Where were you in Japan as a JET and when?
I was in Tondabayashi-shi, Osaka-fu, from 2002-2005.
What sparked your interest in applying for the JET program?
My hometown, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and Tondabayashi in Osaka-fu have been Sister Cities for over 50 years. During high school, I went on a 3-week homestay to Tondabayashi and it was wild (onsens with high school friends: awkward!) We were treated so well and I made new friends that I kept in touch with. In college, I was a Government major and Spanish minor, having studied abroad in Spain. My Japanese Politics professor, Schoppa-sensei, was an inspiration--- he had done JET and recommended some of us apply. It was the perfect way to head back to Japan since I wanted to experience it so much more. During my JET Interview in DC, I specifically asked to go to Tondabayashi, which is pretty small and the interviewers looked confused about my interest in a small town (not quite inaka, a similar size to Bethlehem, so it was perfect!) So glad I was placed there!
What are some of the things your prefecture is known for? Ex. food, hotspots, etc.
Tondabayashi is the world headquarters for the Perfect Liberty (PL) religion and the PL Tower is quite unique, and the annual PL fireworks are amazing, set to music. Osaka is known for warm, friendly people… it feels like a warm hug when I step off the plane each time (overdue for my next visit!) Osaka is also known for epic shopping (shopping trips fueled by some delicious okonomiyaki), a bustling Koreatown, and then the Hanshin Tigers (baseball team).
Did you pick up any of the regional dialects? What are some of your favorite words or phrases?
I’ve been told I speak Kansai-ben, which is a little more informal, ほんまに (really/本当に) I never formally studied Japanese, but I spent a lot of time talking to the other teachers at my school (especially the gym teachers) so I picked up めっちゃ(very much) Kansai-ben. To this day, when I speak Japanese, these phrases pop out.
Do you have a specific memory or event that stands out from your time on JET?
I have fond memories of Danjiri in Kishiwada and other matsuri throughout the fall months mostly! Fuzzy memories but I remember carts, lanterns, lots of merriment, and then mattresses and worshiping of male organs at one specific matsuri (!) Also, I’m so thankful a colleague took me to Mount Koya, Koya-san in Wakayama-ken. I’ve since gone many times and I recommend it to anyone heading to Japan. If you haven’t had the chance to experience it, I hope you go to Mount Koya during your next trip: it’s quite the experience with a cable car transporting you up to a magical land of nature and temples.
What are you doing now, and does it have any connection to Japan?
Japan and Japanese will always be a huge part of my life--- my time on JET really influenced my life trajectory! I’ve been in New York City since 2005 where I’ve taught English to Nihonjin and taught beginner Japanese to New Yorkers. I transitioned into the New York City Department of Education first as an English as a New Language (ENL/ESL) teacher, then as a Japanese teacher (beginner level at a Bronx middle school), and now in the Division of Multilingual Learners developing professional learning and instructional resources for all World Languages teachers--- and advocating for quality language learning opportunities for students across all boroughs and zip codes. I’m eager to facilitate a Japanese Teacher Collaborative in the next year:)
I’ll also share that I serve as a Tondabayashi Tourism Ambassador and took my now-husband there for our honeymoon. We filmed a tourism video in Tondabayashi’s lovely Jinaimachi, the historic district. I’m waiting for Japan to open back up for tourism so I can take my son and we can explore with a JR Pass and practice our Japanese. I can’t wait to get back and see my friends and my former colleagues-- my former students and principal came to our wedding.