Article first published (with a selection of photos) 

in the 2003/2004 JGC/JCOGA School Magazine

 

Sunrise from Mt Fuji, July 2004
  

From the Land of the Rising Sun

By Adèle Mariette

 

Japan .  So, why Japan? 


This question has been asked of me countless times, before my arrival here back in July 2003, and since.  By Japanese and Jersey people, and many other nationalities besides.  The Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET) truly is a breeding ground for “Internationalization” in so many ways.


But the answer?  There are so many answers.  Because I wanted to do something totally unrelated to engineering.  Because I wanted to travel after graduating.  Because I wanted to really experience life in a different culture.  To truly immerse myself in that culture - not just as a tourist, but as a resident.  I wanted to find myself.  To release myself from the norms of everyday life as a student in England , or as an office worker in Jersey .  

 

These reasons are all for their own part very true, but by no means provide the full answer. 

 

I studied Japanese as one of my options during my final year at university.  My Japanese teacher introduced me to the JET Programme, and in less than eight months I was here, with a visa for three years, a job at a technical high school, a wonderful apartment, an even better salary, thousands of miles away from home, and only able to say, “Where is the bank?” and, “This is a dog”. 

 

It all happened so fast, my feet didn’t really touch the ground until…well, they haven’t yet! 

 

My uni friends didn’t believe I’d actually come to Japan , especially not without my partner of four years, Tom.  But I was determined.  I had no idea what I was letting myself in for, but I knew deep within myself that this was right for me.  I had to go. 

 

As I said in my interview at the Japanese Embassy in London , “I believe in reaching for your dreams, to see something you want to do and just go for it”. 

 

So, why Japan?

 

Well, the opportunity arose, and I seized it with both hands and an open mind.  And I love it here.  Never once have I regretted my decision to pack my bags and move so far away from everything I know.   Now Tom is here, too, with a job and a visa – there’s definitely no looking back!

 

Of course I’ll never fit in here.  The Japanese are a very proud people, and rightly so.  Japan is not like England or America .  When you first arrive and look around everyone does look the same.  At least to my eyes.  I, who was used to seeing tall people, short people, fat people, thin people, curvy people, not-so-curvy people, black skin, white skin, brown skin, blue eyes, brown eyes, green eyes, red hair, black hair, blond hair, mousy hair, brown hair, blue hair, pink hair, and of course, no hair.  The list goes on, and only serves to emphasise the diversity in our society.   But here, with the exception of a few, everyone is a similar height, and is very slim with very dark eyes, and black hair. 

 

In my prefecture there are very few western gaikokujin (non-Japanese, the slang of which is gaijin).  This leads on to the fact that I with my height, curves, blue eyes and brown hair, not to mention my so-called hana takai (“high nose”) and pale skin, stand out like a, well, non-Asian gaijin in Japan.  People stare.  From time to time they want to touch you, small children start to scream and cry, older children laugh and point, and some adults run away when you approach them to ask for directions.  But at least it makes it easy to spot my other JET-friends in the crowds! 

 

It’s something you have to get used to when you’re living here, and now most days I hardly notice it.  People locally are getting used to seeing me, and my Japanese is now at the point that I can have a (somewhat stilted) conversation with street vendors, shop assistants and other people I meet.  This in fact helps a great deal, and encourages some Japanese people to talk in English to me.  Well, English about equal to my Japanese! 

 

So, why Japan?


To experience a new culture.  There are so many stereotypes of Japanese people and their culture.  I was told, for instance, that Japanese people never make body contact.  This isn’t true.  They will not usually touch people they don’t know well, and are possibly more reserved with foreigners, but with their close friends they make a lot of contact, and stand perhaps closer to each other than we are used to at home.  But this is just a minor point.


The number of times I heard before I left, “Oh, Japan …you’re students will be very well-behaved and quiet”.  No.  They are not.  This is partly because I am in a predominantly-male technical high school, and partly because Japan , like everywhere else in the world is changing and evolving.  And, quite frankly, teenagers are teenagers.  But the vivaciousness and energy of my students are quite contagious.  They may be absolutely terrible at English, but being engineers, they’re very creative in their solutions to problems, even in English class.

 

So, why Japan?

 

I’m always willing to try something new these days.  After all, life’s too short.  I don’t think I was like this so much at school, but certainly at university my curiosity led me to try such things as ballroom dancing, clay pigeon shooting, and an attempt at the University Air Squadron, during which I had the fortune to fly stunts in an RAF trainer aircraft.

 

This insatiable curiosity is acting full force in Japan !  From the very western aerobics (if you remember me, then I know you’ll be shocked!) to the very Japanese yosakoi, and everything in between.  Yosakoi is a style of dance, performed in teams, and is something like a mixture of jazz, modern, tribal and a martial art, amongst other things.  Basically, anything goes.  I’m in a yosakoi team, and we’ve done quite a few competitions and performances.  We wear short yukata (summer kimono) called hapi, and we each have two rather rudimentary instruments called narako which we clack as we dance.  It’s great fun!

 

I’ve also recently taken up shodo, or Japanese calligraphy.  We attempt to write beautiful kanji (Chinese characters) with large, thick brushes.  To be honest, I’m absolutely hopeless, but I have a great time trying, and our attempts seem to amuse our sensei (teacher) no end!

 

So, why Japan?

 

When I first mentioned the idea of living in Japan to my parents (deep breath… “So, Mum, Dad…your only child is thinking of moving to the other side of the world…”), my Mum replied, “Wow!  What a great opportunity!  You have to go for it!”.  My Dad said something along the lines of (but with slightly more colour), “All that raw fish!  What will you eat?”. 

 

Interestingly, I was to come up against variations of my Father’s exclamation many times before I left the UK .  Sushi and sashimi have never posed a problem for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed both even before I’d heard of the JET Programme!  Incidentally, sushi isn’t just raw fish – there are many different kinds.  But I digress…

 

Japanese cuisine is a lot more varied than people think, although it is fundamentally centred around fish, rice and noodles.  For a start, there’s the wonder that is okonomiyaki, which is as difficult to explain as it is to pronounce for the first time!  It’s rather like an omelette made with flour, cabbage and some form of meat or fish, and is wonderful!  Although eating it with chopsticks takes some practice.

 

There are plenty of non-Japanese style restaurants here, including Indian, Lebonese, Thai, Korean, Chinese, French, American, and, especially Italian.  Maybe it’s the pasta?

 

My partner and I cook for ourselves most nights, however, which means braving the Japanese supermarkets.  Once you get used to the strange-looking vegetables and lack of variety in the meat section, it’s not all that different from home.

 

Naturally there are still things we miss from home – a good Sunday roast, and a bacon sarnie, to name two.  But equally we know that we’ll miss the likes of okonomiyaki and yakisoba when we eventually return.

 

So, why Japan?

 

There is only one answer:

 

WHY NOT?

 

 

  

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