By Lanie Olmo
Unlike most JETs, Pokere Paewai did not know much about Japan before he decided to live and work in the foreign country.
“I didn’t really know what I was going to do after I graduated. One of my professors is a former ALT, and he was like, ‘You should go to Japan and do this.’ I hadn’t studied Japanese history or language or anything like that. I did Media Studies and Maori Studies at university. I really didn’t have any experience with Japanese before I came here.”
A first year ALT placed in Rokunohe Town, Pokere is the only JET participant in Aomori prefecture from New Zealand. Though he may not have studied Japan and its language like many other foreigners, he did not move to Japan completely unaware about the culture.
“A couple of my cousins had stayed in Japan for a little while. One of my cousins was here for up to a year. I knew a little bit about it. I was interested as well because it’s not quite the same as New Zealand, but it has sort of the same geography, an island country; although it’s not as isolated, I suppose. I speak Maori, and I heard that Japanese language was very similarly sounding to Maori, easy to pronounce and easy to learn for Maori people. I don’t know how true that is.”
While most people would hesitate before deciding to up and move to an unfamiliar place, Pokere embraced the idea.
“This is my first time ever living overseas, anywhere. I like experiencing the different culture and doing things a bit differently. It’s nice. I was willing to try anything.”
Now nine months into living in Japan, Pokere has settled in quite nicely. He is a fellow writer on Good Morning Aomori, co-authoring the column Mediabug, which discusses Japanese film, literature, and more.
“I’d seen some anime and read some manga, but I hadn’t really watched any Japanese film or novels or literature before I came here. I was interested to learn more about that kind of stuff, other than just anime.
“Something catches my interest and I’m willing to go from there. Or if I’ve heard good things about it.”
A sentiment that probably informed his decision to come to Japan as well.
It was not purely hobby that motivated Pokere to begin writing for GMA. He majored in Media Studies and took creative writing classes in university.
“It’s always interested me. I’ve been interested in film, TV, and stuff for a while. I really couldn’t see myself doing anything else. Growing up as a kid, the biggest franchise I was into was The Lord of The Rings. Mainly because it was so big in New Zealand with it being filmed here and the director coming from here. Not just the movies, I read all the books as well. That was my favorite media.”
When asked the very important and serious question of which movie of the series is his favorite, after a lengthy contemplative silence he replied, “I like Return of the King, but I see them all as one big movie that you have to take the whole weekend to watch.”
A very fine and respectable answer.
Always willing to try anything, Pokere likes to keep his interests and options open when discovering new things.
“I like looking for something that can give me a different perspective. I did some creative writing as well back in university. One of my teachers said something like, ‘You should write what you know, but also what you don’t.’ I like getting to know something different. I love learning about different cultures, especially Asian and African cultures. That’s kind of what I’m looking for in media—a different perspective than what I’d usually get.
“One of the reasons I was really excited to start writing for GMA and start a column was because I really did enjoy creative writing back in university, but I’ve done no writing at all since I left. I want to try getting back into writing again. It’s tough, you have to do it on the regular to get into it. That’s why a deadline is good.”
Beyond Mediabug, Pokere also likes to write fiction. Like most aspiring writers, he’s a bit unsure of which direction he’d like to take his writing.
“I write real life stories at the moment. That’s all I could see myself doing. I don’t know if I could write fantasy or crime. I’d just write personal dramas, that’s what I’d probably do. I’d like to challenge myself to write differently, but that requires research which is also tough.
“I think I’d like to try to publish something, someday. I’ve signed on for an extra year here in Japan, so I’ve got a while to figure out what I’m going to do when I go home. Like what kind of career I want to do. [The JET Programme] is sort of a stop-gap between university and actually finding what career you want to go forward in. I’m kind of putting it off, but eventually I have to start thinking about what I’m going to try to do once I go home.”
This tricky question of What To Do After JET is something that plagues every participant at one time or another. Since Pokere does not have to answer that question just yet, he’s enjoying his time in Japan as an ALT to the fullest. Pokere speaks warmly about his culture and home in New Zealand, eager to share more about the Maori.
“I really do enjoy sharing my language and culture with Japanese people, even if I don’t think they really get it. That’s probably what I like most about teaching—giving students the chance to experience my culture, especially since there’s so little knowledge outside of New Zealand. I got this little kiwi doll that I take to school, and students love it. It’s a great way to start conversations. That’s what I like doing the most—introducing them to Maori culture.
“I feel like an ambassador. It’s like that with the language too, so few people speak it. I feel like I should speak it at every chance. That’s my favorite thing about teaching here. I’ve done a couple of lessons where I’ve introduced them to a few words like hello or goodbye. I’ve got some stickers and stuff as well that have Maori words and I hand those out.
“I miss being able to speak Maori. Learning Japanese has kind of made me more invigorated to go back and listen for Maori things like podcasts and things like that. I use English more, so my English is better. There’s so few people who speak Maori, so it’s hard to use it on a daily basis.”
(A video showing the Maori traditional Haka. This performance was in honor of a friend of Pokere’s.)
In the time he’s not teaching or writing, Pokere enjoys exploring Japan.
“I do love traveling around. Especially I love planning trips. I love looking online at all the stuff and then going there and doing it. Although it never works out as I planned it, but it’s fun anyway. I did a little bit of traveling in Australia and the Pacific, but this is the first time I’ve been in the northern hemisphere. It’s the first country I’ve been to really far away from home, so I’m really enjoying the chance to see all of it.”
Again, the experience of living and working in a new country is not something that gives Pokere much fear; rather, he views it as a chance for adventure.
“A couple of times I’ve traveled by myself and then met up with some other ALTs. Other times I’ve traveled only by myself. I don’t actually mind traveling alone. It’s kind of interesting; you can do whatever you want and don’t have to worry about anyone else.
“I’ve really enjoyed Enoshima in Kanagawa prefecture. It’s a small island off the coast. It’s quaint. It has a few shrines and you walk around the island and it’s got all sorts of gardens and restaurants. It was probably my favorite place in Japan so far. Other than Aomori, of course.
“I’m not sure where I plan to go to next. I’d like to see as much of Japan as possible before I leave.”
His willingness to try anything has served him well and taken him this far. Pokere has the whole world ahead of him.