YOLO Experience 3- Yagnya

In our third and final instalment of our YOLO trips, we have Yagnya, or more affectionally known as Iggy, here to share her craziness with us. Ever climbed a mountain? Without training? Nor a walking stick? And worse, no proper climbing shoes? She did! Read on to find out how she fared…

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So, what was your YOLO experience?

(Nervous laughter) I climbed Mt. Tateyama, wearing Doc Martens and sans walking stick, just the day before I left Toyama Prefecture. I mean, I had REALLY wanted to do it for ages, and this was literally my last chance.

What inspired you to take on Mt. Tateyama? What did the mountains mean to you?

Toyama has nature that just can’t be found in Singapore; snow-capped mountains that stand huge and vast against the open skies. This was a sight I saw towering over Toyama from the first day I landed to the last- from buses and trains, and my apartment room on the 7th floor.

In the grand scheme of things, I realised, I was tiny compared to these mammoths. And in a weird way, this helped me overcome my anxieties. I got this sense of “enlightenment” that no matter how much you fall down, you can always get up again,  because the world is so much bigger than that. So, I desperately wanted to climb Tateyama, to pay my respects and to thank it for the 3 years of solidarity and companionship it had provided me with.

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July, and there was still snow!


Why didn’t you do it earlier?

During the prefectural orientation, we were brought up the mountain and I had a chance to climb it. The air was thin and cold, while snow covered the mountain top even until mid-August. There wasn’t enough time then for me to complete the climb, and I was ill-prepared for the unexpected cold. But, a new JET made a comment which brought me to tears for the first time since I landed, “Wow Iggy, look at how far you’ve come, from your tiny island to these mountains.”

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Typical climbing conditions- rocky, foggy, cold…


Subsequently, despite making 5 trips to Tateyama, I never made it to the top. Having seen the mountains in almost every season, the only “easy” time you could climb was in summer. The changing leaves were beautiful in autumn but the mountain would be super chilly, and the mountain was closed for climbing in winter, while spring meant towering snow walls.

Thus, came your impulse decision?

Yes, in my last month in Toyama, I decided to climb the mountain the day before I leave because that’s the kind of calm, rationale adult I am… I was going to be in emotional pain from all the farewells anyway, so why not give myself physical pain too?  A colleague found out and basically forced herself into my adventure because she was worried I was crazy. My friend from JET joined us too and I’m going to assume she did it out of love for me.

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They couldn’t bear to let me go up on my own…

How did this trip go? Did you manage to prepare yourself?

We set out really early in the morning. The whole bus journey felt like I was closing chapter of my life. When we finally reached the mountain, it was 10 degrees in July and you could still see snow!

I had no climbing boots, just my Doc Martens (wise choices everywhere). I was worried about falling and rolling down the mountain, especially since I was leaving TOMORROW and the path was slippery with snow. Thankfully my colleague lent me her climbing stick. Along the way, climbers would greet one another with “ohayou gozaimasu”, “ganbatte kudasai”, “otsukaresama deshita”!

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Konnichiwa! Ganbatte Kudasai~!

When we reached midway point, the path became really steep and with no clear path. My colleague helped me up a lot, by pushing my bag and waiting for me. The climb was tough, foggy and wet, and the air was so so thin. But I was hell-bent to reach the top. A memory of my special needs students came to mind: My favourite student told me to always “challenge yourself until your death” (he’s a ball of sunshine). He cannot climb this mountain due to Muscular Dystrophy, but his oddly encouraging words fueled me to keep going.

Did you reach the top in the end?

Yes! And at the top, there’s a shrine called Oyama Jinja. Tateyama is one of Japan’s three holy mountains (the other two are Mt. Fuji and Hakusan). My legs gave way and I just sat down for 10 minutes or so. I couldn’t believe I’d come this far, because I am not sporty. Others might have been faster, but not me. I guess this is life – we all have our challenges, and mountains to climb.

We had to descend soon so as not to miss the last bus. My colleague was a great help as I was really scared while climbing down and  had several near falls (the kind with sliding rocks and life really does kinda flash in front of your eyes). A kind hiker stopped by and showed me the right way to manoeuvre around the rocks. We made it down safely, with 20 minutes to spare.

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Yatta~!!!

What advice would you give to those who want to climb up like you did? Well, any mountain.

PLEASE DRINK MOUNTAIN WATER COS IT’S AMAZING! It is magical, nothing like what you’ve ever tasted (the main reason I did 3 years). Also, please train before attempting to climb (don’t be like me). Gear up; wear a coat, proper shoes and bring a climbing stick.

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Fresh, clear, refreshing water

What did you take away from this trip?

It was such a poignant ending to complete my JET journey; literally at the peak of Toyama.

Going up to the top was really an steep climb and going down wasn’t easy either. The journey was a metaphor of life. I work in theatre now, where there’s no clear path, but I do it because I believe in it. So it’s like a mountain again, where there’s no straight path – everyone has their own way of climbing up, be it fast or slow. Some reach the top on their first trip, others on their third, yet others who may never make it up. But really, you are your own yard stick and challenger.

So now, even on my REALLY bad days, the experience of having been to the “top of the world” helps me stand up again. I’m indebted to Tateyama for those 3 years, and I’m sure it’s not “Sayonara”, but “Mata ne”.

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Going up was tough, but so was coming down. We all have our own mountains climb in life. 

 

 

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YOLO Experience 2 – Karyn

Last week, we heard about how Claire n Kay discovered various experiences thru serendipity. Today, let’s hear from Karyn on how she traveled to the various Tohoku festivals in a week. Want to know the best resources to help you plan? Read on!

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What was your YOLO trip like? What inspired it?

Visiting all 47 prefectures was always on my ‘To-do’ list when I started living in Japan. My BOE gave all of the ALTs a very generous 5-day summer leave allowance during the summer holidays, so every summer, I would plan a massive trip that covers as many prefectures as I could fit in a region I hadn’t yet visited.

One year, I read an article about the Tohoku Rokkon Festival – an event where 6 of the region’s summer festivals are celebrated. I was intrigued, since I had always been under the impression that there were only the 3 big ones in Tohoku – the Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori, the Kanto Matsuri in Akita and the Tanabata Matsuri in Sendai. Well, now that I knew there were 6 of them and at least 2 of them were in prefectures I hadn’t yet visited, I had to plan a major trip to see all of them at least once while I was in Japan.

So the thing about these festivals is that they are held at around the same time every year – late July to early August – and as the festival dates overlap slightly, it is definitely possible to do a big runabout to see all of them IF you plan well in advance, especially for the Big 3. I started planning in March, and even then, I had already fallen behind in booking my hotel rooms in Aomori and Akita, so I had to resort to some creative manipulation to ensure that I had a roof over my head every night while not falling behind on my schedule.

You see, that’s the next part of my epic tale. Besides putting myself on a strict schedule to make every festival in the region, I also put myself on a strict travel and accommodation budget. Instead of shinkansen rides or flights, I would be using the ‘poor ALT’s best friends’ – the Seishun 18 ticket and the Hokkaido-East Japan Pass. Both passes (which are available to residents of Japan unlike JR passes) allow unlimited JR rides for 5/7 days, but users are limited to only local, express and some limited express trains. Since local trains can be very infrequent, I was committing myself to hours and hours on the rail. (Note: I am a minor train otaku so it wasn’t a real problem for me, but it’s definitely not something that the average traveller would want to do. Plus I had a portable Wi-Fi router with unlimited usage which was awesome for the long train rides.)

 

How did you plan for the trip?

As I noted before, I started planning the trip in March for the same summer. I looked up all the festival websites to get the exact dates of each festival and planned an itinerary that would bring me to each prefecture on the event dates. With the dates in hand, I looked for cheap accommodation within each city where the festival was being held. It was relatively easy to find hotels for the smaller festivals but near impossible for the 2 big ones in Akita and Aomori. So, I looked for affordable accommodation in nearby cities that was preferably one train ride away. The best option for Akita was in a small city about 1.5 hours away and meant that I would arrive after the festival at about 11pm at night, but hey, it’s Japan. It would be fine.

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Enjoying the beautiful scenery from the train.

To book my accommodation, I used jalan.com. It was by-far my favourite site for booking hotels and hostels my entire time in Japan and I rarely used any other sites. They would almost always have the cheapest rates and the most options, and I could accumulate points to be used for my next trip.

P.S. The Japanese version of the site was superior to the English version.

With the accommodation booked, I planned my travelling timetable with the help of Hyperdia. Most people would have used it at some point to plan their schedules on their trips to Japan. I love it because it allows you to look up JR trains only as well as restrict your choices to non-shinkansen trains. I wrote them all down in my travelling diary, with one ‘time-efficient’ choice and at least one ‘in-case-I-miss-a-train’ choice. With everything safely written down in case of bad Wi-Fi, I was ready for my epic trip.

P.S. Again, the Japanese version of the site was more accurate than the English version.

So your entire trip was based in Tohoku?

Actually, I’ve missed out an important part of my epic summer trip. Before I planned this epic Tohoku trip, I had actually decided that 2015 was going to be the year I was going to climb Mt Fuji and had already gotten 2 climbing buddies, both of whom flaked out on me. So, for the two days before my trip, I travelled to Tokyo from Kobe, took a bus to Mt Fuji, climbed it, stayed one night on the mountain, saw the sunrise at the summit, came back down, took a bus back to Tokyo and arranged for a kind fellow SG JET who lived in Tokyo to hold my climbing things for me before I headed up North to Sendai. Before I had even started on my trip, I was already exhausted. But onwards!

Wow, so how did your trip turn out?

Day 1 [Sendai-Fukushima]

The trip started out in Fukushima with the Fukushima Waraji Festival. Basically, it was a festival where groups of people ran down the street carrying massive traditional straw sandals. It was quite hilarious to watch, and was a relatively tame start to the trip.

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Day 2 – [Fukushima-Morioka; Iwate]

Next day, I headed up north again towards Morioka, home of the wanko soba, in Iwate. (Sidenote: The Zipangu Hiraizumi is a really cool train to ride if you can get on it.) The Morioka Sansa Odori is listed as the biggest taiko drum festival in the world and consists of parades of thousands of drummers from different school and community groups. At the end of it, everyone was invited to dance in the middle of the road. I brought my yukata with me just to be able to participate in the fun.

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Day 3- [Morioka-Hachinohe; Aomori]

I did a stopover in Hachinohe to watch the Hachinohe Sansha Taisai, which isn’t one of the 6 but was very spectacular nonetheless. The floats here have mechanism to expand upwards and sideways like a giant pop-up book.

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Day 4 – [Hachinohe-Aomori]

Finally, the massive Nebuta Matsuri! There is really nothing like seeing it for yourself. Forget pictures, forget Youtube videos. The only way to experience it is to be there and watch as the massive man-powered floats transverse down the street, often at high speed. It’s quite a sight to see how dozens and dozens of people manage to manoeuvre the floats without any accidents.

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Day 5- [Aomori-Akita]

Dokkoisho, dokkoisho! Unlike Nebuta, the Kanto Matsuri is a test of skill of each individual performer – one man/boy against a heavy stick of lanterns and the wind. The lanterns lit up the night sky and was a glorious sight.

 

Day 6- [Akita-Yamagata]

Almost done! The Hanagasa Matsuri is a dance parade where performers danced with big straw hats decorated with flowers. The funniest group I saw was the group of young men in army fatigue (probably JSDF recruits?) holding paper hats and dancing with them while having a senior officer shouting at them. I imagined him shouting something like “my grandmother can dance better than you!”

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Day 7- [Yamagata-Sendai]

Last day! Compared to the other festivals, the Tanabata Matsuri was just an exhibition of giant decorations hung everywhere in the city. People were all out in full force, taking pictures of whichever one they liked best. Even Starbucks had their own!

 

Any post-trip thoughts?

It was honestly a crazy epic trip, but I enjoyed it tremendously. One thing I honestly felt about all these festivals were that they all have a huge community and history behind each of them. In these festivals, the schools, community groups, ward groups, even corporate groups got involved. You can feel how proud they are to be a part of this annual cultural event, and how it was so much a part of them. I got a little wistful at that thought.

Total damage?

3 days paid leave plus 3 days of summer leave from my 14/15 allocation and 3 days from my 15/16 allocation

~90,000 yen not including my Fuji climb.

(~30,000 yen in total for my 2 train passes, ~30,000 for accommodation, ~30,000 for food and omiyage)

Advice for those planning this trip?

Start early. Consider splitting it into 2 trips unless you’re crazy like me. If you are lucky to find someone who’s willing to do this trip with you, it’ll be probably be a lot more fun. Go to a Daiso and buy a cushion, a ground sheet, a sweat towel and a bag to hold all of that. Drink lots of water and sunscreen/a hat is an absolute MUST for when you find a spot hours before the festival start.

 

YOLO Experience 1- Claire and Kay

Earlier on, we’ve asked our JETAA members to share about their crazy or YOLO experiences. So first up, it’s Claire and Kay who found their journey to Yakushima most epic. Let’s hear from them as they tell us about what they did and how they planned this trip-

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Why Yakushima?

Kay: We wanted to hike in this old forest which was famously known as The Forest of Princess Mononoke among Studio Ghibli fans.

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Everyone was talking about the beautiful moss covered rocks.

Claire: We decided to take a short 2d1n trip to the island for the hike. Upon arrival via the morning ferry, we went to the tourist information centre and managed to catch the last bus that went to the forest. I was pretty hyped for the hike. I didn’t watch Princess Mononoke but the pictures I saw online were beautiful!

 

How was the hike through the forest?

Kay: We decided to do the 4 hour hike that will lead us to taiko no iwa (太鼓の岩)  and finish in time for the last bus back to the central area. The hike did not disappoint and we saw the moss rocks and streams so often featured on blogs. We could see how this location inspired the anime for Princess Mononoke. We came for the pretty forest but what we saw at the peak of the rock was a wonderful surprise!

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Feeling accomplished 

Claire: However, our victory was short-lived as we had to rush back down for the last bus leaving the forest! Descending was always more difficult for me than ascending due to a previous knee injury. Our legs were aching by then but it was unimaginable to miss the bus! It was a pity we couldn’t take the time to enjoy the forest but we made it to the bus.  

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Kay: We also decided then, that we wanted to stop being at the mercy of sparse buses, and on impulse, we rented a car for the next 24h of our trip. Good thinking there, as we could visit an onsen to soak our tired muscles plus we got to try flying fish tempura! Claire’s JTE only told her that Yakushima was famous for flying fish and Google supplemented the rest of the info.

Claire: It was sooooo delicious! We also had a lovely chat with the restaurant owner.

 

Did you manage to explore other parts of the island?

Claire: It was great that we finished the hike on the first day so we had some time the following day before taking the ferry back to Kagoshima city. Initially we were tempted to do the hike to see the oldest tree in Japan, Jōmon Sugi (縄文杉), but the hike would take 10 hours so we gave up on that idea.

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Kay: We went on a mini road trip around the island for the other sights, including the waterfall, which our hostel reception advised us to visit. But the highlight came in the form of an open air onsen. It was an onsen in the middle of the sea, and one could only soak in the onsen when the tide recedes and exposes the onsen. There was no men’s or women’s bath, nor were there even changing rooms! But well, yolo! We had a soak anyway. Apparently, females were allowed to enter with a towel wrapped around them unlike private onsens.

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The open air onsen- it appears only in low tide.

Claire: We had to strip in the public beside the onsen pools. An old man was literally standing near me and waiting for me to strip. >.< I have never changed so fast in my life lol. I wrapped a bath towel around me as fast as possible and entered the onsens. I quickly forgot about my discomfort. It was “interesting” being in a mixed public onsen though. Whenever I saw Japanese mixed baths on TV, I’d always marvelled at how at ease the women were and never thought I’d be in that kind of situation one day. Well, now I know lol.  

 

Anything else you would recommend for Yakushima?

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Scenic views along the drive 

Kay: Despite hearing about the narrow and winding roads on the west side of the island and the locals cautioning us against driving in that area, we still made a small gamble and drove that way as we heard we could see interesting wildlife there. It was a good detour though, and we got to see the 

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Yakushika! Yakushima’s own roaming deer


Yakusaru aka Yakushima’s monkeys and Yakushika aka Yakushima’s deers, and of course beautiful sea views, and most of it really wasn’t THAT dangerous. We knew the risks we’d be taking and were prepared to b
acktrack if we noticed the road getting more and more narrow.

 

 

What made this trip YOLO?

Claire: The trip was just full of spontaneous and impromptu decisions. We didn’t have any concrete plan going into the island but the trip was just so rewarding and full of surprises. You get a mix of sea and mountain views in many places and the whole island was just magical. I love it!

Kay: We also took a lot of advice (guidebooks, tour centre volunteer, JTE, hostel receptionist, friends) for various sources and just went with the flow when we were there, thus making it more YOLO.

Who’s that JET? #5 Chris McMorran

Hello there! Each month, we will be speaking with a JET alumnus to know more about their JET experience and life post-JET. If you are interested to be interviewed, or if you would like to nominate someone, please let us know by dropping us a comment here, on our Facebook, or email us at publicrelationsjetaasingapore@gmail.com.


Next up, we have JET alumni Chris McMorran, who was placed in a place of arresting beauty, Kumamoto. Some of you may find Chris a familiar face as he works as a Senior Lecturer at NUS, Dept of Japanese Studies. Thank you Chris for sharing us many precious nuggets of wisdom in this interview. Enjoy!

Where are you from, and what brings you to Singapore?

I was raised in Iowa, in the US Midwest. I moved to Singapore in 2010 to begin working at NUS. I’m currently Senior Lecturer in the Dept of Japanese Studies.

How did you decide on this particular field?

I completed my PhD in Geography in 2008, based on research I conducted in Kurokawa Onsen, Kumamoto Prefecture. I worked in a handful of ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) for about a year – welcoming guests, carrying luggage, cleaning guest rooms, washing dishes, scrubbing baths – to better understand the labor required to produce that feeling of home away from home everyone loves about the ryokan.  

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How has your experience on the JET Programme helped you reach this place in life?

I knew nothing about Japan before I moved to Kumamoto fresh out of college to begin my life as an ALT. Within a few years I had developed a fascination with the country that drove me to learn more and eventually pursue graduate studies in Geography, focused on tourism in Japan. I also visited and became enthralled with Kurokawa and met my future wife during my JET years. It was a critical time in my life, leading me to where I am today.

What is the JET experience you got that was unique to Kumamoto?

I moved from my hometown in Iowa (population 2000) to Kumamoto City (pop. 600,000), where I lived in an apartment for the first time in my life and commuted to work by bicycle. In other words, the JET Program was my first experience living in a city. In contrast, many of my friends, both in Kumamoto and elsewhere, lived very rural lives in towns and villages like I grew up in. What was unique (to me) about Kumamoto was the combination of this very happening big city and all the super-tiny villages only an hour or so away. At the time, there was not as much suburban sprawl as one finds around Kumamoto these days, so I could hop on my bicycle in the heart of the downtown and be riding past rice fields in about 20 minutes. That was unique for me. I now know that many capitals of Japan’s smaller prefectures resemble Kumamoto, but that was new for me. Kumamoto also offered amazing beaches, seafood and dolphin watching, as well as beautiful mountains, a live volcano (Aso), and hot springs. I was in heaven!

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What is the most memorable thing you’ve done on the Programme?

Work-related: I have fond memories of training students for English recitation contests. Some of the students even won!

Personal: I spent a few weeks one summer cycling from Sapporo to Wakkanai. Along the way I stayed with strangers who invited me into their homes. I circumnavigated Rishiri Island and later hiked a few days in Daisetsuzan National Park. At one point along a path in Daisetsuzan I found a shovel and a sign that said “dig for onsen.” After 10 minutes I had created an onsen pool large enough for one person to sit in. I stripped down and bathed on the mountaintop, without any shelter or another soul around. That was a fantastic experience.

What insider secret can you share with someone who is about to visit Kumamoto for travel? 

There are too many options to choose from. Here are a few favourites:

  1. Contrast onsen: Visit both Kurokawa Onsen and Tsuetate Onsen. They are both located in the mountainous center of Kyushu, in the northernmost part of Kumamoto bordering Oita Prefecture. They are both fascinating places and excellent for unwinding, but they differ in key ways. Kurokawa only became popular in the 1980s, when there was a resurgence of nostalgia for rural landscapes. This is obvious in the architecture and overflowing greenery planted around the village. Buy a bath pass (nyucto regatta) and try three outdoor baths (rotemburo) at one of the two dozen participating inns. I really shouldn’t play favourites and say which ones to visit. They all have their own charms. Then go to Tsuetate and stay the night. Of course, you can stay in Kurokawa, but you’ll pay double or even triple for the privilege, and I think the quality of the baths at Tsuetate are superior. The water just does something different to your skin!

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  1. Contrast museums: Visit Sōshisha and the Minamata Disease Municipal Museum in Minamata. These two museums are devoted to the many victims of methyl-mercury poisoning that first came to light in the late 1950s and continued for years due to prejudice, ignorance, and cozy ties between the polluter (Chisso Corporation) and the prefectural and city governments (eventually the national government admitted some responsibility, too). Despite being about the same tragedy, the two museums present slightly different narratives, which always makes for a fascinating experience.
  1. Love nature: At 1592 meters, Mt. Nakadake is a winner. It’s also easy to remember because the height can be read hi-go-ku-ni, one of Kumamoto’s nicknames (“Higo” was the Tokugawa period name of Kumamoto. It’s still the name of the local bank).. It’s also easy to remember because the height can be read hi-go-ku-ni, one of Kumamoto’s nicknames (“land of fire” – because of the nearby volcano). Set aside 3-4 hours to pace yourself and have time for selfies. Pack water and an onigiri to enjoy at the top. Also worth a visit is Kikuchi Gorge, a magical canyon carved out by some of the clearest water you’ve probably ever seen. Like many of the best spots in Kumamoto and elsewhere in Japan, these places are easily reached by car, and otherwise quite difficult to access. But they are worth it.
  1. Religious pilgrimage: Christians might enjoy visiting sites around Amakusa devoted to their faith. For instance, Christian missionaries had been quite successful in converting Japanese in the late 1500s, and the religion flourished until the Tokugawa regime cracked down on it and banned the practice. This led many to become “hidden Christians” (kakure kirishitan), who continued to practice in secret for the next few hundred years. There is now a Christian museum in Amakusa, as well as a few small churches built after the restrictions were lifted, which are cute but look curious in their tiny Japanese fishing villages. There has been a recent push to get these churches inscribed in the UNESCO list of World Heritage. People might want to visit before the rest of the tourists arrive! Of course, you could always combine this trip with visits to some shrines and temples, like Fujisaki-gu in Kumamoto City.

Who’s that JET? #4 Medha Lim

Our 4th featured JET alumni is Medha Lim, who was placed in Shizuoka. Some of you may already know her because of the heritage walks that she conducts. Medha has always been passionate about the little areas of Singapore that make us unique, and she’s been working very hard to bring her finds to others. You can check out her work on her Facebook page.

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JETAA  SG: What are you doing now that you are back in SG?
Medha: I’ve been in the PR line ever since returning from Japan. 

JETAA SG: How did you come to start on the JalanMedha project?
Medha: Living in Japan and watching how people approach their every day life made me realise we don’t walk much in Singapore, and we don’t pay attention to our surroundings. JalanMedha took a year to conceptualise, but it was triggered by my love for walking, taking photographs, and love of Singapore.

JETAA SG: What was your key motivation, and how has that come by so far?
Medha: With every new development, we lose stories of yesterday’s Singapore. We lose memories of what made us who we are, and I didn’t want to forget. At every walk, I hope to share with my participants a little bit of what I’ve learnt, what I remember, and hopefully, they can share their memories too.

JETAA SG: How has your experience on the JET Programme helped you reach this decision?
Medha: If you can teach and engage a class of more than 20 students, you can conduct a walk and share information.

JETAA SG: Let’s blitz through some questions about Japan!

  1. What JET experience do you think is unique to Shizuoka?
    • Specialty oden, I guess?
  2. What insider’s secret can you share with someone who is about to visit Shizuoka for travel?
    • There is always a good reason to buy melon.
  3. What is your favourite Japanese word? (I know, I know, it is very typical Japanes-ey question, but please humour us)
    • It’s not a word, it’s a sound – “Ehhhhhhhhhh”.
  4. Where is your favourite place to travel to in Japan?
    • Nara and all her temples.
  5. What is the most memorable thing you have done in school?
    • Singing a duet with another teacher as part of the students’ graduation ceremony. Stage fright maximus.

Thank you Medha! Medha has also kindly shared some pictures of her heritage walk with us.

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Each month, we will be speaking with a JET alumnus to know more about their JET experience and life post-JET. If you are interested to be interviewed, or if you would like to nominate someone, please let us know by dropping us a comment here, on our Facebook, or email us at publicrelationsjetaasingapore@gmail.com.

Who’s that JET? #3 Vivian Ong

Hello again! As mentioned before, we have a JET Alumnus of the Month interview. Each month, we will be speaking with a JET alumnus to know more about their JET experience and life post-JET. If you are interested to be interviewed, or if you would like to nominate someone, please let us know by dropping us a comment here, on our Facebook, or email us at publicrelationsjetaasingapore@gmail.com.


Third on our series is JET alumnus Vivian Ong, who was placed in Mie. Vivian is also one of the few Singaporean JETs that stayed in Japan for the maximum period of stay that the programme allows. Mie has continued to enrapture her and she is currently still working in Mie. So do read on and check out this inside interview that she shared with JET AA!

What are you doing now after your 5 year JET stint?

I started working with the local Board of Education in Ise city, a neighbor city from my JET stint (Toba). Although I am currently working with Elementary and Junior High Schools as opposed to the Senior High Schools where I was posted on while on the JET program, I feel that the Team-Teaching experiences that I gathered through JET have given me a better understanding on how Japanese students learn English. With these experiences, I was better able to modify my activities to suit the learning needs of Japanese who seem to learn better through fun and interactive communication.

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Why did you decide to stay on in Japan after 5 years on JET?

During my stint on the JET Program, I was positively influenced by the sincerity of the people I met and interacted with. In particular, I started to grow close to a male friend who helped me a lot during times of troubles here when I had no one to rely on. Although he did not have great English speaking skills, he made an effort to understand my needs and the frustrations faced by a foreign living in the Japanese environment. Needless to say, the rest is history and touched by his kindness, we soon started a relationship and we were married in November 2015.

However, even without his presence, I believe I would have stayed on in Japan, especially Mie as I realize I have developed an aversion to the hustle and bustle of a city life. I have begun to appreciate the simplicity of life and to live in balance with nature and not take things for granted. Japanese are grateful and express thankfulness to their surroundings and it has become a habit in them. This can be seen in their daily life, for example in taking responsibility for their own trash by bringing them home, giving thanks before having their meals and sparing a thought for others with their actions, just to name a few.

What is it about Mie that made you stay for so long (5 years)?

I feel I have been blessed with an ideal location, Mie Prefecture, which is situated in central Japan. With its convenient access to the attractive cities of Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe and Nagoya, I am able to take various day trips to these locations whenever I have the urge to. At the same time, Mie, being in the countryside, allows me to appreciate nature and the resources it provides.

Ise-shima region, where I live is rich in its historical, cultural and natural heritage. In the historical front, we have the Ise Grand Shrine which is often known as the Imperial household’s family shrine and is considered one of Shinto’s holiest and most important sites. There is even a saying that Ise city will be spared from natural disaster due to the presence of the Ise Grand Shrine.

Ise shima region also still preserves certain aspects of traditional culture. A prominent cultural aspect that still lives strong up till today is the Ama pearl divers who are traditional free divers that dive without using any breathing apparatus in order to collect the pearl oysters from the seabed. Surrounded by beautiful mountains and the Ise Bay area, nature-based activities such as surfing, scuba diving and snorkeling can also be enjoyed in summer. Hiking are good options in autumn and spring, while winter brings in ideals conditions for cultivating delicious Matoya oysters and Ise lobster home to this region. As a nature lover and fan of fresh seafood, I believe I’ll never get tired of living in this region.

What is the JET experience you experienced which was unique?

Since I was teaching at a Senior High School, I had the opportunity to interact with students through their club activities, outside of the classroom. It was during these times that I got really close to my English club students and they gradually invited me to join the Tea ceremony club which was the other club activity that they were involved in. Initially I decided to just take a peep as I was curious on how Japanese Tea ceremony is practiced. However, overtime, I realize I have gradually fell in love with the art of making Japanese tea. Although it simply involved various steps in pouring and eventually drinking the tea, I was mesmerized by how each action has a reciprocal effect on the next step and how the whole procedure represents the flow of energy from one object to another.

I was so captivated by this beautiful art and decided to continue with my students throughout my times on the JET program. Over the years, I graduated from becoming a learner and started teaching the new incoming students on the proper procedures and sometimes even helped out in interpreting the steps in English when we showcase the art to foreign students and visitors to the school. It was fun practicing alongside my students and at the same time getting them to speak up more in English as we interacted through Tea ceremony.

What other activities did you engage in outside of the JET Programme?

I believe engaging in activities offered outside of the JET Programme is a key in understanding your community and getting to know the locals better. While on the JET Program, I scouted for a chorus group to join, thinking it would be one method in which I can engage in as a form of stress relief. It proved to be beneficial in many ways. Learning Japanese through songs have helped in my pronunciation and I was able to learn traditional Japanese songs both in general and unique to my region. Joining the chorus also allowed me to make friends outside of the JET circle and my local city, and it widened my opportunity to communicate using Japanese and learning the regional dialect, Kansai ben. Finally, it has also given me the unique experience of representing Japan in choral competitions overseas, which provided me with an eye-opener on how Japanese group behaviour are strongly influenced by their culture.

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What insider’s secret can you share with someone who is about to visit Mie for travel?

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Mie Prefecture is shaped in such a way that it is not very accessible from one end to the other. It measures 170 km from north to south, and 80 km from east to west, and includes five distinct geographical areas. One would therefore need more than one day to truly enjoy the beauty of Mie.

In a broad general summary, the northern area is famous for Mount Gozaisho and Japan most famous racetrack, Suzuka circuit. The west marks the birthplace of the ninja and is home to the Iga Ninja Museum. Way down south is the ancient road once used by pilgrims leading to the World Heritage Site, Kumano Kodo. In the centre of Mie is where one of the most famous beef types, both in Japan and internationally, is raised and produced in the quiet and serene areas surrounding Matsusaka. Last but not the least is the Ise shima region as described earlier.

What is your favourite Japanese phrase?

案ずるより産むが易し。Anzuru yori umu ga yasashi

In literal terms, it translates as “giving birth to a baby is easier than worrying about it”, which means that an attempt is sometimes easier than expected.

I kept reminding myself of this phrase, since I began the journey on applying for JET and eventually in the various challenges that I’ve been faced with on my JET journey. Steeping out of Singapore to begin this JET journey only marks the start of many more adventures to come. Therefore, rather than worrying if you can survive in a countryside of Japan without any knowledge of Japanese language, just step forward and embrace the various challenges that will come your way.

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Image from 麗佳先生の彩り文字

Winners of the 2016 JETAA Singapore Photo Contest

Congratulations! These are the winners of the 2016 JETAA Singapore Photo Contest.

Category: 「給食」:Kyushoku, school lunches

Name: Felicia Lee Foong Lin
Placement: 2006 – 2008, Oirase-cho, Aomori

preparing lunch momoishi elementary school 2006
Photo taken at Momoishi Elementary School, September 2006

Category:「教室」 Kyoushitsu, classrooms

Name: Heng Kai Le
Placement: Kumamoto City 2011-2013

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Photo taken at Akitsu Elementary School, May 2012

Category:「国際交流」Kokusaikoryū, international relations

Name: Wong Shi Lei
Placement:  2012-2014, Shizuoka

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International Yukata – A gift to the world | Photo taken at Shizuoka Prefecture Shimizu Minami High School, June 2014

Category:「祭り」Matsuri, Japanese festivals

Name: Anna Wong
Placement: 2010 -2013

 

Nanao Gion Matsuri, Nanao City, Ishikawa, July 2015
Nanao Gion Matsuri | Photo taken at Ishikawa, July 2015

Thank you everyone who had participated in this contest! We received many amazing pictures, and it was a tough selection process. We hope you had as much fun taking a trip down memory lane as the selection committee had. Your photos reminded us of our own adventures in JET, and how fortunate we are to be given the opportunity to experience them.

The above winning entries will be our postcard pictures for our SJ50 Celebrations.

All winners will receive a JETAA SG goodie bag and a Meidi-ya voucher by post. We will reach out shortly via email for your contact details.