In light of new JETs finding out their placements, this month we’ve opted to ask people around the prefecture for their first impressions of Aomori compared to how they feel now. So for the Oldy-but-GoodyJETs, feel free to add more of your own experiences in the comments section if we missed you; for the Newbies, take a look through and see if anybody felt the same as you do now! And most of all, welcome to Aomori Prefecture!
“Four years ago, before I knew my city I tried to Google ‘Aomori Japan’. Four years ago I could find basically NOTHING, not even a homepage to our beloved prefecture. What we DID find was a blurb in Lonely Planet that read something like, ‘Located in the rural farming community, you will find that many people often aren’t able to speak much English. Road signs and menus are also difficult to find in English.’ Yada yada yada. Then it said something about how much snow we got. My dude and I looked at each other and were like, ‘Welp, we hoped for somewhere snowy! Looks like we have an adventure ahead! And I guess we’ll just learn Japanese as we go…’ Later, when we found out what city we were placed in, we did a quick Google image search of Hirosaki, Aomori. And while we understand the history behind everything, it was still kinda hilarious that THIS is what we found…
“So, in 3 words, my reaction was, ‘Here we go!
“At the end of the day, though, I feel like I really lucked out with the placement Jackpot. I love my city. It is full of life, the art and music culture is amazing, there are more little coffee shops and dessert shops than I could have ever imagined. It also has an amazing history which the locals continue to have pride over.”
TORI SHARPE, HIROSAKI CITY
“When I got the email telling me which prefecture I would be in, my first thought was ‘Where the heck is that?!’ Once I started Googling Aomori and reading all the less than flattering things about the place (snow, super inaka [backwoods countryside], snow, lots of debt, snow) I just pictured living in a tiny hut on a cliff side, overlooking the ocean, and there were also grey skies and crashes of lightening in my vision. But even then, I was determined to make the best of whatever I would face (Squat toilets?! Snow for half the year?! WHAT IS THIS?!) and I was really stoked to come to Aomori in the end. It really seemed like a lovely place and I couldn’t wait to meet my students and teachers! I quickly found out Aomori has some of the kindest people I’ve ever met!”
ASHLEIGH MOONEY, TSUGARU CITY
“I had heard while applying to the JET programme that most participants are placed in rural areas. So, when placements were beginning to be announced, I thought I was mentally prepared. I had been to Japan before as a junior in university, but that had been in Tokyo; I was tired of the big city life, and told myself I would be fine with a town around 50,000. After days of impatient and incessant refreshing of my email inbox, in all honesty, when I read that I was to be placed in Rokunohe, Aomori, my first thought was, ‘Where the hell is that? Is that even on the main island?’ I had to wiki it to even find out – even the information about Rokunohe was only a couple of paragraphs long. However, when I read the population (listed as around 10,000), my jaw dropped. I shouted down to my dad the number listed, absolutely incredulous at the lack of zeros in the population number; he merely laughed and told me I was definitely in for an experience.
“It took awhile for it to sink in. I didn’t even really look at information about the area, or even join the Aomori FB group until a few weeks before departing. Even on the flight over to Tokyo, even through Tokyo orientation, even as I drove in the car from Aomori airport with my new supervisor, the reality of my how small my town would be didn’t sink in until I had settled in to my apartment and had time and space to fully process it.
“So ultimately, I guess what I’m trying to say is that my first reaction to hearing about my placement was shock and disbelief, really. I thought I had prepared myself mentally well enough for the large possibility that I’d be in what I now know to be a medium sized town in the countryside; but actual reality is always different from anticipated reality. That’s life, though, isn’t it? It wouldn’t be fun if it wasn’t.
“When I finally got settled in my placement, I found a lot of things that came as expected, and a lot of things that I never even imagined. I expected that Rokunohe would be a small town, but I love it. Sure, there are some problems I didn’t anticipate having while living here – hospitals are not very useful within the town itself; food variety within grocery stores is lacking; living out in the sticks brings out…interesting…animals (I almost hit a goat that was chilling in the road late at night). Yet honestly, even after hearing of all the conveniences of JET city life, I wouldn’t trade my placement for anyplace else. Sure, I complain sometimes about my inaka problems, but figuring out solutions and overcoming them only adds to the adventure. Each placement is unique in and of itself, and you’ll have stories to share for a lifetime.”
RACHAEL DORY, ROKUNOHE TOWN
“When I found out that I was coming to Aomori prefecture, I thought that the JET program judges had taken a look at where I’d gone to university (in the snowy Appalachian mountains of North Carolina) and said ‘Alrighty, this girl can handle driving in snow, let’s send her to Aomori’. Now granted, I had been one of those people to blindly Google three prefectures before going to my JET interview, because I didn’t really care where I was placed. So I wasn’t disappointed. However! Googling Aomori’s snow walls was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. ‘Bout gave my mom a heart-attack showing her those images. I was also shocked that my city seemed so small population-wise, because it seemed huge on the map. Part of that nature was a mountain labeled “Mount Fear”, and it looked like it was right in my backyard!
“Ends up that there’s so much nature up here, sprawling out all over the place, and it’s the best thing I could’ve hoped for. It reminds me a lot of home, in really good ways, and Mt. Fear isn’t close enough that I get too spooked. So I guess what I’m saying is, whatever seems like an intimidating thing at first is what might make you end up loving your placement the most, so dive into your town with really positive thoughts! [cue cheesy background music]“
SAMANTHA McCALIP, MUTSU CITY
“When I first learned that I would be placed in Aomori, I was shocked. The prefectures I had requested were all located south of Tokyo. When I searched Aomori on google, all I could find were photos of the strangely shaped prefecture along with lots and lots of snow. Having lived in hot, humid climates for most of my life, I had little desire to live somewhere cold. I felt really apprehensive, even when my teacher reassured me that it was for the best.
“Reflecting on my life now, I am on my 4th year in Aomori and couldn’t be happier. I love living so close to the mountains and the ocean. I love the people I have met, and all the awesome adventures I’ve been on. I even love the snow! Although at times my working situation is not ideal, the life I have come to lead outside of school never ceases to surprise and amaze me.”
Do you have any crazy, interesting, or just plain funny stories from your time in Japan? Send them our way at firstname.lastname@example.org