Life as a Shimane ALT when the JET Programme was only 5 years old
By Rose Tanasugarn (Gotsu BoE 1990-1993, Hamada BoE 2003-2006)
Many old Japanese fables start, “Mukashi, mukashi,” (long, long ago) and I feel like one of those old obaachan in the stories even writing this article, especially when I realize that some current JETs may just have been barely out of diapers when I first arrived in Shimane in August 1990. The JET Program was only in its 5th year, and there were a total of 29 JETs in all of Shimane; when I left in 1993, Shimane had 59 JETs. By 2003, I think Shimane had almost that number of CIRs alone.
I am amused remembering that when I was Shimane AJET vice rep in 1991 and helped pull together an overnight trip to Hiroshima to watch a Carp game, everyone showed up where and when we agreed we would meet–no one flaked. Given that this was in the age before there were cell phones, it was a matter of trust on the host’s part and responsibility on the participant’s part to show up. It was a big adventure for many of us who hadn’t yet been out of Shimane, especially the ones who couldn’t read kanji or speak Japanese. The Hamada toll road had not yet been constructed, so getting to Hiroshima was at least a 2 to 3-hour drive or bus ride on Route 261 or other small roads through the mountains.
In the days before Internet, I looked forward to getting “The Kelly Green Prison” Shimane AJET monthly newsletter by snail mail, and spent many long days at the Board of Education during spring break writing letters to family and friends back home. The Gotsu post office got to know me as a regular as I would go there almost daily with 5 or 6 letters I had written to pass the time because I had not yet become conversant in Japanese and no one at my BoE could speak English very well. I even became good pen pals with fellow Shimane JETs in the far reaches of Tsuwano and Oki because domestic and international phone bills were outrageous. One spring when I was particularly chatty with friends back home, my overseas phone bill came to over 130,000 yen in a month because KDDI was the only choice available and even their discounted calling rates to the US were not cheap.
It definitely seems easier to be a JET today with Facebook, Skype, and a wealth of free resources and references readily looked up on Google, but I remember my old school JET days with fondness. Remembering that it took almost two weeks for a letter to get home to my mother in L.A. and two weeks for her reply to come back, I am extra thankful to the people of Gotsu and all the interesting and engaging internationalization weekend activities throughout Shimane which helped me overcome bouts of homesickness and allowed me to make true friendships with both fellow JETs and Shimaneans that continue even today.
As trite as it may sound, if I had to do it all over again, I would not change a thing.
Rose Tanasugarn (firstname.lastname@example.org) now lives and works in Kobe, Japan.