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JSB Meets JET Alumni

Welcome to our latest blog!

Here you will find interviews with former JET participants about their experiences in Japan in each prefecture, as part of our partnership with the United States Japan Exchange & Teaching Programme Alumni Association (USJETAA).

Our first interview is with a former JET who was placed in Hokkaido, in recognition of the Massachusetts-Hokkaido sister-state relationship. We will work our way down the country and share interviews with participants from all 47 prefectures of Japan!




In partnership with


  • 22 Feb 2021 4:52 PM | Anonymous

    Where were you in Japan as a JET and when?

    I lived and taught in Odate City, Akita-ken from 2006-2010


    What sparked your interest in applying for the JET program?

    I was going to University to be a teacher and unsure about wanting to teach in the U.S. I had some friends who were already in the program. Their stories and my own desire to do something new inspired me to apply.


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

    Food-wise, Akita is known for kiritampo nabe, Hata Hata (an ocean fish), rice, sake, and a smoky pickle called iburi-gakko.

    Culturally, it might be best known for a number of winter festivals and traditions including the Kamakura Matsuri in Yokote and the Namahage from Oga.

    Also, Akita Inu are probably a quick association many people have with the prefecture. The famous Akita-inu, Hachiko, is actually from Odate where a similar statue to the one in Shibuya also stands.


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

    I picked up a few, but because I started JET not knowing any Japanese, I didn’t really know I was picking up any region-specific phrases. One of my favorites is still “nda” which is just another way to say “soudesu”.  It felt good to understand what someone was saying and be able to reply “nda, nda, nda”

    I also like the Akitaben for “tabete,” or eat, which was just Ke.

    Lots of Akitaben and the general Akita accent was clipped and shortened. People said it was so that people wouldn’t lose too much hot air speaking in the winter.


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

    Absolutely. Akita is incredibly endearing and I think there’s something there for everyone. While a lot of the prefecture is rural and remote, I think many of the people I met were proud of what the prefecture has to offer and eager to show you why it’s a great place to be. I think about it almost every day 10 years after I left.


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

    I still feel very connected to Japan and the friends and memories I built there. While I do not work in a field directly connected to Japan, I have found ways to find connection. Currently, I’m on the board of the New England JET Alumni Association, and I’ve had a few occasions at my current organization in Boston to support the Fish Family Foundation’s Japanese Women’s Business Initiative.


  • 10 Feb 2021 5:22 PM | Anonymous

    Where were you in Japan as a JET and when?

    I was in Miyako-shi, Iwate-ken, from 1995 to 1997.

    What sparked your interest in applying for the JET program?

    Like many Americans, my interest in Japan began when I was a kid. Growing up, I had a steady diet of Japanese pop culture. Anime was not as popular or as prevalent then as it is today, but there was always a Godzilla film to be found if you knew how to turn the dial on a TV. And then Ultraman and Space Giants dominated my weekday afternoons after school and Battle of the Planets ruled the weekends. Around this time there was a television min-series adaptation of James Clavell’s novel, Shogun. And while this was a Westerner’s vision of feudal Japan, it acted as an intriguing doorway and that if I slid that shoji open just a bit I could discover a culture beyond giant robots. It wouldn’t be years later until I took a more serious interest in Japan and when I found out about JET, I never looked back.

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

    Ika senbei is the first thing to come to mind with wanko soba coming quickly behind. Ika senbei, or “squid crackers”, are delicious and wanko soba is….almost a sport! The soba is served in small bowls with just a small amount of soba. The more you eat, the more the bowls stack up, and even modest eaters end up with a column of empty soba bowls in front of them. Outside of Miyako is Jodogohama, a craggy coastline that reminds me of the Monterey Peninsula, California, where my parents used to live. The fact that these two beaches looked so similar and yet were an ocean apart, was a reminder of how much we have in common.

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

    I’ve forgotten all my Iwate-ben! It’s buried under a slew of other languages I’ve learned or struggled to learn since then.

    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)

    I feel privileged to have lived in a part of Japan that few foreigners ever get to visit or experience. I live in Tokyo now and it feels like a different Japan. In many respects, it’s probably a lot like someone going from my hometown in Texas to New York City, where I went to grad school: same planet, different worlds.

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

    My connection to Japan has only strengthened over the years. It’s been an honor to return to Japan to serve my country and a privilege to work on strengthening the alliance, the partnership, and the genuine friendship our two peoples enjoy.


  • 28 Jan 2021 4:37 PM | Anonymous

    Where were you in Japan as a JET and when?

    Iwate-Ken, Ofunato-shi, Sakari-cho. August 1st, 1992 - July 31st, 1994


    What sparked your interest in applying for the JET program?

    My Japanese Sensei at Villanova University recommended the JET Program. At the time, living and working in Japan was NOT part of my “life plan". I was a full-time student and worked part-time as a process sever serving subpoenas and summons for the courts. I thought I’d go to law school and then maybe join the F.B.I or D.E.A. I initially enrolled in Japanese class because it fit my crazy schedule, not because I thought I’d ever visit Japan (no less live / work there). When I shared my future plans with my Japanese Sensei I’ll never forget her response. “Doug-san, if you spend a few years in Japan (on the JET Program) you’ll gain incredible international experience and appear as a much more unique applicant to law schools; the FBI or DEA.” No argument there; Sensei was a spectacular saleswoman. So I researched the JET Program and was amazed at the opportunity / adventure it offered. I applied and recall going to NYC for the 3:1 interview. One of the interviewers asked me how I felt about being stationed in a very remote, rural part of Japan where there were few foreigners and people who spoke English. I said, “Perfect.” A few weeks later, I received word I was stationed at the Ofunato Kyoiku Jimusho serving the San-Riku Area elementary and high schools. 

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

    Iwate-ken is most know for fishing, delicious seafood, onsen, skiing, and the beautiful coastline. Ofunato (and the other coastal towns in Iwate) are also unfortunately known as the area of Japan devastated by the tsunami in 2011. I have not been back to Ofunato since the 2011 tsunami and hope to bring my wife and children there one day.

    Did you pick up any of the regional dialects? What are some of your favorite words or phrases? The local dialect is referred to as "Kessen-go," which rolls of local's tongues so fast it sounds more like Italian than Japanese.

    Not at all. It was so hard to understand. I recall “Nasai” transformed into “Nahariase” … “Oyasumi Nahariase…” When people spoke in the local dialect it was fast and sounded like another foreign language. Standard Japanese was enough of a challenge for me.

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

    Iwate-Ken and Ofunato are pretty far removed and it would be hard to say I’d choose to live there full-time. But if I lived in Tokyo full-time, I would definitely return to Iwate-Ken for vacations to enjoy the mountains and coast.  

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

    My connection to Japan is stronger than ever. It feels like my second home. After living in Iwate-ken on the JET Program, I never made it to law school, the FBI, or DEA. My "life plan” changed during the JET Program to include working full-time with Japan. After JET, I attended grad school (MBA) at the University of Hawaii and upon graduation returned to live and work in Tokyo for close to six years. Since returning to the USA, I’ve been fortunate to work for a Japanese company which enables me to travel to Japan once or twice a year. This last year of COVID-19 is actually the first year in close to twenty I have not been to Japan. I miss it and hope to return soon. The JET Program most certainly altered the course of my life.




  • 08 Jan 2021 4:47 PM | Anonymous

    Where were you in Japan as a JET and when?

    I was based in Ajigasawa, Aomori as a prefectural ALT from 2004-2006.

    What sparked your interest in applying for the JET program?

    In my third year of undergrad, I switched my academic focus from Middle Eastern Studies to Japan and decided that I wanted to eventually become a professor in East Asian religions. While I spent a month in Japan in a homestay and language study program near Kobe the summer before my senior year, I wanted more direct experience with the country and language. I had heard of JET through professors at my college, and I decided that this would be the perfect way for me to work on my language skills and gain direct experience with the country that I was now hoping to become a specialist in. Since I hadn't had a study abroad experience outside of that one month trip, I also wanted to take some time between degrees to live abroad.

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

    First and foremost, Aomori is famous for its apples. It's also known for tuna, scallops, abalone, garlic, canola, and its unique herd of hardcore wild horses. My town's thing was the "squid curtains" lining the seashore. Aomori is also famous for its snow. Wind sweeps directly across the Sea of Japan from Siberia and dumps snow throughout the prefecture, especially in the Tsugaru region where I was. There are multiple ski resorts, and Mt. Hakkoda outside Aomori City is renowned for the "snow monsters" formed from the snow ensconced trees. For scenic beauty, Aoike ("Blue Pond") and the Shirakami Sanchi mountains on the western side, Lake Towada in the center, and the mysterious Osorezan ("Mount Fear") in the axe-shaped Shimokita Peninsula are well worth a view. Since the prefecture caps the island of Honshū, it is a spectacular location for both sunrises and sunsets over the open water. Aomori also boasts excellent Jomon archaeological sites, including Japan's largest at Sannai Maruyama just outside Aomori City. And, of course, the autumn leaves, cherry blossoms, and snow lanterns at Hirosaki Castle are exquisite. Aomori also claims to have Jesus' actual tomb, just next to Lake Towada. 


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

    I think every JET in the Tsugaru region picked up at least a few words. I will still sometimes use me-kya for "tasty," or heba na for "goodbye." I was so focused on learning standard Japanese that I didn't take much effort to learning Tsugaru-ben, though, and now I wish I had. That said, an enterprising JET a few years before me made a small dictionary, which I still keep stored with my other Japanese texts.

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


    Probably not, but that is because my research interests lie further southeast around Nara. Nonetheless, Aomori is so special to me, and I have been considering a particular research topic that would give me an excuse to take a research trip back there!


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

    I didn't really have a connection to Japan before JET, and I haven't NOT had that connection since JET. While my goal of becoming a professor has never wavered, my experiences as a JET made me want to be part of the process from the other side. For that reason, I put my educational aspirations on hold for four years and took a job at the Consulate General of Japan in Miami, where I served as the JET Coordinator for the State of Florida. When the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred in 2011, I was the only member of the consulate with a direct connection to Tōhoku, where the earthquakes and tsunami caused the greatest damage. I could picture some of the towns that were demolished, especially as I was working to verify the safety of the JETs and Monbukagakushō scholars who had departed through my office. While that was among the most intense and challenging experiences of my life, it also reaffirmed the emotional tie I have to that part of Japan. Since leaving the consulate to pursue my PhD, I have visited Japan several times for language training and research. I also occasionally help with JET recruiting and supporting JET applicants, and I'm happy to participate in JETAA activities when I have the time and opportunity to do so.



  • 17 Dec 2020 4:07 PM | Anonymous


    Where were you in Japan as a JET and when?

    Sapporo, Hokkaido, 2010-2014

    What sparked your interest in applying for the JET program?

    I was a Japanese major and went to Akita International University 

    for a yearlong exchange, and during that time befriended local JETs and learned a lot about the Program. When I boarded my flight home, I told myself I had to come back to Japan, and that was when I started to seriously consider applying for JET.

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

    Hokkaido is known as a home to Ainu people, an indegenous group of Japan. There are many famous foods due to being a huge producer of agricultural and dairy products — ramen, milk, ice cream, cheese, confections... the list goes on. Hokkaido's powder snow and abundance of natural beauty has made the island an increasingly international tourist destination.

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

    I did not learn Hokkaido-ben, as it's supposedly more spoken in the coastal areas. Still, even in Sapporo, there are a few words everyone uses, such as なげる (nageru, "to throw") which also means "to throw away (garbage)" in Hokkaido. Corn is famous, and is often referred to as とうきび (toukibi). One of my favorites is なまら (namara, "very"). 

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

    If fate worked out that way, I would love to go back. But I'd also be open to gaining a new experience/perspective somewhere in Honshu.

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

    After JET, I stayed in Sapporo for 4 more years, so Japan has become a big part of my life. I've maintained that deep connection through my involvement in the local Japan community, including working with the Portland-Sapporo Sister City Association and Portland JET Alumni Association.

 

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