My JET Journey  
Contributed in September, 2012

Your journey never ends. Life has a way of changing in incredible ways. (Alexander Volkov)

Two years ago, I embarked on a journey – one that has influenced and shaped me in ways that I’m still trying to comprehend. My mission was to teach English and the destination was Yamanashi, Japan.

Au Naturel Yamanashi

Situated west of the bustling Japanese metropolis, Yamanashi is a land blessed with the unspoiled magnificence of nature. Most famously home to the timeless Mount Fuji and its five lakes, the landscape abounds with mountain ridges, ancient gorges, national parks, flower fields, fruit farms and relaxing hot springs.
Optimum climatic conditions have made it ideal for fruit production and that has earned Yamanashi the title “Kingdom of Fruit”. Grapes, peaches and pears are said to be the best in the country! Naturally, vineyards are ubiquitous (in fact, I pass by four on my way to school every day) and wineries boast fine wines made from locally-grown grapes.
Here, life flows instinctively with the rhythmic pulse of nature and its beautiful changing seasons.

Delightful school life

“Today, I’ll like to show you some pictures.”
“Shoyu?” a bewildered boy exclaimed.

Teaching in Japan has been a gratifying and learning journey. I team teach Oral Communication (OC1) classes with Japanese teachers, and my students are cute, bubbly teenagers (aged 15 to 17) at a senior high school in Kofu City, the capital of Yamanashi. Students in this school are particularly smart, diligent and polite – an absolute joy to teach and to learn from. In a society where English is not widely used in daily life, I can only imagine how learning it (in all its complexities) is a daunting and challenging task for my students.
Little wonder a few cheeky ones wrote this in a test:

“What are you learning in OC1 now?”

Due to language and cultural differences, it is not uncommon or surprising for amusing miscommunications to occur on a daily basis. Taken with a dose of humour, these funny encounters are one of the highlights of my JET experience.
Another important role I play is that of a cultural ambassador for Singapore. As I share about her customs and my personal experiences, I believe I have gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of the way of life I have grown so accustomed to back home.

Life in Japan

Japan is an incredible country, advanced in technology and steeped in tradition. Picturesque seasons, rich culture and history, and a multi-faceted society, etc. all make up the rich tapestry of the Japanese way of life. In a nutshell, there is always something new to discover, like an adventure waiting to unravel each day.
Of course, being a foreigner in Japan has its fair share of challenges which have become part and parcel of life. Armed with only intermediate Japanese when I first arrived, language barriers made communication challenging. All of a sudden, mundane tasks such as ordering food, withdrawing cash from the ATM or reading product labels required a lot more thought. I remember the joy and relief I felt when I made my first successful phone call to the post office. These days, I boast about ordering pizza!
Starting life in a new and foreign environment definitely brought about feelings of loneliness and homesickness too, especially in the first few months. Friends and loved ones whom I kept in constant contact with, certainly helped to alleviate my stress. Thankfully, now that I have learnt more “survival Japanese”, I have grown in confidence and gained a little more experience in navigating life in Japan.
A significant part of my experiences is my interaction with the locals. People are kind, polite and considerate (to a greater extent than I had previously thought). Once, I witnessed two mentally-challenged young students politely holding the train door for some elderly passengers. That awed me. Yet another time, a bus driver carried a wheelchair-bound lady and helped her get on and get off the vehicle. While at it, he was smiling and apologizing profusely to the other passengers for the delay. That small kind act almost made me cry in my seat. Not to mention, my teachers who go to great lengths to ensure that I am well-taken care of in every aspect.

It is impossible to put in words all that I have experienced in Japan. For now, I am relishing every bit of this short stint and I look forward to where this journey will take me and the person it is moulding me to become.

Sheila Chuang