Interview By Peter Underwood
This month on Spotlight, we tracked down a spiffy gal at the AJET Gatsby Gin Mill, hit the ritzy giggle-water, and, err… talked to her about her time in Aomori. Find out why Kansai okonomiyaki will make her “Bronx-cheer” and why Carp (not the fish) is “the cat’s meow” in our interview with Lauren DeCosta.
*puts down book of Gatsby slang*
Why did you choose to join JET?
I majored in Japanese in university, and later minored in general education. I always knew I wanted to work with Japanese, but at first wasn’t sure how. I helped out a lot with my nephew when he was little, and I just love kids in general, so I also kind of wanted to have a job where I could work with kids. I chose JET as a way to do both, and to give me the chance to decide if I want to continue the teaching English thing, or work in the translation area of Japanese instead. Also, because I absolutely understand the feeling of not having the confidence to speak in another language, I want to help the next generation of Japanese kids get over what is essentially a very unhelpful mindset for language acquisition.
What do you hope to gain from your time on JET?
I want to gain so many things. I want to improve my Japanese and my understanding of Japanese culture. I want to gain teaching experience and decide if that’s actually what I want to do with my life. I want to travel Japan (and some of East Asia). I want to try/learn new things. Basically, I just want to gain everything possible from my time on JET. This is such a huge opportunity for so many things, and it would be a shame to not take advantage of all of it. I’m just greedy, and I want everything.
How long do you plan on staying in Japan?
Honestly, who knows? I’d be perfectly happy to never leave, provided I have a job of some sort and can support myself. Though there are pros and cons to living in Japan, I feel like the pros hold more weight for me personally. I tend to not bank on any one thing too much, because you never know if something unexpected is going to happen. I guess I’ll find out.
What extracurricular activities/hobbies do you participate in?
I actually really hate this question, which Japanese people LOVE to ask. I don’t really have any hobbies, never had time for them before, so it’s difficult to answer. As for activities I do in my free time, I practice taiko twice a week with some of the people from my town office (and Ellen who is awesome!), but it’s a super informal thing, so I don’t actually learn proper technique or anything. Every 2nd and 4th Tuesday I go to ballroom dance lessons in Hirosaki. Other than that, I study Japanese, watch TV or movies, and read WAY too much fanfiction.
I like sports but don’t have any people to sport with because everyone in town is actually GOOD at whatever they play. So if any of y’all out there in Aomori wants to get together for some form of active, probably overly competitive, good-natured sports fun, let a girl know. 😉
What are some things you like about Japan?
The food for sure, all the ika and tako, and other seafood that is actually affordable! Okonomiyaki (not that weak-ass Kansai style stuff though–no soba, no life!). How beautiful it is, with all of the nature, and actual seasons. I also really like the safety level of Japan. I can walk places by myself at night, without constantly looking over my shoulder, or carrying pepper spray. I can leave my bag at a table in a café while I go to the bathroom, and it’ll still be there with all of my stuff in it when I come back. Also, the politeness. Manners are actually a huge pet peeve of mine, so I love that it’s more common to meet people who are polite than not. The fact that even as adults, so many people keep up with their hobbies from school days, or that people stay active as they age. And so much more. I could go on for a while!
What are some things you like less about Japan?
The “aimai” attitude, which I guess is a downside to those good manners. It’s hard to tell when people are being genuine, or just polite. For example, getting loads of compliments is great, but never knowing if the person actually means what they’re saying or not sucks. I am TERRIBLE at subtlety and reading the atmosphere, and often won’t catch on to something if I’m not told directly, so sometimes that can make situations difficult.
Also, fuck it, I’m gonna go there, the sexism/gender segregation that is so ingrained in everyday life. I’m not stereotypically girly (certainly not by Japanese standards at least), and I’ve never really paid any mind to someone’s gender when I’m making friends. But because of the way people react whenever two (seemingly) single people of the opposite gender interact, it makes making friends more challenging, and sometimes downright awkward. I just want to go to the ball park and have a hotdog and a beer, it doesn’t have to be a date, and I don’t have to be a guy to enjoy that!
What do you miss the most from your hometown/country?
Pizza, a few of my friends, the ease of communication. Basically food, and being able to have more meaningful conversations with people, not just, “Damn it’s cold!” I’ll get there one day though!
What was it like growing up in your hometown?
Florida is the land of “Winter? What winter,” so there was a lot of playing outside. I played a lot of backyard/driveway/middle-of-the-road sports with my siblings and neighbors. My sister’s favorite was probably “tackle basketball,” but she was never the one being tackled. Florida is pretty hot in the summer (or all year), so there’s a lot of swimming, too. My birthday falls in the middle of summer, so I had a lot of pool parties as a kid. It was only a 15-20 minute drive to the beach too, and I would go there pretty often. Otherwise there wasn’t much to do. I basically grew up in middle-class suburbia. It lacked the excitement of a city, but it was too big to be considered a small town.
What are your family and siblings like?
I’m actually not very close to my family. We’re all opinionated and loud, so we’ve always been an argumentative lot. Not that I don’t love my family, because I do, we’re just not best friends or anything. I have an older brother who is a bit of an anime/game nerd, and older sister who is more of the crazy party type, a niece who just turned three and is spoiled rotten, a nephew who just turned nine, and my mom, who likes to talk a lot. If you ever hear me talk about kids, and it sounds like they’re mine, they’re not, I just really love my niece and nephew. Also, my nephew is such a cool kid, he can sing part of the chorus to A.RA.SHI. and knows which members of Kanjani8 are the best. ❤
What are you most and least looking forward to about spring?
Most looking forward to: warmth and being able to be outdoors. Nature, and all of the outdoorsy things I can do in nature. Yakyuu season (Carp all the way!).
Least looking forward to: mukade, mukade, and centipedes. They creep me out, and are oddly difficult to kill.
Netflix or NHK?
Netflix, because it gives me more options.
Mos or McDonald’s?
I haven’t tried Mos yet, so it’ll have to be McDonalds. Plus, I have some fond memories of sneaking McDonalds into the movie theatre with my friend down in Hiroshima.
Sakura flavours or pumpkin flavours?
Pumpkin. I keep trying sakura flavored things, hoping one of them will be good, but they’re always too sickly sweet for me. And that’s weird, because I LOVE sweets.