Where were you in Japan as a JET and when?
I lived in a town called Noto, Ishikawa. Noto is one large town merged by several smaller towns and villages across the southern part of the Noto peninsula. Although I taught across most of Noto in its many different towns, my apartment was specifically in Matsunami. Most of Noto is what many people call the "inaka." It's in the mountains and along the coast with countless rice fields and cabbage farms. I came to Japan on September 26th of 2021, quarantined in Tokyo for two weeks, then have been in Noto since October. I came home on July 29th, 2022. Although I only stayed here for a little less than a year, I feel I've had a lifetime of experiences.
What sparked your interest in applying for the JET program?
I've been studying Japanese history and loving Japanese monster movies since I was a child. Japanese culture and history has always been one of my primary interests which led to me studying them in college alongside the other cultures of East Asia. I wasn't sure what exactly I wanted to do right after college until a professor mentioned that they lived and taught English in Japan for a year after getting out of college. Something that never seemed like a realistic possibility to me suddenly became doable once I heard that and started looking into the JET program. It only became more doable as I looked into it and talked with people about it, especially those at the Japan Society of Boston.
What are some of the things your prefecture is known for?
Ishikawa is known for several things but the most famed aspect of it is definitely seafood. The Noto peninsula in the upper half of the prefecture is famous for squid and utterly delicious sushi. The town of Ogi in Noto even has a giant squid statue and a food court famous for selling squid pizzas, squid burgers, and, my personal favorite, squid ink ice cream. Every Japanese person outside of Ishikawa that has asked me where I live in Japan would say "oh amazing sushi" when I said I lived in Noto, Ishikawa. Noto is also famous for its Akasaki strawberry farm and blueberries grown in Yanagida, as well as all the delicious products made from those fruits.
The capital of Kanazawa is known as a less tourist-riddled Kyoto, imbuing the aesthetics and feeling of traditional Japanese culture that the latter is famous for. The seafood there is prepared in several different types of traditional and aesthetically pleasing sashimi. Seafood stands also pervade Omicho Market near Kanazawa station. I’ve eaten several different things on sticks there that I don’t think I’d be able to tell you what they were. Kanazawa has its famous ice cream as well. A common sight for me in Kanazawa was kimono and yukata-clad couples eating gold leaf ice cream as they walked toward the partially-restored Kanazawa Castle.
Aside from food, likely one of the most notable points of interest in Ishikawa is the Abare Matsuri, or the “Fire and Violence Festival.” It’s usually held every July in Ushitsu, Noto. Every brochure I found of Noto, Ishikawa at the Consulate of Japan in Boston had whole pages dedicated to Abare Matsuri. I was very disappointed to hear when I first got to Noto that they had not held the festival since 2019 because of COVID-19. I didn’t get my hopes up that I’d be able to in 2022. A few months out from July, however, the town of Ushitsu was very excited to announce it would be held this year. It was just as fiery and violent as it was advertised. There were record amounts of people there to see as the giant wooden kirikos were carried around the blazing fires. I even got to help carry one of the kirikos to its destination and its a memory I’ll always look back on.
Did you pick up any of the regional dialects? What are some of your favorite words or phrases?
I definitely noticed the regional dialect after spending the New Year’s week in Tokyo. My Japanese ability wasn’t to the point where I would’ve been able to pick up most specific differences, but I could absolutely tell it was different. One difference that always stuck with me was how in Noto, I’d hear people go “ho, ho, ho” when they found something mildly interesting or like going “oh, I see.” I then didn’t hear anyone use that at all in Tokyo. I was visiting Tokyo with a group of other American JETs that were working in Fukushima prefecture. One of them is fluent in Japanese so I asked him if he’s ever heard that before and he had never had. I think it’s funny because it makes the people around me sound like Santa Clause which in turn makes me want to use it.
Do you have a specific memory or event that stands out from your time on JET?
As much as I’ve enjoyed my time here as a whole, I have to give special mention to all the traveling I’ve done in Japan. I spent New Year’s in Tokyo; Golden Week in Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe; and have traveled around Kanazawa extensively on many days off. I have seen so many beautiful shrines and castles from all over. Osaka Castle was astounding, as well as seeing a New Japan Pro Wrestling pay-per-view in Osaka Jo-Hall right next door. I climbed to the top of Mt. Inari and witnessed the sun set on Kyoto from the top. I also ziplined through Godzilla’s mouth before foaming at the mouth at the wonderful Godzilla museum they have on Awaji Shima off of Kobe. Hanami in Noto was stunning and of course the aforementioned Abare Festival will never be forgotten.
What are you doing now, and does it have any connection to Japan? How did your experience in Japan change your life?
Now that I’m back home, I’m undertaking the next chapter in my life and it is absolutely intertwined with Japan. My love of cinema was born out of watching Japanese movies, so it’s only fitting that the next thing I do upon coming home is start production on an independent film my brother and I have been working on for years. I am also continuously researching Japan’s culture, history, and language in my own time since that’s where my passion lies. I definitely will come back to Japan in the future and am planning to do so for graduate school. My JET experience has reinvigorated my passion for my creativity and commitment to Japanese studies.