Mailbag Requests: Differences

::pulls out reading glasses and digs into the mailbag::

Alright, first up is from Sus: “How Otobe differs from your other homes in Japan.”

First, a quick review of where I’ve been in Japan. In 2004, I visited Tokyo, Hakone, and Kyoto with my mother. In 2005, I stayed with a host family in Nishiizu, Shizuoka for a few weeks. In 2006, I returned there for a week, on a trip that also included Tokyo and Kyoto. Finally, in 2008 I studied abroad in Nagoya for four months, also visiting Tokyo, Kyoto, Kanazawa, Takayama, and Shirakawa-go. Of all of these, I consider myself to have actually “lived” in Nishiizu and Nagoya.

Otobe is obviously different from Nagoya. Nagoya is Japan’s third largest metropolitan center, with an international airport, department stores, universities, and a subway system (as well as a major port). Otobe’s claim to transportation fame is a major federally-maintained road running through it and most shopping beyond daily needs is down in towns further south or east. Nagoya might as well be Saint Paul, MN with Japanese people for all the differences. Right now, the weather is pretty similar – warm and humid and almost September, but I suspect our winter will not be as mild as Nagoya’s.

The differences between Nishiizu and Otobe were slower to come to light. First, I’d like to teach you a new word – “inaka”. It’s means rural, or countryside, but it also has a distinct flavor of ‘the sticks’.

When you apply to the JET programme, there’s a place on the form where you can indicate any placement requests you may have, whether it’s urban, suburban, or rural, or if you even have a specific prefecture or city you’d like to be sent to. There’s a bit of a myth that JET won’t place you in a city – false! You’re almost definitely not going to get Tokyo or one of the other largest cities, but Sapporo, Kyoto, Fukuoka City are all possibilities.

There’s also a lot of chat about whether JET cares about any specific requests you may make, or whether you should make them at all. Personally, I think that it never hurts to ask, especially if you add that you would really be happy anywhere (if you wouldn’t be, either don’t apply or lie). My theory as to whether they listen? I think they do as long as 1) it’s convenient for them, 2) they actually have spots open where you want to go, 3) they think you’d be okay there, and 4) the contracting organization wants you. That last one may sound weird, but if the CO is in a large city and the only housing available is a one-room apartment in the teachers’ dorm, they may not want the JET who is bringing their family along.

Personally, I was one of the lucky ones: Hokkaido – anywhere was my first choice and I got it. However, I’ve talked to other Hokkaido JETs who were bewildered about their placement. They’d requested Kyushu (the southernmost of the Japanese home islands) or some other warm location, only to end up in the land of snow, ice, and skiing.

Anyway, enough JET speculation! Basically, what I’m getting at is that placements are discussed endlessly and locations are usually broken down into four categories: Urban, whether a location is suburban enough (depending on which way, rural or urban, the JET was leaning), rural, and those rare ‘Yes, you are the only foreigner on the island and the boat only runs to the mainland 3 times a week’ postings. Since Otobe fell into squarely into the rural category, I spent most of orientation and the first few weeks being reminded that I was in the inaka. It’s the middle of nowhere! People speak in strange dialects! Vegetables mysteriously appear at your door! Public transportation is a myth!

I was so indoctrinated that it took me until a few days ago to realize that, actually, Otobe wasn’t that inaka, especially once I compared it to Nishiizu. Then it became downright cosmopolitan! Otobe has three convenience stores and two traffic lights! More than one elementary school! Hakodate is only an hour and a half away by car, whereas in Nishiizu, you’d have to drive twice as long to get somewhere half Hakodate’s size.

Helps keep things in perspective.

More General Differences

No lie, there’s a lot to be stressed about when you’ve moved to a foreign country. However, one of the biggest stress relievers has been living on my own. There’s no Japanese host family to worry about offending or putting out. Don’t get me wrong, I think home-stays are wonderful, but transitioning from a college student who takes care of most of her own daily needs to living as a family with people you didn’t know until last month can be tough.

Now I can decide to leave the breakfast dishes until after work, or move all the furniture around, and do the laundry when I want, without worrying about destroying the family washing machine. Having a job also relieves a lot of pressure – if I broke my washing machine, it would suck, but I’d be able to replace it.

Though I’d rather spend the money on books.

(this is from a trip to Esashi – to think that before driving up, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find the bookstore)



Filed under japan

5 responses to “Mailbag Requests: Differences

  1. Dad

    Except for the humidity and vegetables left at your door, sounds like a little place called Shiprock. I remember several “bewildered” arrivals while we were there.

  2. Sus Baker

    Otobe is sounding better all the time. Its location sounds a little bit like here, especially in the fall after all the tourists leave. Our local town has most things, but you keep a list going of the items you need to get on your next trip to the city. I’m glad to see that books don’t have to wait for the ‘city’ list. That would be inaka indeed. There’s no question that having your own house is a huge difference. It means you don’t have to be ‘on duty’ 24/7. It also makes it easier to have guests. 🙂 How many other JETs are on Hokkaido? Are any nearby? Are you working with schools in other small towns nearby or only in Otobe?

  3. maurimoii

    There’s good number of JETs in Hokkaido, there were almost 100 new JETs just at Sapporo orientation last month. It seems like each municipality on ‘my’ peninsula has it’s own ALT, though I’m not sure about the towns on the southern coast and I believe Hakodate has a few.

    Just Otobe for me. It’s one town, but I guess you could think of it as a conglomeration of several former villages, some of which still have schools. But since I work for the Otobe board of education, they’d have a hard time loaning me out.

  4. Sus Baker

    How much do you travel from school to school?

  5. maurimoii

    I have three elementary schools and one junior high. I have the junior high school 2 times per week and the elementary schools 2-3 times per month, so usually one (maybe two) of them per week. My furthest school is a twenty minute drive away. The junior high is just down the street from my house.

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