Aomori Spotlight

Aomori Spotlight: Lawrence Hillis

By Harrison Gordon

Come on in and explore the enigmatic mind of Larry (Lawrence) Fishburne Hillis. One of Oirase’s hidden treasure, the elusive Larry is generally only seen once a year at SDC, but now’s your chance to delve deep into what makes this ALT tick. And trust me, you’re gonna want to be sitting down for this one!

Where did you live before coming to Japan?

Before coming to Japan, I lived in Ohio.

So, did you go to college in Ohio as well?

I did. I went to Kent State University.

NICE! What did you study while you were at Kent State, and what did you hope to do with your major?

At first, I wanted to be a graphic designer. Kent State has a great Graphic Design program. I did okay in my first year, but realized it wasn’t for me. So, I changed my major to International Relations, and added a minor in Japanese. At that point, I wanted to be a Japanese translator.

When did your interest in Japan/Japanese begin? At university, or even earlier than that?

My interest in Japan started in high school. I was first interested in Japanese architecture and aesthetics. Many of my art pieces in high school were Japanese-inspired. I wasn’t interested in Japanese language until college.

Did you go straight into the JET Programme after graduating, or was there some time in between?

There was about a year in between graduating and the JET Program.

And what did you do during that time?

During that time I was working at PETCO.

Cool! What’s your favorite animal?

My favorite animal is the fluffy Alpaca! Alpacas are super cute, and super fun to play with. They have Alpacas in Aomori City. They’re adorable.

Lucky that they’re so close, then! Do you have any pets to hold you over until the next time you can see these Aomorian Alpacas?

Yes, I have a pet rabbit named Shelby. Shelby is adorable. My wife and I make hats for him to wear, with needle felting. He has a very demanding personality: He loves to be pet. And I’m happy to oblige.


So, had you been to Japan before coming in on the JET Programme?

Yes, I had. My first time in Japan was to study abroad in Tokyo. I lived in Tokyo for one year. I studied at Rikkyo University. My focus at Rikkyo was Japanese language.

So, when you applied to the JET Programme, were you hoping to get placed back into Tokyo?

No, actually I wanted to go to Hiroshima. I had a good friend in Hiroshima that I wanted to see.

And instead, you were sent up, up, up north?

Yup, and to be honest I wasn’t happy about it. I really, really hate snow.


….But, since coming here, I realize that Aomori is a nice place; the scenery is beautiful. I still hate the snow, but I’ve made peace with it. And, I like the people here. I was afraid I wasn’t going to like inaka life, but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s definitely a change of scenery from Tokyo.

So, where in Aomori are you currently placed, and how long have you been on the programme?

I’m currently placed in Oirase, and it’s nice. Life in Oirase is very relaxing. There’s not a whole lot to do in Oirase, but if you need something to do, there are plenty of opportunities in the surrounding cities. I like Oirase because I believe it to be the least snowy area of Aomori. And this is the end of my 3rd year on the program.

Will you be going in for your 4th year? And if so, what about the 5th?

Yes, hopefully I can be here for 2 more years on the JET Program.


What kind of hobbies do you keep yourself occupied with?

My biggest hobby is video games. But, I have smaller hobbies such as wet shaving, and needle felting, as I mentioned earlier. And recently, I’ve been trying my hand at DIY.

Are these hobbies you’ve picked up here in Japan? How did you get into them?

Yes, I picked up all of those hobbies (except for video games) in Japan. I was turned onto needle felting and DIY by my wife. And I learned about wet shaving from Reddit.

Is it difficult for you to follow any of these hobbies here in Japan’s inaka?

Yes and no. Needle felting supplies can be found easily and cheaply via the internet. On the other hand, wet shaving supplies can get quite pricey because there aren’t many vendors in Japan.

So, about your ALT life: What age group(s) do you teach? And how many separate schools do you visit?

I teach elementary school and middle school students, and I visit 3 different schools. Two elementary schools and one middle school.

Do you have a favorite school or even grade to teach?

Yes. I particularly enjoy teaching 5th and 6th graders. They’re at an age where they can have fun learning English, and still be sensible and follow directions.

Can you tell me one of your favorite memories with a particular class/grade/school?

Last year, the 6th graders at one of my schools threw me a surprise going away party. That was fun because all the students recapped all the lessons that we did that year to show me the progress they had made. I was proud of them, and happy that they cared enough to want convey that to me before they graduated.

What do you hope to have gained during your time on the JET Programme? Were you here to improve your teaching skills? Or maybe your Japanese?….

My ultimate goal is to become an interpreter. So, I hoped to bring my Japanese up to interpretation level while on the JET Program. And, in the end, find a job elsewhere in Japan upon leaving the JET Program.

Do you think that you’ll try to stick around Aomori even after you’re off the program?

I don’t think so. My wife wants to return to Hokkaido, where she is from. I wouldn’t mind living in Hokkaido, but it feels really, really far from the rest of Japan to me, and that bums me out. I’m not excited about snow in Hokkaido, but they have milder summers, and that’s definitely a plus.

Completely unrelated, what’s your favorite Japanese food/snack/confection?

My favorite Japanese sweet is ice cream that goes by the brand name, Sou (爽). They have many flavors and the texture is unbelievable. I like to get the vanilla and add things like coffee to it, or sometimes jam. It’s all about that texture. You should give it a try if you haven’t already! And, it’s super cheap!


And there you have it, folks. I, for one, will be trying this “Sou” ice cream just to see what all this texture hype is about. Maybe I’ll let loose and even try adding the jam in, who knows?? I want to thank you all again for accompanying me through this interview, and I hope you look forward to the next one!


One thought on “Aomori Spotlight: Lawrence Hillis

  1. Pingback: July, Volume 2 | Good Morning Aomori

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