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Eirene Tran Donohue - Kamigoto, Nagasaki (2002-2004)

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

Where were you in Japan as a JET and when?

I lived on Kamigoto in Nagasaki-ken from 2002-2004. The Gotos are a group of islands just off the coast of Nagasaki.

What sparked your interest in applying for the JET program?

After I graduated from Brown, I was traveling in Vietnam, where my mother is from. While I was there I fell in love with a Canadian backpacker who was on his way to teach English in Japan. His plan was sidetracked when he got pneumonia in China and ended up back in Canada. He was the one who told me about the JET program. Since he couldn't work in the States and I couldn't work in Canada and we both loved to travel it seemed like a wonderful opportunity to experience living in another country. I loved the fact that you were integrated into a community. So you weren't just a tourist or an expat. I specifically asked to be placed in the inaka so that I would see a side of Japan that most foreigners would never see.

What are some of the things your prefecture is known for? Food, hotspots, etc.

Nagasaki was the only foreign entrance port for hundreds of years during Japan's period of isolation. So there is a fair bit of foreign influences in the food and architecture. For example, Huis Ten Bosch is a theme park that recreates a 17th Century Dutch Village. Another thing Nagasaki is known for, unfortunately, is that an atomic bomb was dropped on it during WWII. After my orientation in Tokyo, I flew to Nagasaki and before taking the ferry to my island my supervisor took me to the Atomic Bomb Museum. It was actually on August 9th which is the anniversary of the bombing. It is a very intense experience but such an important reminder of the atrocities of war.

My island, Kamigoto, was famous as a refuge for Christians who were persecuted when Christianity was banned during the 1600's. They went into hiding and there are 29 tiny churches tucked away around the island. Kamigoto was also famous as a whaling island. It's an absolutely gorgeous island with white sandy beaches and stunning landscapes.

Did you pick up any of the regional dialects? What are some of your favorite words or phrases?

There was some great local slang in the area. Instead of ganbatte, they said gambaranba. And they would add -ka to the end of words to make an extra emphasis. So for example if it was very hot, instead of atsui, they said astsuka! or umai would be umaka! My favorite Japanese phrase is otsukare sama deshita, or just otsukare. There is no direct English translation that captures it, the acknowledgement of effort or a hard day. My husband and I still use it with each other all the time. Another favorite phrase is bochi bochi, which translates as 'step by step'.

If you were to return to live in Japan, would you choose to live in that same prefecture?

As much as I loved it, I think I would probably choose to live in another prefecture just so that I would be able to experience more of Japan. I spent a month in Kyoto when I was there and loved that area.

How has your connection in relation to Japan changed since living in Japan?

Even though I haven't been there in 20 years, Japan has such a big place in my heart. The years that I spent there are some of the best years of my life. I'm still close friends with many of the other JETs I met there and since I ended up marrying the boyfriend that introduced me to JET, we are a two JET household. Many of our best friends are Japanese and living in Los Angeles there are a lot of opportunities to experience Japanese culture. The JET Program, at a young age, opened my eyes to how big and beautiful this world is and how cultures can be both completely different and yet have so many universal commonalities. I'm a screenwriter and in my scripts I'm always trying to find that balance, celebrating our differences while embracing our unified experiences. I would love to write a movie set in Japan. Mostly so I'd have an excuse to go back!

Eirene has written a film based on her own life and experiences meeting her future husband in Asia!

A Tourist's Guide to Love was the #1 movie on Netflix in April, 2023.

Watch the official trailer here

Check out this article by Eirene to read more about the film and her story!

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