whole. In the future, I see myself studying transportation in China and bringing new concepts I found through my travels to American cities and my overall outlook on life.

Imabari City:

Anna Moore

Anna

Hi everyone! I’m Anna, and I’m an incoming JET headed to Ōshima, an island connected to Imabari. I’ve never been to Japan before, so this is an experience full of firsts for me, and I’m so excited to try everything!

I’m from New Orleans, Louisiana, so if you ever want some good beignets, let me know and I’ll gladly make them for you! I graduated from Rollins College in Orlando, Florida back in December 2019, which somehow feels like ages ago. Moving to Japan was never a thought that crossed my mind until one of my friends (who, not quite coincidentally, is from Japan and had a JET at his high school in Kyoto) suggested I apply for it. My apprehension about moving across the world on my own soon turned into exhilaration the more I learned about Japanese history, food, and culture.

I really enjoy baking (ask me about my sourdough scores), running, Animal Crossing, Howl’s Moving Castle, and talking about my chocolate lab, Zeus. I’m also a pretty big history buff, so if you’re planning on hitting up any museums and want a pal, I’ll join you!

I’m so excited to finally be here, as the never-ending postponement of departure dates convinced my family that me moving to Japan was a pipe dream. I can’t wait to meet everyone!

Andrea Lean Manapat

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WHEN STARS ALIGN

For some people, dreams don’t die. Some are just put on hold, buried within your soul, waiting for the rightful time to be fulfilled. This could be the case for my ‘Japan dream’.

Hello everyone. I am Andrea Lean Manapat from Bulacan, Philippines.

At the time this piece of me was written, I am nearing my first month here in my new home at Imabari-shi. Being a new ALT, the question “Why Japan?” from almost everybody I introduce myself to never gets old. And since this is an introduction, here goes the story…

Where it all started…

My dream of seeing and experiencing Japan dates back to my childhood days. I was blessed to have known a very kind and inspiring Japanese man, in the person of my father’s employer – Mr. Kimura. Every weekend, Mr. Kimura with his Filipina wife, would visit their farm where my father works. Those were among my fondest memories because every Sunday, he would teach us some things about Japan and its culture. I remember him teaching us some basic Japanese greetings, counting numbers from one to ten, and the Japanese song Donguri Korokoro. I knew right then that Japan holds a very special place in my heart, and that I must go and see it for myself in this lifetime.

When the inspiration builds into reality…

Several years after, just when I least expected it, in the middle of the pandemic, I did the big leap.

Friends would know that my life back home was pretty stable and so they were surprised at me leaving my permanent teaching post, moving out of my comfort zone and practically starting a new life from scratch in a place I’ve never been. And that’s the thing: it was stable. I was always in my comfort zone. I crave for growth: something I could not possibly find while in a place of comfort and stability.

And that’s when the JET Programme came to me. It reminded me of my childhood dream. However, this time I am turning the dream into a purposeful journey. Being a teacher in the Philippines for several years, I will build on my experiences and thrive here in my new life in Japan, doing what I know how to do, what I love to do, and what I do best: teaching. Of course, it will be a shame if I don’t go out and experience more of Japan apart from work. As I moved here, I resolved to leave my quite serious (and kinda boring) life from before. As a fresh start, I’m off to experience a lot of firsts and whatnot. Reality can be a little scary. The beginning is always shaky. But once you find your footing, the tread becomes easier, and you’ll start to enjoy the journey.

How I hope it will be

There is no specific timeline as to what settling in is about. I am approaching my first month here yet sometimes I still find myself lost (figuratively and literally – shame on me, haha). But I never knew that there is beauty in being lost. You’ll uncover more layers of yourself which you never knew actually exist. Because I have experienced a handful of mishaps (not major ones, lucky me) by far, this I say to you: your moments of weakness and being lost will bring out your inner strength. You’ll soon find yourself stronger, braver, and wiser. At the very least, this is how I hope I will be.

And this is me: the girl who sometimes gets lost, but always finds her way. I don’t know for sure, but maybe, just maybe, it’s because the stars have aligned for me. Who knows, maybe one day, the same stars will lead my way in bumping into you. So… until then!

Leo Aribal

KOREA

Mabuhay! That’s how we express our warm welcome in the Philippines!

I am Efren Leo John Villaruel Aribal from Valencia City, Mindanao Island. I am most comfortable when people call me Leo or any name you’d like to endear me with.

Teaching is my first love. There’s always this unexplained sheer feeling of gratification every time someone expresses a simple ‘thank you’ after having a conversation with you, for instance.

I had a formal teaching experience at a university for six years where I taught basic English and Communication courses. At the same time, I was an active youth mobilizer in our city. Together with my non-profit and civic organization, we created and implemented developmental programs for the youth sector through education, information, and communication initiatives. We also successfully lobbied for the creation of a youth development office in our city with the aim of developing a better Filipino youth.

Having grown up in a rural area motivated me in facilitating grassroots youth leadership development through advocacy-laden programs by incorporating it through my profession as an educator.

With my passion for the youth development in my country, I was selected as one of the Philippine Youth Ambassadors of Goodwill for the 45th Ship for Southeast Asian and Japanese Youth Program (SSEAYP). It is a diplomatic program between Japan and ASEAN member-states where select youth are gathered to discuss and contribute solutions to the rising and relevant issues faced by this sector. I was assigned for the Quality Education discussion where I was exposed to the Japanese education system, which later introduced me to the JET Program.

These opportunities led me to my second love, travelling. My travel bucket list includes: Markets, Museums, and Music. This is my operationalized itinerary when I want to know a country’s culture.

My third love is telling stories. I love conversing with people, even with strangers, then I write.  Though I am not really eloquent in this skill, I was given a chance to write in our university website, city news magazine, and local news outlet. I am trying my best to encapsulate my thoughts and experiences through writing.

Just like the Mikan, I am looking forward to the bright, sunny, and sweet challenges and opportunities that await me at Imabari City and Ehime Prefecture. I feel so blessed working as an ALT having the three things I love at the country that I long admired for- Teaching, Traveling, and Telling stories at Japan!

Email: eljaribal@gmail.com

Instagram: leoaribal

Line: 07015572991

Kamijima Town:

George Mullins

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Hello, my name is George and I am originally from the UK. I am a recent university graduate and some of my hobbies include learning Japanese and hiking. I will be working as an ALT in Kamijima-cho, a group of islands in the north of Ehime Prefecture. 

I originally decided to take part in the JET Programme because I wanted to learn more about Japanese society and improve my Japanese. Having started learning a second language myself, I am also interested in language learning and teaching English as a foreign language. I am really looking forward to living in Kamijima-cho and exploring all that Ehime has to offer.

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