Interview by Angie Hawn
This month I spoke with Miranda Reed who currently hails from Mutsu. She’s usually up for an adventure and twinning at the beach. You know what I’m talking about, Miranda.
Where are you originally from? What city, town, village do you currently reside in? What year JET are you?
I am originally from Bellevue, WA (near Seattle) and am currently in Mutsu! I’m a second year JET getting ready for 3rd. I’m a huge nerd for Japanese things, with my love of anime and manga second only to my love of the language.
Tell me what you do. How are you involved with your Japanese community? Did you join a club or class? Do you volunteer, jump into festival season, or teach an eikaiwa?
The affectionate name for my Eikaiwa. When I first met the ladies, I taught them that “wawa” is “bus” in Cuban Spanish. They thought it was awesome for some reason? Every month, I and six other ladies get together to eat and practice English. Usually it’s just conversation practice, but we’ve tried games, discussions, even choosing kanji for my name. Our December meeting is usually a Christmas party, which is a great way to wrap up the year!
This is my most consistent activity, which I do every month. Amy, who works at Mutsu City Hall, invited me to join just after I got here and I’ve been practicing ever since. Most of the Shimokita ALT family participates, as well as local Japanese ladies. I don’t think I’m particularly good, but our sensei always praises us anyway. Fun fact: Our sensei is the sister of the grandfather of one of my ex-students, and she taught one of the teachers I worked with! What a small world!
Once a month, Amy holds a cooking class that ALTs are welcome to join along with local Japanese people. We cook a variety of dishes from outside Japan, from Shepherd’s Pie to enchiladas and everything in between. It’s not only helpful and filling, but we get to connect with local people over an activity that everyone has to do! We’ve even submitted our own family recipes; in November I did my family’s classic Cuban recipes that I ate growing up!
Due to complications, this was only a 1-2 month gig, but it was a great experience! One of the ladies in my Eikaiwa invited me to her troop since they were a member short for their next performance. Despite my Latin blood I had trouble learning the steps, and even after all the practice I still felt like I wasn’t perfect, but my teammates praised me for learning it in such a short time. The performance was at a club in Aomori, and even though I didn’t feel perfect it was still a success! My family will be getting a DVD of the performance for Christmas.
Local Festivals and Events
ALTs in the Shimokita region always have an in to the festivals and events. I’ve gotten to carry mikoshi at Tanabu Matsuri and pull dashi at Kawauchi Matsuri, and I’ve helped run games at Mutsu City Halloween and even played Ms. Clause at the ECC Christmas Party! It’s a great chance to connect with Japanese culture and people — and it’s nice to see students who then think I’m super cool for participating. ;3
Why did you choose to get involved? What drew you to this activity? Did you want to try something new? Did you read about it when first researching your placement or get wrangled in by your JTE?
My number one drive for joining so much is connections. There’s only 10 or so of us foreigners in Shimokita, and it’s not easy to meet up all the time. This is what made my first winter a hard time; I hadn’t yet connected with anyone else besides them, and combined with the stress of settling in I went NUTS. Now, even if I don’t have my second family nearby, I have a third family in the form of my local Japanese community!
Is this a one time gig? Or something you do on a continuous basis? Is it a short or long term commitment? Are you gonna keep it up?
My monthly commitments I’ve kept strong for a solid year, and I intend to keep them up. As for festivals and events, as long as there’s something going on I’ll be a part of it!
What have you gained from this experience? Good, bad, indifferent…I want to know it all.
I’m the kind of person that needs enough personal time for myself or I’ll completely run out of energy. Sometimes when events get scheduled back to back, I ask myself “Is this really worth it?” Then I go to the events, see people excited to see me and have a blast myself, and by the end I counter with “Why did I even ask myself in the first place? This is ABSOLUTELY worth it!”
What advice would you give to those who want to jump in?
Of course, it may not be that easy for everyone. Those of us in Shimokita are lucky because we have a foreigner at City Hall who invites us to everything, so it’s a simple matter of saying yes. Maybe others don’t have that connection, which case there’s more legwork to be done. If you don’t have a connection to the locals, try finding a way into something local through your school(s); maybe the PTA is going to make soba or plant flowers, and you can find connections with the people who attend those. If you show an interest, people will include you!