| |

Far From the Same: Saga Prefecture

My name is Penny Fox and I’m originally from Sydney, Australia, although I’m not sure now which to call my ‘hometown,’ since I spent the full 5 years on JET (2009 – 2014). I actually had 2 placements – one for the first 3 years, where I taught at a total of 10 schools (3 x JHS + 7 x ES) on a rotational basis throughout the year. My second placement (granted an intra-prefectural transfer when my BOE ran out of money and cancelled my JET position) was in a neighbouring city where I had one base JHS, 2 x ES and 2 kindergartens that I visited periodically.


Why did you apply for the JET program or come to teach in Japan?

I had a long history with Japan, starting with holiday trips with my parents (my father did a lot of business in Japan), as well as a short stint on exchange in high school. I studied Japanese for a total of 8 years, and had always wanted to live in the country for an extended period; the JET Programme seemed the most logical way to do that. I also love kids and had some experience in teaching-related fields, so once I got my Graduate Diploma of Education, I finally applied and was accepted.


How did you end up in your prefecture? Was it a preference of yours?

Like most people, my placement was not in a city or prefecture I had listed as a preference on the application form. However, I knew that one of the points of the JET Programme was being seriously interested in Japan to the extent that it wouldn’t matter where you were placed in the country, and that fitted me to a tee. I had requested a rural placement though, so I could get a feel for ‘real life’ in Japan, and in that sense Saga was perfect. I believe that large cities are largely the same all over the world, and I didn’t want to come to Japan (from Sydney) to spend time in just another city; I was there to live like a Japanese person and experience the ‘true’ Japan, as I saw it.


What was your favorite memory while in your prefecture?

My best memories probably revolve around the people I met during my stay. Since Saga is very rural, there is not a lot to do, so it was the people around me who made my time memorable. Obviously over 5 years there were many highlights, but some include regularly receiving bags of fresh fruit or vegetables that neighbours had kindly left at my doorstep; spending time in my favourite izakaya, where I got to know the master and other locals from my town really well; seeing snow for the first time ever; the smell of onions during harvest time (my second town was famous for onions; the smell started out as a ‘stench’ in my first year but soon became more like an ‘aroma’ to me that I now miss); helping a student get to the finals of the prefectural speech competition; and of course thousands of other special moments I shared with the many kids I taught.


8Is there a “best” time to visit your prefecture?

Yes – in the first week of November, because that’s when all the action happens in Saga. (see below)


What are your “Must Do’s” for visiting JETs?

  • The annual Saga International Hot-air Balloon Fiesta – a festival in early November when hot-air balloon teams from all over the world descend on Saga for a week of racing and other events. A true sight to behold.

In 2016 Saga will also host the 22nd FAI World Hot Air Balloon Championship (2016.10.27 – 11.7), so this would be a great time to visit.

  • 4The Karatsu Kunchi festival, which is also held at the same time as the balloons each year – around the beginning of November. Large floats representing the various districts of the city are pulled through narrow streets with much chanting, music and general revelry.
  • Ureshino onsen, which is said to be in Japan’s top 3 ‘beautifying’ onsen waters; the town is also famous for tea and as with most onsen villages, boasts countless places to stay, bath-houses, and also has a couple of free outdoor footbaths.
  • The Yoshinogari Historical Park where visitors to Saga can enjoy an 5educational stroll through Japan’s second largest discovery of Yayoi period ruins. Today most of the structures are replicas, but you can still see original burial pots in situ.
  • Yobuko (part of Karatsu city) where you can eat live squid.
  • There are 2 waterfalls on Japan’s top 100 list; Mikaeri-no-taki is especially beautiful during June, when the whole gorge area is lined with hydrangeas.


What do you feel is unique to your prefecture, something JETs can’t find anywhere else?

9Aside from the Balloon Fiesta, if you are near Saga in late May/early June, try to get involved in the Gatalympics. It’s a day of ‘olympic-style’ events in the mud flats of the Ariake Sea and is something completely unique. It’s pretty entertaining as a spectator too, but actually getting in the thick mud and trying your hand against hundreds of other competitors is not to be missed. Whether it be running/crawling through the mud and over an obstacle course, pushing others off a platform in the sumo contest, riding a bike along a narrow wooden board suspended on the mud, or throwing globs of mud into a high basket, this is one event you will never forget.


Anything else you want to add?

Saga is probably best known as a city/prefecture that people pass through on their way to Nagasaki, but it is a charming rural place with plenty to do. Next time you’re passing through, why not take a break and experience the old, slow lifestyle of agricultural Japan. The Saga JET community is also a highly socially active one, so if you need an extra excuse, why not visit www.sagajet.com and penny fjoin in one of the many events they have coming up.


Penny Fox


Similar Posts