Interview by Chris Simmons
The spotlight found another JET newcomer this week. Sam Allen is new to JET but not new to Japan. With a degree in Japanese and International Relations under his belt, he is definitely prepared for a long-term stay in Japan. But will he survive the Aomori winter? Only time will tell.
Why did you choose to join JET?
I decided I wanted to go on JET when I was a freshman at Tufts. I’ve known for a while I wanted to work in Japan, and it sounded like a good first step. I learned about the CIR position just last year, but I felt that it suited my goals and abilities perfectly.
What do you hope to gain from JET?
I want real life work experience (after all, it is my first job out of college), but more importantly I want experience working here in Japan. That doesn’t just involve building my resume but also learning office etiquette and proper keigo…which is tough!
What are your plans after JET?
I want to get a job in Japan that lets me share Japanese culture with America, and maybe even other countries. I want to show the world the parts of Japan that I love, especially the things people are less likely to know about.
How long do you plan on staying in Japan?
3 years or more.
Do you participate in any clubs or extracurricular activities/hobbies?
Not yet, since I just got here, but I have a few ideas. I’m definitely going to get back into kyuudo, Japanese archery, and I also plan to find a piano teacher. I also may look into a volunteer circle or something where I can meet a lot of new people – I love making new friends!
What are a few things you like about Japan?
Japan is so beautiful, oh my god. I’ve traveled around a lot, especially in Kansai, but I have yet to find a place in Japan that I dislike, and that includes the three months I lived in Satosho (middle of nowhere, Okayama). I love the mountains, forests, and oceans, but most of all, the waterfalls.
Onsen and kotatsu are godly, and I will spend all of my money on them this winter.
The food. I don’t just mean sushi and tempura – I love the varied courses in kaiseki, all the flavors of ramen, most of the strange things that come out of the ocean, an-filled confections in every shape known to man. And on top of that, the variety of cuisines available here – Indian, Thai, Chinese, Korean and more.
You’ve probably figured out that I’m a foodie.
Oh, and of course, I LOVE karaoke. I would go every day if I had the money (but I don’t).
What are a few things you dislike about Japan?
I don’t like tatemae… I’m no good at figuring out what people really mean when they say things.
I definitely don’t like how the trash system works here…it’s taken forever for me to be able to throw out all the trash I’ve accumulated from cleaning/furnishing my apartment!
I also don’t like the word gaijin. It’s definitely not true for a lot of people, but I feel that sometimes there’s this sense of you being “different” – not necessarily lesser, but not quite as much of a person as someone Japanese. One thing I really want to do here on JET is show people that foreigners are pretty much the same as a Japanese people. We look different, and speak different languages, but we have the same needs and wants, and if we can overcome the barriers and learn to appreciate each others’ culture, we can understand and respect one another better.
(Sorry if that’s too serious for the interview!)
What do you miss the most from your hometown/country?
Buffalo wings? Easy trash disposal? Cheese?
All of the above.
What was it like growing up in your hometown?
Well, I don’t really have a hometown – I’ve moved 9 times. I was born in North Carolina and wound up in Boston for 10 years. My folks live in Southern California now.
What are your family and siblings like?
My folks are pretty normal – my dad is an oncologist and my mom is a retired teacher. My little sister is a genius. She’s studying psychology at NYU, and she has the ability to master anything she picks up. She’s also a killer exercise buddy.
Do you have any interesting or embarrassing stories about adjusting to Japanese culture?
Who doesn’t! Mine involves the showers here in Japan. When I came to Japan to study abroad, I stayed with my friend’s family in Osaka for a week. The second night, I was the first to take a shower, and I was shocked when only cold water came out. I assumed that it was some sort of setsuden and put up with it, only to be laughed at when I told everyone that the water was a tad chilly. As it turns out, you need to push the button for hot water before you get in the shower, which I had never seen before. Live and learn!
Are you ready for Aomori Winter?
No. Decidedly not. Despite being from Boston (which is comparably cold?), I have come without jacket, boots, gloves, or anything else a smart person would have packed. Uniqlo, here I come!
drink sake warm or chilled?
Warm if it’s cheap, chilled if it’s the good stuff! Though warm is always best in the winter. I’m a fan of nigori, by the way.
live in the big city or inaka?
Inaka for sure! Gotta love those fields, mountains, and forests!
shake it or twerk it?
spend your weekend on an adventure or relaxing at home?
Just the weekend? Every day is an adventure day! Seriously though, I love getting out, meeting people, and seeing new things.