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Jake Lester - Tottori (2017-2021)


[Jake with one of his English classes, dressed as Japanese fish scientist/TV personality "Sakana-kun" for Halloween]


Where were you in Japan as a JET and when?

I worked as an ALT in Tottori prefecture from 2017 to 2021! I was living in Yonago City and primarily working at a technical high school in Sakaiminato City, which was about a 35 minute train ride away. I also worked at two different special needs schools in Yonago. The English-speaking community in Tottori was quite small, which has its positives and negatives, but those who I really connected with are still good friends of mine to this day.


What sparked your interest in applying for the JET program?

When I was a music major at the University of Vermont, I was able to take two trips to China funded by the school of education. These trips were my first time experiencing a country and culture vastly different to my own (I’d only ever been to Canada previously). I found the feeling of being in a new place exhilarating and so I decided that one day I would live somewhere in East Asia. I thought on it for a while and ended up choosing Japan as the place I wanted to live as Japanese media had been a major part of my life for a long time and it was the language I’d most wanted to learn. I also loved Japanese architecture and food, so it seemed like the best fit, and I believe that it was. I put off applying for JET for a few years until I felt the need for a major shake-up in life. Coincidentally, my conducting teacher/orchestra director, who is a native of Tokyo, was one of the people who finally convinced me to apply for JET, and the rest is history.


[Visiting Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto with co-workers]


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

Tottori is known for a variety of things! In terms of pop culture, it’s known for being the home prefecture of Gosho Aoyama, who created the manga Detective Conan, and Shigeru Mizuki, who created GeGeGe no Kitaro. Tottori is also known for its lush, beautiful nature. I genuinely think the Tottori Sand Dunes are breathtaking and one of the few tourist destinations I’ve been to that fully live up to the hype, and Mt. Daisen makes for a beautiful hike (just not during the summer). Tottori also has Misasa Onsen, a very old-school hot spring, and Mt. Mitoku, home of Sanbutsu-ji. I’ve never done it, but you have to wear special sandals and climb steep inclines to access the temple! It’s actually quite dangerous from what I hear, but loads of folks climb all the time. In terms of food, Tottori is well-renowned for both crab and pear.


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

My Japanese is somewhat limited so I don’t think I got to the level of picking up a dialect! But I did go from literally zero Japanese to a basic conversational level (which held up when I visited last summer!) so it definitely wasn’t all for naught.


[Performing with members of the school brass band]


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

One of my dreams is to own a little summer home in Yonago or Sakaiminato! I’d love to live in Tottori for a few months every year. If I were to return to Japan full time, I think I’d want to be in a larger city with a larger international community, like Osaka, or somewhere in Hiroshima like Onomichi (partially because then I could cycle Japan’s famous Shimanami Kaido cycling course anytime I wanted to). 


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

I still feel very connected to Japan! I talk about my experiences there all the time (probably too much). I try to eat Japanese food as much as I can (given what’s available here). I really miss speaking Japanese and found so much joy in being able to do that again when I visited last year, so I’m trying to seek out more opportunities to do that. I’m also a musician and I’m working on a three-part set of albums about my experiences in Japan and the sort of whiplash of my first year back in the US, so I’m keeping that connection alive through those songs.


[Performing at the annual Daisen Beerfest]


Thank you, Jake, for sharing your JET story!

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