Sunday, August 5, 2012

On the Road Again

And then, "in the time it takes to say あ" as Japanese say, This Blogger found himself saying a tearful goodbye to parents, liquids, and gels, and, while paging past the "Instructor" visa in his passport, wondering, (in a blatantly rhetorical sense), how it was he had come, a year after his return to the US, to be waiting for another flight back to Akita.

Regular readers of this blog (hi, again, Mom!) undoubtedly recall my brush last year with the JET Program, a Japanese government-sponsored exchange initiative that yearly coordinates the hiring and placement of around 4,000 people from across the English-speaking world by a maze of local and prefectural authorities across Japan. "JETs" are assigned to serve in small numbers as office-based 'international relations coordinators ("CIRs") or, in the overwhelming majority of cases, as assistant language teachers, (the in-the-know call them "ALTs") working alongside local professional teachers  in the English as a Foreign Language classroom. 

Fruit of a vogue for all things "internationalization" during the 1980's "Japan as No. 1" boom,  JET's star has fallen somewhat within Japan since the inward turn of the recession 1990s' "Lost Decade",  even as it has become, for the community of young American 'Japan fans' of gap year age, the de facto gold standard in "pre-career jobs", offering a decent wage and, for the motivated and skillful, a chance to actually fill an important niche in Japanese society, and (hopefully) pass on to one's students a sense of enlightened cosmopolitanism (as well, more mundanely, as a touch of one's regional accent, and a smattering of information on the holidays and characteristic foods of the English-speaking world). Hard to argue with that-- and hence it's not surprising that, in order for me to find myself here, I had to pass a multi-stage, multi-month application/interview screen with around a 1% pass rate.

Lucky as I was to make it through the screen and be selected as an ALT, I was still more surprised at my luck in my placement. Influenced perhaps by my mention of namahage, Akita's famed tradition of traditional (now touristic) folk Shintō-based child trauma in my application essay, JET elected to send me to Oga, in more modern times, the tradition's growling, bucket-carrying heart. Seated on a rugged peninsula (all of it part of my service area) that juts into the Sea of Japan, the location also promised a full share of scenic beauty, tens of feet of snow in the winter, and, I hoped, the same friendly curiosity and openness of character I'd seen again and again in the people I'd met in Akita last year. 

So it was that, after a day of stateside orientation, (whose highest point, a series of one-on-one discussion sessions with a passel of eager Japanese English teachers on professional exchange, redoubled my eagerness to get into the classroom and left me with a stack of business cards from new acquaintances impressed with my Japanese ability), I found myself once again steeling myself for the long haul to Tokyo.

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