JET Streams – Issue #56 (Spring 2024)

JET Streams – Issue #56 (Spring 2024)

JETAA(I) (Articles from the JETAA chapters & JETAA-I)

  1. Reviving the JET Alumni Association of Trinidad and Tobago

Special Topic (Stories of 2nd Generation JETs)

  1. A Generational Affair
  2. Finding My Passion

Beyond JET (Articles from former JETs)

  1. Mindful Moments
  2. Japanese Market Guide
CLAIR Corner Articles and updates from CLAIR
Welcome to the 2024 Spring Edition of JET Streams!
Department of JET Programme Management, CLAIR

We at the Department of JET Programme Management have been enjoying the return of warm sunny days and flowers to Tokyo.

In this edition, we are delighted to share several updates from CLAIR, a report from a JET alumni on their experiences on the Hokkaido and Tohoku Winter Cuisine Tour Program organised by JFOODO, and an inspiring piece from the President of the JET Alumni Association of Trinidad and Tobago on the success of efforts to revive JETAA Trinidad and Tobago. In addition, we bring you two heartwarming stories from 2nd generation JETs, and two more articles from JET alumni: one reflecting on their journey back to Japan through their love for food, and another on their time living in the peaceful Japanese countryside.

As always, we hope you enjoy reading these stories as much as we did. If you too would like to share your story, please check for more information at the links below:

Submission guidelines: Submission-Guidelines.pdf
JET Streams article proposal form:

Wishing you all a wonderful spring and summer, and see you for the next edition!

JET Streams Survey
Please give us your feedback! (Former JET participants only)
JET Streams Survey

Please take our JET Streams Survey! It is only 4 questions long, and your responses will be crucial to help us improve the quality of JET Streams.

The survey was originally posted in the 2023 Winter edition, but it is now re-opened in order to boost responses.

You can access the survey here.

Thank you for your generous cooperation!

2024 JET Video Contest
190+ Submissions Received!

We are delighted to share the exciting news that the 2024 JET Video Contest has received an overwhelming response, with over 190 submissions pouring in from talented former and current JETs across the globe. Each video not only demonstrates exceptional creativity but also encapsulates the profound impact of the JET Programme on both its participants and the local communities in Japan.

From captivating storytelling to breathtaking visuals, there’s a diverse array of content awaiting your exploration. We invite you to check out these submissions via the link below and extend your support by liking your favorite videos.

Video Contest Award Ceremony

Following a meticulous selection process, we are also pleased to announce the 13 winning videos, which have been showcased on the JET Video Contest website. You can view them by following the link provided below:

While each winning video has been selected for an award, specifics will not be revealed until the award ceremony taking place on 12 July 2024. Check out the link above for more details!

A heartfelt thank you goes out to all the participants for generously sharing their remarkable work with us.

JET Programme Alumni Survey

About 3,500 JET alumni from all over the world participated in the “JET Programme Alumni Survey” that was conducted by CLAIR between December 2023 and January 2024 to gather data on the careers of JET alumni after their time on the JET Programme.

The median age of the respondents was 41 years, with most of them being born in the mid-1980s. JET alumni from 42 countries responded to the survey, with the majority of them being former ALTs from the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

On average, respondents participated in the JET Programme for almost three years, with about 80% of them spending at least two years. This high percentage of re-contracting shows a high level of satisfaction among both the participants and their contracting organisations. More than 10% worked as a JET for five years, which is the longest regular term of appointment at one placement. The JET alumni who responded to the survey were placed throughout Japan in all of its 47 prefectures.

Country of Residence pie chart

The survey results reveal some interesting insights into the post-JET careers of the alumni. When asked where they worked right after finishing their time on the JET Programme, 67% replied that they worked in their home country. However, a surprisingly high 24% of the respondents replied that they continued to work in Japan. When asked about their current country of residence, 72% replied “home country”, while 18% said that they currently reside in Japan. This suggests that about 5% of the JET alumni initially started to work in Japan but returned to their home country eventually. The fact that many of the JET alumni who responded to the survey are still living and working in Japan suggests that there is a high affinity towards Japan among former JET Programme participants.

Career Field pie chart

While 45% of the participants said that they are working in the private sector, more than one third (37%) replied that they work in the public sector, a fact that might not come as a surprise considering the nature of the JET Programme. When asked which career field they are currently working in, approx. 41%, which is by far the majority, replied that they work in the field of education. Another 13% said that they work for the government or a public sector organisation. This suggests that most JET alumni have been able to apply their experiences in the JET Programme as teachers and public servants to their further careers.

21% of the survey participants said they use Japanese at work every day, which is more than the 18% that are currently living and working in Japan. This leads to the assumption that a substantial amount of JET alumni are working for Japanese companies outside of Japan, or for foreign companies that engage in business with Japan daily. This assumption is strongly supported by the fact that 19% replied that they “sometimes” use Japanese for their current work. That means that about 40% of the former JET Programme participants are still using Japanese to some degree in their professional career. One can clearly see that the JET Programme has mutual benefits. It is not only about teaching Japanese children a foreign language and helping to maintain and strengthen international relations. For the participants, it is also about learning the Japanese language, understanding Japanese culture, and creating lifelong bonds with Japan. This is also shown in the fact that 81% of the respondents agreed with the statement “Participating in the JET Programme had a huge positive impact on my professional career”.

JETAA Member pie chart

JET Alumni Association (JETAA) chapters around the world are helping to keep JET alumni connected with each other and with Japan. 39% of the respondents said that they are a member of a JETAA chapter, and another 35% stated that they are interested in becoming a member. CLAIR is supporting JETAA chapters in their activities and encourages former JET Programme participants to become active members of the alumni community. For more information on JETAA, please click here to visit the website of JETAA International.

CLAIR Career Support
Career Support Offered Exclusively to Current and Former JETs

We at CLAIR take pride in the robust career support we provide, tailored exclusively for current JET Programme participants and alumni to equip them with invaluable resources to navigate their career journeys.

Throughout the 2023 fiscal year (from April 2023 to March 2024), CLAIR held the following events, both online and in-person. Many are also open to JET alumni looking to pivot their careers or learn about job-hunting in Japan, so please check the links below for more information and consider participating next year.

As we reflect on the achievements of the 2023 fiscal year’s career support initiatives, we extend a warm invitation to all JET alumni to stay informed and engaged and look forward to seeing you at an event this year!

Hokkaido & Tohoku Winter Cuisine Tour Program
An exclusive chance for former JETs!

Late last year, CLAIR had the pleasure of extending an exclusive invitation to our esteemed community of JET Programme Alumni, presenting an extraordinary opportunity for former JETs to discover more about Japanese food and the culture surrounding it. The enticing “Hokkaido & Tohoku Winter Cuisine Tour Program,” organised by JFOODO of JETRO (The Japan External Trade Organization), promised a week-long immersion into the culinary wonders of the Hokkaido and Tohoku regions, tailor-made for former JETs.

In late February, 21 successful applicants embarked on a culinary odyssey to northern Japan, where they indulged in an array of Japanese delicacies, tried their hand at various activities such as scallop fishing, and savored the charm of the local surroundings. They then shared information about the gastronomic gems of Japan through their social media accounts.

Among the participants, Wendy Ng graciously shared her insightful account of the program in the article below, offering a captivating glimpse into her journey. For those keen on staying informed about the myriad opportunities available for JET Programme Alumni, we encourage you to keep an eye on your inbox for updates from CLAIR.

21 JET alumni swaying to the Okinawan folk song “Umi no koe” onboard a traditional Japanese boat, Yakatabune, cruising throughout the Sumida River and Tokyo Bay was a perfect celebratory end to the six-day Hokkaido and Tohoku Winter Cuisine Tour Program. Organised by Japan Food Product Overseas Promotion Center (JFOODO) of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), this program was curated specially for JET alumni to experience northern Japan’s winter cuisine and promote Japan’s food and culture.

This inaugural program marked an exclusive collaboration between JFOODO and CLAIR to invite JET alumni back to Japan to learn more about Japan’s food and culture and share their experiences with the rest of the world. The program participants created engaging social media content during the tour and shared photos and videos that spotlight Japan’s best winter food and attractions (see my content here). The program attracted media attention and NHK published reports of the tour segments in Hokkaido and Iwate, with numerous other reports made by local TV stations and newspapers in each region.

The program started in Tokyo on 18 February 2024 with a welcome dinner. The opening night felt like a JET orientation as 21 JET alumni from six countries met for the first time. As we exchanged our JET and post-JET experiences, we bonded quickly through our JET connections. Our collective JET journey spans over two decades.

For the first leg of the tour in Hokkaido, we visited the scallop processing plant in Toyoura town. More than 80 per cent of Japan’s scallops come from Hokkaido and Toyoura is the birthplace of scallop farming in Japan. Scallops flourish in the mineral rich seawater and they are cultivated using a traditional fishing technique “mimizuri.” Hiroko Tanaka from Funka Bay Toyoura Tourism Association facilitated an educational tour, interactions with fishermen, and cooking demonstrations where we ate fresh scallop sashimi and succulent scallops grilled in rich Hokkaido butter.

JET alumni tried scallop fishing in the spirit of the “World Scallop
JET alumni tried scallop fishing in the spirit of the “World Scallop

The first day of the program concluded with an exciting scallop fishing activity as we participated in a stimulation of the “World Scallop Fishing Championships,” and used a handmade fishing rod with a metal stick as a bait to “catch” the scallops.

Winter is the best season to indulge in Japan’s high-quality seafood, and Hokkaido is a top destination to savour fresh seafood. We participated in a morning tour at Sapporo Central Wholesale Market, where we observed a live tuna auction and learned about the efficiency and scale of the wholesale food system. I am very impressed by the diverse variety and high volume of seafood, fruits, and vegetables that are processed by this food hub daily. I gain newfound respect for the hardworking group of professionals who are instrumental in bringing Japan’s freshest seafood from the sea to our tables.

We were treated to a lavish eight-course crab-themed dinner at Sekka Tei featuring a sumptuous spread of crab delicacies like snow crab shabu shabu, hairy crab, and crab tempura. Another culinary delight was the exclusive lunch hosted at Hokkaido Wine CO., LTD. brewery. Premium sushi prepared by sushi masters from the Michelin Bib Sushi Nishizuka were paired with locally produced Japanese wine. The sushi-wine feast was so inspiring that we gave a standing ovation to thank the chefs after the meal.

Other experiential activities in Hokkaido included a tour of the Nikka Whisky Distillery in Yoichi, where we explored the historical stone buildings and sampled their award-winning whisky. We also visited Royce’ Cacao and Chocolate Town, immersed in an interactive “farm to bar” journey of chocolates, and made our personalised chocolate bar.

The next part of the program brought us to the Tohoku region. The first stop was Koiwai Farm in Iwate Prefecture that is famous for its delicious dairy products like milk, cheese, and ice cream. We toured the farm buildings, which are designated as National Tangible Cultural Properties, and enjoyed the idyllic scenery of the Makiba Park and the iconic cherry tree framed by the snow-capped Mount Iwate.

Seven participants received a souvenir certificate for eating 100 bowls of wanko soba. Hai, dokkoi. Janjan!
Seven participants received a souvenir certificate for eating 100 bowls of wanko soba. Hai, dokkoi. Janjan!

Before leaving Iwate, we had a memorable dinner in the traditional restaurant Azumaya where many of us tried the local specialty, wanko soba, for the first time. Energised by cheers and encouragements from the JET group, seven of us accomplished the challenge of eating 100 bowls of wanko soba!

After Iwate, we headed down to Miyagi Prefecture and had the rare opportunity to see one of Japan’s most scenic views in winter – Matsushima Bay blanketed in fluffy snow. Admiring this postcard-like scene, we tasted sasa kamaboko from Matsushima Kamaboko Honpo, a long-running establishment that specialises in making grilled fish paste shaped like bamboo leaves.

The wintry months are the best time to enjoy oysters so we had a satisfying lunch of grilled oysters at Matsushima Fish Market. Miyagi Prefecture is Japan’s second largest producer of oysters. Ishinomaki Fishery Cooperative Association introduced us to the world of oyster farming through a guided tour of the fishing port. The combination of ocean’s currents and minerals creates an ideal habitat for growing plump and creamy oysters.

Behind-the-scenes tour of Kawamura Farm
Behind-the-scenes tour of Kawamura Farm

We had the honour to meet the third-generation owner of Kawamura Farm, Daiki Kawamura, who shared the secrets of grooming and fattening cows to achieve a fine balance of marbling and leanness that Sendai wagyu beef is renowned for. According to Mr. Kawamura, “Sendai is the only place in Japan where all its wagyu beef has attained A5 – the highest grade of beef.” That night, we were pampered by top quality wagyu steak prepared in teppanyaki style in Steak House Hama in Koriyama, Fukushima.

For the final section of the program, we visited three places in Fukushima Prefecture. First, Endo Mikiko of Soma City Tourism Association gave us an enriching tour of Soma City and Matsukawaura Fishing Port. He shared stories of what the residents experienced when the tsunami hit the coastal city during the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and showed us how the people have rebuilt and revitalised the area. Trawl fishing is a popular fishing activity and the fishermen and authorities are committed to food safety guidelines to ensure that consumers can enjoy seafood like fugu, pufferfish, from the area.

Next, we had a fun strawberry picking session at Marunaka Farm that cultivates a wide variety of strawberries. Our last stop was Sasanokawa Sake Brewery, a prestigious sake institution in Fukushima. They produce exquisite sake and operate Asaka Distillery, the oldest whiskey distillery in Tohoku.

For Gregory Beck, a Hiroshima JET who owns Sake Secret, the first sake specialty shop in Southern California, meeting the brewery’s former president Tetsuzo Yamaguchi was a highlight of the trip. Gregory shared that he is grateful for the experiences in Japan because of the JET program, and his sake shop is a way for him to give back and share his love for Japan.

Candice Soon, a Singaporean artist and educator who started drawing during her JET years in Okinawa, documented our trip with daily illustrations. She said that the program was like a part two edition of the JET program as she enjoyed exploring more of Japan and making new friends.

Candice Soon, an Okinawa JET, created a beautiful visual journal of the program. Check out her artworks at candicedoodles
Candice Soon, an Okinawa JET, created a beautiful visual journal of the program. Check out her artworks at candicedoodles

Miki Omagari, Director of JFOODO, appreciated this eye-opening experience to travel with the JET alumni. She shared that because JET participants are familiar with Japan and fond of Japan’s food and culture, their reactions and impressions during the program provided many valuable insights.

This cuisine tour, like the JET program, is an “ichigo-ichie” experience for me as it is a unique “one time, one meeting” opportunity for me to renew my connections with Japan and the JET community. The JET program was life-changing for me, and many JET alumni continue to grow our ties with Japan and spread our love for Japan through our work and personal pursuits. Special thanks to the JFOODO team, Miki Omagari and Akane Umemura, and our fantastic tour leader Minoru Yanagida and tour interpreter Takejiro Kitsukawa, for a wonderful program filled with unforgettable experiences.

Wendy Ng

About the Author

Wendy Ng
ALT 2013-2015
Naha City, Okinawa Prefecture

Wendy spent two of the best years of her life in Okinawa as part of the JET Programme. Now, she is back in Singapore and writes about Japan and travel at to escape her city life. She is a specialist in international relations and education, and she is passionate about promoting cultural exchange and strengthening people-to-people connections. She believes that when we know more, we travel better. Connect with her at @whywendywrites.

JETAA(I) Articles from the JETAA chapters & JETAA-I
Reviving the JET Alumni Association of Trinidad and Tobago
A Journey of Resilience and Community

Fun times at our Japanese movie night

When you come from an island as far removed from Japan as Trinidad, just the idea of visiting, let alone moving there to live and teach is probably equal to moving to Mars! Add to that the small number of JET alumni when compared to larger countries and you could begin to understand our struggle to maintain an active group.

On the brink of dormancy, a few alumni members rallied together and embarked on a mission to breathe life back into our association. Our journey began with some strategic planning and brainstorming, laying the groundwork for a series of initiatives aimed at rejuvenating the Trinidad and Tobago’s JET Alumni Association.

We recognized the importance of providing support to incoming JET participants. As such, one of our first endeavors was to host a special event designed to raise awareness of the JET Programme among prospective applicants. Through engaging presentations and heartfelt testimonials, we sought to inspire the next generation of participants to embark on their own transformative journey. We also hosted an orientation session to equip them with the knowledge and resources needed to navigate their new life chapter with confidence and ease. It was a fulfilling experience to witness the sense of empowerment and belonging that blossomed within our community.

Participants enjoy an interactive sushi-making workshop

But our efforts did not stop there. We understood the value of fostering connections and fostering a sense of belonging among alumni members. To this end, we organized various networking events, including an open invitation Zoom call and alumni networking dinner, where old friendships were rekindled, and new bonds were forged. These gatherings served as a testament to the enduring spirit of our community, united by a shared love for Japan and its culture.

In our quest to promote cultural exchange and appreciation, we curated a series of events that showcased the richness and diversity of Japanese culture. From sushi-making workshops to Japanese film nights, we offered something for everyone to enjoy. We also ventured into local schools, conducting cultural outreaches to introduce students to the beauty and traditions of Japan.

Cultural outreach with students at Providence Girls Catholic School

Through our collective efforts, we have witnessed a gradual but heartening transformation within the Alumni Association. The growing interest and participation in our events are a testament to the dedication of a small core group of alumni who selflessly volunteered to lead the charge, as well as the support and funding we received from the Japan Local Government Centre (CLAIR, New York).

As we reflect on our journey thus far, we are filled with a profound sense of gratitude and optimism for the future. Going forward, we remain committed to nurturing and growing our community, and fostering connections that will endure for years to come.


About the Author

Miriam Lochan
ALT 2018-2022
Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture

Miriam Lochan was born on the tiny islands of Trinidad and Tobago. Her passion for languages and cultures led her on a transformative journey with the JET Programme, where she spent four vibrant years as an ALT in Sendai City, Japan. Now, as current President of the JET Alumni Association of Trinidad and Tobago, Miriam keeps the flame of cultural exchange burning bright, supporting new generations of JETs, spreading the rich tapestry of Japanese culture, and fostering global understanding.

Special Topic Stories of 2nd Generation JETs
A Generational Affair
My mother and father in August, 1990
My mother and father in August, 1990

For as long as I can remember my parents have spoken of their amazing experience on the JET Program. My mother, originally from Louisiana, U.S.A, and my father, originally from Ottawa, Canada, met on the JET Program nearly 35 years ago. A random act of fate put them on the small island of Shikoku in Kagawa prefecture. At some point children ask their parents the story of how they met. My sister and I had the added benefit of hearing a romantic story of fate, our parents brought together in a foreign country. Little did I know that I would have my own fated story, one that would end up leading me to the JET Program as a second-generation ALT.

After high school, I participated in a cultural exchange through the Rotary Youth Exchange. I took a gap year in Haderslev, Denmark. That year sparked my interest in international experiences and what would become my major – International Relations. I returned to the U.S. and moved with my parents to Northern Michigan. I went on to declare my major in International Relations. In my last year of university, while trying to decide between internships, law school, or business school, a fateful day changed it all. I stumbled upon a flier for the JET Program. I had a month left to apply for the program. I mentioned it to my parents, who immediately encouraged me to go for it.

I applied, interviewed, and was accepted! However, my entry into Japan wouldn’t be a smooth one. You see, I was accepted in the year 2020. Originally, I should have started my JET year in September 2020, but due to COVID-19 mandates, my departure date kept getting pushed back. They finally scheduled my departure date for January 2021, but a week before departure it was canceled because of a surge in COVID-19 cases. I wouldn’t actually make it into Japan until November 2021. It was a strange time for everyone; what was once a week-long orientation in Tokyo became a two-week quarantine with online orientation. However, nothing could dampen my excitement to start my time on JET. By December 1st, I made it to my new town in Niigata, and began my time as an ALT.

First snow in Niigata, Japan
First snow in Niigata, Japan

I’ve gone from being a painfully shy student to now in my third year as an ALT and having just signed on for my fourth year. I was placed in the most northern town in Niigata prefecture. I work at a junior high school three days a week, and two elementary schools the other two days. Many of my students are children of rice farmers and have very little chance to practice English with native speakers. The JET Program truly thrives here as both an English and cultural exchange.

When I left for JET, my parents jokingly said I had to stay long enough in Japan so they could visit me. They had not been able to return to Japan since leaving 33 years ago. And in September of 2023 my parents came to visit me. Neither of them had been so far north in Japan before, so they emphasized that they wanted to explore my area. They also asked if they would be able to come to my school for a day so they could meet the students I had gushed about and my JTEs of whom I had sung high praises.

Students being tour guides for my parents in Murakami, Niigata, Japan
Students being tour guides for my parents in Murakami, Niigata, Japan

When I brought up the idea to one JTE, I figured the students would make presentations about a topic and present them to my parents. However, my JTE came back with the idea of an interactive tour of the town. The students would pick a popular place in town and would give my parents a presentation about the place while actually there. It was a great way for the students to practice a realistic use of English. The field trip was an amazing experience for both the students and my parents. For two days, my parents were able to relive their magical time as ALTs, and my students were able to courageously practice any and all English skills with my parents.

My mother and father in Niigata, Japan
My mother and father in Niigata, Japan

Two moments happily stick out in my mind: the first being at the beginning of the day after having just met my parents a group of boys proceeded to list every English word they could remember like chicken, happy and salmon. The second was more heartwarming: an extremely shy student, who I had probably heard speak a handful of times, latched onto my father and spent the entire day speaking and asking questions as best as he could, never giving up. For many students, I think it was the first time that the usefulness of English clicked for them. The students eagerly taught my parents about the school, family-owned shops, the 16th century castle ruins, the salmon we’re famous for and many of the historic temples and shrines. I watched with great pride both for my students and for being able to share this experience with my parents. As I said goodbye to my parents in the airport, I think both of them were already planning their next trip back.

In discussing our experiences, we found that we have benefitted from living in smaller communities, but my parents’ teaching experiences were perhaps a little more hectic, visiting 15 schools each. As the JET Program has matured, students now benefit more from greater interaction with ALTs. At the heart of the matter we found, even separated by 33 years, our experiences were similar. The kind locals who treat us with compassion and show off their towns with pride, the energetic children who ask a million questions about where we’re from, and the exciting classrooms where English and culture are exchanged freely. The important details that make JET a once in a lifetime experience for the ALTs and a global awakening for all involved have stayed the same. It truly felt like this generational affair came full circle.

Elizabeth Watson

About the Author

Elizabeth Watson
ALT 2021~present (as of 4/2024)
Murakami, Niigata Prefecture
1st Generation JET(s): Both parents

Refer to her father, Darroch Watson’s, previous JET Stream article “A Family Affair”!

Elizabeth was born in Toronto, Canada and grew up in Louisiana, U.S.A. She took a gap year in Denmark as part of the Rotary Youth Exchange program (RYE). After returning to the U.S.A., she received an Associates of Art from North Central Michigan College. She later received her bachelors of International Relations from Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She was accepted into the JET Program in 2020 and was able to begin her time as an ALT in 2021. She is currently a 3rd year ALT in Murakami, Niigata, and has signed her contract for a fourth year.

Finding My Passion

My father John teaching in Yamagata

My father, John, was an ALT in Yamagata Prefecture from 1997-2000. During this time, I was born and spent the first few years of my life living in Yamagata with my parents. My parents met in college and moved to Japan when my father got accepted into the JET Programme. Growing up, I knew that my father did the JET Program and I had always found it interesting. I had also always wanted to experience living in Japan since I’m half Japanese and I didn’t remember much about living in Yamagata since I was so young at the time. When the opportunity of the JET Programme was introduced in my university Japanese class, I knew that I had to go for it.

With my parents at a Halloween school event in Yamagata

Before I had gone on the JET Programme, I had thought about pursuing teaching but I wasn’t sure if it was right for me. I was placed in a small town in Wakayama Prefecture, Kimino-cho. I had a wonderful time there and met some great people that made me feel at home. I was able to experience living in Japan and share my experiences living in the United States with the students I taught. Through my time there, I realized that teaching was my passion. I loved teaching elementary school and decided that I wanted to continue to teach back in the United States. It was bittersweet leaving Kimino-cho because I had made such great friends there and loved the serene environment of rural Japan, but I was excited for my next adventure going back to school.

Teaching in Wakayama

My parents are still in contact with the Board of Education in Yamagata and we were able to visit them in 2008. My sisters and I got to spend a day at a local elementary school and experience what Japanese elementary schools were like. We also got to visit where we lived while my father was an ALT and I was able to see where I spent the first few years of my life. I hope to stay connected with the Board of Education in Kimino-cho as well. My mother’s side of the family still lives in Japan so my family visits from time to time. I was grateful that my family was able to visit me while I was living in Wakayama since Covid-19 restrictions had made it difficult to travel. While my family came to visit, we toured around Wakayama and got to visit my grandmother in Nara as well. I was so glad that I could share my JET experience with my parents since they were the ones that inspired me to go in the first place.

As for what I’m up to now, I’m back in school myself, getting my master’s degree in elementary education. I have been student teaching in a 5th grade classroom as well coaching a local high school color guard team in the afternoon. I’m grateful for the experiences I had in Japan and what it taught me about myself. Without it, I don’t think I would be where I am today.

Mia Acree

About the Author

Mia Acree
ALT 2021-2023
Wakayama Prefecture
1st Generation JET(s): Father

Mia was born in Yamagata Prefecture but currently resides in Eugene, Oregon. She was an ALT in Wakayama Prefecture from 2021-2023. Mia graduated from the University of Oregon with a bachelor’s in music in 2020 and is currently pursuing her Master’s in Elementary Education from the University of Oregon. She’s doing her student teaching in a 5th grade class at a local elementary school as well as coaching a high school color guard team.

Beyond JET Articles from former JETs
Mindful Moments

I was holed up in a capsule hotel nursing an injury. The pain in my right knee was unbearable. It felt like pieces of glass cutting the meat between the bones. The pain was bigger than my ego which thought it could push past it. I limped to the communal bath and peeled off the cycling jersey and shorts. Two wrinkled old men soaked in the bath. I waded in. We sat like pink faced macaques in mountain hot springs. The water bubbled and swirled around me, massaging my weary legs and stiff lower back. Half an hour later, I crawled out, slipped on the Japanese robe, and hobbled back to the capsule.

Capsules look like oversized tumble-dryers stacked two high. I crawled into mine. I had over-exerted myself, cycling 180 km in 18 hours. I began cycling from Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu and had planned to ride back to my flat in Gifu, the belly button of Japan. Two days later, I was convalescing in a capsule hotel near Hiroshima’s red-light district. I wanted to continue, but my knees ached. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak.

The next morning, I woke up in my coffin-like chamber still weary. Capsule hotels are for people who can sleep soundly in trenches, not for lightweights like me who are easily roused by the sounds of jangling keys, snores, and talkative drunks who bring their noise in with them. I crawled out, gathered my things, took 2 Tylenol, and left the hotel. I mounted my bicycle and started pedaling slowly. The pain stung.

I cycled slowly past Genbaku Dome, the building which survived the atomic attack. The blast peeled back the skin of the dome and left the skeletal steel frame exposed. My spirit mourned for the innocent civilians who were killed. The building looked out of place in the new shiny metropolis that grew around it. That incongruity was a tribute to the power of the human spirit, the indomitable human spirit.

I pedaled slowly down the main road out of the city. Old men with cigarettes dangling from their lips and schoolgirls in pleated skirts pedaled past me. Office ladies on steel framed bicycles signaled with bells before they overtook me. Shops were opening; trolleys chugged down the tracks. Slowly the city receded and so did the pain in my knee. I had collared my attention and fixed it on the present moment, mindful of each pedal stroke. I narrowed my goal to the next mile, then the next one. Mile by mile, one mile at a time, I rode another 60 to Fukuyama.

The in and out of my breath would naturally fall into rhythm with the up and down stroke of my legs. Mantras would suggest themselves: “A new breath, a new moment, new possibilities.” I would move like this through the fabric of space time- singing my mantra, but never quite sure where I was going.

Then I got lost… again. Japanese roads were unmarked labyrinths, bending like streams around the hills that pimpled the country, branching off and winding through the cities and towns, narrowing into alleyways, sometimes forking abruptly, sometimes converging with other streets and spilling out into large intersections.

Woodburn and laser cut of training of the Ox motif. Uses in artwork for Japanese seiza meditation benches
Woodburn and laser cut of training of the Ox motif. Uses in artwork for Japanese seiza meditation benches

On a quiet mountain road, I came to a fork. The sun had set. Rain fell. The wind tugged at my sleeves. I stopped at a vending machine and stood under the awning sipping Pocari Sweat. Do I take the right road or the left? I didn’t care. The only problem I had now, to borrow a line from Dale Carnegie, was “choosing the right thoughts.” I continued pedaling in the rain and into the night chanting my mantra: a new breath, a new moment, new possibilities. Despite the rain, the pain, and setbacks, I was where I wanted to be: fully present, fully alive, equanimous- indifferent to the pain and the rain.

I came to Japan wishing to fill my journals with tales of adventure. I also came to rope and train the mind. Like the young ox herder depicted in Zen paintings which represent the stages on the path to liberation, I sought to train my mind, the ox. I let everyday experiences teach me.

Japan was home to Zen. One colleague would occasionally practice zazen with his students. Just sitting. Other teachers and students would practice traditional meditative arts like the tea ceremony or flower arranging. To find perfection in the mundane was an aspect of Japanese culture I found most agreeable.

I kept my apartment simple and sparsely furnished. I lived Zen-like. I had few distractions. I embraced minimalism and practiced daily mindfulness. I’d rise from my futon and marvel at the grace and flexibility of my body. I’d reach for my sheets, aware of their coarseness. I’d feel the cool breeze circulating through the room, aware of the grass-like smell of the tatami mats that were arranged like puzzle pieces on the floor. Seems the more present I was, the more fully I could enjoy the moment. I’d sit and let my thoughts pass away, watching a crow I had befriended alight on the balcony rail. It was this state of presence I wanted to bring with me to the classroom.

Jonathan and colleagues
Jonathan and colleagues

Sometimes, I’d walk to school. Time would slow. I’d notice things I hadn’t appreciated before: bamboo groves, abandoned nests, the scale-like bark of the Japanese Black pine. I suspected that there was more beauty and power in the commonest things than I had ever imagined and was reminded of how magical and marvelous life could be.

In Japan, my life was becoming deliciously simple. I’d notice a line of sparrows perched on a telephone wire and vapor rising from the railroad tracks, dew on a spider’s web, and the reflection of a cloud in a rice paddy. Noticing the details was a daily delight.

I was home. My mind was an inner refuge, a Zen-like garden to which I would return again and again.

Jonathan Felix

About the Author

Jonathan Felix
ALT 2000-2002
Minokamo City, Gifu Prefecture

Jonathan Felix celebrates 30 years in education. He taught at Gifu Prefectural High School of Agriculture and Forestry through the JET Programme from 2000-2002. During his time there, he cycled Japan, walked the Shikoku Pilgrimage, paddled Biwa at night, and kayaked the length of the Nagara River. Currently, he is the director of a youth organization in Massachusetts, USA.


Japanese Market Guide
From working at a depachika to guiding tourists through the markets of Tokyo

Follow your bliss. That was a mantra of a few of my college friends, wise words from writer and professor Joseph Campbell. Do what makes you happy. I am blessed to do what I love, introducing Japanese cuisine and food culture to tourists at the markets in Tokyo. My path to this day can be traced to when I was an ALT in Matsudo, Chiba. I fell in love with the metropolis spending weekends exploring Tokyo, a short ride away on the Jōban train line that connected Matsudo to Ueno. I loved exploring the chaotic food shops underneath the Yamanote line train tracks at Ameya Yokocho near Ueno Station.

My year on the JET program was a great introduction to language teaching and to being immersed in Japanese language and culture. It was also an amazing year where I was able to connect with my Japanese family. Growing up in Minnesota we ate Japanese food at home like miso soup, onigiri, and spinach topped with katsuobushi, soy sauce, and sesame oil. In the Twin Cities many of the war brides, like my mother, participated in traditional bon odori dance groups. Many of their children, me included, also would dance, and then enjoy Japanese potluck dinners.

Mori no Ike Japanese summer camp
Mori no Ike Japanese summer camp

Wanting to keep up my Japanese language I returned to the US and worked at Mori no Ike, eight summers as the dean of the Japanese summer camp. Mori no Ike is a Japanese language and culture immersion summer program in the north woods of Minnesota. Here I was teaching Japanese language and culture to American students. Campers were immersed in Japanese language and Japanese food. Mealtimes were the perfect time to practice Japanese. Sensei would roleplay asking for food, “gohan o kudasai”. By the end of their stay kids were confident in using chopsticks and would try many new foods. My staff consisted of native Japanese speakers and college students who were studying Japanese. Many of my students and staff have gone on to the JET Program. Some are now married to Japanese and have made Japan their home.

I then got the bug for food and wine and attended culinary school and trained as a sommelier in New York City. However, I wanted to be closer to my Japanese family and eventually moved back to Japan.

Coco Farm and Winery
Coco Farm and Winery

I apprenticed at Coco Farm and Winery, north of Tokyo, and learned the Japanese words for describing wine and about winemaking. I then worked as a sommelier at the Park Hyatt Tokyo and at Takashimaya’s flagship store in Nihonbashi in the depachika epicurean basement food halls of the department store. While working at Takashimaya I was inspired to write a book to help visitors to Japan better understand Japanese cuisine and the food culture. My book, Food Sake Tokyo, later propelled me to do market tours to help visitors understand Japanese cuisine and the local food culture. My first tours were to depachika, as I had worked in one, and it is the best place to cover so many topics about Japanese food including tsukemono pickles, seasonal seafood, and sake.

My Japanese husband, a fishmonger at Tsukiji Market at the time, taught me about seafood and I added tours to Tsukiji. I also now include other markets such as local supermarkets, Kappabashi kitchenware district, shotengai shopping arcades, antenna shops for hyper-regional foods, and the historic Nihonbashi district which has shops that specialize in kombu, katsuobushi, high-end fruit, and Japan’s oldest department store, Mitsukoshi.

On a market tour at Tsukiji Market
On a market tour at Tsukiji Market

It’s an exciting job as each day I am with new clients. Some are in the industry, chefs, sommeliers, restaurateurs, and farmers. All of them love Japanese food and are curious enough to want a deeper understanding. They leave knowing more about umami — the delicious fifth flavor on the palate, the Japanese pantry items such as miso, soy sauce, sake, and mirin, as well as local tips such as the rooftop picnic areas at department stores to enjoy bento. I also help answer their questions about where to eat and drink in Tokyo. I also offer advice on where to travel beyond Tokyo.

I have been honored to be included on programs for PBS, CNN, and the BBC. I enjoy helping others better understand washoku, traditional Japanese cuisine, which was recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. I am happy to be an ambassador to help tourists learn more about washoku.

Japanese food is popular around the world and it’s the number one reason why tourists travel to Japan. In high school in Minnesota my classmates were curious about the onigiri rice ball I brought to school for lunch. Now at my class reunions my friends tell me that their kids love sushi. It’s a wonderful time to be working with Japanese cuisine.

One of the best gifts of being a JET is the friendships that I have made with fellow teachers and those I met in Japan that year. I am still in touch with many of them. It’s also loads of fun seeing friends from the JET program when they come back to Japan for a visit. One girlfriend came back after 30 years and it was fascinating to see her joy. If you haven’t been back, now’s a great time to come as the yen is weak. There’s so much to enjoy in Japan, especially the cuisine.

Yukari Sakamoto

About the Author

Yukari Sakamoto
ALT 1989-90
Matsudo City, Chiba Prefecture

Born in Tachikawa and raised in Minnesota, Yukari was an ALT in Chiba Prefecture from 1989 to 1990, and is the author of Food Sake Tokyo. Trained as a chef, sommelier, and shochu advisor Yukari worked as a sommelier at the Park Hyatt Tokyo and Takashimaya’s flagship department store in Nihonbashi. She currently guides tourists through the markets of Tokyo including depachika, Tsukiji Market, and the historic Nihonbashi district. Yukari also writes about Japanese food and travel and has appeared on PBS, CNN, and the BBC.

Twitter: YukariSakamoto

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