Island Hopping: Transportation around Kagoshima Prefecture

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One thing that distinguishes Kagoshima from other prefectures is many islands that lie between the prefecture mainland and Okinawa. From north to south, the main islands are: Tanegashima, Yakushima, Amami Oshima, Kikaijima, Tokunoshima, and Okinoerabu. While you can get around the mainland on the trains, or travel across Kagoshima Bay on the ferry, getting to and from the many islands can be a daunting, confusing, and often expensive task, but island residents get a discount on most air or sea travel within the prefecture.

North Islands: Tanegashima and Yakushima

 

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      On the left: Yakushima       On the right: Tanegashima

Japan Air Commuter (JAC) flies direct between Tanegashima and Kagoshima Airport. There are two flights a day, and a round trip with the island discount costs about ¥14,000. Yakushima is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is also famous for inspiring the setting of Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke.  JAC also operates 3 direct flights per day to Yakushima

 

You can also get from Kagoshima to Tanegashima via three different ferry options: Cosmo, Toppy and Rocket, and Hibiscus. The latter two also go to Yakushima.

  • The Cosmo line ferry runs once a day between Kagoshima and Tanegashima and takes about 3.5 hours, costing about ¥6000 round trip with the islander discount.
  • Toppy and Rocket] is a high-speed jet foil ferry that runs several times daily between Kagoshima and Tanegashima, and also between Kagoshima and Yakushima. The trip lasts about 1.5 hours, and costs around ¥10,000 with the islander discount.
  • Finally, the Hibiscus Ferry runs once a day between Kagoshima and Yakushima, stopping at Tanegashima along the way. The Kagoshima-Tanegashima leg lasts 3.5 hours and the Tanegashima-Yakushima leg lasts 2 hours. The full trip from Kagoshima to Yakushima costs about ¥6000 round trip, or you can take either of the individual legs for less.

South Islands: Amami Oshima, Kikai, Tokunoshima, and Okinoerabu

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Amami Oshima is the biggest of the Kagoshima islands and also has the most travel options. There are 7 flights run by JAL to and from Kagoshima Airport daily. Direct flights are also available to and from Kikai, Tokunoshima, and Okinoerabu via JAC, though there are only 2-3 each day per island.  JAC also runs about 3 flights daily between each of the smaller islands (Kikai, Tokunoshima, and Okinoerabu) and Kagoshima Airport. A round trip ticket from any of the islands to Kagoshima airport will cost somewhere in the range of ¥25,000 with the islander discount, and a round-trip ticket from the smaller islands to Amami will cost about ¥10,000 with the islander discount.

For travel by sea, the Kagoshima ferry route travels between Kagoshima and Okinawa every day, stopping at Amami, Tokunoshima, and Okinoerabu along the way. There are also two additional routes, the Amami ferry route and the Kikai ferry route, that also stop at Kikai and a second port in southern Amami. Taking the ferry is about half as expensive as flying, but expect the trip to last at least 12 hours, most of it overnight.

While travelling between the islands and the mainland can be inconvenient, seeing the different cultures on each island allows you to experience the full range of what Kagoshima has to offer.

Maranda Li is a second year JET on Amami Oshima

Too Far West from West – Gaijin and the 2016 Election

Emilie Hagen was sitting in the teachers’ staffroom when the news came in: Trump had pulled ahead. That wasn’t supposed to happen. It couldn’t. It shouldn’t. Yet there he was, leading by close to 40 points.

“I broke down and cried as silently as I could.” The young English teacher, currently living in Japan’s Shizuoka City, recalls. “Nobody said anything to me about it, but I’m sure everyone noticed.”
A few hours later, as she was preparing to head home, the news wasn’t any better. In fact, it was nightmarish. Donald Trump, The Donald, He Who Has Fans in the Klan, was now president-elect of the United States. And Emilie, like countless other expats living throughout the islands of Japan, could only watch from the other side of the world in a deafening stunned silence. “I’m glad they left me alone,” she says, “because if they had come to comfort me and ask me how I was doing, I would not have been able to hold myself together.”
Damn Japan’s time difference. By that time in the homeland, Election Day had given way to the wee morning hours of The Day After, and voters of every persuasion had it to them to party or sleep or riot or retch as they wished – but at 5PM on a Wednesday, all Emilie and the other expats could do was swallow their shock and get about their day, pushing down the knowledge that something unbelievable was occurring in their own country – while they weren’t there.
And not for the first time, either.
It’s something that could be said for all of 2016. Shootings in San Bernardino and Orlando. Cliven Bundy’s weird backwoods insurgency. The summer’s epidemic of murders – occasionally of, but mostly by, police – and the ascendant rage of groups like Black Lives Matter that rose up in their protest. And amidst it, perhaps behind it all, the most divisive campaign season between the two most disliked candidates in recent memory. It was a year of good old-fashioned American Madness with a Trump victory as the Mescaline Cherry on top, and to those Americans here in Japan, (and undoubtedly those living in countless other nations), it was only happening on a screen.
For some, it might as well have been a particularly twisted reality TV show. For others, it’s been like watching your family’s home burn down through a telescope through a keyhole in a locked door. It’s maddening. And for the young and liberal – of which there are many – it’s heartbreaking.
“It’s a strange mix of homesickness and emotional betrayal.” said recent Japan arrival Chris Hoffman. “I don’t think I understood patriotism until I studied abroad here… and now realize just how overwhelming it can be.”
“I have studied abroad before and I’ve been living [in Japan] for over a year now.” continues Georgian Aislinn Garner, currently living in Hiroshima. “But this is the first and only time in my life I’ve felt that distance between me and home. Thinking about family and friends potentially being harmed by all this – what I consider to be – hateful rhetoric is sickening and sad. I’m also embarrassed. My coworkers… all expressed condolences and shock. I actually cried when I realized Trump had locked in the election.”
Even beyond liberal grief, though, many in Japan’s young American immigrant community – including the Republicans – have found themselves confounded and isolated by the events of the past year. “This election made me feel alone.” says Michigander Aaron Ozment, a rare red dot in the sea of expat blue. “I was horrified by the discourse on both sides, and I was horrified by the blatant, self-serving hypocrisy… My attempts to engage with anybody were rudely rebuffed, and when I asked questions, I tended to get insulted… For the first time in five years abroad, I really felt like I wasn’t a part of my country.”
Of course, the potency of these raw emotions so many Americans have expressed on the street, at parties, or in the realm of social media, is matched only by the utter impotency of such expression. Like it or not, they are an ocean away from all that is occurring, with no way to channel reactions into rallies or riots, parades or protests. To many Japanese, this is still not so much to worry about. Just the business of a blowhard foreign xenophobe in a blowhard foreign nation. Which means some some foreigners are ready to go home.
“At first I panicked and thought, ‘F this I’m staying in Japan til they kick me out,’” said Diana Zamora-Reyes, originally of El Paso, “but as a minority (Mexican-born, first-generation college grad), I feel like, now I really want to go home and fight back… I don’t know about y’all,” she continued, “but I’m ready to go back and fight the good fight for those that don’t have a voice. For all those people that are afraid of being who they are because of their skin color, religion, or sexual preference. For Hispanics, African-Americans, Muslims, LGBT community, all the “Others”, I will go back next August. I hope you do the same when you feel ready.”
But others don’t share Diana’s combativeness, or her eagerness to return. A Trump presidency, for or against, is uncharted territory, and judging from the bigotry and violence that’s followed him or spewed from him everywhere he’s gone, the view from abroad is that he doesn’t plan to plot a gentle course. So some are glad to stay here, across the Pacific, where that wide, deep blue barrier stands between them and a Trump’s America now dyed blood red. They’re glad that America’s troubles, and those troubles yet to come, are firmly on the other side of it. And many, like Adrea Graun, are simply glad to be safe.
“I have been joking since I left the US, that I’d probably spend 2 years in Japan, unless Trumps gets elected. [Now] I might stay four.” she explains. “I definitely feel distanced, but I almost feel safer in this situation. But I feel bad for all my LGBTQ friends, and honestly all women and foreigners in America right now… I’ll enjoy Japan’s wonderful united society, where you can leave your car running at 7-11 and feel safe everywhere you go, and pray there will be an America to return to when I am done with [my work program].”
It’s been more than a week since Emilie and everyone got the news. More than a week since 2016’s strange and terrible journey through Populism came to its unfathomable conclusion. And finally, catharsis is starting to set in. The expats know what they want to do, and know how distance has made their hearts grow fonder for home, or eager for return, or brimmed with fear and loathing and contempt. For many, the older expats especially, it was a bitter and bittersweet sign that their decision to separate themselves from the land of their birth was justified – a familiarly American way of looking at world events – and have no plans of going home. Many of the young, though, college grads with eyes still bright and tails still bushy, are seeing it as a call to action. A few rare Trump voters among the throng know that their time has come. Time to proudly wave the Trump flag or retreat further into the conservative closet, who knows? – But their time all the same.
And all know that whatever weirdness is occurring in America, seeing it through Japan’s eyes only makes it seem weirder, which only makes whatever they feel about their country, more, well, felt. Perhaps it’s a blessing then, that many, like Californian-turned-Fukushiman Corinne Morier, still keep the faith.
“Even with all its faults, I love America.” she says. “It’s the country where I was born and it’s the country where I grew up. My friends and family all live there, and I take great pride in being an American citizen… I love living in Japan, but no matter how long I might live abroad, America has and will always be my home. Mr. Trump… I would like to have a country to return to when I eventually return home. ”

Dave Byrnes is a 2nd year ALT in Kagoshima City

Marriage and Weddings in Japan

Early this year I attended a farewell party for one of my JTE’s. It was just an ordinary party; give a toast, eat food, and drink copious amounts of alcohol. After an hour of drinking my two co-workers that were sitting across from the rest of the group dropped big news. They had been dating for two years and were married the month prior. Of course no one had the slightest idea that this had happened or that either was interested in the other. The group thought it was a joke but then the rings were shown and it became evident, a Japanese wedding celebration was just around the corner.

When living in Japan, chances are likely that you will be invited to a friends or coworker’s Japanese wedding. Originally, all I knew was that Japanese weddings are notorious for being expensive(there is good reason for that.) Although it was expensive, I decided that was a unique opportunity.

If you have the opportunity to attend a wedding while in Japan, here are some tips and information to help you survive your first Japanese wedding.
*I cannot vouch for how all Japanese weddings run but here is my experience.*

*Guests enter the venue.
*Grand entrance of the wedding couple.
*Introduction of the bride and groom: Information about their birthday, the schools and clubs they attended, and so on.
*A toast followed by the cutting of the wedding cake.
*Meal- During this time you can wish the couple luck by pouring the couple beer.
*Speeches: If they work at a school there will be speeches by the Principal and Vice Principal.
*The Bride leaves to change outfits.
*The Groom talks with guests and then leaves to change outfits.
*The meal continues.
*The couple reenters wearing traditional kimono.
*The couple visits each table and takes pictures. After that they go back to the front and you can greet them there.
*Lighting of the marriage candle.
*The Bride addresses her family with a thank you letter and then she addresses the Groom’s family. After this the Groom’s father gives a short speech.
*Closing ceremony- After closing you can take the flowers home. (Note: the tin foil is not to take home food it is for the flowers.)
*Guests leave. On the way out you go and congratulate the couple and their family one last time. The couple gives the guests a small gift.

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jayne Jayne Arnold is a 3rd year ALT in Kagoshima City

In Case of Emergency

You’ve seen the news about Japan’s earthquakes. You know about the typhoons. And by now, you’ve probably heard that your neighbor is an extremely active volcano. All this information would cause anyone to be nervous. Lucky for you, we have some resources to ease your worried mind.

The Prefectural Website has compiled an extensive list of links on how to handle your next natural disaster. You can find that list HERE. Resources include

  • How to prepare an emergency kit
  • How to evacuate
  • What to do in an earthquake, typhoon, eruption or tsunami such as:

A Tip for Drivers – if you find yourself in a car during an earthquake:

  1. Pull over to the side of the road
  2. Turn off the engine, turn on the radio for updates
  3. Put on your emergency brake/hand brake
  4. Stay in the vehicle until shaking stops
  5. You can exit the car once the shaking stops

IF YOU FEEL UNSAFE IN THE WORKPLACE

The prefectural website also has a list of contacts to report any kind of workplace harassment. CLAIR also offers counseling for long-term issues. You can find those HERE.

Finally, here is a quick list of emergency numbers to have on hand in case of the worst. They can also be found on the Prefectural Website:

  • Police (keisatsu / 警察) 110
  • Ambulance (kyuukyuusha / 救急車) 119
  • Fire (shoubousha / 消防車) 119
    • From green pay phones: Lift the receiver, push the red emergency button, and dial.
    • From grey pay phones: Lift the receiver and dial.

 

9 Ways to Enjoy and Appreciate Your Island Placement

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Kurasaki Beach
  1. Appreciate the uniqueness of Japanese island life. You probably didn’t ask to be placed on a remote island, right? There are very few island placements, and you got one of them! It’ll be all right. You get the special experience of living in a place that is so different from the Japan that everyone knows. And your backyard might be a beach.
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Tokunoshima Scuba Diving – Credit to Micah Mizukami

 

2. Pick up a water sport. You can snorkel, dive, surf, do SUP, or more than one! You may even make some local friends while out on the water, too.

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My first hula class

3. We are always on 島時間 down here. If you are stuck behind a truck full of sweet potatoes and end up being late for something, blame it on island time.

4. Join a local cultural activity in your community like shamisen, eisa, or hula. Dont feel too bad about missing out on all the fun culture events on the mainland. The islands have plenty of culture, too!

5. It is so exciting when you have the chance to go to the mainland. Going to _Uniqlo or Starbucks in Amu Plaza is all the more exciting when you have to take a plane or overnight ferry to get there!

 

 

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Islanders love Starbucks

6. Islander bonding. Even if you are on an island by yourself, you still have the other islanders who understand you.  And you can always hop on the ferry and visit another island for the weekend. Your Island card helps you save a little money on travel costs.

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Ready for Mangroves!

7. Island life is cheap. You will probably save a lot of money living down here. Unless you spend all your paycheck on island mangoes. Those are like 2000 yen for just one.

8. Island people are ridiculously nice. One time we asked for directions to a restaurant at a gas station on Okinoerabu, and the guy got in his car and had us follow him so he could show us the way.

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Bashayama Beach

9. When it’s summertime, you are living in a tropical paradise. Most tourists skip us and head right to Okinawa, so a crowded day at the beach can sometimes mean you are sharing the sand with 5 other people.

Enjoy!

 

Becca Simas is a 1st year ALT on Amami Oshima

Cockroaches Suffer No Fools

You. I know you. You think you know bugs. After all, you’ve been to summer camp. You’re from an equatorial climate. Your grandma’s house was nasty. There’s no tricks these critters can pull that you havent seen before.

Well. I’m here to tell you, you dont know jack.

Japanese bugs go hardcore – probably because most Japanese buildings lack an insulating layer, and keep their windows open 24/7 in summer – and if you dont go hardcore too, they’ll take over your apartment.

In the city, cockroaches will be your biggest problem. Japanese roaches are smaller than their mainland cousins, but Jesus, are they persistent. They get everywhere. That lack of an insulating layer means they can live right in your drywall and have easy access to your space. Access they’ll readily exploit. My guess is they’re Catholic, too, because they breed like the Good Lord commands. For every one you see in your kitchen, there’s probably 100 more.

But don’t panic! You can fight back. My advice, besides general good hygiene?

Go chemical.

Roach traps are your new best friends; spread liberally around your apartment. And for those truly stubborn nests, there’s always the nuclear option; the dreaded “Varsan.” Absolutely guaranteed to kill anything that walks on more than 2 legs; available now at a drug store near you.

TL;DR – The roaches here don’t play. Treat them with indifference, and they’ll eat you whole. Become the moster they warn their larva about, though, and you may just keep your home your own.

Happy squashing!

13559092_10210005640840703_7524326961065279350_oDave Byrnes is a second year ALT in Kagoshima City.