Tag Archives: JET life

Post-JET Diaries- Part Seven

February
Jennifer Cerna

“Take a chance, you stupid hoe. 怖がってるんじゃねえ。” –Gwen Stefani

February started off on a positive note. Work was going fine and I no longer felt on the brink of losing anything. I felt extremely busy, and found myself working overtime. One Tuesday, my manager sent me home early for that reason and my week seemed to slow down immediately. I finished my transcription assignments for my other job and got some things done for several police departments.
I had begun to realize that there was a very important difference between feeling isolated and being alone. I enjoyed being alone; it gave me time to recharge and reflect. But I hated feeling isolated. I didn’t know anybody in my area who could relate to my experiences as a JET participant and alumna. I was beginning to make solid friends, finally, but in some ways I still felt adrift. The worst part about being isolated in that way was that I wasn’t alone. Not only was I not getting some needs met, but I was also getting too little space to myself. I will always appreciate that my parents are so gracious about involving me in their lives but it was beginning to really wear on me that I was never actually alone. There was always someone in the house and they might call me at seemingly inopportune moments for something. For this reason among many others, I was looking forward to the time I would be able to spend in Houston for the JETAA reception for returning JETs.
Though I felt incredibly awkward at the JETAA reception and hardly talked to more than a handful of people, it was immensely helpful to hear from and see people who understood what I was going through. The ones who had come back a while ago were happy, upbeat, and still involved in Japanese-American relations. That really struck me because I realized that I had been trying really hard to shut out everything that I could of Japan. I have a lot of things I brought back from Japan, but they are all put away in boxes where I can’t see or think of them. I told one of the JET alumni that I had been trying not to think about my time in Japan and her reaction made me realize that I had been going about a lot of things wrong. Why would I try to shut out four very eventful, fantastic, formative years of my life? It gave me a new perspective on how to approach my relationship with Japan. Maybe it would be possible for me to maintain some sort of relationship with Japan. Maybe pretending that those four years hadn’t happened was not the best way for me to cope with the culture shock and challenges that come with returning to the States. Maybe I could continue to study Japanese, or join my mother in watching NHK (her favorite channel). I really do miss the quick little flicks of my pen whenever I wrote complex kanji.
Later in the month, I hung out with someone whom I realized I had a lot in common with, and we became quick friends. I got a third job and signed up for the CrossFit Open. I had my first interview with a police department. I planned a road trip with a couple other people. I was getting a lot of projects and random things, like my health, taken care of at last and everything seemed to finally be coming together. I worked hard and used every minute as efficiently as I could. I focused.

Towards the end of February, I felt that I was finally getting somewhere. My fear of becoming stagnant in my life was no longer at the forefront of my mind. I felt immensely hopeful that everything was finally falling into place. Most of the tasks that I had laid out at the beginning of the year, with an April 1st deadline, were completed.
On the last day of the month after a long day at work, I came home to find a letter addressed to me from the police department I had interviewed with: I did not meet their qualifications. Until that point, I had rarely felt so abruptly and profoundly disappointed. Policing was the one thing that I truly wanted to do, and neither my first nor second-choice police department worked out. My mind raced, and the thought that I would spend the next six months to a year working at the same two restaurants, constantly working, filled me with panic. What would I do? I could not go on like this, could I? I already felt that I was wearing myself thin. The only reason I was okay with going full throttle like I had been was because it was temporary. I tried to calm myself. While I was crying harder than I had in years, a small voice inside my mind tried to comfort me. It’s okay. It doesn’t have to be like that. There are many other things I can do. I still had two more police tests to take in March, and there are countless departments all over the country. Though I understood the logic, the only word I could describe the way I felt was “crushed.”
The next day, I woke up and tried to feel better. I was beginning to feel more optimistic and seriously considered alternatives to policing, at least for the time being. There were still many things I could do while I waited to be accepted into a police department. I didn’t have to feel stuck at jobs I disliked. The world will always be full of opportunities. That’s how February ended. I felt that I had fallen from a part of a gargantuan mountain that I had been climbing for a long time, to the bottom, but I was beginning to look up and accept that all I could do was continue to move along.

When I decided to write my Post-JET Series, I wanted it to be six months long. I had thought that by the time I got to the six month mark, I would be in police academy and everything would be going smoothly: I would have my own apartment, my finances and administrative tasks I had to deal with would all be taken care of. I would have completed my transition and adjustment to U.S. life and everything would be ideal, and I would be over all of the reverse-culture shock. I would even stop missing and thinking about Japan. Though I was a bit off and see now that I have a long ways to go before I get there (do I even want to get to the point where Japan isn’t a part of me?), I still believe that this is a good place to end the series before writing a follow-up article one year after leaving Japan. For those of you who have re-contracted for another year, remember to savor each moment. Don’t let any moment slip by, taken for granted, because in hindsight, they will all have been unique. For those of you returning to your home countries or moving to a new one, best of luck! Most importantly, in either case, keep your heart and mind open.

Jennifer Cerna

Jennifer is a JET alumna currently living in Texas. She is the published author of novelette My Imagined Pregnancy: A Daydream Gone Wild and several flash fiction and narrative non-fiction pieces. In her free time she enjoys exercise, food, and movies

Hokkaido: An Exercise in Getting Lost Traveling

I am terrible at vacationing. When I go on a trip, I have neither an itinerary nor the desire to construct one. I am the type of person that would be perfectly happy to sit in a cafe or on a nearby beach, or even just in the hotel room where I’m staying. So how is it that I managed to go on a four day, timetable packed down to the minute, snowballs to the walls trip to Hokkaido for the Yuki-Matsuri? The same strategy I usually follow when traveling; I went with a friend who is semi obsessed with getting the most out of their vacation. The following is a story of pitfalls and highlights that I’ve assembled from some notes that I took during my time outside of Shikokuchuo. I hope you’re enticed by the highlights, and that you’ll learn from (or at least get a laugh out of) the mistakes we made during our time in the far north of Japan.

Day 1: The Train Incident

Generally I have a very good time with my vacations, boring though they would be if I were left to my own devices; however I’ve noticed a startling trend in which something absolutely terrible happens every time I venture away from home. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from traveling, and I’ve never had something occur that ruined a vacation, but seemingly without fail something completely unexpected has to happen that I’m thereafter forced to deal with. Highlights include being stuck on a frozen tarmac when going to my JET interview, getting the worst sunburn of my life after confusing sun tan lotion and sunscreen in Okinawa, and becoming hopelessly lost in Kyoto my first day outside my home country, wandering the streets with suitcase in hand as the summer rains started in earnest. I was actually relaying these very events to Nikki, my traveling companion, making a joke about how I was waiting for the shoe to drop when we veered terribly off course. Maybe I jinxed the situation, maybe we weren’t paying enough attention, but we instead found ourselves in Okayama station rather than Tokushima, as intended in order to be somewhat early for our flight to Haneda. Without a hope or a prayer for getting on our flight back in Shikoku.

We didn’t panic. Much.

After about 10 minutes of hyperventilating, and getting our fares adjusted, we decided that we would attempt to go to the Okayama airport and play our ace card; begging forgiveness for being terrible meiwakus (that is to say, troublesome noisy annoyances).

We found the JAL counter at Okayama Airport, explaining our problem first to the security guard who was checking luggage, then to one of the wonderful, hard working members of Japan’s finest airline company. After calmly explaining our situation (in absolutely flawless Japanese that wasn’t even a little bit tinged with our own fear and confusion), about how we had been on the wrong train and had wound up in Okayama rather than Takamatsu, where we were meant to fly out of, the kindly flight attendant behind the counter looked us in the eye and said “But, this is Okayama, not Takamatsu…”

To shorten the story, the kindly folks of JAL took pity on the bashful Gaijins and managed to get our flights transferred, so that we would fly out of Okayama and make our connecting flight in Haneda. They were so accommodating, in fact, that when it seemed we wouldn’t be able to make our connecting flight due to a slight delay in our arrival, we were privately shuttled across the airport to make our connection.

This all occurred before 12:00.

The Train Incident is a great teacher for some travel tips:

1) When traveling, pay close attention to your surroundings. I never thought I could get so lost on a train but apparently missing your stop isn’t the worst thing that can happen. Sometimes you miss your whole island completely.

2) Don’t panic. Remember that even though you’re in a foreign country, people are still people, and as long as you treat them that way they’ll likely be willing and able to help. It isn’t the end of the world, and you’ll figure out some way to get through things if you just keep your thoughts from spiraling out of control.

3) When its over, try to laugh it off. Even though this was the very beginning to the whole journey, we managed to have a great time in Hokkaido despite the rocky start. Later that same day Nikki saw snow on the ground for the first time, we ate some delicious food in the Sapporo underground, and generally laughed and joked, knowing that the worst had already happened so we had smooth sailing for the rest of our trip.

Day 2: Glassblowing, Ice Sculptures, and Haunted Whiskey.

One of my biggest fears before heading to Hokkaido was the cold. I hate cold with a passion, yet I found myself pretty comfortable in Sapporo. Part of the reason spawns from the fact that Hokkaido isn’t as humid as the southern prefectures, so especially if you’re used to the bone-chilling, wet winters around Ehime, you’ll likely find yourself pleasantly surprised by a cold that is easily fended off with a reasonable coat and pair of shoes. Though, honestly the biggest reason that I’ve come up with is that Hokkaido hasn’t launched the war on insulation that seems to plague the rest of Japan. Walk in a building, it is warm and dry. I wonder if their schools still open the windows during winter…

While it definitely is drier in Hokkaido, they don’t call it the Snow Country for nothing. You won’t have to tromp through it too much in Sapporo (heated sidewalks being yet another thing I’m jealous of), but once you head out to the smaller towns around it you’d best be prepared for it. Being from a routinely frozen part of the world, I was thoroughly prepared, and I only fell once. Twice? We’ll say twice.

One of these falls was in the town of Otaru, a medium sized town famous for its glass products. Nikki had found that there was a small studio in Otaru where you could book a session wherein you would be able to blow your own glass cup or vase. I always wanted to try glassblowing, and I’ll tell you that its is deceptively difficult. Watching the professional work, or even just another amateur, if you do it in a group like we did, it seems simple. Hot glass, blow in the tube, touch it with metal. Bingo bongo, you made a cup. The glass is extremely responsive, and what seems in the moment to be a perfectly round glass is, on reflection, pretty heavily weighted to one side. All of that said, glassblowing was one of the single most fun things I’ve done since coming to Japan. I don’t think there was a moment during the entire session where I wasn’t smiling. And so what if my cup is a little lopsided, it’s still MY cup and I’m proud of it. We gave them our addresses, so that they could specially ship our newly broiled cups to us (rather than us carry them to an inevitable slippery icy death) and we went to look at the various snow-sculptures around the town. Pretty much everywhere we went there was some sort of neat snow sculptures. There was a village of snow dogs, pandas, seals, even a snowy Colonel Sanders. The sculptures are what initially made me want to go to Yuki Matsuri, the idea of people making these giant things out of nothing but snow was just too cool. Honestly, the stars are in Sapporo, but walking along outside looking at the snowy figures that lined the streets of Otaru had me feeling pretty good about the whole day. Then we went to Yoichi.

The Yoichi distillery was one of the things I was pretty excited to go and see. I had watched a fair bit of Massan (the charming story of the man who would make the first Japanese whiskey, and his Scottish wife who put up with him through it all) and enjoy the occasional coke-highball, so I figured it would be a fun way to finish up the day. It was not all we had hoped. To begin with, its fairly out of the way, with only a single train carrying people to and fro every hour. This train also doesn’t accept IC cards, but neglects to inform you of this fact until you are already on the train, and thus you have to adjust your fare once you arrive. When we got to the distillery, we weren’t actually sure if we were in the right place. The gate was open, there were signs pointing out the tour locations, but the place was deserted. We felt less like we were on tour and more like we had broken into someone’s factory and were waiting to be caught and thrown out. It was quiet, everything was covered in snow and ice, and both heebies and jeebies were out in full effect, and we were only half joking when we said it felt like a snow oni (snowni) (snow ogres (snowgres)) would jump out and bop us if we weren’t careful. To be fair, we were walking around at what likely were not peak hours, without the tour guides to help and explain, and without even a larger group to help alleviate some of the tension and at the end of the route, they do give you three big glasses of various whiskey to try, so there’s that. All in all, I probably wouldn’t have gone to Yoichi, knowing what I do now, unless I was in a tour, or with someone who was really, really interested in whiskey.

Day 3: The AJET Enkai

Genghis Khan was a Mongolian warlord who had so many children that its estimated 0.5% of the entire world population is descended from him. In Japan, Genghis Khan is also a form of yakiniku that they give you a plastic poncho for so that you won’t smell of delicious lamb smoke afterward. I’m a sucker for anything where I get to cook my own food in front of me, and demanding meat and drink like Genghis Khan himself from the various waiters running around makes this a pretty enjoyable dinner. This is a somewhat roundabout way of saying that I thoroughly enjoyed the AJET Enkai, a yearly event where ALT’s from all around Japan get together to eat more than they should, drink more than they should, and blow off steam while networking. I got to see several of the JETs who came over at the same time I did, and met a few people that I might not have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. This year’s AJET Enkai had somewhere close to 150 people in attendance. The Enkai was exactly what you would expect; It was loud, everyone was laughing, there were a couple of people who probably should have gone home before they did, but all in all it was a good time with good people. As far as I’m concerned, if you enjoy food and drink, and don’t absolutely hate your fellow JETs, the AJET Enkai is a can’t miss event.

Day 4: Snow Lover’s Chocolate, and Yuki Matsuri

Nikki had spoken multiple times by now about Shiroikoibito Koen, which I had translated in my head as “White Lover’s Park”. What I had assumed to be some sort of unfortunately translated park with Yuki Matsuri-type things turned out to be an Olde Englishe style chocolate factory. It isn’t a whole day event, and due to it being Yuki Matsuri the whole place was absolutely packed; but that said, it was just a nice experience. There were old coffee and tea cups, dioramas of chocolate production, wide windows where you could look down on workers making cookies on convener belts. Honestly, if it weren’t for the creepy statues peppered throughout the building, this would be a perfect place. Additionally, picking up some Shiroikoibito  (Which I have since heard is much more nicely translated as “Snow Lover’s”), little chocolate covered cookies, as an omiyage (souvenirs) for your co-workers will put you in most folks good books for a while, and the whole building smells like cookies; so big bonus there.

Finally we come to the Yuki Matsuri itself. What started with some high-school students making snowmen in the park has evolved to 50 foot towering snow-buildings, projection mapped dragon and warrior sculptures, and minions. So many, many, minions. It was cool, really really cool. And that isn’t just a pun that I became sick of after several days with someone who hadn’t seen snow before. If you want to take your time and really inspect each sculpture, you’ll likely be there all day and maybe into the next. Make sure your clothes are warm and you have some heat packs with you. Hokkaido isn’t as cold as people make it out to be, but after two hours out in the sub 10C you will be cold no matter what. Wear good shoes, preferably something that grips really well (I saw at least 10 people eat it in two hours). Finally, make sure you’ve got your camera at the ready. Not every sculpture is a winner (again, there were so many minions I can’t even believe it) but there are definitely going to be some you’ll want to get a selfie with, or just show off to someone who thought they were too cool for Hokkaido.

Lucas Buechler is a first year JET from Montana, USA. He is stationed in Shikokuchuo-shi, Ehime. He is the new editor-in-chief of the Mikan for 2018-2019.

Post-JET Diaries- Part Six

“That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been.” –Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

Though each day passed in seeming monotony, I can’t say that they hadn’t each injected some influence into my path. One overcast day while riding in the passenger seat in one of my parents’ cars, I suddenly realized that I needed to take responsibility for my life. My life is the way it is because of all of the decisions I have made. Even if I were not the one calling the shots, I was responsible for the ways I reacted to the things that happened. Instead of feeling like a victim of my circumstances, I realized that I needed to take responsibility for those circumstances I found myself in. I resolved to take it upon myself to improve what I could. This changed the way I viewed things and altered the course I was on.

I began to feel much happier, and I started doing things that would improve my life. I felt motivated again, and excited. I decided to really get it together and do the best that I could. I stepped up my policing career game plan. I resolved to eat better and go to the gym more regularly. I met with a financial advisor to help me get my money on a road to growth, not decimation. I decided to avoid any serious dating this year to really work on myself. I dedicated the new year to polishing myself up. This would be the year of me.

I got so excited and motivated, and I did too much. I accepted too many transcription assignments for my other job, I picked up too many shifts at the restaurant and ended up working over time. On top of that, filling out all of the police applications, taking tests, and working out regularly caught up to me quickly. I found myself about to lose it on multiple occasions, though to be honest, I didn’t know what “it” really was. But I also felt my identity beginning to really take root. I am the things that I do. I am who I am because of what I dedicate my time to. I didn’t realize it at the time, but those were the growing pains. I was struggling because I was pushing myself to a new limit.

Relief was a couple of weeks away. I told myself I could get through it because in February, there was a JETAA reception for the Texas/Oklahoma area and I would take a few days to decompress and be alone in my hotel room. To get to that day was my goal. That was it.

Those fleeting moments where I was hit by a strong sense of loss or nostalgia for Japan became less frequent. All of my focus in January was on attaining the life that I pictured for myself and meeting my financial needs.

Jennifer Cerna

Jennifer is a JET alumna currently living in Texas. She is the published author of novelette My Imagined Pregnancy: A Daydream Gone Wild and several flash fiction and narrative non-fiction pieces. In her free time she enjoys exercise, food, and movies

Stonewall Shikoku on Ice

On Saturday, February 3rd, Stonewall Shikoku held an ice skating event in Ehime’s very own Matsuyama. Stonewall Shikoku is the Shikoku branch of the national Stonewall group, a place for LGBTQIA+ people to interact with each other while in Japan to share their experiences, help each other with queer-specific problems, and make connections with other people within the community. Stonewall Shikoku is currently headed by CIR Micah Rabinowitz who is based in Kochi prefecture. Some of his duties include putting out a regular newsletter about regional and national LGBTQIA+ related issues and organizing island-wide events for people across the region to meet up. One such event was a camping trip held at the end of summer last year. Continue reading