Earlier in August, Japan commemorated the 73rd anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today the average age of survivors, called hibakusha, is over 82 and as every year passes, it becomes more rare to hear their testimonies and calls for the abolition of nuclear weapons in person.
I’ve had the privilege of speaking with several survivors since participating in the 2012 “Hiroshima and Peace” program at Hiroshima City University. That experience has left a lasting impression on me, and both Hiroshima and Nagasaki are cities that have opened my heart and mind. This year, in recognition of the 73rd anniversary, I wrote a short essay for Medium, highlighting distinct ways women were impacted by the bombs and the enduring relevance of survivors’ words.
Today marks the fourth anniversary of the devastating earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear meltdown that ravaged northeastern Japan. I spent the night listening to speakers — Japanese and American — discuss the situation in Tohoku and the current state of recovery efforts. More to come about that discussion, but for now, here are few things you can consider doing to help the people of Tohoku — many of whom are still living in temporary housing and who remain grieving for all that was lost four years ago.
Donate to the Taylor Anderson Memorial Fund — Anderson was one of two American English teachers who lost their lives in the tsunami. Her family has been very active in keeping her spirit and love of Japan alive through this memorial fund, which promotes education and cultural exchange between America and the Tohoku region.
Read about the Situation — This Al Jazeera America piece that came across my newsfeed today really resonated with me. Fukushima Victims Speak. Will anyone listen?
Visit Tohoku — Definitely one of my next stops when I have a chance to go back to Japan.
Per my annual tradition, here are twelve photos representing my 2014. Although it was wonderful to be closer to family, it feels strange not to include a single photo from Japan. Unlike in previous years, all photos below were taken in the Chicago area.
In 2015, I plan finish my “Transition Japan” series to focus on more narrative non-fiction stories. Happy New Year everyone, and may 2015 bring you much joy! 明けましておめでとうございます｡
Backdated from October
Note: This is the fourth essay in a series about moving to Japan, specifically for those going to Japan with the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. See part one here, part two here, and part three here.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had a chance to blog.
Although my first goal was to write about your first few weeks in Japan on the JET Program, with November here and winter just around the corner, it now makes more sense to write about your first few months in Japan. Below are a few suggestions to keep you focused as winter rolls through and likely forces you to consider why you came to Japan in the first place.
1. Continue to Study Japanese — I had zero Japanese knowledge before going to Japan on the JET Program, and though I left Japan by no means an expert in the language at all, I learned the most about Japanese culture when I studied the language and began to understand parts of conversations I overheard. I wish I had been more diligent about studying grammar and kanji — unfortunately, this is an all-too common regret among JETs. I think it’s safe to say few have uttered, “Boy, I wish I knew less Japanese and hadn’t studied so much!”
Tips: If you’re not interested in the JET books (I wasn’t after briefly trying), search for the Genki Japanese series. Also, find a Japanese tutor. My first Japanese teacher, who was a volunteer at the local city hall in the town next to mine, became a good friend who I hope to see again when I visit Japan.
2. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone — By now, your so called “honeymoon” period in Japan is over and you may be beginning to peal back the thick, mysterious layer of Japanese society and seeing its imperfections. This can cause culture shock and homesickness, but a great way to see Japan (and yourself) in a new light is to pick up a new hobby and try something new. Your options may be somewhat limited with a language barrier, but among the things I had never tried before that I did in Japan include: photography, helping write a play, climbing a large mountain, running a 5K and 10K race, and modeling!
Tips: Pick a new hobby. Mine became running. I have continued with it since leaving Japan and just completed my first half-marathon.
3. Invest in Becoming a Better Teacher — JET gives us the wonderful opportunity for self-discovery (see number 2) and learning about another culture. However, we were also selected to work hard and hopefully become role models for our students. Teaching is hard work and takes a lot of practice, as well as trial and error. Even if you will not become a teacher when you leave Japan, investing in your ability to at least try and become a better educator will benefit not only your students, but also your professional capabilities and likely gain you more respect among your co-workers.
Tips: Sign up for a TESOL certification course online, or take free courses in education at Coursera.
4. Think About Your Goals — Living in the moment is a wonderful thing that I wish I could do more. However, so is the ability to have a clear idea of what one wants for his/her life. I’m still trying to figure this one out, but holding off on decisions will only catch up to you.
Tips: Start making a list of small goals that you wish to achieve; write them down and create a larger goal as soon as you accomplish a smaller goal.
5. Immerse Yourself — Whether you’re staying in Japan for one year or five, your time in Japan is fleeting (unless you plan to say forever). As much as I sometimes missed America during my time abroad, I now miss many parts of Japan, as if part of my Japanese identity has been somehow intertwined there and remains in me even as I continue to readjust to American culture.
Tips: Get out and open your eyes.
Next in Transition in Japan: Your re-contracting decision!