Where it went down
If you’re like me, when you applied to JET you put Tokyo as you preferred placement city, but ended up on an island called Awaji, in a town called Sumoto. I gave that town two years of my life (2013-2015) and would gladly give it 20. Good fishing there.
“I like English because I meet you [sic]” was one out of many sentiments I received from my students, and they (the students) are foremost in my mind when I think about Japan. Because isn’t that why we came to Japan, for the children? Helping the children, teaching them the English, taking the selfies with them. That’s what I liked best.
Outside of school, many brilliant things happened. In no particular order: Biking the Shimanami Kaido trail, pub crawling Osaka’s craft brew scene, hideously burning my hand during an attempt to retrieve a sake bottle from the bottom of a pool of boiling onsen water in Wakayama, meeting Stationmaster Nitama in person and asking her questions about Japanese efficiency, reenacting scenes from my favorite anime on location in Kanazawa, and soooo many Carp games.
Words of wisdom
Most valuable lesson learned: if you drop your One Cup of sake into a pool of boiling water, just leave it there. Certainly don’t try to fish it out with your hand. Just go to the conbini that’s literally 5 steps away and pay the 500 yen for another one.
Another lesson: Get an ICOCA Card for the trains. Seriously, it saves so much time.
Yet another lesson: Just because you speak English doesn’t mean you know how to teach it. Take your job seriously. Get some training or a certification. Or at the very least read the Wikipedia entry for teaching English as a second or foreign language.
I went to Japan to become a black belt in Kung Fu, but my colleagues in Sumoto all swore up and down that I was in the wrong country for Kung Fu, that I needed to continue westward, to China. Well I said to heck with China, and instead I became a black belt in cultural appropriation. BAM! Anime. BAM! Arranging flowers in a way that subtly awakens your appreciation for the beauty of nature. BAM! Carp fan. BAM! Alcoholism. BAM! Melancholy. It’s a matter of opinion of course, but Japan’s culture is one of the richest and most fascinating on earth, and you should soak as much of it in as you possibly can while you’re there.
I’m not a planner. If left to my own devices I sit on my arse, alone, and drink heavily. Luckily the other JETs were all active, go-getter types and were keen on involving me in their plans; or I was keen on involving myself in their plans, and they were constantly peeved at my presence. In any event I went along with them on many adventures. And boy was I glad I did! You don’t make awesome memories playing Final Fantasy 7 in your apartment every weekend. I could tell you more about how you should shape your JET experience, but it’s more fun to figure it out yourself. #everysituationisdifferent
So here’s my recommendation: When you go to the big golden Buddha, don’t eat the leaf with the virus on it.
The more you do in Japan, the more you realize there is to do. I don’t think 5 years would be enough time; 2 years certainly wasn’t. In a way I’m happy that I didn’t “do it all” because now I have reasons to go back.
I guess my biggest regret is eating whale meat. I’m against whaling, and it’s an aspect of Japanese culture/tradition that I don’t agree with, but for some reason I still ate whale meat. It wasn’t even very delicious. I think I added too much soy sauce to it. The soy sauce dominated the whale flavor. I indirectly supported the whaling industry and I can’t even tell you clearly what a whale tastes like. If you need me you can find me swimming the oceans, looking for whales to lick and then apologize to.
The eponymous where am I now
Did Japan happen? Was I there? After two years of having a higher concentration of sake in my veins than blood, my liver was sore to the touch and probably on the verge of exploding. I grabbed the nearest JTE I could find by the arm, “OUT!” I shouted. And after a few months States-side the haze began to lift and hindsight came embarrassingly into focus: it was a bad idea to drink a bottle of sake with every meal.
So instead I switched to vodka and moved to Uzbekistan. It sounds like a joke, but it’s true. I’m currently teaching English at Namangan State University as part of a U.S. Department of State funded program called the English Language Fellow Program. It’s weird, people keep paying me to go to different countries and teach them English, and I’m like, “sure, ok.”
Do you want to have a heart-to-heart? You can email me at Alex.James.Barrett@gmail.com
Also, feel free to add me on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/alex-barrett-87376715