JET Streams – Winter 2020

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JET Streams

Winter 2020

Beyond JET
Celebrating 30 years of Germany in the JET Programme

Sven Traschewski, Former Sapporo CIR, 2006 – 2010

Three years ago, the JET Programme, which was established in 1987, celebrated its 30th anniversary. On the other hand, Germany joined the JET Programme in 1989 and we recently had the chance to celebrate our 30th anniversary.

Our chapter took this opportunity to gather as many of our members as possible. On November 1, more than 70 members gathered on the invitation of His Excellency Ambassador Takeshi Yagi at the ambassador’s residence in Berlin for a commemorative reception. This was a huge success considering that the German JETAA chapter is generally referred to as a “small(er) chapter” in the JETAA community and only consists of 300 alumni from the past 30 years (of which only about 250 can be reached by email).

With the generous support of the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR) and its London office, the Japan Local Government Centre (JLGC), our chapter received funding for our members from Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the rest of Europe to attend the reception. More than 50 members travelled to Germany’s capital for the weekend and the rest came from Berlin.

The reception was opened by Ambassador Yagi who gave his welcome remarks in both German and Japanese. It was followed by a speech by CLAIR’s Chairperson of the Board of Directors, Mr. Tamotsu Okamoto, who came all the way to Germany to honor us with his presence. Then it was my turn as chair of our chapter and Country Representative of Germany to humbly introduce the story of our chapter. I talked about how back in 2013, three former JET participants including myself, came up with the idea to reach out to our fellow alumni in Berlin. The following year, we all gathered for the first time for what I (in a typically bureaucratic German way) call the “unofficial Berlin German JET meeting”. After that, talks about “re-organizing” our chapter in 2015 with the entities involved led to the formal “renewal” of our chapter in 2016, with the by-laws and elected members of the board established, followed by its official recognition by JETAA International.

Members of the German JETAA Chapter pose for a picture during the reception

Members of the German JETAA Chapter pose for a picture during the reception

I was asked to deliver my speech in German and Japanese in front of 100 guests and it kept me nervous for several days. Once this honorable task was completed, we moved on to the less formal part of the evening: the actual reception. It was a great time for old friends to reunite as well as for meeting new people who were on the JET Programme from different years of this meaningful exchanges between Germany and Japan! It was also a chance for predecessors and successors from the same contracting organizations to meet and share their experiences, and several additional “prefectural” group photos were also taken.

The evening also featured performances by the shamisen trio, Mitsune. Formed in 2017 in Berlin, the all-female group whose members are from Germany, Japan and Australia is a reflection of the cross-cultural exchange the JET Programme stands for. The reception also provided an amazing variety of culinary delights – with the Matcha Crème Brûlée as my personal highlight – along with tasty sake from different regions of Japan.

In one of the rooms, our “slide show project” was shown on a screen. Since we wanted to give members, who unfortunately could not attend in person, the chance to also contribute to this unique evening, we invited all of our members to create an individual slide with photos and descriptions of their time on the JET Programme.

We also used this opportunity to invite representatives of our fellow European chapters from France, Ireland, and the United Kingdom with its various chapter representatives. Since 1989 not only marks the year of Germany joining the JET Programme, but also the year when the Berlin Wall came down–another celebration of a 30th anniversary of breaking down walls, building bridges and closing gaps between people. So we invited our European friends for a tour of Berlin’s past and present, the day after the reception.

While preparing my speech for the reception I asked myself, “Why did I feel the need to meet with other former participants of the JET Programme in the first place?” There is a simple answer to this question and it’s the JET Programme “connects”. The JET experience not only connects people from Germany and Japan, it also connects the JET participants with each other. Each JET experience is as unique as the different roles of German JETs and the people they meet and exchange with during their time in Japan. And yet in the end it is also the shared experience of having worked as a JET in Japan and having been part of this unique program, which is also the largest of its kind, which connects all of us.

Honored and nervous at the same time: Sven delivering his speech.

Honored and nervous at the same time: Sven delivering his speech.

Currently, 25 German JETs–24 CIRs and 1 ALT–are on the JET Programme. Germany is happy and proud to be part of the JET Programme and we are looking forward to welcoming many more generations of German JETs on the JET Programme as well as future alumni in the German JETAA Chapter. I hope they will continue and deepen our network and that we will soon have the chance to meet in Berlin again, this time with an even bigger number.

About the Author
Sven was a CIR in Sapporo from 2006-2010. He was born in Nuremberg/Franconia (Southern Germany), and is currently living in Berlin where he works as a Project Manager for Exchange Programs (German-Japanese Young Leaders Forum) and Conferences at the Japanese-German Center Berlin (JDZB).

JET Alumni Association in Japan: Unique Challenges, Unique Opportunities

Nuntica (Rose) Tanasugarn, Former Shimane ALT 1990-1993, 2003-2006

I have been a member of JETAA since 1993 when I returned to Los Angeles after three years in Shimane Prefecture. Through activities organized by JETAA of Southern California (JETAASC), I enjoyed feeling connected to Japan and meeting fellow alumni. I was fortunate to know the late Nancy Kikuchi, co-founder of JETAASC. Her selfless efforts greatly inspire me in my current roles as Japan Country Representative to the international association (JETAA-I) and as treasurer for the Western Japan chapter.

Compared to JETAA chapters around the world, Japan chapters seem to be in a growing phase. With increasing numbers of alumni in Japan, as well as current participants who are looking for opportunities to stay, it is important to think about the future direction of JETAA in Japan.

JETAA chapters outside of Japan often hold events such as Nihongo Dake Dinners and reunions where alumni can be nostalgic about their experiences as JET participants. Alumni who still live in Japan do not have the same need to feel connected, so it is sometimes a challenge to create appealing activities for members. It is also difficult to geographically track and engage potential members.

A way to address these challenges is for the Japan chapters to continue communicating with CLAIR and AJET to support and collaborate in events. For example, in Western Japan, all events are open to current JETs and are publicized on Facebook AJET Block groups. This has been an effective way to both attract attendees and to raise awareness of the chapter and its activities. Current JETAAWJ officers attended events when they were active JETs, so working with AJET can help create chapter sustainability through participation and leadership succession.

JETAAWJ chair giving current JETs and alumni resume and interview advice at a career skills seminar in December

JETAAWJ chair giving current JETs and alumni resume and interview advice at a career skills seminar in December

Japan chapter leaders have also helped CLAIR with career fairs and Life After JET seminars which is another way for current JETs to learn about JETAA chapters in Japan and how to get involved.

Unique Opportunities for Alumni in Japan
With Japan’s tourism boom, there is a growing need for multilingual and multicultural talent, particularly in rural areas. Some municipalities have started volunteer opportunities such as the Kobe PR Ambassador Program. The JET community is an important source of volunteers for these programs. Many current JETs and alumni wish to stay in their communities but it is not easy to find a job outside of language teaching. Sometimes there are municipal job openings but the recruiters do not know where to find candidates. CLAIR, JETAA Tokyo and Western Japan have acted as communication channels between alumni and potential employers by sharing such job postings.

The theme for the annual JETAA Western Japan Charity Lunch was about the hospitality and tourism industry.  Invited guests included a Universal Studios Japan manager, an alumnus who works for the Kobe Convention Bureau, and hotel professionals.

The theme for the annual JETAA Western Japan Charity Lunch was about the hospitality and tourism industry. Invited guests included a Universal Studios Japan manager, an alumnus who works for the Kobe Convention Bureau, and hotel professionals.

Alumni in Japan also have a special ability to honor the memory of former JETs who positively impacted their communities. Taylor Anderson lost her life in the tsunami that struck Ishinomaki after the March 11, 2011 earthquake, but her spirit lives on through the Taylor Anderson Memorial Fund (TAMF). JETAA Western Japan has held two fundraising screenings of “Live Your Dream: the Taylor Anderson Story.” The chapter continues to help publicize TAMF-affiliated activities such as IshinomaKimono greeting cards, made by women in Ishinomaki as a way of emotionally supporting each other while raising money to support community activities.

Alumna Sarah Auffret was a passionate conservationist who organized beach clean ups in Naruto. This past March, her friends around the world were greatly saddened to learn that she was one of the victims of a plane crash that was taking her to an environmental conference. It is the hope of the Western Japan chapter to work with one of Sarah’s colleagues and have a late summer beach clean-up in Naruto, the place that meant so much to her.

Synergistic Networking with JETAA
Many JET alumni have become diplomats, with some being posted in Japan. By being proactive in building relationships with these alumni, chapters are able to invite them and colleagues to events. It is a chance for the JET community to learn about a career in foreign relations while also allowing the embassies and consulates to meet potential candidates. JET alumna Cindy Lineburg of the Australian Consulate-General in Osaka has been working for Austrade, the trade and investment commission agency of the government of Australia. Cindy encourages participation in JETAA events: “Alumni events provide the ideal space for former JETs from a diverse range of national backgrounds and academic specialties to share their JET experiences across generations. I have valued the opportunity to learn from fellow alumni of new ways to incorporate the JET skill set in my personal development plans. I am sure that more recent alumni can also look to others for career inspiration, hints and key take-aways from those who trod the path to a post-JET career before them. I highly recommend participation in events for those looking at making more of their JET journey.”

Brooke Spelman, Public Affairs Officer at the US Consulate Osaka-Kobe, shared her thoughts about her involvement at JETAA events: “I’m impressed by JETAAWJ’s commitment to engaging with the Kansai community, participating in and organizing local events, bringing organizations and individuals together, and leveraging the experience and expertise of alumni to continue the important work of strengthening people-to-people ties between Japan and the world. It has certainly benefitted U.S.-Japan relations in Western Japan, and I am grateful to them for all of their efforts.”

I have seen a lot of changes in both the JET Programme and the JET Alumni Association. Both have grown to become important tools for Japan, and not only in terms of strengthening relations between participant countries and Japan. JET participants and alumni have become a valuable source of global talent, particularly when the labor shortage issue has become a concern for companies with operations in Japan and abroad.

Although the chapters in Japan are still in a growth and development stage, there are many unique opportunities for alumni. Through continued communication and cooperation between the JETAA chapters in Japan, CLAIR, and the ministries, I believe there is a great opportunity to find synergistic solutions to economic and social needs.

For more information about JETAA in Japan or to get involved, please e-mail Rose Tanasugarn at

Getting into the holiday spirit with JET alumni and friends at the Umeda German Christmas

Getting into the holiday spirit with JET alumni and friends at the Umeda German Christmas

About the Author
Nuntica (Rose) Tanasugarn is from Los Angeles. After graduating from Cornell University, she was a JET in Gotsu, Shimane from 1990-1993. She rejoined JET from 2003-2006 as an ALT in Hamada, Shimane. Since joining the Kobe Portopia Hotel in 2008, Rose has helped host Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, HRH Crown Princess Sirindhorn of Thailand, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Celebrating Fifteen Years of JET in Trinidad and Tobago

Paul Hadden, Former Osaka ALT, 2011-2014

Fifteen years ago, the first group of JET Programme participants from the twin island nation of Trinidad and Tobago left their sunny Caribbean homeland behind to begin their new lives as ALTs in Japan. Since that day back in 2004, when an excited group of just four Trinbagonians set out on their JET adventure, close to one hundred and sixty five participants from T&T have made the journey eastward and are now proud to call themselves part of the JET Programme family. This number may not seem overly impressive when compared with the thousands of participants from some of the larger participating countries, but for a small country like Trinidad and Tobago which stands at just about the size of Chiba prefecture, it is indeed something for us to be proud of.

This milestone was recently celebrated at a gala event held at the residence of the Ambassador of Japan in Trinidad to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the programme in this country. Many of the alumni, as well as several special guests, were treated to an evening of Japanese food and drink, as well as to a performance from a local steelpan group that had recently returned from a trip to Japan where they performed at the Super Yosakoi Festival in Tokyo. The presence of the pan players was especially poignant on a night celebrating the unifying power of JET, as the steelpan – an instrument born right here in Port-of-Spain – is one which has garnered a substantial following in Japan throughout the years and currently serves as one of the greatest cultural bridges between our two countries. The night, complete with speeches from returning JETs, as well as video messages from some ALTs currently in Japan, presented a wonderful opportunity for the alumni to gather together to share their memories of their unforgettable experiences on JET.

(left to right) (Left to right) Anastasia Ramjag (JETAATT vice president), Avah Atherton (alum), Ambassador of Japan to TT Tatsuo Hirayama, Jabal Hassanali (alum), Laurence Inniss

(Left to right) Anastasia Ramjag (JETAATT vice president), Avah Atherton (alum), Ambassador of Japan to TT Tatsuo Hirayama, Jabal Hassanali (alum), Laurence Inniss (JETAATT president)

One of the highlights of the night was when Mr. Laurence Inniss, the President of the JET Alumni Association of Trinidad and Tobago (JETAATT), was presented with a special commendation from the Ambassador for the work that the group has done over the last few years in promoting both JET and Japanese culture here in Trinidad and Tobago. The Alumni Association, which started off when a few of the returning JETs of 2013 began organizing a return dinner for participants, has since blossomed into an active group which hosts a variety of JET and Japan related events throughout the year.

(left to right) Receiving the Ambassador's commendation

(left to right) Receiving the Ambassador’s commendation

Some of the more memorable achievements of the association have been the implementation of a pre-departure orientation for new JETs, the hosting of several public panel discussions for those interested in learning more about the programme, and several fun filled Japanese culture themed events. One of the more popular events was our successful “Subarashii Saturday” fun day complete with origami lessons, calligraphy demonstrations, and a kimono photo booth. Many of those who attended the event had never heard of the JET Programme before, so it was a wonderful opportunity for the alumni to mingle with the curious guests and distribute information about JET.

One of the most unforgettable events put on by the JETAATT was the hosting of a pre-departure hanami picnic for a group of newly accepted JET participants. Although we may not have the delicate sakura here in Trinidad and Tobago, we do have the majestic and eye-catching poui trees, whose spectacular flowers, much like the sakura, bloom for just a short time. As the sakura is delicate and subdued, the poui is loud and dramatic. In the midst of the tropical heat, florescent yellows and pinks sprout up all over the island in gorgeous splashes of colour across the brown, burnt hills. Though there is no winter here, the poui is also a harbinger of change, as its bloom signals the end of the dusty, suffocating heat of the dry season. Although we have no real tradition of picnicking under the trees, in the spirit of combining our two worlds together, the Alumni Association’s decided to host a hanami event underneath the fluorescent flowers of the poui trees which are dotted throughout the campus of the main university on the island – The University of the West Indies. The day was a massive success for the organization. As both the alumni, new JETS, as well as Japanese staff from the embassy and other long term Japanese residents of Trinidad and Tobago gathered for the event, one got the impression that our two beloved worlds – those of our homeland and our adopted home – were beginning to come together. The hanami celebrations under the poui were a poignant symbol of the spirit of co-operation and cultural understanding that both the JET Programme, and now, the newly initiated Alumni Association, seeks to foster. We look forward to many more years of the programme’s success and are happy to now count ourselves among the other global chapters of the JET Alumni Association.

Partial JETAATT committee: Anastasia Ramjag, Laurence Inniss, Paul Hadden

JETAATT committee members at the chapter’s Hanami event

About the Author
Paul Hadden was born and raised in the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. He was a JET in Osaka City from 2011-2014, and then in Oita City from 2018-2019. He works as a teacher of English and French as well as a freelance writer. He has a weekly column in one of the major newspapers in Trinidad where he often writes about Japanese food and culture.

The 2019 JETAA USA National Conference (Chicago, IL): Growing JETAA Chapters in the United States

Monica Yuki, Former Saitama Prefecture ALT, 2002 – 2004

The 2019 JETAA USA National Conference (NatCon) was a huge success! I have been fortunate to be involved with the JET Program Alumni Association for the past 14 years and this year’s conference marks the 11th NatCon that I’ve attended. I cherish every single one of them because of the amazing alumni I get to collaborate with. The first NatCon I attended was in Chicago in 2008, so it was very fitting that my final one as a Country Representative would be in the same city.

In September, 50+ JET alumni leaders representing all 19 chapters gathered in Chicago, Illinois, to celebrate the success of JETAA and brainstorm ideas for the future. This year’s theme focused on growing JETAA at the chapter level through further developing our members, leaders, and outreach. Every chapter is led by amazing, vibrant, and dedicated alumni who commit so much time and energy to promoting the JET Program, putting on events, increasing membership, and strengthening community connections. Since the U.S. chapters range in size from 40 to 2,000+ members, these conferences are so important for us all to come together and share our best practices, offering suggestions for future growth and success.

Alumni leaders presenting on growing JETAA at the chapter level through further developing our members, leaders, and outreach.

Alumni leaders presenting on growing JETAA at the chapter level through further developing our members, leaders, and outreach.

The conference started on Thursday evening with a welcome happy hour hosted by USJETAA. This casual event allows leaders to meet for the first time, connecting faces to names.

2019 JETAA National Conference attendees, delegates and guests.

2019 JETAA National Conference attendees, delegates and guests.

NatCon officially started Friday morning with welcome remarks by the local Consul-General of Japan in Chicago, Kenji Tanaka, JETAA Chicago president, Ella McCann, CLAIR New York Deputy Director Takahiro Ando, First Secretary from the Embassy of Japan Kotaro Oe, and the director of USJETAA, Bahia Simons-Lane. Two guest speakers presented the importance of grassroots connections in the US-Japan relationship, and the director of USJETAA shared all the great things our nonprofit umbrella organization offers the chapters and members.

This year’s agenda was packed with informative sessions presented by leaders representing 11 different chapters. The alumni-led presentations started with Andy Shartzer (JETAA New York) and I on the “Five Year Plan: Be Proactive Instead of Reactive”, about looking at the big picture and setting goals. Keeping this topic in mind all day we followed with presentations on “Growing (and Keeping) Strong JET Leaders”, led by Rachel Reed (JETAA DC) and Katherine Meyer (JETAA Minnesota). In recent years we have focused on increasing our geographic reach and growing our sub-chapter’s activities and membership. Samantha Corpus (Pacific Northwest JETAA) presented on “Remote Outreach & Engagement”. The final presentation was from Teri Galvez (JETAA Rocky Mountain) on “Growing Chapter Visibility and Branding”. She also introduced her creative project to design chapter mascots that personify each chapter’s region.

JETAA DC delegates presenting a local event that other alumni leaders could replicate in their local area

JETAA DC delegates presenting a local event that other alumni leaders could replicate in their local area

Friday evening the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and the Consul General hosted a wonderful reception at the Japanese Consulate, where we celebrated JETs who recently returned from the JET Program. This is a great opportunity for them to meet alumni from across the country, share stories, and learn how to handle reverse culture shock.

Saturday started with CLAIR representatives Matthew Gillam, Aki Sugawara, and Tomoko Fujiwara, presenting the new Grant-in-Aid guidelines and changes to the program due to the 2020 Olympics. The next three presentations focused on topics that every chapter can benefit from despite differences in size or location. Kelly Bolen and Jennifer Kuang (JETAA Hawaii) presented “Building Membership, Step-by-Step” based on their chapter’s success. As our alumni community continues to grow so do their families. Maureen Brase-Houchin (JETAA Heartland) presented valuable tips on “Hosting Successful Family Friendly Events”. She shared everything from picking the right time and location to offering many great event ideas. The next presentation by Melissa Cruz (JETAA Southern California) was how to grow engagement of our “sempai members”, who are any alumni that went on the JET Program 10+ years ago. Following these presentations, delegates had the option to attend three breakout sessions to focus on growth of : (1) subchapters; (2) leadership and boards, and; (3) sempai & family-friendly events.

A common topic in recent years is being or becoming a 501(c)3 organization. Bahia Simons-Lane (USJETAA) and I presented the pros & cons of obtaining nonprofit status. In the follow-up breakout sessions delegates discussed the challenges, benefits, and application process for their chapter.

Saturday evening was our final hooray. Thanks to CLAIR New York for hosting a delicious and fun dinner at Izakaya Mita, a JETAA Chicago chapter favorite. At this reception alumni always enjoy speaking with CLAIR and fellow delegates on the status of their chapters.

We started our final day with a NatCon tradition of Rajio Taiso led by the CLAIR New York staff, and trading omiyage from our home regions. This year each delegate brought a pair of socks representing their region. Delegates swap socks to bring home so when they wear the socks in the future it will remind them of NatCon and encourage an open dialog among our leaders.

The final presentation was from Xander Peterson (JETAA International) reporting the status of the chapters around the world, and Andrew Massey (JETAA Canada Country Representative) sharing all the great things happening in the 7 chapters across Canada.

The highlight of NatCon for me are the short presentations each chapter makes on their local events. Delegates share one marquee event that is unique to their region followed by a description, details, and tips from 1-2 other events. Many chapters have taken what they learn during these presentations and replicated it in their local region.

NatCon is made possible thanks to the generous support of CLAIR, MOFA, and USJETAA, and their dedication to making JET and the alumni associations thriving organizations. I am grateful for the work of my fellow country representatives Faye Valtadoros (Great Lakes JETAA) and Dustin Henrich (Heartland JETAA) along with the amazing local alumni in JETAA Chicago for putting in countless hours to pull off another great NatCon!

This was a very successful National Conference because our leaders shared, brainstormed, and created future plans to take back home to continue strengthening and growing their chapters. I am excited to see the next steps for all our chapters!

NatCon information including the agenda, program, presentations and information can be found on the JETAA USA website.

About the Author
Monica Yuki was an ALT in Saitama from 2002-2004. Originally from Malibu, California, she graduated from the University of Colorado with a B.S. in Business Administration. After JET she moved to New York City where she has been involved with JETAA since 2005 and has loved being part of the leadership for the past 14 years, including several years as chapter president of JETAA New York (a 501(c)3 non-profit organization with over 2,000 members). Currently, she is Chair of their Board of Directors, as well as being one of the JETAA USA Country Representatives and sitting on the Board of Directors for USJETAA, the national 501(c)3 non-profit organization supporting alumni across the USA. Outside of JETAA, she is the Research Director for a multi-media company providing consumer insights and analysis. When not in the office you can find her enjoying life in NYC, training for triathlons, hanging out with local JET alumni, and enjoying the outdoors!

A gap in the market, a passion for the subject and hard work

Jennifer Mitchelhill, Former Toyama Prefecture ALT, 1999 – 2002

What does it take to get a book published? Former JET, Dr Jennifer Mitchelhill tells how her three years in Japan as an ALT resulted in two books on Japanese Castles.

In the year we were married, my partner David and I applied to the JET program with the intention of taking a year off work and study. We went to Japan with no expectations and certainly no intention to publish a book. However, we ended up staying three years immersing ourselves in school life and the local culture, and quite unexpectedly, falling in love with Japanese castles.

As a married couple slightly older than most of the other JETs in our town, we spent our spare time working on suspended projects from our life in Australia: I had taken a year off from my Architectural studies, David from his job in marketing. When visiting Kanazawa one day we stumbled across a gateway overgrown with vegetation that had clearly been important in another life. Huge stones perfectly fitted together made up walls on either side of the gate. Intrigued, we wandered inside. It was the site of Kanazawa Castle, one of Japan’s 200 or so castles built at the end of the seventeenth century. This had been the headquarters of the richest Daimyo clan, the Maeda, second only to the Tokugawa Shogun during the 268 years of Japan’s military rule from 1600 to 1868. When the Emperor was restored to power in 1868, the magnificent Kanazawa castle grounds and buildings were taken over by the Imperial Forces. As an unwelcome reminder of Japan’s feudal past, the castle was disused, and some major structures were burnt down due to carelessness in 1881 (said to be the fault of drunken soldiers). Kanazawa University occupied the site from 1949 to 1978. Now, in 1999, Ishikawa Prefectural government was about to reconstruct the buildings that had burnt down in 1881 using traditional materials and building techniques. This reconstruction was at the forefront of a conservation push to rebuild historical structures using traditional methods as a way to pass on skills to future generations. Materials such as timber, mud and plaster had proven to be more suited to Japan’s widely varying climate that goes from humid to wet to freezing than concrete, and traditional timber joints were more able to withstand earthquakes.

A study of Kanazawa castle seemed like a perfect research project for me to take on as part of my Architectural studies.

A gap in the market
I began to research Japanese Castles as background to the Kanazawa castle reconstruction. It was not easy to find information in English. The internet barely existed in 1999. Research had to be done via books and there were very few reference books in English. Those that I could get my hands on were out of date and often had disparate facts. Due to the technical nature of the architectural detail and records, it was difficult to find a Japanese translator who could help decipher information in Japanese. There was an obvious need for an up to date, factually correct book on Japanese castles in English.

So, a year later after finishing my project on Kanazawa castle, David and I decided to start photographing and researching Japanese castles with the view to publishing a book. At this stage, it was purely a marketing exercise – we saw a need and decided to fill it.

Passion for the subject
We began by mapping out castles near our town on the West Coast of Japan and within reach of public transport. We then chose those that were original and significant. There are only twelve castles with an original tenshu (main tower) remaining. We determined to visit all of these. There are also many without a tenshu that have significant outer structures, stone walls, and moats that also went on the list. In total we had a ‘hit-list’ of about forty castles. Others were added along the way as we discovered castles throughout Japan in various stages of ruin. Thus began our reason for travelling around Japan. Any chance we got, public holidays, weekends, we would go on a ‘castle trip’, gathering information and taking photos.

Twenty years ago digital photography didn’t exist. We were using transparencies. This meant that every photo had to be planned, considered, set up, and bracketed (three different exposures of the same shot were taken). Every photo cost money. David and I worked together, he with the photographic expertise and photographic eye, me pointing out shots I wanted. It was only when the film had been developed and the slides projected onto our kitchen wall, using the projector our new friend in the photo shop lent us, that we were able to see what had been taken. These were exciting moments. A shot you had been dying to see might meet expectations, or not, while other images proved to be more than we could have hoped for. There would always be something David had taken that showed me the castle in a different light to what I was seeing.

The most exciting discovery for us was how different each castle was, how beautiful they were, the details, the sheer size in some cases, and the incredible feats that must have taken place to build these by hand in the seventeenth century. As foreigners we were spellbound and took great care to photograph all the details that others might often pass by: the breast-shaped nail coverings on a gate, the end tiles with the daimyo’s family crest; the perfectly joined timber screens in the castle windows. One of my most treasured moments was when a history teacher from my school thanked me for showing him how beautiful Japanese castles are.

Hard work
During all this travel, photographing and research, we were yet to take our idea to a publisher. We approached two publishers and were happy to find that we were spot on with our identification of the gap in the market – both publishers were interested. We chose one, then got to work.

Writing a book is hard work. I wanted this to be the book that I had been looking for when I began my research. I had to ask many people for help, and gathering information became a constant in my spare time. Once again David and I worked as a team – he edited my writing, I chose the images. The book was very much a team effort, with each of us encouraging the other to go just that bit further to get the best shot or write the best sentence. The result was the book: Jennifer Mitchelhill and David Green, Castles of the Samurai: Power and Beauty, Kodansha, 2003, 2013. Now, more than ten years later, we have written a second book about the castles, their builders and keepers: Jennifer Mitchelhill and David Green, Samurai Castles, Tuttle Periplus, 2018. and

The three years we spent in Japan were wonderful in so many ways and as we now look back through the two books we have written on Japanese castles, we are reminded of this rewarding, rich and much cherished period in our life. If you would like to see some of David’s images of Japanese castles please go to and for more information on Japanese castles:

About the Author
Dr Jennifer Mitchelhill teaches Architectural History at the University of Melbourne, Australia. David Mitchelhill-Green works in Marketing. He has written a number of books on World War II history. She can be reached at

Copyright 2015 by the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR)