Hello everyone, I am Justin Parker Pool I, another in a long line of Shiga JETs gracing the pages of this illustrious publication’s pixelated pages. I spent my formative Japanese years in beautiful Omihachiman just east of the Mother Lake, Biwako. My base school was Hachiman Technical High School for the duration of my five years on JET (2005-2010). This was the perfect school for me as they allowed me the opportunity to create my own curriculum. Oh, the PowerPoints I made! While the students were not English juggernauts per se, they tried hard and the classes were fun– what more could you ask for?
JET camaraderie. Japanese culture. Community. Nihon-Shu. Things engulfed in flames. These are some of my favorite things and on one majestic night each and every year, they would come together to form a slice of Heaven on Earth called Sagicho Matsuri. In fact, I’ve found remnants of the ancient block guide that I scrawled upon an online tablet years ago describing this most holy of nights:
Simply put, Sagicho is the most badass festival in all of Shiga. The main components are alcohol, transvestism, alcohol, fire, alcohol, Chinese Zodiac, alcohol, and sacrificing to the Gods. Got it? Each year, each neighborhood in Omihachiman creates a float (don’t be fooled, it’s heavy enough to destroy your shoulders) made out of foodstuffs. The theme of the float is whatever year it is in the Chinese calendar. For example, 2006 was the dog, 2007 the boar, and 2008 will be the rat. On Saturday, they march their floats around town. The action happens on Sunday. They bash their floats against each other to see which is the sturdiest. Then at night, they take them to the temple at the foot of the mountain and set them all ablaze. Throughout this process, everyone from middle school on up is getting hammered.
If I die and end up in a place surrounded by fire, my first thought will be I made it to Heaven! If you have the opportunity, do go to this wonderful festival.
The most valuable thing I learned during my time on JET is that we construct our own realities. Both at work and in my social life, I learned to become an active designer of my own life. I reassembled the curriculum at my school to fit my own quirky sensibilities while also giving students the best English education I could. I also created and continued events in our prefecture that I wanted to be a part of, helping to lead the community in a positive direction. If you build a vision for yourself, a pathway will open.
One other lesson I learned as a teacher is that we sow seeds in this life without ever watching them bloom. As a teacher, you become a part of the lives of thousands of kids. You will affect each and every one of them with each interaction you have with them. The results of those interactions will probably never make themselves known to you, but it doesn’t matter. Just sow positive seeds and move on.
My recommendation for current JETs is to develop a plan for your post-JET game and take steps immediately at making your dreams come true. While I treasure all the time I spent on JET with friends, lazing days away, and studying Japanese, I realize now I had ample time to get that Master’s Degree that’s got me drowning in work and filling up all the cracks and crevices in my life not covered by work or family. Only now do I realize just how much time I had on JET and all I could have done with it. So that’s my official advice, but my ACTUAL advice comes directly from Louis Prima: Enjoy Yourself! (It’s Later Than You Think). You’ve only got so many magical moments during your tenure on the JET Programme. Make the most of them!
So Where Am I Now?
Closer than you think. Seriously, turn around. Alright, perhaps not THAT close, but I have joined you, my Hyogo Brethren and Sistren. I am currently teaching at Kwansei Gakuin High School atop Nishinomiya and I’m living in beautiful Takarazuka with my beautiful wife and daughter. As mentioned above, I am also working on my Master’s Degree– I’m studying Applied Linguistics online through the University of Massachusetts (highly recommended if you’re looking for a program). I have also recently started as a humor writer for Detroit Bad Boys, a Detroit Pistons-themed basketball blog website. Humor writer for a basketball site? Like I said, construct your own reality.
Speaking of constructing your own reality, I had an ume-shu inspired dream to see all my Shiga friends together one more time and decided to act on it. Following the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, I am inviting all Shiga JETs/expats back for what I am hoping is one of the largest reunions to exist on this island. Always remember that what you’re doing now is the fuel for that mystic nostalgia you’ll feel for the rest of your life (and that counts quintuple for your time on JET). Enjoy yourself– It’s later than you think.