Sara McClain, Former Nagasaki ALT, 2013 – 2016
The JET Pre-departure Orientation in New York was filled with over 50 new ALTs and CIRs moving all across Japan this month. The talks given by JET alumni covered the fundamentals of life in Japan, but one perk is new this year – the new JETs have access to a two-hour Japanese lesson. This lesson which consists of basic to high-intermediate Japanese grammar and vocabulary will assist JET participants of all backgrounds to understand what kinds of conversations they can expect every day in Japan.
From asking cashiers to skip the bag at convenience stores to knowing which kind of trains are local and express, the goal of this lesson is to give new JET participants an extra boost in understanding how to live a life in Japan without doing charades to get a point across. Moreover, the students will be able to observe one more language class before many of them are asked to teach their own.
Moving to a country in which learning a new language is a requirement to speak to locals adds an extra layer of difficulty to adaptation. In a sense, being without language skills reverts an individual into a state of infancy – lacking communication skills makes it much harder to share wants and needs, let alone make signing leases or applying for bank accounts possible without help.
America’s new JET participants have the summer to prepare for their stay in Japan, but the added bonus of free Japanese lessons will hopefully give these newbies another powerful memory to look back on when they’re learning how to do everyday activities in Japan.
About the Author
Sara was an ALT in Nagasaki from 2013-2016 and in Tokyo from 2017-2018. She now resides in New York City where she teaches Japanese and English to everyone from ages 7 to 70. She is also a TA at Columbia University’s Japanese department where she is considering a higher education.
Anthony Fletcher, Former Nagasaki ALT, 1998 – 1999
The shoes taken off and left on the shelves at the entrance; kids dashing in and out of classrooms in a mixture of tracksuits and black uniforms; the sliding doors running down long corridors. These elements of Japanese school life are instantly familiar again, though not perhaps to my two daughters. They’ve been invited to spend half a day at their friends’ elementary school in Toyokawa, Aichi prefecture, and though this is supposed to be a holiday, they’ve practicing their “Watashi wa Sophie desu” and “Watashi wa Elise desu” like little Samurai.
Sophie and Kiku in class
Wako and Elise in class
I was an ALT 20 years ago and this is the first occasion I’ve been back, this time with family. Returning to Japan has always been on the agenda, but life just kept getting in the way – jobs; moves abroad; kids. And while for some the JET experience has been utterly transformative, leading to marriage and relocation to Japan, my life took me in other directions, leading eventually to Belgium. But Japan has always been there, like a gentle hum in the background. Friendships and cultural experiences have all been heightened and enriched by having lived in Japan, and I’ve been eager to get back.
There are other motivations too. Our friends returned to live in Japan three years ago after a decade in Belgium, and their two daughters are the same ages as ours. Sophie and Kiku, the two eldest girls, have kept in touch, a Scottish-German kid and a Japanese kid writing to each other in French.
The first glimpse from the bus of the bright red Hirado bridge, connecting mainland Kyushu to the island I taught on, is exhilarating. The guesthouse we’re staying at (the town now has guesthouses!) is a charming, rustic home, renovated by Ishiguro who was drawn to the island’s remote peacefulness four years ago. I check in using terrible Japanese and try to explain why I’m so excited to be here.
Hideki and Anthony at Kotonoha Guesthouse, Hirado
Returning after a stroll around the historic centre, where the Dutch established a trading post in the 17th century, I’m approached by Hideki, a friend of Ishiguro’s who runs a café across the bridge. It turns out that Hideki is a former pupil of Hirado Junior High and though at first, he seems unsure I’m Anthony-sensei (“your hair … very different!”), we work out that I was indeed his ALT. Hideki spent a decade in Tokyo freelancing as a TV director before returning home to set up his own business.
The next evening, he arrives at the guesthouse armed with ice cream and his Junior High yearbook, and sure enough there’s a photograph of me with rather more hair as well as a youthful Hideki. It’s great to be back. The town is as beautiful and quiet as I remember it, and evenings in the guesthouse have the atmosphere of a sort of reunion no one could have expected.
This isn’t just my story though. Our trip brought together Sophie and Elise, Kiku and Wako, four girls born in Belgium to non-Belgian parents. Kiku and Wako have been in Japan for three years, and blend in with their classmates until asked by their teacher to translate from French the short presentations my girls have prepared. Watching from the corridor through the classroom window, I get a sense of half a lifetime gone by as the country my daughters talk about is Belgium rather than Scotland, their language of reference French. They also get to take part in calligraphy, English and sports classes, and I’m touched by the generosity of both teachers in taking Sophie and Elise under their wings. At the end of the day, the girls all walk home together through the fields of semi-rural Aichi.
It was fascinating to see how Kiku and Wako have slipped into Japanese life, with reminders all around their house of their early childhood in Europe. The family have a coffee table book entitled ‘Belgian Solutions’, depicting the sort of ad-hoc improvised fixes for pot holes, an absence of bins and missing fences you’ll see everywhere in Brussels. These images contrast perfectly with the order of Japan. Both parents miss the endearing chaos and diversity of Belgium from time to time, and have had to reintegrate without the allowances and indulgences often afforded to foreigners. We spend some wonderful days with them visiting local shrines, digging up bamboo shoots and eating. Boy did we eat.
Travelling from the tip of Kyushu through to the Japanese Alps with my family was unforgettable. Catching up with friends, visiting places important in your life and bumping into random strangers who turn out to be long-lost acquaintances – this is the joy of travelling. Photographs taken 20 years ago come alive once again; old farmers tending rice paddies; hilltop shrines; and the drinks machines in the most unlikely of locations. Grammatically questionable English phrases that were everywhere when I was an ALT seem to have disappeared, while French branding appears everywhere. Plus ça change. As we prepare to leave Japan, the cherry blossom begins to fall.
My ALT experience only touched me briefly really – a year is an incredibly short time, especially looking back as a 42-year old dad – but it sparked an international outlook and orientation that I’ve never lost. It’s not surprising that most former ALTs I know have careers that involve international relations in some form or another. For my kids their excitement at the prospect of this trip was transformed into a first taste of Japanese life, and a shared cultural experience with their friends that they’ll never forget. Like a genetic quirk, that pleasant hum of Japan that has been with me since I was 21 has been passed on to my kids. I only hope that the music brings them as much richness, direction and opportunity that it has brought me.
About the Author
Anthony Fletcher was an ALT from 1998 to 1999 in Nagasaki-ken. Originally from Edinburgh in Scotland, he studied International relations at Sheffield University and is now a Belgium-based freelance writer.
Adam Komisarof, Former Saitama Prefecture ALT, 1990 – 1992
In the second half of this interview, Adam Komisarof, a professor at Keio University, shares advice primarily about finding a university teaching job and living in Japan. He focuses on the importance of joining academic societies in finding a university position. If people present their research at conferences and meet other teachers who are doing research in similar areas, it can be helpful in building a network and finding a job. He also recommends that people wanting to teach English in Japan learn Japanese, as it helps them to understand the difficulties that their students are having in studying English. Finally, as Adam has enjoyed his life in Japan, he discusses the importance of a careful decision about whether or not to live here long-term—so that one has no regrets later and can live a satisfying, fulfilling life in Japan.
Interviewer: You worked in elementary schools, junior high schools, and high schools before working at a university.
Adam Komisarof: Yes. I taught high school on the JET Programme and afterwards in the US I taught in a kindergarten through 12th grade school, as well as a college. I realized after teaching elementary school students that I love the creative challenge of working with kids every day, but I also realized that my core value is to teach and write about my research at the same time. I found that was more easily accomplished by working at a university, since I am expected to teach and pursue my research at the same time as part of the job.
How do you go about finding a job in higher education in Japan?
One good venue is Japanese academic societies, or gakkai (学会). For example, I was a member of the 異文化コミュニケーション学会, or The Japanese Society for Intercultural Education, Training, and Research (also known as SIETAR Japan). These academic societies are associations of teachers from different universities practicing in the same field, for example, social psychology or economics. I recommend that job seekers attend the presentations at conferences and go to the receptions afterward, which are an important part of building human relationships. If you have any research yourself that you can present, for instance, from your master’s degree, then that’s a good way to get noticed. Finding people who are working in your academic field in Japanese universities is an important part of getting a job here.
Are the gakkai (学会) just in Japan or outside?
You can find Japanese professors, as well as non-Japanese professors like me working in Japanese universities, either at conferences in Japan or abroad. I was actually just voted president-elect of an international gakkai called the International Academy for Intercultural Research which holds a conference in a different country every two years. I’ll be starting my post in July. It’s an international group, but Japanese professors attend every conference, and there are people at each conference from all over the world. I recommend that people identify the field that matches their interests and then find people in the same field.
Do you need any qualifications to join the gakkai?
Some have no requirements. In SIETAR Japan, you just need to be interested in intercultural communication. For the International Academy for Intercultural Research, you need to be enrolled in a PhD program or have a PhD. Each gakkai is different.
That’s a great start because networking is very important.
Yes, it is. It’s much harder to get a job in Japan by just sending a resume where people don’t know you.
In the beginning you talked about ningensei (人間性), or the humanity of candidates, as important. What would you say to introverted JETs who might have a hard time networking?
You don’t need to feel like you have to be the life of the party or a huge extrovert, but just share who you are, your interests, and talk to people who are doing what you find inspiring. Let them know that you’re interested in their research, that you’re looking for a job at a Japanese university, and that you appreciate their advice. I think those people are usually happy to meet newcomers. Especially in academia, there are a lot of people who are introverted. Academics can spend a lot of time alone (laugh). There really are some people who are very introverted, so you don’t need to feel like you need to be a comedian or anything like that to make connections.
What about networking back in the States?
Once again, you can attend international conferences, and if you are in the States already you can come to conferences in Japan. Also, you need to work on your qualifications. A master’s degree is the minimum to get part-time work in a Japanese university. Some universities now require PhDs or being enrolled in a graduate program for part-time work. To get a full-time position, whether it’s a contract-limited position or a tenured one, more often these days, PhDs are required. When I got into academia over 20 years ago, still a master’s degree was enough at some schools. I even taught with some Japanese professors who were near retirement with just bachelor’s degrees—but they were really accomplished, they wrote many books, and were obviously very bright. If you’re really serious about academia, getting a tenured position is definitely to your advantage in terms of being able to build a life. A PhD is the best way to do that.
For Japan, do you need to work for ten years to get tenure like in North America?
No, in America and Canada tenure track is most common—as you mentioned. In Japan, there are some tenure track positions, but you can also get hired at the outset for a tenured job. Basically, there are three kinds of academic jobs: contract-limited, tenure track, and tenured. You will know right away what kind of position it is, as it will be advertised that way.
What sort of research are you doing now?
One project is between colleagues in five different countries. We are looking at which attributes or skills local people expect for immigrants to demonstrate in order to accept them in local communities. I’m trying to identify those criteria in Japan in a study surveying almost 500 university students. We are comparing the results in Canada, Singapore, Japan, Australia, and Finland, and we are adding some other countries now.
When do you think you’ll publish the study?
The five-nation study should be published this year or next. Getting papers into academic journals is really hard. They’re almost never accepted on the first try. You almost always have to do extensive revisions, which we’re doing right now (laughs). Think about the strictest teachers you’ve ever had—there’s always something that editors want you to change, add, or reconsider.
Going back to the qualifications, it seems like many English speakers want to teach English in Japan but not study Japanese. Is it possible for them to teach in Japan without knowing Japanese?
Knowing Japanese is really helpful because then you can understand more readily why your students are struggling. For example, Japanese often write formal essays in the passive tense of verbs, which many of my students also do in English. But in North America we learn, “Don’t use the passive tense, write in the active voice.” Once you realize that refined Japanese is often written in the passive tense, you can see why people are writing that way and effectively help them learn to write in the active voice. Also, in terms of vocabulary, words have different semantic fields. While we might usually translate a word a particular way, if you look at its original nuances in Japanese, it doesn’t mean quite what we say it does. For example, yoroshiku onegai shimasu (“よろしくお願いします”)。How do you translate that? If you say “I hope we have a mutually harmonious and cooperative relationship,” it sounds ridiculous in English, so it just becomes “Nice to meet you,” or something similar, but we lose so many of the original nuances If teachers understand their students’ thoughts in Japanese, then they can help those learners express these nuances more authentically in English.
Or otsukaresama (“お疲れ様”) for an instance.
Yeah, I always wonder how to say that to people in English. Understanding Japanese helps you to become a better English teacher, because you get why your students struggle, where they struggle, and you have compassion for those struggles because you have probably had the reverse difficulty in learning Japanese. The more you study Japanese as a foreign language, you’re humbled by seeing how hard it is to learn a foreign language. Right now, I’m translating Japanese students’ essays for a chapter in a book, and it’s really hard. It’s challenging to take what they’ve written and translate it into English that doesn’t sound stilted. How do I make their language come alive in English while being true to the original? You don’t realize how tough it is until you really try it. When you look at these students who have to translate from Japanese to English, you identify with their struggle, and you’re more compassionate, supportive, and informed. For many reasons, if you’re interested in working in Japan, it’s important to learn Japanese. You can get by without it, but I recommend the studying language—at least spoken, and if you can, written Japanese.
How do you deal with some of the difficulties you face as an expat?
You really do make a choice when you decide to live in Japan. You are separating yourself physically from your parents, siblings, and your old friends. I have done all that’s humanly possible to keep a connection with everyone, but you are living in a different place than them.
Just recently, I realized that I have lived a huge portion of my life away from one of my college friends. Now our kids are grown up and we have both been married 20 years—even though everything we experienced together in college feels just like it was yesterday. But all of this time has passed, and I can’t change that.
What keeps me going through that jarring realization is knowing that I made a good choice by being here. If you are in Japan for the wrong reasons—if it does not feel right or you are doing it for someone else—you spend a long time away from people who are important to you in your home country and feel a profound sense of loss. You wonder where has the time gone and regret losing it. People could feel hopeless and depressed in that situation. Even I have struggled knowing that I can’t see my American family and friends as much as I would have liked ideally.
However, I feel all along that I have been following my calling and doing in Japan what really matched my interests. Looking back, I can say that I have lived a satisfying, meaningful life here. With every choice, you also make a sacrifice—you lose something. So it is important to feel good enough about the decisions you made, even though there was something you sacrificed. For every choice, you are giving up as well as gaining something, so it is important to feel like what you have experienced overall in Japan was worth it—especially when you think about what you might have had by choosing to live elsewhere.
Finally, when did you know that you wanted to stay in Japan long term, as you said you didn’t in the beginning?
It was a gradual process that really took off once I realized I am being employed to learn. How cool is that? I am expected to read books, think and write, and share what I learn with my students when I teach, which is exactly what I like to do. It’s such a great job!
I did not have all the answers at all in the beginning. I gradually discovered my field of interest and ideal job by having a general idea about the direction where I wanted to go. I made choices, and then luckily those choices worked out well. When I made a choice that was no longer making me happy, then I changed things around. Proactively trying to make conscious, good choices is really important. If living in Japan is a well-considered decision, then living here can be very personally and professionally enjoyable.
About the Author
Adam Komisarof is originally from Philadelphia in the U.S. and was an ALT on the JET Programme in Saitama from 1990-92. He is a full professor in the Faculty of Letters at Keio University. Adam has published 3 research papers specifically about the JET Programme as well as 3 books and numerous papers on intercultural communication. He has lived in Japan for 23 years and the United Kingdom for 1 year when he was on sabbatical at the University of Oxford. Adam has also worked as an intercultural communication trainer for over 20 years with multinational companies in Japan, Southeast Asia, Europe, and North America. He has also conducted workshops for the JET Programme both at national and local conferences on 26 occasions. Adam is the next President-Elect of the International Academy for Intercultural Research, a research organization consisting of scholars spanning the globe whose goal is to promote intercultural understanding and peaceful human relationships.
Lisa Rand, Former Yamaguchi Prefecture AET, 1988 – 1990
When we recall the past, we usually find that it is the simplest things – not the great occasions – that in retrospect give off the greatest glow of happiness. – Bob Hope
Picture this. You arrive in Japan in 1988. You do not know how to speak Japanese (or most of you don’t know it). There is no internet. That is WAY in the future. So there is no Facetime, no Skype, no YouTube, no Facebook, no Instagram or Snapchat. When you receive a letter from home – be it from Canada, the United States, Great Britain, Australia or where ever you come from – you cherish that precious letter as if it were gold for you may not get another one for a few weeks. And if by chance you receive 3 letters in the mail that day, you open one and savor the other 2 for another day.
There is no Google, Google maps or Google Translate. If you need information about your country you look it up in an encyclopedia or you send a letter home and ask people to look it up for you. You use a real map if you are travelling and you practice your kata kana, hiragana and kanji because you have to figure it out. If you don’t know a word that you are struggling to get across to someone, you take out your little red Yohan pocket dictionary that you bought in Maruzen in Hiroshima (which was the only place you could find English books near Yamaguchi Ken) and you search for it.
When you arrive in Japan, you know no other English speaking people except the people who are in your prefecture. They are now your family. If they need a place to stay – you welcome them with open arms. Especially in the first few months when you are learning Japanese and trying to make new friends and are lonely. A phone call to home is approximately $5.00 per minute to most countries. So they are precious and saved until you really need to talk to someone from home. That was our life in 1988. I am sure JET members from Yamaguchi Ken were no different from other AETs (that was what we were called back then) across Japan. We had each others’ backs, we listened to each other and we were there for each other if someone needed a shoulder to cry on. Like I said, we were family.
Our reunion was held in Tokuyama (near the middle of Yamaguchi Ken) from July 14-16, 2018. Most of us had not been back to Japan for 28 years. Tears were flowing and hugs were happening as our Yamaguchi Ken reunion commenced. A few more pounds had been gained, along with a few more wrinkles, and a few grey hairs, but in no time the 28 years that had passed, seemed to disappear. We laughed about the experiences we had. We all went to an izakaya for supper the first night. Memories were shared and tears were shed. We had taught all over Yamaguchi Ken. Karen Blake had worked in Ube, Garrett Myers and Amy Wilson worked in Hofu, Bruce Grundison was from Hikari, Cassey Sheppard was from Shimonoseki, Melinda Gould was from Kudamatsu and I had worked in Iwakuni. Old photos were shared. How young we all looked!! Karen had brought her 23 year old daughter, Madison. Wow, most of us were 23 years old when we arrived. She looked so young. Did we seem that young in 1988?
The following day, Saturday, we spent the morning walking around and reminiscing. Topos (the no name brand store which we had all loved) was gone. Life in Japan was expensive back then. We all found prices much more reasonable now. A cantaloupe used to cost ¥4,200 in 1988. I couldn’t believe it when I saw one in a grocery store for ¥980. As we walked around the town, we caught up on each other’s lives today. Our marriages, our kids, where we were currently working. We spoke of those who couldn’t make it, or those we couldn’t find. Some of us went to Kenko Park for the afternoon enjoying the onsen, pool and waterslide. Then we stayed for the beer garden at Kenko Park for the night. Melinda was fortunate that some of the English teachers she worked with, came to see her. Again, we enjoyed recalling memories and we spoke about the Canadian/American Thanksgiving we organized where we had a potluck supper and everyone brought a favourite dish from home. Another great memory was the Halloween party which was held in Hofu. We all made homemade costumes and were very creative – the Three Blind Mice, Japanese Junior High School students, Sushi, and even ebi tempura costumes could be seen! Of course we also had huge parties once in a while – any excuse to get together! Technology definitely would have made life easier for us, but maybe we wouldn’t have been as close. As the evening came to a close, we had to say goodbye to Amy who had to go to work the next day in Yamaguchi City, Bruce was flying back to Hong Kong where he now worked and Karen and her daughter were making their way back to Tokyo to fly home to Nashville.
It was a sad farewell, not knowing when or if we would see each other again. The last day of our reunion, Sunday, was spent taking the ferry to Otsu Island and visiting the Kaiten Museum (human torpedoes). We hiked up a low mountain and received a beautiful view of the bay where the Kaiten would target practice. I couldn’t imagine now, being a mother, having to know that my son, Liam, who is now 19, would be welded into one of those torpedoes and be sent off to die. Although, Canada and Japan had been on opposing sides of the war, I empathized with those Japanese mothers who had sent their sons off in the torpedoes, knowing they would never see them again. We rode the ferry back to Kudamatsu and ended off with our last meal – more recollecting, more stories and more memories to share. We departed the next morning – Garrett continuing his travels to Hofu and other parts of Japan, Cassey continuing her new job in Yokosuka, I travelled to Iwakuni where I met up with old friends and one of my fellow teachers that I had not seen in 30 years. Melinda and Jay journeyed back up to Osaka where they owned and operated 4 English Schools. They said they were going to drop in to Costco on the way home. Wow! Japan now had a Costco, things in Japan really had changed!
I was admittedly anxious before returning to Japan. Besides being lonely and homesick at times, I was pointed at and called a “gaijin” almost every day in 1988. By the end of two years, I was tired of it. Upon returning, however, I found Japan had changed in many ways. People didn’t care if you were a gaijin anymore. They were much more accepting, open and very accommodating to foreigners. Yet, in some ways, Japan remained the same. It was still rich in history and culture and full of lovely, kind people that had touched our lives. A very special thank you to Melinda Gould for organizing our motley crew and our Yamaguchi Ken 30th Year reunion. I am certain it took countless hours to find people and plan this reunion. It was a wonderful celebration that brought back so many treasured memories and true tears of joy, and for that, we truly thank you.
About the Author
Lisa was an AET from 1988-1990. She travelled to 26 different schools around Iwakuni her first year and was joined by an American, David Fazio, in her second year. Together they split up the 26 schools and took 13 each. She now lives in Lac du Bonnet, Manitoba, Canada with her husband, Kerry, and two children, Liam and Kaitlyn. She teaches on a Hutterite Colony teaching Kindergarten – Gr. 4 students.
Karenna Reidy, Former Nagasaki Prefectural ALT, 2000 – 2002
The day I found out I’d been accepted on the JET Programme was bittersweet for me. On the one hand, I was very excited for the opportunity to live and work in Japan – a dream since I’d first visited Japan as an exchange student when I was 16 years old. On the other hand, I’d just finished one term of intensive study of a course I was loving and wanted to complete: Japanese Yoga Teacher Training.
I had a dilemma- to accept the position with JET and put my Japanese Yoga Teacher Training on hold indefinitely, or complete my Japanese Yoga studies and decline JET. Doo shiyō?? What to do?! As you’ve probably guessed, I said ‘Yes!’ to the JET Programme. The day I withdrew from my Japanese Yoga Teacher Training I made a promise to myself: One day I’d finish the course. And in July 2000 I set off for Kamigotō Island in Nagasaki-ken as an ALT.
I was the first JET in history to go to the little island of Kamigotō- a place known for delicious sashimi, beautiful beaches and churches. Armed with an open mind, university level Japanese (aka textbook Japanese) and my Japanese Yoga books, I was full of anticipation about what lay ahead. However, being born and raised in the city of Sydney, Australia and with limited experience of rural life anywhere, I discovered there were many challenges living on a remote island. It’s no exaggeration to say that I needed to draw on my inner resources and grit to stay grounded and sane.
Some of the challenges included spoken language being different to the standard Japanese I’d learnt at High School and University (gotō-ben is unique. Eg: mijoka = utsukushii). The slower-paced lifestyle was completely new and at times I felt quite isolated and alone. I’d frequently meet locals who’d never seen a foreigner before and this gave me a type of celebrity/freakshow status that I’d never before experienced and was at times overwhelming. Like most things in life, the opportunities balanced out the challenges. Living as a JET on Kamigotō was an incredible chance to grow as a person in ways I never imagined possible and for which I’ll always be grateful.
Highlights of JET and Kamigotō Island life include:
– Eating the most delicious sashimi I’ve ever encountered anywhere on a daily basis
– Buying fresh fruit and veggies from a local market stall manned by an ‘honesty box’
– Joining locals at the Taishogotō, Kendō, Ikebana, Sadō and Taikō clubs
– Being able to connect and teach English to a range of ages, from the kawaii Yoochien kids of 3 years old, through to several primary schools (one isolated school had only 7 students!), my ‘homebase’ school, Kamigotō Chuugakkō and weekly Eikaiwa lessons for adults
– Travelling to various hidden hot springs around Kyushu and Japan
– For two years running I attended a week-long ‘Handanjiki’ (half fasting retreat) with Chuuya Hashimoto in Fukushima. This brought together the Macrobiotic principles I learnt in my Japanese Yoga Studies and was an authentic experience learning from a Macrobiotic Master
– In April 2002 I attended the 10-day Silent Vipassana Meditation retreat in Kyoto during a holiday break. This experience continues to influence my life even today
– Achieving Level 2 in the Japanese Proficiency Exam
In 2002, after two years of dedicated ‘island living’, I decided it was time to leave JET and Kamigotõ to embark on my life’s next chapter. I returned to Sydney, eager to dive into work with my fluent Japanese, inner strength and teaching skills. Although returning to Sydney meant I could attend Japanese Yoga classes again (which was a great support for my reverse culture shock!), for now my Japanese Yoga Teacher Training needed to take a back seat as I focused on the next steps in my working life.
For a few years after completing JET I explored various career options. I have no doubt it was thanks to my experiences on JET – the persistence, cultural awareness and Japanese Language skills developed on Kamigotō Island – that I was able to have such diverse and exciting work experiences:
– I was a flight attendant for Gulf Air in the Middle East (Bahrain)
– I managed a popular Sake Cocktail Bar and Japanese Restaurant
– I returned to University and enrolled in a Masters of Teaching (Japanese)
– I took a break from my Masters studies to work in Aichi-ken for the Australian Pavilion at the 2005 World Expo Japan
– Building on the success of the World Expo, I stayed on in Aichi for several months working as a Cultural Ambassador for the Australian Government
– I completed my Masters studies and entered the Australian School System as a bona fide Japanese Teacher, where between 2006-2015 I worked for several elite Australian schools
Throughout this time in my non-working life, I kept the fire alive for my passion for Japanese Yoga, attending regular classes, workshops and retreats whenever I could. Finally, in 2015 I could no longer ignore the call. After 15 years, it was time! I re-enrolled in the Japanese Yoga Teacher Training Programme I’d begun all those years ago.
By now you may be wondering: what exactly is Japanese Yoga? After all, it’s not widely known in Japan or elsewhere. The simplest way to describe Japanese Yoga is that it’s ‘like acupuncture without the needles’. Based on the wisdom of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practices, Zen Shiatsu and Macrobiotic approaches to eating, Japanese Yoga works at a deep level to clear energy blockages that lead to illness and bring the body back to its natural state of balance.
What I really love about Japanese Yoga is that you can target specific challenges (like katakori, sore lower back, headaches, etc) and heal them efficiently and easily using Japanese Yoga practices. The poses change with each season and this keeps you engaged. And overall it helps settle a busy mind, improves sleep, reduces stress and increases energy levels. The holistic connection of Japanese Yoga with nature, the elements, seasons and wholefoods is unique and simply makes sense. Because of the many skills required to teach this yoga style safely, it’s a longer course than most Yoga Teacher Training Courses, requiring time out of the workforce, lots of study and attending hundreds of hours of yoga classes oneself to experience the benefits of Japanese Yoga from the inside out.
In 2017 I received my Japanese Yoga Certification and since then I’ve taught at various yoga studios in Sydney and opened my own Japanese Yoga studio where I teach several classes a week. I’m currently creating a Japanese Yoga online course so that even if you’re on Kamigotō Island, you can access this amazing yoga style anywhere. I truly believe Japanese Yoga is one of Japan’s best kept secrets.
As I draw closer to my 20 year anniversary of becoming a JET, I reflect on coming full circle and feel so grateful for the integral part played by the JET Programme on my journey to teaching Japanese Yoga today. I hope that one day you’ll also encounter the magic of Japanese Yoga and experience its benefits of less stress, more energy and harmony with the self .
It takes an apple tree 6 to 10 years to bear fruit – yet it keeps showing up each winter year after year, waiting patiently for the spring. My deep wish is that you too, dear reader, will keep nurturing your dreams throughout your seasons of life. It’s the things we don’t do rather the things that we do, that we end up regretting. And in closing I’d ask: what’s the one thing you really want to be, do or have that you know you’ll regret if you don’t take steps towards it?
About the Author
Karenna Reidy has 20 years of professional experience in education and Japanese Yoga. Her mission is to empower millions to return to their natural state of health, vitality and abundance through Japanese Yoga. Specifically, Karenna is passionate about helping women and men experience less stress and more energy in their day to day lives in as quick and efficient time as possible. Karenna’s warmth, humour, inner work and ‘realness’ uniquely shape how she shares Japanese Yoga. If you’d like more information about Japanese Yoga, where you might be able to study this fascinating yoga style or Karenna’s upcoming Online Japanese Yoga Course, visit Karenna’s website. Follow her on Instagram: @karenna_reidy and Facebook.
the 2019 No. 1 Japan Travel Destination, was a JET Programme Alumnus.
Christopher J. Hollis, Former Hokuei “Conan Town” JHS ALT (2009-2012) and Tottori Prefecture SHS ALT (2012-2014)
Interview with a Tenured Public Service Officer in Tottori Prefecture:
1. What is your current job in Japan?
I work as a tenured public service officer (正職員・公務員) for Hokuei (北栄町) [a.k.a., “Conan Town”] in central Tottori Prefecture (鳥取県). I am the first non-Japanese person to ever receive tenure as a government employee in Hokuei.
Currently, my job title is the “Director of Foreign Affairs, International Exchange, and Foreign Language Education” in the “Town Planning, Finance and Public Affairs Department” at the Hokuei Town Office. I also have a seat in the Hokuei Town Board of Education and Tourism and Exchange Department. Hokuei is famous for being the birthplace of Mr. Gōshō Aoyama (青山剛昌), the author of “Detective Conan” (名探偵コナン), and for its many tourist sites related to this world-famous Japanese anime and manga.
In September of 2018, Hokuei became internationally famous for its interactions with the world-famous U.S. comedian and talk show host, Conan O’Brien. The mayor of Hokuei, Mr. Akio Matsumoto, had a feud with Conan O’Brien over the Town’s use of the name “Conan.” Basically, Conan O’Brien demanded 3 trillion yen for the use of his name and Mayor Matsumoto said that, “If you want the money, come visit Hokuei and bring 15,000 American hamburgers with you when you come!” However, in reality, I was the person who behind all of these interactions. It was my idea to reply to Conan’s demands and, along with three coworkers, I led the creation of our plan to make the world smile and, at the same time, increase tourism to Hokuei. It was the experience of a life-time! Through our efforts, we were able to make Tottori Prefecture, the “#1 Travel Destination in Japan!” (as ranked on GaijinPot Travel).
ASAHI Newspaper Article featuring Christopher Hollis as the inspiration behind the interactions between Conan O’Brien and the mayor of “Conan Town.”
So, if you missed the original Conan O’Brien vs. Conan Town episodes, please search for them on YouTube. Also, please search “Conan Japan” on the TeamCoco website. There is even a 1.5 hour special titled “Behind in the Scenes with Conan in Conan Town” where you can see me in action coordinating and interpreting for Conan O’Brien and Mayor Matsumoto.
2. How did you get hired to work for the Japanese government with tenure?
After graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (USA) with a master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language (M.A. in TESL), I came to Tottori Prefecture as a JET Programme participant and stayed on JET for 5 years: 3 years teaching at the elementary and JHS level for a town Board of Education and 2 years teaching at the high school level (and a special needs school) for a prefectural Board of Education.
Through making a name for myself locally as someone reliable and trustworthy with a passion for foreign language education and international cultural exchange, Hokuei hired me as a direct-hire public servant employee on a “5-year-max labor contract” after JET. I worked hard, persevered and, through my five-years of dedication to the town, Hokuei realized that I was a unique asset to the town. They encouraged me to take the Japanese government public service officer exam (北栄町職員採用試験) in early 2019. I took the 2-day exam (in 100% Japanese, of course) and passed! Thus, along with the start of a new era in Japan, the Reiwa (令和) Era, I was hired as the first-ever non-Japanese tenured public service officer to Hokuei Town on April 1, 2019.
3. Did your experience on JET influence your career?
My answer in one word: “Hai!” The JET Programme allowed me a place to put what I learned studying the Teaching of English as a Second Language (TESL) in graduate school at the University of Illinois into action at the grassroots level in Japan. I was able to help and support countless students throughout my 5 years on JET. I enriched their understanding of my language and culture and, at the same time, they enriched my understanding of cross-cultural communication, foreign language education, and the Japanese culture. Through my direct interactions with my Japanese coworkers, students and local community, I was better able to understand how to make international exchange a success. I organized various international exchange events, started an extensive reading program in each school, began a letter exchange with a school in Australia, established an elaborate English book section at the town library, wrote articles in Japanese about international matters for the town journal, and even started filming and editing promotional videos for “Conan Town” titled Hello Hokuei. Through what I learned on JET, I was able to find places where I could actively put my unique talents to work for the benefit of the world and, through that journey, I found my ideal career: public service.
Furthermore, JET helped me develop the skills needed for success. I was a Tokyo Orientation Assistant (TOA) three times while on JET and presented consecutively on the topic of “Japanese Workplace Culture and Etiquette.” I helped to facilitate a smooth transition for freshmen JETs to their new workplaces and introduced them to the unique culture and etiquette of the workplace in Japan. The JET Programmed allowed me this opportunity and helped me to develop my presentation skills. I still use what I learned teaching these new JET training seminars when I present at language teaching/learning conferences around the world, such as the JALT International Conferences (I am the current president of the Tottori Chapter of JALT, and work hard every day to further foreign language education and international exchange between Japan and the world).
The JET Programme develops within its participants skills in cross-cultural communication, cooperation, empathy and teamwork, among numerous others. My experience on the JET Programme changed my life and I look forward to seeing how it positively changes the lives of future participants.
4. Your advice for new JET Programme Participants:
Keep an open mind, work as a team player, proactively find places to put your unique talents and skills to work, and always be willing to learn. Your thoughts and actions matter. So make sure you are heard, but make sure to listen at the same time. It’s through our mistakes that we become better people, as long as we are humble enough to learn from our mistakes. Go out there and make a difference in the world in the ways that only you can, but remember that it is through teamwork that all of the world’s greatest achievements have been accomplished. So build those bridges, build that trust, build reliable support, and make sure to always have the expectation to give more than you receive. Make the most of your unique situation. Good luck!
Please click here to view the full-interview and article with Mr. Christopher J. Hollis.
Websites to learn more about Conan O’Brien’s interactions with Hokuei “Conan Town” in Tottori Prefecture:
“Conan O’Brien VS Conan Town” Video Links on YouTube:
– Video 1 of 3: Conan Calls Out Detective Conan – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EstNcJOQRzI
– Video 2 of 3: Conan Responds To The Mayor Of Conan Town – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogIfCLyw-FA
– Video 3 of 3: Conan Announces His Trip To Japan – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tdxHSX9RPUs
Conan O’Brien vs Conan Town:
・Conan Japan in Conan Town: https://teamcoco.com/japan/conan-visits-conan-town-in-japan
・Behind the Scenes in Conan Town (You can see Chris throughout this video coordinating Conan O’Brien’s visit) https://teamcoco.com/japan/conan-visits-conan-town-in-japan/related/behind-the-scenes-with-conan-in-conan-town
・Tottori Prefecture Named Japan’s No. 1 Travel Destination for 2019!
Tottori Prefecture was ranked as the 2019 No. 1 Travel Destination in Japan for a reason! Please come to visit soon.
About the Author
Christopher Hollis（クリストファー J. ハリス), originally from Springfield, Illinois (USA), was a JET Programme JHS ALT for Hokuei Town (2009-12) and a SHS ALT for Tottori Prefecture (2012-14). He is currently employed as the “Director of Foreign Affairs, International Exchange and Foreign Language Education” at Hokuei (“Conan Town”) in Tottori Prefecture, Japan. Prior to teaching in Japan, he taught English to international students from around the world at the Intensive English Institute at the University of Illinois (iei.illinois.edu). Chris holds an M.A. in TESL from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is also the current president of the Tottori Chapter of the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) (jalt.org/groups/chapters/tottori).
・You can connect with Chris on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/christopherjhollis/
・You can follow him and see his “Hello Hokuei” videos through the Hokuei (“Conan Town”) social media accounts that he helps manage at work:
– Facebook: facebook.com/hokuei.town
– Twitter: twitter.com/koho_hokuei
– Instagram: instagram.com/Hokuei.Tottori
– YouTube: youtube.com/channel/UCdXGBu9NxCpz6YPQ2Rx-Hgg