Where were you in Japan as a JET and when?
I was a JET from 2010-2013 in Takamatsu, Japan. Though, I was deep in the mountains in the small town of Shionoe where I was the sole ambassador to the outside world.
What sparked your interest in applying for the JET program?
I had minored in Japanese and as a part of that program studied abroad for one semester. I had such a positive experience that I was curious to look at options for a return following graduation. JET was the option recommended by Nakajima sensei, and after looking into the program I was so excited to give it a shot. I went in thinking one year initially, but had no issues talking myself into three.
[Teaching English as an essential part of the JET program]
What are some of the things your prefecture is known for? e.g. food, hotspots, etc.
Although Kagawa is Japan's smallest prefecture, there are so many reasons to visit. I would be doing Kagawa a disservice if I didn't mention its local dish - Sanuki Udon. Trust me when I say that the taste and texture of these fat, tender noodles differ drastically from anywhere else. For a more local experience though check out Shoyumame and Honetsukidori restaurants.
Did you know Kagawa is also Japan's top olive producer?! On the tourism front, there is a well-known island called Naoshima featuring many old homes and buildings that were converted into art installations and museums. Expanding on that concept, Kagawa launched the Setouchi Triennale in 2010 which brought art to all the islands of the Seto Inland Sea. Island hopping by ferry, you can discover beautiful art, and also the kindest local hosts in these otherwise isolated communities. The festival refreshes the exhibitions every three years (next in 2025!) but can be visited at any time - you'll need months to see it all but even a weekend trip won't disappoint!
[Washing hands at the temizuya before entering a shrine]
Did you pick up any of the regional dialects? What are some of your favorite words or phrases?
Kagawa's dialect - Sanuki-Ben - shares similarities with other parts of Kansai but there are a lot of unique conjugations and words. Here are a couple of phrases that are easy to pull out in any situation and will definitely earn you smiles from the locals: I’m full – おなかがおきた (onaka ga okita) - Literally, 'my stomach woke up' What are you doing? – なんしょん? (nan shōn?) What’s up? – なんがでっきょんな? (nan ga dekkyon na?)
If you were to return to live in Japan, would you choose to live in that same prefecture?
I actually did have the chance to return to Japan for almost five more years! I came back to the States from JET for four years, but found myself in an opportunity to move back. While I returned to Kagawa a number of times, I can say that I was ready to live somewhere with more career opportunities and an overall different vibe. There are a lot of former JETs that stayed on in Takamatsu and are still living their best life but personally, I was ready to experience another side of Japan.
[Performing taiko drumming]
How has your connection in relation to Japan changed since living in Japan?
This is an interesting question and one that's hard to answer succinctly. Like many first-time visitors, I was first drawn in by all the contrasts to my own upbringing and personal experiences - 'WOW! Japan is such a crazy place!' Since that initial visit though, I've been to all 47 prefectures, taken part in countless festivals, attended weddings (my own as well, in fact) and funerals, and made it my mission to simply go as deep as possible into all aspects of local life. Throughout the eight years there my appreciation shifted from the many 'shock and awe' moments Japan has on offer, to the incredible nuance that exists: the differences of one geography to the next, the seasons and the food they bring, the holidays, the architecture. The ethos they infuse into students, and the mindset of the suited employees. The religion, and general spirituality. The human relationships built between friends, neighbors, family. The traditions passed down in art and handicrafts, etc.
In contrast to my other global travel destinations, Japan is the only country whose beauty I feel confident to say I can appreciate and understand as a local. I may never have the chance to live there again, but I continue to book return visits, and it's the only other country that I feel welcomes me 'home'.
[Justin and his partner in their traditional Shinto wedding]