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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
What insider’s secret can you share with someone who is about to visit Mie for travel?
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.