In 2009 I was fortunate enough to be placed in Uwajima, Ehime. I had little to no knowledge of this small port city. I had never even been to Ehime, and I had never even been to Shikoku.
This is a small city whose money doesn’t come from tourism, and doesn’t have the flash and awe of Tokyo, but it has heart like I’ve never seen before. From mountain to ocean you can find beauty all around you, and the warmest, kindest people I have ever met.
I had several encounters with elderly men and women who I had asked for assistance and soon found myself engaged in a twenty-minute conversation. The words “I’m from Hawaii” spawned a whole new conversation. On several occasions I had completely forgotten what it was I was looking for simply because we had been talking for so long.
It’s funny, because prior to 2007 I had never heard of the JET Program. It wasn’t till I landed a job at a Japanese foundation that staffed several JET Alumni that I learned of the program. Every enkai they spoke at length about the beauty of the program, and how I would love the adventure.
It took me a while to warm up to the idea of leaving San Francisco; I had set up a home there, had my career plans headed in the right direction, everything was very comfortable. I attended a few JETAA enkais, and that was it, I was set on going on JET.
Looking back on my time in the program, I realize it was all the little things that made my time in Japan incredible. Waking up to the smell of the ocean, the sound of my shoes squeaking against the tiled floors of Johoku Junior High School, the taste of fresh fried jakoten and my favorite thing, seeing my students smile.
There were moments when I would have to take a breath and ask myself is this really happening? Am I really here? Everyday in Uwajima, whether a good day or a bad day, was a gift. Not only to be in Japan, but just to be a part of that community. That was special to me. To call Uwajima home, and to be accepted by the people of Uwajima as one of their own.
Coming from Hawaii we always talk about the “Aloha Spirit.” It’s giving without asking for anything in return. It’s caring for people you don’t know. It’s being kind to everyone you meet.
I never understood the true meaning of the “Aloha Spirit” till I came to Uwajima. They taught me what it means to care for others and give with an open heart.
From the first day of arriving in Uwajima, till the day I flew back to Honolulu, I felt welcomed and accepted.
A moment that will forever be ingrained in my heart is seeing my friends and family fill the concert hall to celebrate my wedding. Over 200 people showed up. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.
It wasn’t just because it was my wedding, it was because in the 3 years I had lived in Uwajima I had found a home, a community, and a new love. I fell in love with a city that I had never heard of before JET, and I had fallen in love with the people of Uwajima
I will never be able to thank the people of Uwajima for the kindness they have shown me, and for teaching me the true meaning of “Aloha.” They opened their hearts to a strange boy from Hawaii, and gave me some of the greatest memories of my life.
I’m thankful to say that since returning home to Honolulu I have been involved with every sister city event or activity between Uwajima and Honolulu, and have joined the Ehime Kenjin Kai.
I want nothing more than to have the people of Uwajima feel the same love and compassion I’ve felt during my time in Japan. I want them to come to Hawaii and feel like it’s home.
JET has completely changed my life, and I am so thankful for the opportunity I was given. Without JET I would have never gone to Uwajima and I would have never fallen in love with this city and its people. Uwajima will forever have a special place in my heart, and will always be home to me.