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Sarah Curtis - Kochi (2018-2019)

Updated: May 9


[Sarah in front of Itsukushima Shrine on a weekend trip to Hiroshima]


Where were you in Japan as a JET and when?

I entered the JET Program in 2018 and lived in a rural mountain town called Tsuno in

Kochi Prefecture. I was an ALT for 2 kindergartens, 3 elementary schools and 2 junior

high schools. There were two other teachers from the USA in my town as well, so we

rotated who went to each respective school throughout the school year. The community

in Tsuno was extremely tight-knit and I feel so grateful for my experiences there.


What sparked your interest in applying for the JET program?

I started learning Japanese my sophomore year as an undergraduate at Bates College.

I first heard about the JET Program from one of my Japanese professors who had

participated in the JET Program.


After studying abroad in Nagoya my junior year, I decided I wanted to further my

relationship and understanding of Japan, so I applied for the JET Program. My

experiences living in Japan fundamentally shaped me into the person I am today.


[Mount Kasatori weekend hiking trip]


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

Kochi is known for so many wonderful things; cuisine, arts, beaches and hiking. One of

the most famous foods from Kochi is “katsuo tataki,” which is a type of seared bonito,

which is caught off of the Kochi coast. You can pretty much find it in every restaurant

and it is always so fresh. Kochi is also well known for a festival called “Yosakoi,” which

is a dance festival consisting of several teams who dance through the streets of Kochi

City.


Outside of Kochi City, the prefecture is filled with absolutely stunning nature. There is

hiking, camping and white water rafting. I used to have a car in Kochi, so accessing

hiking routes was easy, though it usually required a long and sometimes scary drive up

narrow and windy roads to the start of the trail.


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

phrases?

I did pick up some Tosa-ben! I mostly did this through volunteering as a performer for

the Genki Seinenkai Youth Association, which is an organization aimed at creating

cultural awareness through musicals. When I was a JET, we did a story based on “Alice

in Wonderland,” but instead it was called “Alice in Tosaland.” It incorporated key cultural

aspects of Kochi culture. Before we performed, we were coached by native Tosa-ben

speakers who helped us with pronunciation and understand the nuances of the

language. We performed at eight shows throughout the prefecture. It was a really lovely

way to marry my two passions; music and Japanese culture.


[From Alice in Tosaland, the Tosa-ben musical with Sarah as the role of the Tosa-neko]


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

prefecture?

My life when I lived in Kochi was absolutely unforgettable and filled with some of the

happiest moments of my life. Kochi is and will always be my happy place. I would

definitely love to live there again, perhaps by the ocean and travel to the mountains to go

hiking over the weekend.


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

Although I am no longer living in Japan, I feel my connection to Japan is extremely

strong. Currently, I am pursuing a Master of Music in Vocal Studies at the Longy School

of Music of Bard College. I have been working on learning the Japanese Art Song

Anthology as a way of further uniting my passion for both singing and Japanese culture.

Every time I sing a Japanese song, it reminds me of my beautiful experiences living in

such a beautiful country.



Thank you, Sarah, for sharing your JET story!

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