Where were you in Japan as a JET and when?
I lived in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture as an elementary teacher for two schools in Izumi-Machi from 2007 to 2010.
What sparked your interest in applying for the JET program?
As a college student, I studied for a year at Kanazawa University in Ishikawa Prefecture. I loved the experience so much that when I started talking to my classmates about coming back to Japan, they all mentioned the JET Program and I knew I had to apply! But my interest in Japan really started when I was very little and watched "Big Bird in Japan." I was in awe of the legend of the Bamboo Princess and baffled about the buildings made from "only wood and paper." Years later, when a Japanese language teacher arrived at my high school, I leapt at the chance to finally learn Japanese and then I was hooked!
What are some of the things your prefecture is known for? Ex. food, hotspots, etc.
Fukushima has loads of delicious foods and one of my favorite school lunches was fried mehikari, a fish with large green eyes that glow in the dark! It's a great prefecture to try unfamiliar dishes, like the sakura-zushi or horse-meat sushi from Aizubange-Machi and caramelized grasshoppers that I ate f0r the first time in Aizu-Wakamatsu. Port town Onahama had some of the best fresh sushi and kani-jiru crab soup I have ever had!
Aizu-Wakamatsu Castle has great views over the surrounding lands, and nearby Mount Bandai is amazing for hiking trails and snowboarding hills. Downtown Iwaki has the Taira Tanabata festival in July, with bright and colorful paper decorations throughout the streets, made brighter by the fireworks at night. In November, Sukagawa City has a fire festival where tall straw towers are carried through the streets then stood tall and set aflame to light up the night sky! Whenever the cold weather set in, I would head to my neighboring town Yumoto for a relaxing stint at an onsen, and I loved the free open air foot baths right beside the train station after a long walk.
Did you pick up any of the regional dialects? What are some of your favorite words or phrases?
One aspect of Fukushima-ben dialect that stands out is the use of -bei or -ppei at the end of a sentence when you want to emphasize something or say it should be done; like Ganbappei "Let's do our best!" The dialect is even used for Fukushima's mascot Akabeko. A legend says that red cows helped carry the heavy materials used to build Enzoji, a temple in Yanaizu. The paper-mache toys of these red cows represent protection against illness and the cute version of the mascot is affectionately called Akabei after the dialect.
If you were to return to live in Japan, would you choose to live in that same prefecture? (Or in your case you can talk about where you are living in Japan now)
I would love to live in Fukushima again! The prefecture is so large and diverse, there's a little bit of everything for every season. Cities large enough for access to all modern conveniences and inaka villages small enough you feel like you see parts of Japan the rest of the world rarely glimpses. Fukushima folks were always warm, friendly, and eager to share what makes their prefecture so awesome!
How has your connection in relation to Japan changed since living in Japan?
My husband and I met while we were ALTs in Onahama and Izumi, so Japan will always be a special place for us. We were both living outside of Japan when the Tohoku earthquake hit in 2011, and we were heartbroken at the devastation to the towns we had called home. Former ALTs joined together to give support where they could, even selling Akabei T-shirts they designed themselves to raise money for the relief effort. I don't know if my connection to Japan has changed, but I know it changed me. JET taught me that even if you live somewhere for only a short period of time, a part of you is left behind and a part of that place stays with you. Japan gave me so much and keeps giving, so I want to go back, say tadaima, and return the favor!