Welcome to Kagoshima!

ようこそ鹿児島へ!Welcome to Kagoshima!

Kagoshima is the southernmost prefecture in Kyushu. It is home to a majestic volcano, Sakurajima, which is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. The volcano is located in Kagoshima Bay (also known as Kinko Bay). Sakurajima is famous for producing one of the world’s smallest oranges, the komikan, and the world’s largest radishes, the Sakurajima Daikon. Additionally, Kagoshima is full of nature, friendly people, and delicious food.

GeograpSatsunan_Islandshy 

The Prefecture consists of two major peninsulas (Satsuma and Osumi) and about 30 islands. Famous islands include Yakushima (a UNESCO Natural Heritage Site), Tanegashima (home of the Japan Space Program), and Amami Oshima.

Climate 

Kagoshima ranges from temperate to sub-tropical climate. Spring and Autumn are temperate, and there is a short winter. The rainy season in June leads to extremely hot and humid summers. Typhoon season runs from June to October. During winter, the temperature will drop to 0 degrees C (32 degrees F), while the summers reach over 32 degrees C (90 degrees F).

KAGOSHIMA SPECIALTIES

If there is one thing to know about Japan, it is the fact that the Japanese are proud of their regional food and products. Kagoshima is certainly no exception!

Cuisine

Food:     http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4609.html

Kagoshima is famous for black pork, black beef, black chicken, black sugar…. Kagoshima loves its black foods! In Kagoshima, charcoal is often used in cuisine (It is said to cleanse the body of toxins), so you can find black ramen, as well as chicken sumiyaki. Besides the black cuisine, there is Torisashi (yes, raw chicken) and Satsuma Age (fried fish cake). For desert there is the famous Shirokuma (shaved ice, with sweet and condensed milk and fruit) which is decorated to look like a white bear.

Drinks:

Shochu:

If you ask Japanese people to state one fact about Kagoshima, it will be that “Everyone drinks Shochu.” Kagoshima has a specialty shochu that is made with Satsuma Sweet Potatoes. It is a strong liquor  similar to vodka. People often drink it on ice or mixed with water. You can buy it everywhere, and it is often the preferred drink at enkais.

Tea:

Along with shochu, Kagoshima Prefecture is one of the top prefectures that produces green tea. A famous tea is Chiran-cha which comes from Chiran City in Minami Kyushu. Instead of fields of rice, tea covers the countryside.

Crafts: 

There are many specialty crafts available here. Famous products include Satsuma cut glass, Oshima Tsumugi Fabric, and Satsumayaki (pottery). For more information on these products, please explore:

http://www.kagoshima-kankou.com/for/whattodo/craftitems.html

Welcome to Kagoshima! We hope that you will grow to love it as much as we do. This is a beautiful region of the country and we looking forward to seeing you soon. We hope your first few weeks go well and that you quickly become comfortable living here. If you have any questions do not hesitate to e-mail us at kagoshima@ajet.net!

きばいやんせい!(頑張って)

The KAJET Team

Getting That Coveted Japanese Driving Licence

While you can find the nitty-gritty details on the Kagoshima JET page , here is just a little bit of a personal insight into the process.
 
Japan is all about ticking boxes and following protocols. The driver’s license is no different!

Sure, there are the obvious rules you need to obey and safety protocol you need to adhere to show yourself a safe driver. But there are other hoops you need to be jumping through:
 
The first, saving: Apart from the test fees themselves, lessons work out expensive as well as getting to the venue (which is in Aira).  Nothing less than \30 000.
 
The second, learning the course: The conversion test does not involve real-road driving. There is a course that you drive but you have to learn all the observations, when to put on your flickers, distance from the curb you have to drive, etc. Taking lessons close to where you live is fine but get at least  1 practice in with an instructor at the test venue. Your test adjudicator will ask and it is one of those hoops you have to jump though. If you skip out on this step, they are prone to see that as skimping on your preparation and can decide to fail you just on that.
Then you have to memorise the course that you can do it in your sleep for the rest of you life. A few friends and I found that the best way to get the course in our heads was with a group lesson – You split the costs of the lesson and while the one person drives, the others can study the map and/ or video the course for later study.

Then, on the day of the test, I would recommend walking the course through – pretend that you are in the car, miming the indicators and observations.  The written tests are done in the morning, so the course will be clear until lunch time.
 
And finally, attitude:  Be super respectful at all times.  It is as much a part of the test as the driving. Dress fairly smart, lots of bows, よろしくお願いします and ありがとう.
 
Final piece of advice would then be when it comes to the actual test, do your best to relax. A stressed mind makes silly mistakes. I myself turned right from the far left lane. Obviously, I failed that first one… And if you fail, while it does suck, you have to pick yourself up as quickly as possible, learn from your mistakes – sometimes, you genuinely don’t know what you did wrong and I am afraid that this is one of those mysteries that we generally put under “the man being out to get us” – and get another date in.

がんばって!

Nicole Ehlers is a third year ALT in Minamikyushu.

Renting a Car Over Buying: An ALT’s Experience

Besides buying a car outright, renting one is also an option. I ended up renting my car after the one from my predecessor was no longer running, but the process may differ for other people. One of my JTEs remembered the name of a company in Kokubu (World Motors Kokubu) and called them for me. After getting a ride to their showroom and looking at a car they had, the company owner offered to let me do a long-term rental instead of buying. I paid about 10,000Y per month for the first year I rented, but my car insurance was paid separately.

What I liked about renting was that any maintenance (shakken particularly) on the car is covered by my rental contract, and that I could pay year by year instead of all at once. The downsides to renting were that I had to switch cars a few times, and because they’re rented cheaply the car models are  much older than you might buy from a dealer. If you’re sure of only staying in Japan for one year or think renting might be for you, ask your supervisor about options from companies in your area

 

lauraLaura Boville is a 2nd year ALT in Kanoya, Kagoshima.

The End of the School Year: My Experience

 

So, it’s getting to the end of the school year and I don’t know about you but this always throws me off mentally. Having been born in Canada, I’m used to the school year starting in September and so I’ve always had my mental ‘year’ start in September. “I did that last year.” (read: before September)
 
Japan, on the other hand, considers April a time of new beginnings. It’s when every company has its change-over of staff and when the fiscal year begins.
 
As the school year starts, the new ALTs will get to look forward to Soubetsukai Farewell Parties and Kangeikai Welcome Parties as teachers are shuffled between schools. I remember tearing up as my favourite teacher left, but I was most nervous about my first day of school after the new teachers arrived. I’m not a high school JET so I’m not stationed at the schools. As such, I arrive after all the formal introductions – full of ‘yoroshiku’s and bowing – have occurred. I wanted to make a good first impression on the new teachers. So, ….naturally, at my first school I completely forgot all about it and didn’t realize until I was leaving for the day.
 

*Looks at the Kyoto-sensei*

“Oh! That’s right! It’s my first time this school year!”

*Turn to the rest of the teachers, smile all embarrassed and bow* “Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu. I’m really looking forward to working with everyone.”

*Smile as everyone repeats it back, smiling kindly, then leave and close the door.*

*Facepalm* That could’ve gone better.
So, don’t be me. Remember to do your introductions when you first walk in to the staff room. A little ‘Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu’ goes a long way.
 
Another thing to look forward to is the switching of classes. For those who haven’t been in a teaching/classroom environment before, you’ll have to bear with some of the classes as the students and teachers get used to each other. Some of my better behaved classes were super boisterous at the start of the year. A perk of the job, however, is that you have likely taught these students in the previous grade so, for the first little while, you will know them better than their teachers. My teachers appreciate me giving them heads up about certain students, and it’s fun sharing inside jokes from last year.
 
For those teaching at elementary schools, you may encounter teachers who are teaching English – specifically Hi Friends! – for the first time. Be patient with them as they will likely be nervous and be leaning on you for guidance in how to teach the textbook. This is a great time to gently give them advice and tips based on what you’ve learned. For example, many teachers don’t realize all the features that are hidden in the digital Hi Friends textbook, or aren’t sure how to best teach the listening sections that throw new vocabulary at the students. A guiding hand can make all the difference for the impact of lessons when you’re not there.
 
Finally, junior high schools are getting new textbooks! The government has promised more internationalization and a focus on speaking. I got a glimpse of the New Horizon and I like it a lot more than the current edition of Sunshine that I’m using, but I’ll let you make your own judgments on whether it’s better or not. I’m personally looking forward to seeing if it has a positive impact on my students’ learning and figuring out how best to teach the material along with my JTE – who is also using it for the first time. It might be super fun!! … or we might go down in flames like the Lindenberg…Wish me luck!

Here’s hoping you have a great start to your new year!

Melissa Masson is an ALT in Izumi, Kagoshima.

Minority Life: Opinions and a Personal Experience

Post by Aneika Angus, an ALT in Isa.

Many of you might be curious to know what it is like to be a minority in Japan. Naturally all foreigners in Japan are called gaijin (meaning outsider). It is quite easy to feel like an outsider especially in this homogenous paradise. For some strange reason Japan has managed to group everyone as a minority, e.g.: if you’re a vegetarian you’re a minority here. If you’re allergic to gluten- Minority. My focus, will predominantly be on the classification set by Jet, as you already know, the program consist of about fifteen (15) countries who participate in sending their citizens to be a part of this wonderful cultural exchange opportunity. Even though many things divide us; albeit; citizenship, race, culture, we share similar experiences across all our divisive spheres. So let’s give you some tips on how to cruise through by being seen and unseen at the same time.

A Little Background Story:

I’m from a beautiful island called Jamaica, even though I have been given the opportunity to travel the world while back home, I don’t believe I have ever felt this weird feeling-

“That hey, you’re not from here but I want to talk to you but I’m too shy to approach feeling”.

Yup that feeling that cannot be condensed into a single English word, because chances are one doesn’t exist……..Or does it? That’s homework for you to do. So yeah, I never felt that way until I got to Japan, it’s an interesting, scary, funny and almost nostalgic feeling, like being half aware of who you are but discovering there’s more to you than what meets the eye. So embrace this feeling, it’s going to creep up on you, but embrace the fact that you will stand out in a country filled with people, who do not have soulful brown eyes, naturally plumped lips, and a behind that can shade you from danger and gorgeous melanin that glows under the glisten of a sun ray.

On that note- WELCOME to Japan.

Here Are FIVE (5) Things to Embrace Prior to Coming to Japan

  • You are GOING TO STAND OUT, and there’s nothing you can do about it. #FACT
  • People are going to STARE. #FACT
  • People will want to touch you and or touch your hair. #FACT
  • People will want to take pictures with you. (this happens too often)
  • You have an ACCENT, so speak VERY SLOWLY.

While I knew some, if not all of the aforementioned facts, I never truly embraced them until after eight months of being in Japan. Tragic I know, but this sometimes happens. I never really knew I stood out until there was something I wanted to do anonymously and then I remembered-

“Booboo ain’t no anonymous in this country, you sound and look like a foreigner, so everyone will know you did it”.

Can you say PALM to FACE? Sigh. Then the stares, again I wasn’t aware of this until I attended a dinner event with a bunch of ALT’s, one of them pointed out that people were staring (not in a bad way). This again happened when I went to the city for some POW-wow time with my little brother, now let’s be clear. I consider anyone younger than me my brother. That’s just me. Anyhow, so we’re in the big city and he points out that people are staring at us; again I’m oblivious to such things, mainly because I like to mind my own business, but that’s just me. What took things to the next level was the fact that people assumed because we were “together”, of dark complexion and in Japan, that we must be a couple. What a Mess! This happens a lot when we’re together, we took a trip to Nagasaki for the Lantern Festival (BTW ya’ll should go; they have the best Chinese Food in Japan). We weren’t there for 10mins before this random lady, (to whom to this day we do not know), came up to us and asked to have her picture taken. So we did what we have slowly become accustomed to, smiled, leaned in and took the picture-without hesitation. These things happen sometimes and I hope you are ready for this. Do not expect that this might happen to you, sometimes we place our expectations so high that inevitably when reality hits, we feel cheated. Don’t, Every Situation is Different (ESID). That’s your new mantra from now on.

As a minority, here are some common issues faced:

  • Language Barrier– this comes in two phases, the most obvious, not knowing enough Japanese to have a conversation that both parties can enjoy. This is why it’s imperitive to start learning as soon as you read this article. Start with basic greetings and common terms used, I promise you this will be helpful during your stay in Japan. The latter is having difficulty communicating with other foreigners here. You would assume that because we all speak English that would mean we all have a common ground from which to have meaningful conversations. Mmmm Yes and No. Because we are a small melting pot of cultures many times things can be misconstrued due to the use of slangs/dialect terms. True Story, at my current school, should you happen to visit do not be surprised if you hear someone say: “You’re a Mess”!! Apparently I have used this term so often that it’s become main stream English for all.
  • Fish Bowl Effect– that feeling where you’re on display, we spoke about this earlier. Try to be comfortable with persons being fascinated by who you are, it’s a strange phenomenon, I know, but honestly most of them stare because they have never seen a foreigner before or let’s face it, because you’re gorgeous.
  • Entertainment/Down Time– you might find that the entertainment scene is a little dry, who am I kidding its arid. Lol. For many of us, how we entertain and have our down time will definitely change once we’re in Japan. Entertainment here is seasonal, with the majority of festivals and activities taking place between April – November. What you do for entertainment varies; some persons visit overnight onsens, go to the city etc. Just note the activities available are quite different but you’re in Japan, so be sure to enjoy.
  • Grooming/Hair Care/Wellness – In my home country it was quite easy to get everything I needed done to my body in a day. In Japan, you’re quite limited. Getting your hair done may be three (3x) the cost of what it would be in your home country. I suggest taking someone who speaks Japanese with you. Mainly because your expectations might differ from what the stylist is realistically capable of doing. This goes for men and women. Overall wellness and achieving same is quite costly here, lets deal with skin care for example, most of the products available here contain bleaching agents which whitens and dries out ethnic skin. So be sure to read what you’re purchasing or take enough supplies from home to last you until you get to Costco or can buy online. Funny story- I have eczema and stress related acne- Judge me- lol. Anyway after my first two months here my face was fine until my products ran out, I tried almost all the available products in my local drug store, what a waste, my skin finally cleared up when I started using the products I used from my home country. Thank you Jencare Skin Farm. Moral of the story, if you have problematic skin, stick to what works for you, should your products run out, visit a doctor to get a refill of your prescription before trying every over the counter drug you can find.
  • Looking Asian and Being Gaijin
    Now because we’re in the South of Japan things are a little different here so brace yourself for what’s about to happen. Let me start off with a story, so there’s a very cute ALT who looks Asian, speaks good Japanese but he is from Singapore. When he first got here and started going out and about in his community he got by fairly easily until he started interacting with the natives within his community. Now let’s be clear, you have Japanese which is the formal language which we all try to learn, and then there are the derivatives such as dialects etc. In Kagoshima we call it Kagoshima-Ben. Now this particular ALT happened to be in conversation with an individual and felt quite proud until the native started speaking in Kagoshima-Ben. WHAT a Mess!!! This happens sometimes, people feel because you look Asian, you must speak Japanese and cook with soy sauce. Don’t be discouraged. If you explain you’re not from Japan, they usually give you a free pass. But, be on the lookout for the Kagoshima-Ben.

See you in the next helpful article.

 

When I First Arrived: CULTURE SHOCK!

Originally posted by an anonymous contributor.

My first year on JET was similar to riding a roller coaster: It had many ups, downs, twists and turns. When I arrived in Japan, I was at the beginning of the ride. The coaster slowly eased up to the top of the first slope, the anticipation of what lie ahead was exciting and nerve wrecking.  Then it slid down from that first hill, and there was no going back. I had started the ride of my life.start roller coaster

Prior to coming to Japan, ALTs are warned of culture shock and given ideas for coping. You go to Japan with the notion that it will happen, but the effects of culture shock are rarely understood before they are felt. In the past I have struggled with anxiety. I knew before I left that it would be a challenge, but a challenge I was willing to try. I arrived in Japan with absolute elation for learning Japanese, meeting my students, and living in Japan. Even with this excitement, culture shock was looming around the curve. Towards the end of that first month I began to feel tired, under the weather, and down-spirited. I constantly worried about my health because I had heard horror stories of past JETs who had issues and needed hospitalization. Try as I may to have a positive attitude, I slowly slipped into a slump. I thought this was just being anxious, because I had never experienced culture shock before.

Things in Japan are different from what I was previously used to. Students sleep in class, sick leave is hardly used, and ATMs have operating hours! Who knew a robot needed time off? I could not speak a lot of Japanese so I could not say the things I wanted to say and I became very frustrated. All these things plus the stresses of a new job and living in a foreign country chipped away at me.adult

It wasn’t until I started talking to other JETs that I recognized I was experiencing culture shock. It became clear that I was not the only one who was struggling- we all were. I have seen how other expats have struggled and some choose to isolate themselves. As much as you want to keep to yourself and stay in your apartment, you must do the opposite. Become more involved, join clubs, pick up a new hobby, stay active, and talk to people. If you are struggling with culture shock, anxiety or depression, please do not be afraid to receive help. You can talk to your friends and family, other JETs, or a counselor. Even if you are in a slump, remember- you have an amazing opportunity to explore and try new things. The life of an expat is not easy but the things you gain from the experience are worth the struggle.

Though I still struggle with culture shock I find that its’ effects are lessening. There are days I do feel completely stressed out, but I know I am coming to the top of the next slope of that roller coaster. The inclines are beginning to even out, the curves aren’t so steep, and I feel more content with where I am now.

As the holiday season comes closer, it is more important than ever to get involved and form a sense of community. Stay positive and be open to changes because one thing is for sure: when you get off this roller coaster you won’t be the same person as when you got on.

Here is my challenge for you: Get more involved from from this point forward. Make a marked effort to meet new people on the JET Programme, and in other places. Join an activity, find a hobby, check out extra curriculars at your schools. The worst they can do is say “no”, right?

For those who need assistance or want someone to talk to here areold ladies roller coastersome resources to check out. You can do this.

Enjoy the ride!

Things to Consider When Recontracting: An Opinion Piece

Post by Aneika Angus, an ALT in Isa.

Reappointment Woes

Hey loves, don’t you just love this time of year, the birds a gearing up to head south for the winter, leaves are changing and temperatures have “shankle dipped” over night to new lows. Yup it’s the season, reappointment season that is. I’ve been talking to a few of you about this over the past few weeks and it seems for some the decision is almost equivalent to being asked to use a basket to carry water. It seems so daunting and you know in your heart,

“This ish aint gonna work.”

Lets first look at your progress thus far; I want you to ask yourself the following questions;

  • What were the expectations you had of being a JET participant prior to coming to Japan?
  • How do those expectations compare to your actual life in Japan?
  • Are you in a position where you are constantly learning something new, or are being challenged to learn and or grow as a person?
  • Will any of what you’ve learnt be usable or adaptable to your life outside of Japan?

We all had a preconceived notion of what life would be like in Japan, some of us even went as far as to set goals for yourself, these are all perfectly natural human reactions to making major changes. But we must evaluate ourselves and our achievements when it comes time to admit that many of the goals we had set have not been achieved.

Now the reality is that many of you may be worried about re-contracting due to various factors:

  • An additional year in Japan could mean a significant setback to jump starting your career, should you choose to forgo teaching when you leave Japan.
  • You’re all “Japan Out”, meaning you’ve been everywhere, seen everything and now are no longer impressed by what the country has to offer.
  • While the money is good, bills back home are being paid etc. You are no longer happy.

The above are just a few of the extensive list I have. But the fact still remains, reappointment is your decision to make, do not pressure yourself into staying in a situation that confines you and makes you unhappy. Remember my loves; you deserve all the happiness that life has to offer. I will not sit here and tell you that life will be better when you return to your country. Chances are you will have to sit on your derrière for 3-6months before you find a job but we’ll get into that aspect in my next blog to you, for now, I want you all to think carefully about this decision.

Here are some Realistic Reasons to Re-contract:

  • You are content with your placement and job requirements
  • You feel that you are making a contribution that has a positive effect on others.
  • You can identify personal and professional growth in yourself.

When considering your options for reappointment, be wary of deceptive rationalizations such as:

  • I’ll save money next year.
  • I’ll learn Japanese if I stay

Unless there is a radical change in your life, chances are your life in Japan will not change dramatically if you were to choose to re-constract, this is empirically proven for third and fourth year JETs.

Realistic Reasons NOT to RE-CONTRACT:

  • Procrastination – putting off a hard decision, such as going back to school, or going home to face unresolved issues with family etc.
  • Money – staying on JET for the sole purpose of collecting a cheque.
  • Obligations – Persons within your BOE or CO have become familiar with you and they may pressure you into staying.
  • Indifference – its neither here nor there to you at this point, plus you’re a foreigner and you love the attention you get.

Happy thinking loves and remember, sometimes we have to let go of the life we have planned to embrace the one that’s waiting for us.

So You’re Going to Wear a Kimono: A Beginner’s Guide for Women

Post by Melissa Masson, an ALT in Izumi

 

Maybe you’ve been in Japan for a few months (or a few years) and have finally decided to emulate the people you see in the Japanese tourism posters: You’re going to wear a kimono. Perhaps you’ve also heard the rumors that putting on a kimono is.. something of an adventure. In fact, people train for years to learn the art of kimono wearing.

No pressure, right? Right!

This information is aimed primarily at those women planning to attend the kimono event for KAJET in December, but is quite similar to what you’d expect for any kimono-wearing event or festival.

images

Preparation

Clothes: Be aware that you will be changing in a room around other women, and that your undergarments may be seen by other women. If this makes you uncomfortable, plan ahead. Most Japanese women wear undershirts like tank tops or camisoles and long underpants underneath.
 
Hair and make-up: The traditional style is to have it up. Most kimono places will also do hair and make-up. This service may be available at certain times at the Izumi event. If you bring an elegant hair clip and pins, this is recommended. For the Izumi event, it’s wise to do your make-up beforehand if you have a strong preference.

Getting Changed

When you arrive, you’ll be escorted to a room with a number of kimonos available. Choose your favorite design – checking to make sure it’s not too short or too long, as it should just about hit the floor – and then choose your obi (kimono belt) to match. Often, Japanese people will encourage you to choose an obi that stands out/contrasts with the colors of the kimono. They will then ask you to choose undergarments (to be worn over your own).
 
Once you’ve gotten your kimono, obi, undergarments and tabi socks, you can move to the changing area. Be careful that your under-layers do not have long sleeves, as your kimono may move and reveal them. We can’t have a ruined maiko-esque shot! You’ll be directed how to wear the undergarments, and in what order.
 
From this point, a woman will assist you in putting on the kimono. Each layer has a specific way of being pinned/draped. As you are dressed, you can maybe assist in holding something or keeping the folds together, but your job is primarily to act as the perfect mannequin.

furisode copytekstit

After Changing

Once you’re done, leave your belongings in an unobtrusive place in the changing room. If you are worried about something being stolen, it’s best that you leave it in your car beforehand. Scurrying back to your car in a kimono may take longer than anticipated.
 
All dolled up? Now it’s time to head out on the town. The samurai town, that is. Take some pictures in the traditional Japanese garden, see the preserved samurai-era streets and residence gates, visit a preserved samurai residence and participate in a simplified traditional tea ceremony while listening to the relaxing sounds of the Japanese koto.
 
If you can’t make it to the Izumi event, then there are other chances around Japan to dress up in kimono, some may even include paid-for photos. Kyoto is famous for these events and is a great place to go to see original kimono dressing, song and dance performances. Just Google it or ask a JTE at your school- Don’t let this chance pass you by!

kimono

Living on an Island: The Island Experience

Post by Becca Simas, an ALT on Amami Island

 

Like most prefectural ALTs, I didn’t find out exactly where I would be placed in Kagoshima until about a month before my departure. I dreamed about all the different places I could end up—the Osumi or Satsuma peninsula, Kagoshima City, or one of the islands. But I never really imagined I would end up on an island. Then on June 27th, I received an email from the Kagoshima BoE about my exact placement.

The first time I looked up Oshima High School’s address on Google Maps and it dropped a pin in the middle of the ocean…I cried. I was banished from the mainland! Was I going to be the only ALT there? I don’t speak any Japanese…how am I going to survive? How will I travel to all of the places I want to see in Japan?

I immediately announced in the KAJET Facebook group that I was headed to the islands. Within a few hours, I was greeted by two of my sempais, warmly welcoming me to island life. I thanked the gods old and new that I wasn’t going to be alone.

The day I arrived, my predecessor and three of my English teachers warmly greeted me at the airport with a giant sign and some hugs. As we drove to my new apartment, I constantly interrupted myself in conversation because I couldn’t stop gushing about the view along the coast —the crashing turquoise waves peppered with surfers and paddle boarders, the seemingly endless stretch of bone-white sand and palm trees, the towering rock formations jutting out of the water. My predecessor stopped at a lookout so I could marvel at the beach up close. I breathed in the salty ocean air and thought, “I could get used to this.”

But the best part about living on Amami is not the gorgeous views of the endless sea or the tropical atmosphere: it’s the people.

IMG_4307There are six ALTs on Amami—or islanders—as we like to call ourselves. We also have six fellow islanders spread out on Kikai, Tokunoshima, and Okinoerabu. A few times a year we plan islander events because it is much more convenient for us to island hop for a weekend than it is to ship up to the mainland. If we choose to leave Amami, the overnight ferry to Kagoshima takes 11 hours, and the hour-long plane ride costs about 25,000 yen round-trip. Sometimes I have the green-eyed monster over missing out on events that happen up in Kagoshima, like the recent culture day festival. Sometimes it even feels weird to call the southern islands a part of Kagoshima prefecture when we are actually closer to Okinawa. We are our own entity.

But as islanders, we all look out for each other. On weekends, you can usually find some of us cycling to Bashayama for an afternoon at our favorite bakery and beach, spending hours at one of the island’s hidden cafés, snorkeling, running along the ferry port, singing karaoke with our Eikaiwa friends, driving down to Koniya for a random festival, or seeing who can stack up the most sushi plates at Manten.

Island life harbors a strong sense of community. Our Japanese friends who knew our predecessor’s predecessor’s predecessor have so many great stories and memories to share. One of our long-time members of Eikaiwa has been friends with the ALTs down here for almost a decade! It was so comforting to walk into a built-in family here and feel so included upon my first step off the airplane.

I’ve been living on Amami Oshima for only three and a half months now, and already I can’t imagine myself anywhere else. I love the routine I’ve created on my island, and I’ve never felt more relaxed, despite my busy job at my high school. In shimaguchi (island dialect), we have the word yui— which I’ve been told translates to connection, or bond. It’s crazy how a bunch of strangers from all over the world have created an inseparable yui on our islands. Even though I cried upon first hearing about my  placement, I wouldn’t trade where I am right now for anything.

IMG_5774

Author Bio: Becca is a second-year ALT living in “the big city” on Amami Oshima. This will be her second year not living through a cruel New England winter and she is so excited. Becca loves running, teaching, and writing. She is also the Co-Sports Editor for AJET Connect Magazine. You can read more of her work at beccamayhem.wordpress.com