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Stephanie Balakrishnan - Kyotanabe, Kyoto (2015-2017)

Where were you in Japan as a JET and when?

I was placed as an ALT in Kyotanabe, Kyoto Prefecture, from 2015-2017. I was very fortunate to have been placed in Kyoto, with its rich history and culture. Kyotanabe is located to the south of Kyoto, about 20 minutes away from the city by express train.

What sparked your interest in applying for the JET program?

After visiting my grandmother’s house in Iwate during the summer following my second year of college, I was drawn to the serenity of the countryside, the beauty of nature, and the kindness of the people around me. At that point, I had studied Japanese for a few years, and I was able to have conversations with my relatives, making me realize how much I had improved in my speaking ability. This experience was influential in my applying for the JET Program.

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

Kyoto was the former imperial capital of Japan and is known for its temples, shrines, and gardens. My favorite places to visit in the Kansai area were Kiyomizudera, Arashiyama, and Nara Park.

Kyoto is also known for its kimono weavers; when roaming around the city, you will often see locals wearing kimonos. There are many places that offer kimono rentals to tourists.

In terms of food, Kyoto is famous for Tsukemono (Japanese pickles), Yatsuhashi (a traditional sweet made from rice flour, sugar, and cinnamon), Kaiseki, which is a multi-course Japanese dinner, and Matcha.

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

It took me a few months to get used to Kansai-ben, but I did end up picking it up from my students, who used it very often during class. My favorite words were “mettcha” (very), “nandeyanen” (Why / That’s crazy), “kamahen” (It doesn’t matter), and “shiran” (I don’t know). The teachers I worked with were surprised when I started using Kansai-ben in school!

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)

If I were to travel to Japan, in addition to visiting my relatives in Iwate, I would like to visit Kyotanabe to see the people that I worked with and my friends who are still living in the area.

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

Through participating in the JET Program, I was able to improve my Japanese language ability through immersion and by studying one-on-one with my teacher; the program also gave me insight into what it is like living and working in Japan. Since returning to the US, I have had the opportunity to work in international education and facilitate cultural events at the Consulate.

This interview is part of a partnership between the Japan Society Boston (JSB) and the United States Japan Exchange & Teaching Programme Alumni Association (USJETAA) in which JET alumni contribute short interviews about their experiences in Japan in each prefecture. This interview may be edited for clarity.

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