Spring and Summer 2020
Roseanna Finkle-Vern, Former Aichi Prefecture CIR, 2014-2017
New Zealand’s JETAA chapters got off to a great start in 2020 with the first NZ Summit held in January over a beautiful summer weekend in Christchurch. Representatives from each chapter; Auckland, Wellington and South Island, along with two representatives from CLAIR Sydney who travelled all the way from Australia were in attendance. The gathering was a success, with all chapters agreeing that it was a good chance to meet face to face and reaffirm our dedication to improving JETAA and increasing our numbers. Along with this was the South Island chapter’s undokai event the next day: the perfect closing to a productive and positive meet up for all.
On Saturday was the conference side of the summit after meeting and chatting informally over lunch in Christchurch. Hit by a devastating earthquake in 2011, mere weeks before Japan’s own earthquake disaster, Christchurch is still in the process of healing and rebuilding. A large number of Japanese nationals lost their lives in the Christchurch earthquake and this adversity has served only to strengthen the relationship between our two countries. While in Christchurch, a group of us visited a stunning Cathedral designed by Japan’s very own Shigeru Ban which is built substantially by cardboard and recycled materials from buildings and homes damaged in the Earthquake. This Cathedral truly symbolises the strength of Japan and Christchurch’s bond, and is an incredible creation showing how rebuilding can be environmentally friendly and respect the original buildings, while also being an aesthetically beautiful addition to the landscape.
Once the summit was officially opened, we first had each chapter talk about their current situations. We were all able to hear about the other chapters’ highlights and challenges, and also get a fresh and new perspective of our own issues. Once this was done, we heard from the CLAIR representatives who spoke of what is expected from JETAA now and in the future, and also of some of their current projects and focusses in improving the post-JET life for participants. With the overhaul of Japan’s education system and its stronger focus on English language abilities from an even younger age, more and more schools in Japan are requesting JET ALTs. CLAIR is working hard to make sure that even as the quantity of JET participants increases at a very fast rate, the quality of such participants does not drop. This will be especially important in the coming years to make sure that the level of trust in JET alumni as employees post-JET is not eroded. Finally, we broke out into focus groups and worked on problem solving, and really tried to focus on what our specific goals are and whether we were achieving these. We used a resource that Western Australia’s chapter had introduced us to at the 2019 Oceania Conference, which has been an incredible help.
Sunday was a casual event based around the Japanese undokai, which was the perfect fun activity to close the Summit. We had a picnic in one of the beautiful parks that gives Christchurch its second name “Garden City” before a fun group of activities including tug of war and water balloon tossing. This type of event was a great example of the family friendly events we discussed increasing, to encourage less recent returnees who have settled down and started a family. Our picnic was a mix of Kiwi tradition: fish and chips, and Japanese sushi, along with attendees bringing home baking and fruit. It was a truly enjoyable event with a real sense of community; even the CLAIR representatives joined in and had a great time trying to feed the ducks!
Each chapter felt that it was very helpful to have a New Zealand focussed event, where we could speak together about common issues within the JETAA community in our particular environment. I hope we can continue to hold the NZ Summit in the future!
About the Author
After deciding in high school that I wanted to be a CIR, I applied as soon as I could and was placed in Ichinomiya City, Aichi Prefecture, working with an Italian counterpart. I kept the position for 3 years from 2014 to 2017, and am now working in the culture section of the Embassy of Japan in New Zealand. My current job is like an extension of everything I did in Ichinomiya which is fantastic. I started learning Japanese after seeing my older brother writing hiragana and being enchanted by the “secret code” he could read. Incidentally, we do now use Japanese as a way of having secret conversations or talking about birthday presents around family without being found out!
Divya Jha, Former Kitakyushu ALT, 2007-2008
Namaste to all from India!
We conducted our first Yukata event at Ram Lal College (Delhi University South Campus) on 28 September 2019 for Japanese–learning first-year students. As much as we were tensed about how the program would go, it turned out to be a big success and we felt so confident, we did another workshop at St. Stephen’s College (Delhi University, North Campus) shortly thereafter on 01.10.2019 for second year students. We gave the presentation on yukata, its history, tradition, the correct way of wearing it, different kinds of sash knot styles (obi musubi) and their significance in modern-day Japan. We not only taught them how to put it on, but also how to arrange them back (katazuke). The second secretary from the Embassy of Japan in India, Mr. Inoue who graced both the occasions, too did a wonderful presentation on similarities between Indian and Japanese culture.
At the end of the program, we also gave the students a taste of Japanese food by ordering a piece of Sushi for each (but vegetarian!!). There were several students who had not tasted Sushi before and did not know about wasabi. They were all very excited about everything.
Yukata event at Ram Lal College, Delhi University
Yukata event -2 at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University
On 22nd Feb 2020, we conducted another workshop on Ikebana. The response was overwhelming and more than 100 students applied for participation in the program, however, we could take in only 50 students due to space limitation. Three professional ikebana masters were invited for demonstration and workshop at Daulat Ram College, Delhi University, North Campus.
This program was very special for us as three senior members of CLAIR Singapore also visited us. The Senior Deputy Director Mr. Ikegami gave a speech and also tried his hands in making an ikebana along with the group of students. At the end of the program, the two groups of students who performed the best were awarded with souvenirs from Japan, brought by the CLAIR officials. The 2nd secretary from the Embassy of Japan made a presentation on Tokyo Olympics 2020.
We hope to be able to conduct many more Japanese cultural programs in future to increase awareness about Japan and its rich culture in India.
About the Author
Divya was an ALT in Kitakyushu from 2007 to 2008. She founded the India chapter in 2012. Currently she has been working as a Japanese language instructor at the Japan Foundation, New Delhi along with taking care of her family business of international logistics. When she is not working, she can be found indulged in making the best out of waste. She holds workshops to train people in her neighborhood to repurpose and reuse the household wastes like milk packets, beer bottles, plastic jars, and cardboard boxes through her startup ‘un-rag’.
Jennifer Sherman, Former Mie Prefecture ALT, 2012 – 2016
January 25 marked Lunar New Year this year, but the day became even more special for Great Lakes JETAA (GLJETAA). The chapter of USJETAA that covers Michigan and Ohio conducted its fourth annual job fair on that same Saturday. The success of this year’s event was exhilarating, and the GLJETAA team is looking forward to holding an even bigger job fair for its fifth anniversary next year.
GLJETAA held the fair at Suburban Showplace Collection, a new venue for the event, in Novi, Michigan. Attendance was free for candidates, and that encouraged the turnout of about 70 job seekers. Activities kicked off at 10:00 a.m., and GLJETAA President Megan Worden welcomed participants. Anne Hooghart, a senior cultural and public relations specialist at the Consulate General of Japan in Detroit, then presented a keynote speech. Following the introduction, job candidates and company representatives were free to mingle.
The fair was open to all job seekers—inside or outside the JET community—who had familiarity with Japanese culture or language. Participants interacted with companies, submitted resumes, and networked. Around 10 companies hiring locally appeared to recruit potential employees and interns.
Through the job fair, GLJETAA and its partners make a unique contribution to the Japan-related community in and around Detroit. The job fair unites candidates and the Japanese business community in an area where they may struggle to make contact. Many Japanese language learners and speakers in the Detroit metropolitan area are unaware of local career opportunities that would utilize their skills. As a project teaming up with university Japanese programs and local Japan-related businesses, the job fair bridges the gap between aspiring professionals and local industries.
Next year’s job fair will likely be digital due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and planning meetings with stakeholders are underway. GLJETAA hopes to offer the same experience of bringing employers and candidates together in a virtual environment next January. With the convenience of a digital format, the next iteration of the job fair may expand participation by allowing access throughout Michigan and Ohio.
While this year’s job fair achieved its goals, GLJETAA is always aiming for improvement. Plans for the next physical event include a dedicated table to promote the JET Program and JETAA, earlier outreach to draw in more candidates and companies, and a designated networking area or session. Feedback from participants this year was largely positive, and suggestions included offering refreshments. The GLJETAA team is also considering incorporating a professional development session to give candidates even more resources as they make career transitions.
The strongest iteration of the GLJETAA job fair yet served as an asset to the JET and Japan-related communities in Michigan and Ohio. Connecting job seekers and potential employers is only the beginning, and GLJETAA is excited to see what the future brings!
Information about GLJETAA’s other endeavors and events is available on the organization’s website. GLJETAA members can subscribe to the group’s newsletter and join the conversation on Facebook.
About the Author
Jennifer Sherman is from Elyria, Ohio. She began serving as Great Lakes JETAA Ohio Vice President in April 2018. After graduating from Oberlin College with a degree in Comparative Literature and East Asian Studies in 2011, Jennifer moved to Mihama, Mie in 2012. She worked there as an ALT on the JET Program in rural elementary and junior high schools until 2016. Jennifer now works as Associate Editor for Japanese pop culture news at Anime News Network. She also recently expanded her career into localization editing of manga and light novels through Kodansha Comics and J-Novel Club. When not adapting Japanese content for English-speaking readers, Jennifer enjoys long walks in the park with her puppy Yoshi.
Shuying Yao, Former Sapporo ALT, 2010 – 2012
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” Anne-Marie Bonneau, Zero Waste Chief
If there’s one important life lesson I learnt from living in Japan, it would be to be more environmentally-responsible. When I first moved to Japan, one of the first things that struck me was how I can hardly find any trash bins outside! Coming from Singapore, where we have bins everywhere, at any escalator landings, lift lobbies and bus stops, it was a great inconvenience for me to have to hold on to my trash. I later learnt that this is due to the waste separation requirements in Japan. I was even more surprised to learn that some areas are so strict that you have to clean out your milk cartons or sort out your plastics by grade! I also thought it was really smart that residents need to pay to buy specific plastic bags for trash collection, indirectly making them pay for the trash removal services. In school, I also noticed how the students neatly fold up the milk carton boxes after lunch time, and recycle their PET bottles, separating the bottles from the caps. Soon, the mottai-nai culture grew on me, and I became aware and appreciative of buying and eating just enough, so as to generate less waste and be more environmentally conscious. This value became a part of me even as I left JET and moved back to Singapore.
After JET, I joined a Japanese start-up, trippiece.com, an online platform that allows individual travellers to create travel plans and gather other like-minded users who are keen to join. We wanted to showcase to international travellers the less-known areas of Japan beyond the usual tourist destinations like Tokyo, Kyoto and Sapporo. Through my job, I was able to visit many beautiful areas such as Okinawa, Gifu, Nagano, and even the far-flung corners of Hokkaido. No matter where I go, I noticed that the locals are always serious about sorting out their trash, recycling, and caring for the environment. One of the most memorable trips was to Izu Oshima, an island under the administration of Tokyo but is a world’s difference from the big metropolitan city! We spent a lazy weekend on the island fishing and diving. While I am an avid diver back at home, I never had the opportunity to dive during JET as I was based in Sapporo. I was ecstatic to be able to dive in Japan waters finally! True to my expectations, the waters were clear with high visibility and we saw a trough of marine life, unlike some of the overpopulated dive sites back in Southeast Asia.
As I continued my diving journey, I became more and more aware of the impacts of human activities on the environment, specifically the ocean. Not all dive sites are pristine like the ones at Izu Oshima; some were devastated by bleaching episodes; others you could see plastic bottles, plastic bags, food wrappers and abandoned fishing lines or nets on the seabed. Even divers can harm the sites as they may accidentally bump into corals, causing breakage or damage. As such, I decided to join a Reef Conservation Programme at New Heaven Dive Shop in Thailand last year, to understand more about how I can contribute back to the environment.
As part of the programme, we learnt about ecology and basic marine biology. It was difficult for me to grasp all the jargon as I was not trained in this field, but it was fulfilling to be able to identify the different types of corals and fish down to their species! We conducted surveys to keep track of the different species of fish, invertebrates and corals. Sometimes we went on special dives to look for and remove coral predators such as the Crown of Thorns or drupella shells. We also built and installed artificial reefs, learning from the instructors the different coral restoration techniques, and what works best for the local marine environment. On land, we did beach clean-ups, picking up all sorts of trash, ranging from personal items such as toothbrushes and Q-tips to fishing items such as ropes and abandoned buoys. We also conducted water quality tests to track any anomalies.
One of the most interesting projects is a Mineral Accretion Device1, a coral reef restoration method that utilizes low voltage electricity to improve the health and growth rates of hard corals. As electricity passes through the metal structures of the artificial reefs, it causes minerals to crystallise. Corals can then use these minerals to build their skeleton, allowing them to grow 3-4 times faster and becoming more resilient. As part of the programme, we measured the growth of the different types of coral species on the reefs to understand their response to the electric currents. We also maintained the artificial reefs through coral gardening, stabilising the structures, and securing any loose coral fragments.
I spent a total of 6 weeks in the programme, learning from the locals as well as many other conservation divers from all over the world. I found this form of diving much more meaningful than recreational diving. I began to see and understand so much more about the reefs, the marine life and the impacts of human activities. I look forward to sharing what I have learnt with all my friends and fellow divers. We don’t all have to be perfect environmental heroes; if everyone can play a small part, together we can create a big change.
About the Author
Shuying was an ALT in Sapporo City from 2010-2012, where she enjoyed the great outdoors; snowboarding in winter and hiking in summer. After JET, she went on to work as a business developer in Japan and Singapore organisations before moving into User Experience Design. She aspires to contribute to marine conservation through influencing the people around her and building better digital products to raise awareness.
Steven Munatones, Former Shiga Prefecture ALT, 1988 – 1990
Japan is well known for sharing its advanced technology and products with the world. From the TOTO toilets and Canon ink jet printers to PlayStations and instant noodles.
Unexpectedly, the JET program enabled me to be a part of that global transfer of technology from Japan to the world.
I lived two years in Shiga Prefecture in 1988 – 1990, spending my weekends traveling around the country and intensely studying written and spoken Japanese. Admittedly, I did not hang around my JET colleagues. Instead, I worked, studied and traveled. My goal was to stay at least one weekend in every prefecture in Japan. Over the course of those travels, I met many fascinating individuals: artists, craftsmen, scholars, researchers and businessmen. Sometimes, I would meet them in a shinkansen, sometimes in a minshuku, and sometimes during a matsuri.
One of these unplanned meetings was with a unique doctor in Fuchu, located outside of Tokyo. The unexpected introduction was through three Japanese friends. The meeting completely changed my life – and is changing the way people around the world view health, medicine and rehabilitation.
Through the non-congruent set of introductions, I met Dr. Yoshiaki Sato who was working to help Japanese Olympic athletes perform to their potential and with paraplegics to enable them to regain movement and mobility. Initially, I thought it was unusual to work with people who are some of the most highly conditioned and physically capable humans on the planet at the same time his other patients were disabled or missing limbs.
When I first met the soft-spoken Dr. Sato, he first explained to me how and why he worked with great athlete in multiple sports and with those who had accidents that had disabled them. “We need to help these people get better; we look at human performance and human in a completely different way. Especially with the rapidly aging society in Japan, we can enable people to get stronger physically. Ultimately, this will enable the Japanese society to spend fewer resources on its medical system while maintaining the health of people in a cost-effective way.”
Dr. Sato’s goals sounded noble to say the least.
Then he showed me what he was doing with a 72-year-old woman who he was treating. I was shocked with her agility and raw strength that she demonstrated on a StairMaster. I immediately thought, “I want to be fit like her at her age.”
So Dr. Sato demonstrated his technology on me. I was immediately hooked. I thought that I could definitely use it on myself when I returned home. But more immediately, I thought of both my parents and my older relatives. They were all getting up there in age and definitely slowing down. They could definitely use this modality that Dr. Sato just showed me, called KAATSU (加圧) or roughly translated “additional pressure” in English.
I asked Dr. Sato why his technology was not known outside of Japan. He told me, “I don’t travel outside Japan and I don’t speak English.”
“I do both,” I replied with a huge grin.
He smiled back and replied, “Then, let me teach you KAATSU.”
It was a moment that not only dramatically changed my life.
But, like many things in Japan, my education in this new world of Dr. Sato was neither easy nor quick. With a medical degree and a Ph.D., Dr. Sato knew infinitely more than me about neurological functions, human physiology, the anatomy, metabolism and natural biochemical reactions in the body. He had spent his entire adult life in this emerging field.
“In order to learn all about KAATSU, you have to visit me many times,” he advised. “We will study everything and you will learn new things about the body’s natural potential for self-healing.” While I was conversant in Japanese, medical terminology was not something that I had studied before in either English or Japanese.
It was a new world for me, but I jumped right in and purchased a medical English-Japanese dictionary. After this initial meeting with Dr. Sato, I returned to my home in Huntington Beach in Orange County, California. But I was committed to learn KAATSU.
My job enabled me to travel and I used every opportunity to travel from Southern California to his office in Fuchu and his laboratory in Tokyo. I ended up returning to meet Dr. Sato at least 4 times per year for 13 years.
He took me to the University of Tokyo Hospital. He introduced me to cardiologists, internists and orthopedic surgeons who used KAATSU with their Japanese patients. He showed me how the Japanese Olympic athletes used KAATSU to improve their speed, strength and stamina. He taught me how to use KAATSU with paraplegics and people with cerebral palsy. He explained how to use KAATSU with comatose patients and people as old as 104 years.
It was a remarkable journey and every trip back to Tokyo unveiled another layer of KAATSU.
Finally, in January 2014, Dr. Sato said that he wanted to start introducing KAATSU around the world and we agreed to establish KAATSU Global, a corporation headquartered in my hometown.
Over the last five years, we have developed new products and documented everything in English as well as provided translations into French, Spanish, German, Polish, Korean, Chinese, Hungarian and Dutch.
To date, we have customers like the U.S. Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affair, most of the professional sports teams in American (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and MLS), over 70 athletic departments in NCAA universities, high school teams, and Olympians in swimming, water polo, volleyball, wrestling, rugby, track and field, soccer, powerlifting, triathlon, speed skating, Nordic skiing, downhill and slalom skiing, as well as athletes in big-wave surfing, mountain climbing and motorcycle racing.
But most users are aging Baby Boomers – as Dr. Sato originally envisioned years ago.
Every day, I help elite athletes and older people who are recovering from an accident or surgery.
What a journey, what a joy.
About the Author
Born and raised in Los Angeles, 57-year-old Steven Munatones spent two years in Japan as JET in Shiga Prefecture, and co-founded KAATSU Global with a Japanese inventor and doctor after serving as CEO of TOTO Frontier USA. In 1984, Munatones received the John B. Imrie Memorial Award during his senior year at Harvard University as “an individual whose interests are not bounded by academic or institutional structures. A joyous, deeply-rooted affirmation of life, disdain for the purely conventional; a love of adventure and desire to learn by experiencing, the ability to respond creatively to difficult situations.”
Lindsey Bridges, Former Tochigi Prefecture ALT, 1997 – 1999
My love for Japan began when I was 7 years old at the time my father was posted to Japan for his work. I lived in Tokyo from 1974-75 and 1979-85 and was lucky enough to learn Japanese and be enriched by so many unique cultural experiences. It was during this time that a dream formed in my heart to one day return to Japan when I had a family of my own, so that they too could share the incredible Japan that I had grown to love.
Like all dreams, it is not always possible to know if, how or when they may become a reality, but I was always hopeful a path would emerge. Due to my cross cultural experience and Japanese language ability I chose to study tourism and hospitality and worked in a number of positions in Japan and Australia. I then married and had two children and was thrilled when a few years later, in 1997, the opportunity to realize my dream presented itself. I was offered a position as an ALT in the town of Ishibashi in Tochigi prefecture. It seemed a fortuitous placement for the Bridges family as Ishibashi means “stone bridge”. Little did I know just how much the theme of “bridges” would resonate and shape my career.
In 1997, Ishibashi was a relatively small town with very few foreigners. It therefore came as quite a surprise for the community when they learned that rather than an individual ALT coming, there would be a family of four! Fortunately, I spoke Japanese which helped to cushion the transition, but my husband and children did not speak any Japanese so this was a huge adventure in itself.
As a family JET, one of the most important factors for me to consider was ensuring that my husband and children smoothly settled into their new lives in Ishibashi. Fortunately, my husband was able to pick up manual work at a local horticulture farm whilst my son (5 years old), and daughter (3 years old) were soon totally immersed into the local “hoikuen” (nursery school). It wasn’t long before they all developed new friends and began learning Japanese. It was fascinating to watch the speed of learning of the children compared to their father as an adult learner. My daughter always happily chattered away in Japanese and often forgot to speak English! Consequently, her father often had to exclaim “Wakarimasen!” as his Japanese was much slower to take hold.
My days as an ALT were rich and fulfilling. I worked 4 days a week rotating between 2 junior high schools in the area (Ishibashi Junior High School and Kokubunji Junior High School) and spent one day a week at the Board of Education. As a mature age ALT, I already had some teaching experience and was able to quickly adapt. The most meaningful rewards came from openly engaging with the students, English teachers and the broader community. To me it was invaluable to see the hearts and minds of so many people open warmly as they learned not only the language but actively engaged in the cross cultural exchange. My children and husband were also unknowingly acting as ambassadors for grassroots internationalization.
One year as an ALT soon turned into two. As a family we celebrated many milestones and events including shichi-go-san, undo-kai (sports festivals), cultural festivals, karaoke and parties!
My daughter and I at her undoukai
My daughter (3 yrs) and son (5 yrs) dressed for shichigosan
We also celebrated my son’s graduation from Hoikuen to Shogakko (elementary school) which was quite a ceremonious occasion.
Saying farewell to Ishibashi was a very emotional experience. Rich relationships had been formed with so many people and a number of these bonds still exist today.
Fast forward 20 years and I now look back and see how the theme of “building bridges” has continued throughout my career. Following the JET program, I returned to work in the vocational training (TAFE) sector in Australia, specializing in hospitality and culinary education. During my time with TAFE, I was passionate about building connections between Australian and Japanese education institutions which culminated in school agreements, articulation pathways, study tours, teacher exchange and internships. This position led me to an opportunity to return to Japan and work with Le Cordon Bleu, a leading international chain of hospitality and culinary schools. In this role I developed strategic partnerships with government, local and international education partners and industry to create new programs to develop global hospitality professionals.
As I look forward to the next stages of my career, I aim to continue to focus on Japan tourism and hospitality projects with the ultimate goal of returning to the regional areas of Japan to assist in revitalization. In many ways I have come full circle back to my original role in the JET program contributing to the grass roots internationalization. Given the exponential growth in inbound tourism, never before has it been more important to support language development and cross cultural understanding to ensure rich, harmonious experiences for local residents and international visitors alike.
I am forever grateful for the incredible experiences gained as an ALT and would highly recommend the program. To my fellow JET alumni I look forward to continuing to network on a personal and professional level as we continue the Japan journey that is inevitably so deeply ingrained within us.
About the Author
Lindsey Bridges is from Melbourne, Australia and was an ALT in Ishibashi, Tochigi Prefecture from 1997-99. With a total of 25 years of living and working in Japan, Lindsey is a business development specialist actively working with education, industry and government on tourism and hospitality projects in Australia and Japan. She is also the author of 50onsens.com.