CONNECT Magazine Japan #129 April 2024

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22 | Paddy Power 48 | Post-Apocalyptic Table Scraps 84 | Beating the Heat the Japanese Way 132 | The Road Less Travelled : Part Two Issue No. 129 April 2024 AJET


reetings once again, dear reader,

Spring is a time of renewal: The sun rises higher, chasing away the chill of winter; buds blossom on trees, and the creatures of the land (like me) emerge from their hibernation holes to take in some muchneeded vitamin D.

Or, it should be that way.

Spring has never been my favorite season. The weather is fickle, the pollen in the air makes my nose itch, and March is my personal bad-luck month for no discernible reason. Maybe this rings true for a lot of people. Maybe that’s why they call it “Spring Fever.”

Whatever spring means to you, it’s coming whether you like it or not—and so is this issue of CONNECT Magazine!

Buckle up for Part Two of Travel’s Kyushu road trip series, where we take a ride through Kumamoto, Oita, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima. Skip on down to the southernmost end of the main island to bask in some beautiful, sunny sights! But before you get too carried away by the sun’s allure, be sure to stop by Wellness’ helpful article “Beating the Heat the Japanese Way.”

If you’re still not ready to emerge from your winter hovel, then perhaps a board game might be your speed. Entertainment’s Atlas Lost review should surely strike your interest. Or perhaps you might care for something a little more unique and informative? Culture’s “Paddy Power” explores the surprisingly complex science of rice cultivation.

Learn about the history of rice farming in Japan, and how rice farmers have adjusted their practices to minimize their impact on the environment.

If you’re looking for something fun and bubbly, look no further than “Big Eyes, Pretty Characters, and Sparkles. Like. . . A LOT of Sparkles: Rini’s World of Anime Art.” Feast your eyes upon some of the most fun and colorful characters you have ever seen!

While we are on the subject of art: AJET CONNECT’s 2024 Art Issue will feature a whole lot of it—including your own, if you are interested in showcasing it! We are proud to announce that submissions are open NOW. Here’s your chance to show off your visual art, photography, or creative writing in this muchanticipated annual issue.

For more information about the CONNECT Art Issue and its submission guidelines, please visit our website. From there, you will find our FAQ, contact information, and submission form.

Good luck and best regards,


APRIL MEET THE TEAM QUESTION: What do you miss the most from your home country?


Dianne Yett

I miss being able to purchase a big, meaty loaf of bread of more than five slices.


Sage Olges

Aside from my cats, Tex-Mex. Soft or crispy tacos, a heaping plate of nachos, a big cheesy burrito, a messy chimichanga, crunchy chicken flautas—Japan has no idea.


Kristen Camille Ton

My mom’s cherry pie.


David Spencer FishandChips!


Ryon Morrin

Pitta Gay-Powell

Kianna Shore

I miss toasted everything bagels! Along with (the real) Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

Sophia Maas

Cheap, good, and ubiquitous Mexican restaurants.

Becca Devoto Cheese!!!!


Marco Cian

Fitting in things. Like doors. And clothes. And shoes. And cars. And. . . well, y’know.

Abigayle Goldstein

My cat! He lives with my parents and I get photos all the time, but I wish I could have him with me.

Veronica Nielsen


Valerie Mercado


Jenny Chang

In-N-Out from California. Braised pork over rice lu rou fan from Taiwan.



Dianne Yett


Sage Olges


Jessica Adler

Nabeela Basa

Thomas Coleman

Sierra Block Gorman

Kalista Pattison

Jon Solmundson

Holly Walder

Nomfundo Amanda Zondi


Tori Bender

Sofia de Martin

Kaitlin Stanton

Zoë Vincent


Becca Devoto

Pitta Gay-Powell

Sophia Maas Ryon Morrin

Kianna Shore


Kristen Camille Ton


David Spencer


Aaron Klein Li Chu Chong Quinlan


Marco Cian

Abigayle Goldstein

Veronica Nielsen


Valerie Mercado

PR Jenny Chang


Kimberly Matsuno


David Spencer


Annabelle Chang

Mark Christensen

Rebecca (Becca) Guttentag

Julia Hakes

Chloe Holm

Kira Jinkinson

Daniel Kowalski

Rini Lestari

Amaris Lopez

Kimberly Matsuno

Dylan O’Connell

Kianna Shore

Jon Solmundson

Holly Walder

Nomfundo Amanda Zondi

This magazine contains original photos used with permission, as well as free-use images. All included photos are property of the author unless otherwise specified. If you are the owner of an image featured in this publication believed to be used without permission, please contact the Head of Graphic Design and Layout, Kristen Camille Ton, at This edition, and all past editions of AJET CONNECT, can be found online at or on our website. Read CONNECT online and follow us on ISSUU.



8 The Magical and Inspiring World of Fujishiro Seiji

Rini’s World of Anime Art

CONNECT | Culture 22 Paddy Power: The Science Behind Rice Cultivation in Japan

Goshuin: Japan’s Favorite Religious Collectible

| Entertainment

Godzilla Minus One Review

Post-Apocalyptic Table Scraps CONNECT | Fashion 60 J-fashion at “Home” and Abroad 68 acosta! The Story Behind “Dress Up Darling”

| Wellness

On Gratitude

Beating the Heat the Japanese Way

Navigating the Job Market in Japan

Senpai Spotlight: Cracking the Code of Game Localization

| Language

Using Kahoot in the EFL Classroom

Marrying Languages Through Music

| Travel

Cycling the Shimanami Kaido

The Road Less Travelled : Part Two CONNECT | Community

A Journey of Imagination 154 Three Cultural Ambassadors in Rural Japan

| Careers



Sierra Block Gorman


Kristen Camille Ton My mom’s cherry pie.


Tori Bender

I’ll admit that I often miss the vast, solitary mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Oh, and good tacos.


Thomas Coleman

I was actually thinking the other day how much I miss a good ol’ pork pie. . . It might be time for another trip back home. . . .


David Spencer Fish andChips!


Kaitlin Stanton

The availability of so many ingredients that I thought were basic. . . why is it so hard to find affordable celery!?

Photo by David Spencer

ne of my favorite things as a creative writer is finding inspiration everywhere. Of course, I am inspired by novels and movies, their characters often endearing and the plot hopefully unpredictable. I can find inspiration in the mundane, my daily life as an ALT, and quiet interactions in the inaka. One of my favorite places for an artist date, however, is a good, old fashioned museum.

No matter what country or city I am in, it is a safe bet that I will visit at least one or two museums and galleries. My love for museums stems from my mom who worked as a museum curator, designing exhibitions in our hometown. No matter where we traveled, we would hit up the local museum (and gift shop, naturally).

This trend of visiting museums continues in my life here in Japan as well, frequenting popular museums in Ueno and Roppongi, as well as smaller museums off the beaten path. My favorite museum and newfound artist is Fujishiro Seiji and his museum tucked away in oft-overlooked Nasu, Tochigi. It is a small town hidden in the mountains about an hour north of Nikko by car, or three hours by car from Tokyo.

Fujishiro Seiji is a world renowned Japanese kiri-e (paper cutting) artist who uses shadow and light to create whimsical and ethereal images in a delicate dream-like world. Born in 1924, his experience during World War II is felt in his work where common themes are hope and peace even during the darkest of times.

Kianna Shore (Gunma)
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hen you first enter the Fujishiro Seiji Museum, you are immediately greeted by staff. The grounds have little statues and silhouettes of cats and frogs, which you will quickly learn are recurring motifs in his work. On the way to the main building, you pass by a simple chapel with beautiful stained glass. Only here are you allowed to take pictures.

The only light within the museum itself comes from behind the artwork, which makes for an interesting experience as you are nearly forced to pay attention to Fujishiro’s work. You are not allowed to take pictures within the gallery, which only adds to the ethereal and fleeting nature of his work. You have to pay close attention, stay in the moment, and exist in that space. The path through the museum has no set course and you are free to explore the many twists and turns.

One of my favorite spaces was the kage-e theater, which are moving shadow pictures. Different symbols and motifs fly by the screen, the scene never staying the same for even a single second. You are even allowed to see the art and silhouettes behind the screen, moving quickly. It’s quite the show, both the final product and the behind-the-scenes. A video recording would not be able to capture the magical intricacies.

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y friends and I spent two or three hours at the Fujishiro Seiji Museum before having to rush out at closing, but we could have easily spent a few more hours exploring the museum and examining the worlds within the artwork. The postcards in the gift shop are wonderful, but do not have the same effect as seeing Fujishiro’s artwork in person. Nevertheless, I purchased about half a dozen to decorate my own home.

We may have been the only foreigners, but there were also couples visiting, young and old, and families with children. Fujishiro Seiji’s artwork is able to entertain and connect with anyone, regardless of age or language.

At 99 years old (possibly even 100 at the time of publication as his birth is in April), Fujishiro hasn’t slowed down one bit in his artistic pursuits. He recently made a painting of Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy holding a sunflower, inspired by the war in Ukraine. Fujishiro is active on social media, with accounts on Facebook and Instagram, and his art is becoming more popular. Fujishiro even has an active YouTube channel and vlogs about his day to day life and artistic process.

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The more I learn about Fujishiro Seiji the more I am inspired as a writer and encouraged to be a kinder person. His work has the ability to touch lives and inspire many positively for over half a century. I am not only more cognizant of the power and influence that my stories may have, but also my impact on others in my daily life.

ianna Shore is a Korean American writer and second-year JET based in Gunma, Japan. Kianna is also a UCLA MFA Screenwriting alumna, Women in Film Scholar, and editor of CONNECT. When she’s not busy writing or fangirling over her favorite books, Kianna can be found befriending stray cats and hunting for the best boba in town.

Photos by Kianna Shore. Vectors by freepik.
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“Y2K Girl” 14 |

Big Eyes, Pretty Characters, and Sparkles. Like. . . A LOT of Sparkles:

She was ditzy, she was lazy, she was bad at schoolwork, and she cried about every little inconvenience—but she was also brave, had a talking cat, and wore a hella cute battle uniform. She will punish you in the name of the moon and I was HOOKED. Like a lot of little girls in the late 90s, ever since I met Sailor Moon on my TV screen when I was around six or seven years old, I was enchanted by her. Maybe it was her personality that resonated with me (I was also a crybaby and academically average at the time), or maybe it was because of the fact that despite her flaws she was able to kick butt and become a very capable and brave person over time. I think that most of all, it was her world that sparked something within me. Her world was sparkly, shiny, and magical! Her world had cute girls! Her anime world ignited my curiosity. I wanted to know more about this magical, two dimensional world from Japan. Ever since then, I fell deeper and deeper into the anime rabbit hole. Growing up, watching Pokemon, Naruto, and One Piece with my

brother every morning before school while we had breakfast became a ritual. I looked forward to watching an episode of K-On! on TV every Friday evening. Reading anime fan fiction on my school computer became an almost daily routine. Anime had seeped into my normal life, and as an artsy person, it naturally became the biggest inspiration for my art as well.

I don’t remember exactly when I started drawing, but after dipping my toes into the sparkly world of anime and manga, art became a bigger interest for me. Shortly after watching Sailor Moon for the first time, I remember drawing something in an anime style for the first time. It was a seven year old’s interpretation of Sailor Moon. It was shaky, it was cringe, but my mother said it was cool so it must’ve been good, right? It was the first time that I saw an art style that I liked and applied it to my own art practice. I felt like I was leveling up my art.

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I also started becoming interested in manga around this time. I grew up in the hectic city of Jakarta in Indonesia before moving to Australia. Jakarta had no shortage of translated manga in their bookstores. Indonesian manga and anime nerds like myself were spoiled for choice. My parents would buy me random volumes of shoujo manga they thought I would enjoy at the time. And I would find my brother’s Dragon Ball and Doraemon manga volumes around the house as well and I would non-consensually borrow them. I remember looking at these black and white pictures on the pages for hours. I would study how these lines made the shape of their eyes, and how some strategically placed lines would form dynamic action scenes. The big eyes, pretty characters, and sparkles that made up their world drew me into the world of anime art even more. The heroines of these shoujo manga were beautiful and stylish. The characters in my brother’s manga were dynamic and

wacky. I wanted to draw characters like that too. After studying them, I would try to replicate them myself. A habit I never grew out of, looking back on it now. My replicas of these characters were shaky at best, but I was so proud of them at the time! Growing up I was always praised by my peers and the adults around me for my drawings, and so, little me kept on drawing and I loved doing it.

After watching Cardcaptor Sakura when I was little, I longed to rollerblade underneath sakura trees on my way to school. So, like a lot of nerdy kids that are interested in anime and manga, my interest in Japan increased as well. In 2019, I entered the JET Program to teach English in Japan as an Assistant Language Teacher. I was sent to

the ash-covered city of Kagoshima in southern Kyushu, and now I am nearing the end of my five-year appointment. I’ve had many good times, I’ve had many bad times, and I’ve received plenty of nihongo jouzus. But more importantly, I’ve had valuable experiences that contributed to the development of my own art style and cemented my love of art.

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“Oshi No Ko”

I fell out of love with drawing for a few years during my time in college. The community around me had all of a sudden shifted from supportive to “maybe you shouldn’t do that.”

that ”

my art now told me to focus on more “important, ” “practical, ” and You can’t make love of how

The same adults who praised me for my art now told me to focus on more “important”, “practical”, and “realistic” things. You can’t make a living out of art apparently. Then depression hit too hard, and so for a few years I just didn’t want to draw. But after coming to Japan, I fell back in love with drawing again. The reason, funnily enough, was because of how unfulfilling this job can be sometimes. I knew before coming to Japan that teaching wasn’t for me, and after coming here, I definitely know that teaching isn’t for me. Japanese work culture says that teachers still have to come in to work during school vacations even though there are no students to teach. That means there are very long, very dull, never-ending stretches of desk

dull, never-ending stretches of desk

“Rose of Versailles” | 17
“Dark Magician Girl” “Rose of Versailles”

warming during school vacations. To put it in anime terms, I came to Japan expecting a beach episode (fun, with maybe a little bit of frolicking) and what I got was a filler episode (dragged out, unnecessary to the plot, and with a lot less frolicking). Being cooped up in the office for so long doing nothing made me think, “Why AM I here?” It wasn’t to sit in this office chair and play The Sims all day while I pretended to work, that’s for sure. “Do I want to stay feeling unfulfilled and useless for the rest of my life?” Hell no. And so when I got home after a long day of telling my Sim family to eat and sleep so they don’t die, I longed to return to the thing I actually loved doing: making art. I bought my first real digital art equipment with my adult money and started drawing again for the first time in years. The long stretches of desk-warming, among other reasons, made me know for certain that I wasn’t meant to work in this sort of

office environment. That salaryman office life just ain’t it. So I kept on drawing, determined to upgrade my art skills so I would never live this office life again once I’m done with my appointment on the JET Program. I think I am drawing more now than I ever have before.

The relationships I’ve made during my time in Japan also cemented my love and deepened my relationship with art. Many of the other ALTs, colleagues, and local Japanese friends I’ve met in my time here are also talented artists. Being able to meet other artists, especially ones from a different walk of life, was very valuable for me. Now I can see firsthand how other artists work and how they’ve kept their creative passion alive while they navigate this sometimes rigid world that we’ve found ourselves in. I came from knowing almost no other artist friends to now knowing so many

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“Trafalgar Laws”

other anime artists, musicians, digital artists, writers, photographers, and painters, plus someone who made a life-size paper mache alien doll thing for fun. Many of my students at the junior high schools I have taught at are also massively talented artists at just 12 to 14 years old. It blows my mind that these talented kids are even considering becoming anything BUT artists when they’re older. I know that they think this way because their adults most likely told them the same

thing MY adults did, that art will never be a viable option. I would’ve liked for someone to slap me when I was in the same position my students are in and told me to pursue art from the get-go, but then I wouldn’t have met the people I have met in Japan. I would’ve been a lot sadder if I had never met all of these people, and probably been less inspired to keep working hard on my art. Life works in mysterious ways. Maybe I was meant to experience this filler episode.

“Be My Enemies to Lovers” | 19

After meeting the people I have met, and experiencing the canon events I have had in Japan and back home, I feel like I have leveled up my art immensely. These experiences have inspired me to keep making art, and led me to develop my own art style over time. If I had to describe my art style now, I would describe it as “modern retro.” I aim to convey the feeling I had when I first fell in love with the anime world by capturing that hazy, nostalgic look that all old anime seem to have, combined with the sparkles and magic that I fell in love with all those years ago when I was only six or seven years old. I still make fan art of my favorite characters like I did when I was younger, only now it’s more cutesy, pastel, and soft. I want to create the feeling that you’re viewing my art with nostalgia goggles.

Now that I’m nearing the end of my appointment in Japan, I am more determined to pursue art full-time. I’m not getting any younger, it’s time I behaved like a shonen anime protagonist and got stronger to pursue my real dreams. When my time in the JET Program ends, I hope to open an online store and sell my art prints among other things. I hope to also table at anime conventions and sell my art in person. Despite the sometimes dull work life, I’ve enjoyed living in Japan very much. The end of my time in Japan is frightening, but I’m also hopeful about what’s to come in my art career.

I think it’s about time my filler episode ends.

“Garfield Phone”

Rininta Lestari is an Australian fifth-year JET based in Kagoshima City. She loves art, anime, and pink things. You can find more of her work on her instagram: bunny_skull_scribbles

Illustrations by Rininta Lestari.

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“Buggy” | 21 Back to Contents
Daniel Kowalski (Kumamoto)

Whether amidst towering mountains or one of the rare, flat floodplains that speckle the coastline, one constant feature defines the Japanese landscape. In a country of such varied habitats, the flooded rice paddies create patchworks crisscrossed by narrow country roads on the plains and stacked terraces climbing the mountainsides.

My area of Kumamoto Prefecture is surrounded by lowland paddies. A glance at a map reveals the area sectioned into neat, albeit irregular, rectangles, and my daily journeys to and from work are illuminated by observing the flora and fauna change with the seasons. Rice plants start as seedlings in dry soil, sunning themselves for a while until they are firmly established, and are then partially submerged as the fields are flooded. With the arrival of summer, the dogged intensity of the sun eventually bleaches their stalks yellow, bowing them under the weight of budding rice. The diverse wildlife drawn to this shifting habitat has been a favorite aspect of my life

in Japan; from herons stalking at harvest, to shoaling fish of all sizes, miniature mudbrown frogs, cascading flocks of sparrows, and dragonflies floating like distant dust motes above sun-drenched summer fields.

Japanese rice farming is thought to have begun in the Yayoi period (somewhere between 300 BCE to 250 CE). At that time, Japan experienced heavy cultural influence from China and Korea, and rice farming techniques likely arrived via the Asian mainland. In feudal times, rice was so highly valued that a proportion of the crop was collected as tax by the government.

In Japan or beyond, show someone a picture of a water-logged field filled with grassy green stems and they’ll quickly identify it as rice. This is an iconic image— no other common crop is grown under the same conditions. Rice is unique, with distinct adaptations, benefits, and problems.

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So, why do most other plants not like being waterlogged? For the same reason that you or I wouldn’t enjoy being sat underwater— it makes it rather hard to breathe.

Plants photosynthesise, taking carbon dioxide from the air and using sunlight to transform the gas into sugars. This converts sunlight into tangible, easily-stored chemical energy. The sugars formed can be broken back down into gases to release the chemical energy they store. This is respiration—the same process we humans use to power ourselves. Both photosynthesis and respiration generate energy for the plant, but photosynthesis is only an option when there’s sunlight. So plants must also respire to augment their energy during the day and to allow themselves to survive the long, dark night.

Respiration requires oxygen gas from the air, and the plant can absorb it in two places: the green leaves and stems, and the roots. As plants don’t have lungs to manage gas exchange, often they need to absorb oxygen all over the plant itself, so that it reaches the various tissues that need it. This is why standing water is a big problem for a lot of plants. That layer of water above the soil reduces the speed that oxygen gas caught between grains of soil is replaced, and so there is quickly nothing available to be absorbed by roots.

Photosynthesis is not an option: there isn’t a lot of light underground. The green leaves and stalks of plants can also absorb oxygen from the air, but, as most are not built to move that absorbed gas between roots and stem, the roots cannot create energy.

Rice plants are an exception. Their stalks have spongy tubes (called aerenchyma, literally meaning “air infusion”) that allow for the movement of oxygen from the top of the plant to the base, and so they are pretty happy in waterlogged conditions that would have other plants wither. Some strains can even survive being fully submerged by either growing quickly until they break the surface of the water or entering a hibernation-like state to conserve resources.

This also explains why we often grow rice in waterlogged conditions. It stops or destroys the pesky weeds that would exist in a dry field. They simply cannot cope with standing water in the way rice plants can. This doesn’t require any agrochemical weed killers, which might have negative impacts on the local environment and water system. It’s low-tech and green—what more could you want?

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The lack of oxygen in waterlogged fields also affects the microbes that live in that soil. Just like plants and animals, some microbes use oxygen to power themselves and aren’t able to keep operating without it. But unlike plants and animals, not all of these oxygenusing microbes rely on sugars as fuel.

Beneath rice paddies are certain microbes that use the methane gas produced by other communities of microorganisms instead. Methane is best known for its role as a greenhouse gas—a component of the atmosphere that helps the planet retain heat and, when the levels of it increase, contributes to global warming. Methane is roughly 200 times less prevalent in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, but far more effective at trapping heat. Each gram of methane in the atmosphere is thought to trap about 30 times more heat than the same amount of carbon dioxide over a 100 year time-frame.

Agriculture is the largest source of anthropogenic methane emissions. Most of this comes from livestock (a little under 80% in 2021) but the remainder is almost entirely due to rice cultivation. Worldwide, this is slowly increasing, and production will likely continue growing alongside the human population. Largescale, intensivist farming is also likely to increase, to the further detriment

of the environment. Therefore, reducing these emissions can only have a positive effect, even if other greenhouse gas sources can have their emissions figures further reduced in absolute terms.

Although the low-oxygen soils under rice paddies are veritable methane factories, they show a relative reduction in the amounts of a different greenhouse gas emitted. Nitrous oxide is less prevalent than carbon dioxide or methane, but much more efficient when it comes to warming the planet. Methane, on average, lingers in the atmosphere for about 12 years, while nitrous oxide can remain in our skies for 109. This longevity contributes to its absurd warming effect; gram for gram it traps about 273 times as much heat as carbon dioxide over 100 years. It also contains, as the name might suggest, oxygen—something that rice fields are relatively deficient in. For fields that are cycled between wheat and rice over the course of a year, studies have consistently shown a tendency for higher nitrous oxide production during the wheat season (up to 70% of the annual total).

Careful management of crop rotation and flooding of rice fields has the potential to minimize the production of both methane and nitrous oxide, and that’s not the only good news for Japanese rice fields.

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A large proportion of Japan’s red list of threatened species live in wetlands (50% as of 2011). Following a reduction in naturally-occurring wetlands with increasing land management, many of these rare flora and fauna now exist in a kind of symbiosis with the wellmanaged aquacultural landscape produced by rice farming.

The creation of paddies usually involves forming earthen banks as a retaining wall for the area to be flooded, particularly to form the terraces in upland farms. The roots of colonizing grasses add much needed stability to what would otherwise be a long pile of dirt, and so plant life is encouraged to grow here. Mowing two or three times a year keeps the vegetation in check. But it also has a secondary effect. The repeated cutting prevents any single hardier species from dominating the habitat formed, and helps to maintain plant diversity. This has a knock-on effect to promote diversity further up the food chain.

This style of land management may have further benefits in upland farms. Fertilizer is naturally washed downhill in these environments, leaving the higher terraces relatively nutrient-poor. Some plant species favor these growing

conditions, and several species of rare plants have been shown to be more common in these elevated terraces. The introduction of wetland habitat also adds diversity to the existing grassland and forest habitats found in Japan’s mountains, allowing for more complex ecosystems to develop.

The active management of rice fields is crucial to their benefits. Simply letting nature take the wheel results in a loss of biodiversity, as the hardier or invasive plants take over.

Europe has similar issues with rewilding in its woodlands. Simply allowing a woodland to develop without human intervention creates a primary woodland with a relatively low biodiversity. Repurposing farmland to new woodland is not the solution to maintaining the diversity of animals and plants. Instead, the maintenance of older, existing woodland (secondary woodland) is vital to ensure this biodiversity survives. However, some have suggested that abandonment of farmland in Australia or North America could have the opposite effect. The methods of farming employed in these areas are a legacy of European colonialism, and it is thought that farmland could revert to pre-settlement conditions if nature is given the chance to allow the native landscape to recover.

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For Japan, the survival of many endangered species currently relies on the practice of traditional rice farming. But this too is endangered.

As the country’s population contracts, younger people are rapidly moving away from the sparsely-inhabited countryside to the relative affluence, opportunity, and companionship offered by larger cities. This shift has effectively crippled the potential labor force for traditional farming methods. The number of workers in Japan’s agricultural sector is decreasing by around 50,000 a year, with the average age of workers over 65 years old as of 2022. Many of these farmers also maintain side jobs to ensure a steady income. Alongside a shift in dietary preference to bread and pasta, brought about by Western influence, the future for rice farming is uncertain.

These, though, are changes at the national level. Kyushu in general, and my area of central Kumamoto specifically, have increasing birth rates. My local population is growing, both from this and migration into the satellite towns surrounding the city of Kumamoto itself. Yet there is still rice farming here.

Japan isn’t homogeneous it has a mixed character, just as rice paddies have a mixed character. Their role as maintained wetland habitats offers refuge to endangered plants and animals, while contributing to significant greenhouse gas emissions. Rice is Japan’s only self-sufficient staple food, and with international conflicts bringing domestic food security into sharper focus, the Japanese government has invested heavily in subsidy programs to support the industry. However, Japan is distinct in lacking the centralized, intensivist farming of other major rice-producing countries. Despite this bringing challenges in competitiveness, it is vital for lower greenhouse gas emissions and higher biodiversity.

In the future, it will be important to preserve this balance of the natural and the constructed in areas such as mine. I hope that I can visit Japan in five, 10, or even 20 years, and still find great open seas of waving stalks stretching to the distant mountains, green and verdant enough to make the grass look bland in comparison, and still with the drifting motes of distant dragonfly wings reflecting the morning sunlight.

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Daniel Kowalski is currently an ALT in Kumamoto Prefecture. Prior to moving to Japan, he spent half a decade working as a research chemist and still gets a little buzz from learning more about how the world works. He enjoys reading, hiking, and Daiso.


1. Zubeyde Filiz Arslan, “Decrease in biodiversity in wheat fields due to changing agricultural practices in five decades” Biodiversity and Conservation, Springer Link (accessed 03 March 2024)

2. “Why is biodiversity important?” The Royal Society (accessed 03 March 2024)

3. “A beginners guide to growing rice” Johnny Appleseed Organic (accessed 03 March 2024)

4. “How plants breathe” RHS (accessed 03 March 2024)

5. Alan Buis, “The Atmosphere: Getting a Handle on Carbon Dioxide” Global Climate Change NASA (accessed 03 March 2024)

6. “Importance of Methane” US Environmental Protection Agency (accessed 03 March 2024)

7. “Sources of methane emissions” International Energy Agency (accessed 03 March 2024)

8. “Agriculture” Climate Watch (accessed 03 March 2024)

9. Climate Change Tracker (accessed 03 March 2024)

10. “IPCC Sixth Assessment Report: The Physical Basis” Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (accessed 03 March 2024)

11. “Improved Attribution of Climate Forcing to Emissions” Science. org (accessed 03 March 2024)

12. Yusaku Yoshikawa, “Revitalising Japan’s rice industry meaning targeting export markets” East Asia Forum (accessed 03 March 2024)

13. Xu Zhao et al, “Further understanding nitrous oxide emission from paddy fields under rice/wheat rotation in south China” Journal of Geophysical Research, American Geophysical Union (accessed 03 March 2024)

14. Hiroko Akiyama et al, “Direct N2O emissions from rice paddy fields: Summary of available data” Global Biogeochemical Cycles, American Geophysical Union (accessed 03 March 2024)

15. B. Gogoi et al, “Nitrous Oxide Emissions from Fields with Different Wheat and Rice Varieties” Pedosphere, ScienceDirect (accessed 03 March 2024)

16. “Population Census 2020 Statistical Maps of Japan” Statistics Bureau of Japan (accessed 11 March 2024)

All image credits: Daniel Kowalski

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Chloe Holm (Tokyo)

If you’ve visited a temple or shrine in Japan, chances are you’ve walked right past a goshuin stand without even knowing. These modest stands are at nearly every temple and shrine in Japan, and the tradition of collecting goshuin is as old as the creation of the Japanese language itself. So, if you find yourself leaving a temple or shrine empty-handed, you may have missed an amazing opportunity to document your visit and participate in a 1,300 year old Japanese tradition!


The term “goshuin” translates literally into “honorable red seal” and reflects the meaning of the word: the red seal of the temple or shrine placed in a goshuincho, an accordionlike book designed for this act of recording one’s offerings and visits to holy sites in Japan. The goshuincho is a perfect example of a modern-day travel book that captures Japan’s religious history of pilgrimages for Buddhist and Shinto believers. They are the perfect time capsule that represents Japan’s affinity for beauty, gifts, and all things collectable, not to mention doubling as an impressive and unique souvenir. Like a fingerprint, each seal is unique to the shrine or temple and carries its history, energy, and spiritual power, and with roughly 160,000 temples and shrines throughout Japan, it can become an impressive collection of visited sites and experiences.


Collecting goshuin can be viewed as a modern-day personal pilgrimage throughout Japan, whether religious or sentimental. But goshuin represent more than just a mark or seal: they represent each individual spiritual connection between traditional pilgrimages and deities, and the bond between spiritual seekers to higher powers.

Historically, they were a way for monks to show their devotion to their pilgrimages and proof of religious duty. Upon embarking on these often month-long journeys, worshipers would provide handwritten religious sutras, or scriptures, when praying at the shrine or temple, and in exchange

would receive a goshuin as proof of their loyalty. This exchange also required a small donation from the pilgrim.

A pilgrim’s goshuin was not only an important display of spiritual devotion, but was also believed to be an important ticket into the afterlife. The more goshuin collected, the better protected and blessed the worshiper would be after death. As such, many religious followers devoted their lives to collecting these sacred seals, further securing a peaceful and protected afterlife. Goshuincho used to be collected on a large scroll or even on someone’s religious robes, and were sometimes displayed next to a pilgrim’s corpse or placed in the family’s home for good blessings. However, goshuin culture has somewhat changed today, and now goshuincho are portable, foldable booklets; and these holy stamps can be collected to show religious devotion or to further a personal collection.


Although rooted in Buddhist and Shinto beliefs, nowadays a goshuincho serves more as a memory book and general offering to the upkeep of sacred sites and to the volunteers who serve at the many temples and shrines in Japan that uphold this ancient tradition. While some still collect and use goshuin as an important proponent of their connection to religious sites in their spiritual journeys, people of all faiths and backgrounds collect them today.

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If you are curious about Japan’s pilgrimage paths, here are some of the routes that are still popular today:

Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage: Holding the title of the longest and most extensive pilgrimage in Japan, the long tour across the small island of Shikoku remains one of the most famous pilgrimages in Japan. In Shikoku, you can still see devout pilgrims trekking along the 1,200 km (750 mi) path that covers four prefectures, 88 temples, and extends around the entirety of Japan’s smallest southern island. Connected to one of Buddhism’s most famous monks, the Buddhist priest Kukai (Kobo Daishi), this uniquely island-spanning pilgrimage is considered one of the most traveled and honorable religious paths today that grants religious peace, awakening, and connection to Shikoku’s natural beauty.

Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage: Extending through Japan’s largest peninsula, this pilgrimage is a 68 km (42 mi) challenging hike through the Kii mountains. The terrain offers stunning and rugged views of traditional Japan and rewards pilgrims with the Kumano Sanzan, three hidden shrines deep in the mountains that remain as some of Japan’s holiest sites.

Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage: This holy path spreads across six different prefectures in western Japan and connects 33 different temples and shrines dedicated to Kannon, goddess of mercy and healing. This 1,000 km (621 mi) trek is unique for its connection of major UNESCO world heritage sites, including Kyoto’s famous Kiyomizu Temple and the Wakayama Seiganto Temple near the breathtaking Nachi Falls.


Most temples and shrines in Japan will have many stands selling various goods and souvenirs of the site, including charms, incense, and fortunes. Look for the goshuin (御朱印) at the goshuin stand (御朱印所), as well as some example goshuin pages (many temples and shrines will have multiple stamp pages to choose from and collect). It’s possible to collect all of the different varieties if you want to begin a large collection! The price is typically around 300-500 yen for most local temples and shrines, but can be upwards of 1,000 yen for historical and cultural sites of major importance. You can buy the page on its own and glue it into your book later, or have the monk or helper write in your book by hand with impressive calligraphy.


Traditionally in red, the main goshuin of a temple or shrine is placed in the middle of the page, with dark calligraphic writing over top the seal. While the style of calligraphy does vary, typically the name of the religious site will be written over the seal, with the date in the left corner, the word houhai (奉 拝), which means “to worship,” in the upper right, and varying images of deities, religious motifs, and specific cultural features particular to each site.

Also, note that the goshuincho is read from right to left, and that it is quite taboo to place any stamp other than a goshuin in your booklet because of the sacred nature of stamps and religious tradition.

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When visiting local tourist spots or attractions, you may notice lots of queueing for a different reason other than goshuin: stamp collecting. While the two may seem similar, there’s an important subculture phenomena in Japan dubbed as modern day “stamp rallies.” This frenzied obsession of memorabilia collecting has permeated Japanese culture from the creation of the first train line in Japan in 1872 and still continues today. While goshuin are considered as “religious seals or stamps,” these other stamps differ greatly. Goshuin are directly aligned with religious sites, while modern stamp rally stamps can be collected at any modern convenience store. To date, stamp collecting is omnipresent in Japan, and can be collected from trains, aquariums, tourist sites, and any other attraction or event.

The uniqueness of each stamp also lends itself to the impermanence ubiquitous in Japanese cultural phenomena, such as cherry blossom season and traditional teachings in historical haiku. It’s not the first time Japan has placed importance on recording and honoring fleeting experiences, and goshuin are no exception. With their traditional ties to Shintoism and Buddhism, it’s no wonder goshuin have sparked a new-found craze for collecting these other kinds of unique stamps.


Culturally speaking, it’s no surprise stamp collecting is so commonplace in Japan with such emphasis on omiyage (souvenir) culture rooted in traditional Japanese giftgiving. Adjacent to omiyage gift-giving, stamp collecting represents a cultural tradition more rooted in collecting for oneself while also expressing selflessness by supporting and offering to a temple or shrine in exchange for seals. Even more so, gifting a goshuin is considered taboo and shouldn’t be indulged in, as it is seen as a personal pilgrimage and separate from traditional omiyage culture.

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Some famous temples and shrines have unique and seasonal goshuin to collect and should definitely not be missed:

Daiho-ji Temple: The 44th temple in the sacred Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage, this overlooking temple sits high in the mountains of Kumakogen, a small village deep in rural Ehime Prefecture. After a steep trek up the stone path, this temple rewards pilgrims with stunning views of Ehime’s fabled natural beauty, and a goshuin written on brown washi paper with a copied sutra.

Yasaka Shrine: Once known as Gion Shrine, the center of cultural beauty and geisha, this Shinto shrine is a well-known symbol of Kyoto’s cultural significance for pushing Japanese culture’s finest in history and art. The shrine offers a unique stamp page utilizing traditional pink washi paper embellished with gold trimmings and floral motif, perfect for cherry blossom season.

Oi Zao Gongen Shrine: A small Shinto shrine in the Shinagawa Ward of southwest Tokyo, this shrine boasts a goshuin with an eye-catching image of Fukurokuju—the god of wealth, happiness, and longevity, and a member of Japan’s Seven Lucky Gods. It’s a uniquely imprinted hiddengem seal found in the heart of Tokyo.

Rinno-ji Temple: Being the most important site in the UNESCO-recognized religious complex at Nikko, this temple has a goshuin to match the grandeur of its 1,300 yearold history. With beautiful black characters embellished on a shiny golden page, a goshuin from the first seed of Buddhism in Nikko is a must-buy for all collectors.

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Nowadays, goshuincho come in all sorts of designs and intricacies, but most will have these few components: the word “goshuincho” written on the cover, the temple or shrine’s name, and symbols of the respective institution on the back. There are some different materials goshuincho are typically made of:

• Cloth: Traditionally, goshuincho are made of plain or decorated cloth, with temples adorning simpler designs, and shrines utilizing embroidery and unique artistic techniques and styles. Silk can be used to create more ornate detailings and designs, and in addition to the plain cloth materials, gold brocade is sometimes used for creating rich designs and textures.

• Washi Paper: As well as silk and cloth, rice paper can also be used to create more depth and texture for goshuincho covers. Graphic designs utilizing this rice paper, called yuzen and chiyogami, are also commonplace in designs for kimono and hina dolls.

• Wood: Some books use wood as a sturdier base for the goshuincho to be better protected, such as cedar and bamboo, and some even use wooden overlays to create intricately carved designs on the cover.

Here are some accessories available to goshuin collectors who want to personalize and protect their goshuincho:

• Goshuincho Bags: You can purchase special bags decorated in traditional Japanese styles and motifs to keep your goshuincho safe.

• Goshuincho Clasps: These wooden clasps can decorate and protect your goshuincho, and are also typically designed with elaborate Japanese wood art techniques.

Religious or not, goshuin can be collected and enjoyed by everyone. While some may collect goshuin for their own religious fulfillment, many use it as a unique way to remember meaningful trips to religious sites, as a tangible artistic souvenir, or to donate and support the upkeep of their local temples and shrines. So next time you visit a temple or shrine in Japan, don’t forget to leave with a tangible memory of your time and be a part of this age-old tradition!

Tip: There’s an app called “GoshuinGo” that shows a map of Japan with different places to visit to collect goshuin! It shows images of goshuin available to collect in different cities, hours of operation, fees, and directions—and is free to download on the Apple and Google Play stores!

Tip: There’s an app called “GoshuinGo” that shows a map of Japan with different places to visit to collect goshuin! It shows images of goshuin available to collect in different cities, hours of operation, fees, and directions—and is free to download on the Apple and Google Play stores!

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1. “Book of Memories” Discover Kyoto (accessed 03 March 2024)

2. “Goshuin: A Sacred Passport to Japan’s Temples and Shrines” Espunis in Japan (accessed 03 March 2024)

3. “Yuzen and Chiyogama: What’s the difference?” Washi Arts (accessed 16 March 2024)

4. “Seven Historic Pilgrimages Throughout Japan” Japan National Tourism Agency (accessed 19 March 2024)

5. Anna Carne, “Stamp Rally Folly: Our Favorite Unconventional Way To Travel Japan” Tokyo Weekender (accessed 19 March 2024)

6. Ilse Montald, “Goshuin Temple and Shrine Stamps” Oku Japan (accessed 19 March 2024)

Chloe Holm is an Ehime JET alumni from Ohio who is now working as a professor in Tokyo. She’s an aspiring journalist and loves writing about the latest in movies, TV, travel, and all things Japan. When she’s not writing or teaching, she’s probably watching a blockbuster or baking something delicious.

All image credits: Chloe Holm

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Dianne Yett

I miss being able to purchase a big, meaty loaf of bread of more than five slices.


Aaron Klein

Being able to walk outside without incessant warnings that there could be venomous snakes just about anywhere on Amami. Maybe I should retire and become a habu hunter.


Jessica Adler

The wide selection of “authentic” food restaurants. And cupcakes. Also, where is my typical household oven?




Kaitlin Stanton

The availability of so many ingredients that I thought were basic. . . why is it so hard to find affordable celery!?




Godzilla Minus One: The First Godzilla Movie to Win an Academy Award

On a peaceful sunny day in 1946, the minesweeper conducts its patrol in the Pacific Ocean. The vessel’s arm severs the mine’s chain, allowing it to float to the surface. Trainee Shiro Mizushima (Yuki Yamada) attempts to detonate the mine by shooting it with the boatmounted machine gun, but fails to connect. Recently hired World War II veteran Koichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki) soon takes over and quickly sets some well-placed shots on the mine. However, the crew’s celebration at the explosion is cut short when Mizushima laments his inability to participate in the Greater East Asia War, forcing Shikishima to silence him. WWII was brutal, and young men should not wish to have joined it. Unfortunately for the crew, the monster Shikishima encountered on a remote Pacific island

will soon reemerge to invoke the destruction of war once again.

Godzilla Minus One (ゴジラ -1.0, Yamazaki, 2023) is the first live action Japanese Godzilla film of the Reiwa era, following Shin Godzilla (シン・ゴジラ, Anno and Higuchi, 2016). And like Shin Godzilla, Godzilla Minus One is a standalone film presenting a story with themes relevant to Japan’s current issues.

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Slight disclaimer: I do not understand much Japanese, but the plot of Godzilla Minus One was still easy to follow.

Shikishima, an understandably hesitant kamikaze pilot, encounters Godzilla at the end of WWII. His inaction to fight the monster alongside his fellow soldiers, and their subsequent deaths, leaves him with intense survivor’s guilt. Returning to a post-firebombed Tokyo, Shikishima is joined by the homeless Noriko Oishi (Minami Hamabe) and her rescued and adopted, adorable daughter Akiko (Sae Nagatani). However, as Shikishima and his found family try to rebuild their lives alongside a devastated Japan, a Godzilla mutated by U.S. nuclear testing returns.

"Its atomic breath is capable of similar destruction, perhaps echoing the imagery of an atomic explosion more than any other iteration of the monster. "
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Godzilla Minus One seems to react not only to the original 1954’s messaging about nuclear weapons, but also the re-emerging possibility of conflict in the Pacific. Godzilla is once again the product of American nuclear weapons testing, but this time, its atomic breath is

capable of similar destruction, perhaps echoing the imagery of an atomic explosion more than any other iteration of the monster. In this way, Godzilla can be viewed as an allegory for the nuclear armed neighbors Japan perceives as national threats from: China, North Korea, and Russia. To counter these threats, the Japanese government is attempting to bolster its SelfDefense Forces, but doing so requires budget and national will. In Godzilla Minus One, Japanese Imperial Navy veterans heed the call for volunteers, including Shikishima. He also inspires the next generation of Japanese young men, such as trainee Mizushima, who were spared the horrors of World War II, to do the same. However, the modern Japanese populace

Japanese populace is not as eager as their film counterparts.

In a film with themes subtly promoting Japanese military enlistment in the face of nuclear threats, it is a bold choice to also include the personal costs such a decision may reap on a character such as Shikishima. His character provides a strong human foundation to this kaiju (giant monster) film. He is a kamikaze pilot who abandoned his divine mission and is shamed for surviving a war many of his peers did not. His tormented thoughts and trauma are realistically portrayed in his moments of PTSD. He struggles to open up with his friends, lashes out at his family, and awakens from nightmares in cold sweats. Godzilla may be a seemingly all-powerful force, but through Shikishima’s eyes, the kaiju is his personal tormentor.

It is interesting to note the ever-diverging depictions of Godzilla between America and Japan. As the Legendary Pictures version drifts more into the WWE-style monster mashup reminiscent of the Japanese Showa era films, the latest live action Japanese films cement themselves in the culture moment. For example, Shin Godzilla was critical of the Japanese government’s response to the Fukushima disaster. This is a historical precedent for such divergence as well. The original 1954 film had 20 minutes cut, an

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American character included, and was retitled Godzilla, King of the Monsters! The American edit added insinuations of native sacrifices to Godzilla reminiscent of King Kong and removed direct references to nuclear weapons to suit entertainment and political appetites. Annoyingly, it was a massive success. Though the 2014 American Godzilla hinted at such nuclear concerns, those references became increasingly muted in sequels. The American Godzilla’s metaphor never captures the same apocalyptic intensity as the Japanese’s.

Finally, despite being a fraction of a fraction of the cost of the average American Godzilla film, Godzilla Minus One outdoes them in visual splendor. In fact, the quality of its visuals earned it Godzilla’s first ever Academy Award, the award for Best Visual Effects. Godzilla’s appearances may be sparse, but that gives them added weight when they do occur. This iteration may not be a man in a suit, but its visual fidelity echoes that origin much to its benefit. See Godzilla Minus One!

For more Godzilla experiences off the silver screen, visit Godzilla the Ride and Nijigen no Mori. Godzilla the Ride is an awesome simulated ride located at Seibu-en outside Tokyo and it was created by the director of Godzilla Minus One, Takashi Yamazaki. At the Nijigen no Mori theme park on Awaji Island, there is a Shin Godzilla zipline.

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Source List

1 Britannica: Casualties of World War II

2 Godzilla Minus One (ゴジラ -1.0). Directed by Takashi Yamazaki, Toho, 2023.

3 Godzilla, King of the Monsters! Directed by Terry O. Morse and Ishirō Honda, Trans. World Releasing Corp., 1956.

4 Godzilla. Directed by Gareth Edwards, Legendary Pictures, 2014.

5 Godzilla Minus One is About Trauma & Hope

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Shin Godzilla (シン.ゴジラ). Directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi, Toho, 2016.

Dylan O’Connell is a third-year ALT from the U.S. who is currently working at two senior high schools in Kita-Harima. A film studies graduate, he is enamored with Japanese culture. When not preaching the good word of Godzilla, he may be found studying Japanese or writing about other media on his blog Dylan O’Connell’s Writing Corner.

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Post-Apocalyptic Table Scraps: Fighting for Tech and Fortune in Atlas Lost

When talking about board games, American games are often thought of in terms of big, fantastical conflicts; while European games have a reputation for being carefully calculated, if plodding, economic puzzles. These

categories are crude, often inaccurate, and become increasingly irrelevant as the internet enables a rapidly growing, global board game design culture—but of course, any creator’s culture is going to shape their work. Japanese homes generally offer less

space than is available to folks abroad, and a lot of Japanese have less leisure time to burn playing games. In my experience, this means there’s often a bent towards smaller boxes with more minimalist graphic designs, and a focus on each moment

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of play providing a little bit of joy, rather than building up to an explosive conclusion where one player dramatically seizes the victory.

Atlas Lost: Rise of the New Sovereigns, designed by Chuo Totsuca and published by Tactical Games, struck me as an interesting blend of styles when I first saw it. It’s a big box crammed full of pieces, but you won’t even use half of them in any given game. Its rulebook and cards are overflowing with sci-fi proper nouns and the apocalyptic imagery of concept artist Kazuma Koda (renowned for his work on video games like Nier: Automata and Fire Emblem) but mechanically, it’s a fairly restrained resource trading puzzle. And, to top it all off, Chuo’s most widely praised prior game was the adorable Aqua Garden, which finds great success through the joy of playing with its many different colourful, cute, wooden fish tokens. Atlas

Lost has all the same lavish production, with dozens of intricately detailed little wooden army guys to push around and slot into things. . . but, compared to the relaxing task of piecing together an aquarium, a grimdark

civilization reconstruction simulator is a much stranger fit for that particular delight.

What to do after the world ends?

In this post-apocalyptic wasteland, up to four players lead their own faction of survivors. You’ll be deploying “Advance Teams” into the ruins of the past society to recover useful technologies, and hopefully take control of this new world. These technologies are where the game takes its big swing: of the game’s five “Tech Trees” (Science, Economy, Culture, Religion, and War) you’ll choose only three each time you play. The result is similar to games where you choose your own character, deck, or special powers before the action begins: it keeps things fresh from session to session, and gives you new strategies to explore.

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However, Atlas Lost spreads its options across an interesting and explicitly marked scale. Religion and War powers generally interfere with other players, while Science, Economy, and Culture powers have more limited reach. The game essentially asks: “Do you all want to keep to yourselves or mess with each other? And how messy do you want this to get?” with the rulebook backing this up by assigning each tree a value for conflict and resource generation.

This successfully delivers varied sessions that offer up the promised level of player headbutting, but that doesn’t mean all the options are interesting. Most of the Science and Economy technologies are so insular that playing with both often feels like the other

“Thissuccessfully deliversvaried sessionsthat offerup thepromised levelofplayer headbutting”
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players might as well not be there. While this kind of personal puzzle game is something I often enjoy, all of the objectives in Atlas Lost are calibrated to make sense if people are fighting over them, causing the race to feel oddly anticlimactic when conflict is totally absent.

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together

To win, you want to be the first to score 30 points (the two alternative paths to victory: holding majority control of the board or climbing the “influence” track, rarely came up in my games). You get these points by trading in your resources via technologies you’ve researched, and with the game fitting itself into a wonderfully brisk 90 minutes once players know the rules, you’ll hit that number sooner than you might think. Atlas Lost’s greatest boon and bane is that victory mostly involves planning an efficient route towards a single technology, then liberally abusing it. Hatching and executing your plan is a hoot. Good puzzles make brainy folks feel smart, great puzzles make everyone feel like a genius. Atlas Lost manages to repeatedly deliver the better side of this equation. The actions available to you on your turn are all

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“Hatching and executing your plan is a hoot. Good puzzles make brainy folks feel smart, great puzzles make everyone feel like a genius.”
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relatively simple: you can take resources, spend resources to get new technology, or use a technology you got previously to give yourself resources or points. If you’ve played a few board games before, you’ve likely seen a similar “resource conversion” puzzle (Concordia, Century: Spice Road, and Oh, My Goods! are brought to mind). It’s well executed here, but certainly not groundbreaking.

In addition, as you do your research and grab resources, you’ll be awarded with special cards from each of the game’s tech trees. These are absolutely the game’s highlight, offering powerful, but situational special abilities, which are exclusive to the player who draws them. They make for a very rewarding “aha!” moment when you click the perfect one into place. All of a sudden, the pieces of your strategy all align and you’re spewing out points—but your opponents will never be bewildered by this; the rules and iconography are clear, the effects are easy to follow, and the graphic design is excellent at drawing attention to the important information. However, once one player is on the victory road, the game’s core problem emerges. With that combo in place, your best option is usually just to repeat it two or three times to win, maybe taking a break to gather up resources in between. If you’ve done any preparation

before firing off your points-generating engine, your opponents often can’t do anything about it, which can lead to a very stagnant, rote endgame. In your last couple turns you’re likely to be all out of interesting decisions, but as there are still numbers to crunch, you can’t just breeze through them. This left me wishing the game found a way to wrap up about ten minutes before it actually did.

All Dressed Up with Nowhere to Go

Not all my gameplays stalled right before the finish line, but enough did that I was encouraged towards riskier strategies, more to keep myself entertained than because they were genuinely advantageous. Moreover, once the end loop sets in, the game’s narrative framing falls away completely. “I trade purple coins for these things, and score six points” becomes the refrain. With many of the cards bearing evocative, thematic names, it strikes me as an odd choice that the main focus of the game’s table presence (the big central board of advanced future “technologies”) has no descriptive text on it whatsoever; just icons to represent resource transactions. Titles here would have really helped to paint a story around what players were actually doing. Without them, it risks being reduced to a joyless spreadsheet.

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This creative omission is made even stranger by the fact the game otherwise comes across as overproduced. The little wooden figures each have their own slotted holding cells, all clicking neatly together in front of each player, with unique tokens for each tech tree. These are undeniably fun to tinker with, but most of the same effect could have been achieved with simple wooden cubes and disks. The Tech Trees also begin with these big cardboard mats (one for each tree, five in total) which could have easily been replaced by tiles similar to those used for all the other technologies in the game, cutting the required table space in half. I freely admit it’s an odd complaint; the game looks and feels great to play (special mention should go to the superb choice of sandy toned colours for the player pieces, which stand out from the board without clashing against the game’s dark aesthetic). But because the design is otherwise so restrained and formulaic, it’s hard not to see the occasional design excessiveness and ask “why?” when the game could have been two-thirds the size, and perhaps a couple thousand yen cheaper.

It does give more space for Koda’s art (along with the other three contributing artists: Nao Miyoshi, Yota Suzuki, and Daigo Tanaka) which, as in Nier, makes striking use of man-made monoliths juxtaposed against barren landscapes to successfully evoke an

oppressive, dire mood. However, the post-human societies and reclaimedby-nature aesthetics that highlighted Nier’s best set pieces are largely absent from the abstract landscapes of Atlas Lost. What remains is a compelling collection of sci-fi locales and structures, but a notable lack of people or life to really make the world pop out from its cardboard confines.

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Final Thoughts

In trying to blend all its influences together, it’s remarkable that Atlas Lost is able to deliver such a satisfying game across the board, but it ultimately feels spread a little thin. While the core idea of its modular rules initially drew my curiosity, by playing it safe within those modules, the design never quite reaches the heights of its peers, which commit harder to blazing out in one particular

direction. It’s a good game, maybe even a great one if you like the vibe it has going on, and while I’ll happily play it again in the future, it feels like it’s missing a special hook to keep it top of mind when I’m wondering what to pull down from the shelf on game night.

Jon Solmundson is a Canadian-born, Australian-raised English teacher living in the snowy cabbage town of Nanporo, Hokkaido. He currently edits CONNECT’s Travel section, but when resting his exploration-weary legs, he enjoys nothing more than a spot of tea and a slow afternoon of moving wooden sheep and vegetables around a cardboard paddock.

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Holly Walder Bread.


Kristen Camille Ton My mom’s cherry pie.


Tori Bender

I’ll admit that I often miss the vast, solitary mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Oh, and good tacos.


Nomfundo Amanda Zondi I miss the ease of connection. In my mother tongue, isiZulu, ‘hello’ is sawubona which directly translates to ‘I see you.’ I miss feeling seen, just as I am and never having to second guess if I approached a situation in the right or most respectful way.


Li Chu Chong


Sofia de Martin I miss walking into a bookstore and being able to read the titles with ease.

hat comes to mind when you hear

“J-fashion”? Literally, the phrase means “Japanese fashion,” but as I learnt over my last decade of Japanophilia, it is not an umbrella term for Japanese fashion brands like Uniqlo and Mizuno, or even a reference to traditional kimono. J-fashion as a term refers more narrowly to styles that originated on the streets of Harajuku and Shibuya in the 90s and early 2000s, but now enjoy more popularity abroad than in Japan itself. (1)

When I was first introduced to the term “J-fashion” ten years ago, it was a reference to the popular images of girls in the frilly, demure Victorian-inspired style called “lolita fashion” that circulated the blogosphere. As a fourteen-yearold, British, anime-loving wannabe scene kid, the steep price tags and strict style conventions put me off trying lolita fashion myself, but it made me interested in experimenting with clothing that set me apart from my galaxypattern legging and moustache Tshirt wearing peers.

Holly Walder (Gunma)
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It wasn’t long before I discovered the other styles known as “J-fashion.” Most of the styles ended with the word kei, meaning “style” in Japanese. This is similar to the way Gen Z uses the “-core” suffix to describe particular aesthetics. (2) I considered the garish colours, clashing patterns, and bold plastic accessories of decora (3), then the glamorous androgyny of visual kei (4), before I settled on the pastel 80s pop fashion-inspired style fairy kei (5) (note: no relation to fairycore). (6) A few other styles, such as mori kei (7), Larme kei (which did not originate in Japan, but this will be addressed later), and yami kawaii (8) or “creepy cute,” were also featured.

A brief side note before anyone protests that I should be saying “kei fashion.” Indeed, most of what I discuss here could be called “kei fashion.” (9) However, the reasons I am not using this term for the article are because: kei fashion as a term is more heavily associated with visual kei and adjacent styles, J-fashion was and still is the most widely used term, and as I go on to argue, J-fashion is its own phenomenon that does not encompass all fashions that “kei fashion” does. Plus, when said out loud, it sounds like K-fashion, as in Korean fashion, which is a different thing, so I feel the phrase itself is too easily misunderstood to be useful. But I digress. . .

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This is by no means an exhaustive list of styles that are considered J-fashion—and new styles are popping up in Japan all the time but it was clear that at least in the British J-fashion community, lolita and fairy kei reigned supreme, and continue to do so even now. Wearing J-fashion does not mean dressing like the average Japanese person, but identifying with a narrow subset of fashion styles that were popular in Harajuku or Shibuya, mostly in the 90s and early 2000s.

At the age of 15 and 16, at the height of my J-fashion craze, I spent many hours browsing second-hand shops and squeezing past groups of pre-teens in Claire’s to fill out my wardrobe, occasionally saving up to splash out on UK-based independent creators and the iconic Japanese brands that appeared on clothing racks at Japan conventions like Hyper Japan to snag all the must have items and to create the ideal silhouette. For me, much of my free time was about finding all the things that my peers and the girls on Google Images suggested were absolute must-haves for fairy kei aficionados: the iconic tricolour Bodyline tutu, SPANK! Handmade accessories, Listen Flavour’s creepy-cute T-shirts, ACDC RAG jackets, and those pastel rainbow cardigans that everyone but me seemed to own in one variation or another. I even participated in a handful of fashion shows, and met many Instagram-famous

personalities, and it was much the same; picture-perfect lolita dresses, and a smattering of gothic styles, neon decora and kimono dresses among a sea of pastel cuties.

I participated in fashion shows at the Japanese cultural convention Hyper Japan in London in 2018 (Winter) and 2019. You can watch a video of the 2019 fashion show here

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Of course, my first priority when I visited Japan for the first time was raiding Harajuku for the clothes I had been dreaming about. In 2015 and 2016, there was a decent collection of shops for fairy kei lovers. Bodyline still stocked its iconic tutu, ACDC RAG had no less than three shops along Takeshita Street, 6%DOKIDOKI was coming out with instant essential statement pieces, and WEGO had a great selection of pastel clothes and even a photoshoot area for enthusiasts to snap themselves in their outfits. But it has been nearly ten years since then, and while all these brands are still very much around, the popular fashion trends in Harajuku have moved on. Lolita is ever present—although with all its many substyles, it too is evolving —and the peak for fairy kei and decora fashion in Japan has long passed to make way for Jirai kei, (10) Peeps, (11) and other styles that still feature cutesy and gothic accessories, but in a more subtle way that deviates much less from the mainstream.

Japanese fashion has moved on, why then, had “J-fashion” not followed suit? The Fairy Kei U.K. community on Facebook is small but still very active with almost 1,000 members, and the same faces appear wearing similar clothing each year in the fashion shows. There are several reasons for this. The first is that many of them are the same people, and everyone has their own individual style. While in Japan these trends were a brief phase

for teenagers and twentysomethings, J-fashion is a longterm lifestyle for those who follow it in foreign countries. The other reason is that J-fashion is not a Japanese idea. All fashion worn in Japan by a Japanese person can be considered “Japanese fashion,” after all, so the subcultural styles encompassed by J-fashion might be called Harajuku or Shibuya style, but are more often referred to in Japan by their individual names.

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Group photo from Hyper Japan Winter 2018

J-fashion is its own phenomenon, and this is seen clearly in the styles of Larme kei and western Otome. Traditionally, Japanese subcultural styles are very defined around a particular aesthetic or brand, like lolita, decora, and so on. Classic Otome (12) was a style that appeared in the Olive and Pink House magazines in the 1970s that featured modest, refined clothing with girl twists like frills and bows and mismatching patterns. However, the term has since been appropriated by Western Lolita fans to refer to

Casual Lolita—a broad term that essentially describes wearing a lolita-style JSK (jumperskirt) with none of the expected accessories like petticoats and patterned tights (though some argue this should not be considered Lolita at all). It has almost no relation to the original Otome, except an emphasis on femininity and modesty. Like casual lolita, there is no petticoat, but the style is paired with cardigans, mary jane shoes, and frilly socks rather than T-shirts and boots. (13)

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Larme kei was another term that sprung up in the foreign community. Unlike other styles, it did not originate in Japan, and what constitutes as Larme kei is very vague. It has no real rules or silhouette. It is basically whatever is trending in the Japanese magazine LARME, or anything deemed to look similar to what appears in the magazine. Essentially, whatever a member of the international community believes to look “cute and Japanese” can be called Larmekei. (14)

I do not give these examples in an attempt to condemn their existence, but to make the point that while J-fashion may have started out of genuine Japanese fashion trends, it has since taken on its own character abroad with little connection to what is happening in Japan. The international fans of J-fashion are a community in their own right. It is itself a large subculture subject to its own internal trends, and, especially with the wealth of independent fashion designers selling their work on Etsy and at conventions, it is likely to continue to be increasingly distant from the streets of Harajuku and Shibuya where the inspiration originated.

1. The Interrobang

2. The Aesthetics Wiki

3. Decora

4. Visual kei

5. Fairy kei

6. Mori kei

7. Yami Kawaii

8. What is J-fashion?

9. Jirai Kei

10. Peeps

11. Otome (Classic)

12. Otome (Western)

13. Larme kei

Vectors by freepik.

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olly Walder is the Fashion Editor for CONNECT Magazine. She has been fascinated with fashion subculture, especially Japanese fashion subcultures, since she was a teenager. She still has kept most of her fairy kei wardrobe and continues to wear predominantly pastel coloured clothing, but no longer identifies with any particular aesthetic or clothing style.

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n a media world flush with the adventures of super heroes, demon slayers, and immortal elves, it might come as a surprise that one recent hit was about something seemingly mundane: cosplay. But the world of cosplay is no less fantastical.

For those unfamiliar, the series I’m referring to is My Dress Up Darling. It follows the adventures of aspiring cosplayer, Marin Kitagawa, and her talented boyfriend Gojo as they attempt to navigate their way into this unique world.

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Early on, Gojo and Marin are brought together when rushing to complete a costume in time for a cosplay photography event; a classic dilemma known

as “con crunch.” Despite some miscommunication and a sleepless night of work for poor Gojo, they succeed in making it to the event.

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Jeanne d’Arc Alter
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Mao Mao Gura

While their particular situation is fictional, the event they attended is a very real thing. Known as acosta!, these events are organized all over Japan and act as a cosplay gathering where cosplayers and photographers can freely mingle. (1)

Furthermore, unlike larger events like Comiket, the focus is entirely on costumes.

I first learned about the acosta! events in 2021 when one was held in Fukuoka, but I initially mistook it as a one-off event. Between COVID-19 restrictions, work, and other commitments, I wasn’t able to make it and I largely forgot about it.

After recent trips to the World Cosplay Summit and Winter Comiket this past year, I began to actively look for other events closer to home in Kyushu. After a bit of digging, I discovered that acosta! events actually happened in my area; I also discovered they were popular with some of my favorite local cosplayers!

With this in mind, I decided to investigate.

Located at the Fukuoka PayPay Dome, home of the famous Fukuoka Hawks baseball team, the venue was quite large. The primary event area was the plaza surrounding the stadium entrance, but the parking lots directly below the venue, near the beach, and some local businesses were also set aside for photography. And, while there were no comic or merchandise vendors like what I would see in a Western convention, there were still a number of food booths set up to support the event!

Despite being an outdoor event in an ungated location, this event still requires ticket wristbands. For busier locations, it's best to preorder in advance of the event, as tickets can sell out several days early. I was fortunate and able to buy some same day passes. After securing my photographer’s wristband, I decided to walk around and see who I could find!

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The first cosplay I encountered was of Anis Tetra, a character from the popular shooter series Goddess of Victory: Nikke, which features ladies in pinup style military uniforms. As I waited in line with other photographers, I noticed that they often requested a series of different poses from each cosplayer. Soon enough it was my turn, and using a new 56mm lens, I worked together with Yuki (Kipokipokun).

In addition to the great work she had done on her costume, her prop weapon and signboard warranted attention.

In many western conventions, weapon props are allowed. However, they nearly always need to be “peace bound” with ribbons and paperwork. While this pertains these rules, meant to ensure firearm safety, also apply to other common props, like squirt guns and nerf guns. Here in Japan, there seems to be no such restrictions, and I’ve been startled more than once by full-scale weapons without orange tips.

Her cosplay sign also struck me as unusual. In an effort to make it easy for identifying the people in photos, some cosplayers will include signs or binders with their cosplay “handle, ” social media, and QR codes. Despite nearly 15 years of attending conventions, Japan is the first place I’ve seen these signs used.

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The next cosplay I encountered was a tad ironic: an eroge (erotic video game) character named Shizuku. She’s one of Marin Kitagawa’s favorite characters and her first costume for her own acosta! event, making this effectively a cosplay of a cosplayer’s cosplay.

2B from Nier: Automata was another character I encountered. A very popular character from the 2017 video game, her elegant costume and bearing was expertly recreated by the cosplayer.

After a few photos, I saw her duck away to grab what I presumed was a cosplayer card, which are similar to business cards but for cosplay. However, while she did bring one back, she also gave me something unexpected: candy and treats. As it turns out, some cosplayers in Japan hand out sweets as thanks for support!

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Gifts from Cosplayers

Sweets weren’t the only surprise I encountered. As I continued on with my photography, I discovered that some of the cosplayers maintain very tight control of their image. While I’m used to asking for consent for photography or concerns about public image, it turns out that some cosplayers request all photos be submitted for selfediting by the cosplayer before use.

As I wandered more, I was interested in observing the patterns and themes of the most popular cosplays. This year, the two most common cosplays I encountered were those from Frieren and Apothecary Diaries

However, there was quite a bit of variety, as well. Older series, such as Yu-Gi-Oh!, Sailor Moon, and Dragon Ball also made an appearance, with a complete multi-person Shenron dragon being puppeteered!

I also saw some more obscure or original cosplays. One appeared to be a realistic take on Mario as an actual plumber!

An unexpected discovery at this event was the makeup of the crowd. In most conventions I’ve been to, the balance of men and women cosplaying has been fairly even.

At this event, about three quarters of the cosplayers were women, while the last quarter were men; based upon the cosplay cards I received, there seemed to be a significant number of professional models cosplaying.

Frieren and Himmel
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ark Christensen is a fifth-year ALT from Snohomish, Washington in the United States. An avid photographer, he has a passion for capturing a diverse range of topics, including cosplay, mountaineering, nature, and history. He currently resides in Omuta, Fukuoka. You can follow his photography on his Instagram.

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Top: Heiter and Fern Bottom: Survey Corps

Even so, there was still a variety of cosplayers mixed in. One older couple cosplayed Heiter and Fern from Frieren, and there were a number of mixed cosplay groups, including the Survey Corps from Shingeki no Kyojin!

Overall, the event was a blast. While it’s very different from your average anime convention, it’s an upbeat community and a great chance to socialize with fans of various series and hobbies.

So, whether you’re a cosplayer, a fan of cosplay, or just curious to learn what this is all about, why don’t you check out your local acosta! event?

1. acosta! stylized according to the event’s preference.

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Photography by Mark Christensen. Vectors by freepik.

Spring is here! Cue the dance party. The days are finally longer, the sun is shining, and, in many parts of Japan, the snow has finally melted. There is nothing quite like the hope that returns as the seasons change. Everyday there is something to look forward to: the grass becoming greener and the mountains becoming covered in lush vegetation yet again. Spring is a testament of how all creation is resilient, yourself included. That we can always start again. And, of course, spring in Japan means: cherry blossoms! If this is your first spring in Japan, get ready to be dazzled by the different shades of pink that are about to pepper your surroundings. Albeit short, be sure to take part in hanami, which is the custom of viewing cherry blossoms during this season. Pack some food, sit under the cherry blossom trees, and enjoy what really is a transient moment because, as quickly as they appear, they will soon disappear. This ritual of viewing cherry blossoms is linked to the Buddhist themes of life and death, mindfulness, and living in the present moment. To hanami is to realise the brevity of life and to appreciate it while it is here. It is easy to feel immense relief and gratitude once spring rolls around, as it is a reminder of how things can change for the better and it beckons one to acknowledge how beautiful change can be no matter how short-lived it is.


In recent years gratitude has become a topic of interest in the realm of positive psychology. What is gratitude? Is it a feeling? A character trait? An action? It may mean different things for each of us depending on the situation. We can all agree that many cultures around the world encourage one from childhood to say ‘thank you’ when receiving a gift or a favour from another. As we know, in Japan, it is much the same. However, I must say, ‘thank you’ has taken on a whole new meaning for me here in Japan. With the vast ways to say ‘thank you’, and the amount of times I have received and given a ‘thank you’ in my time here, it has given space for greater levels of gratitude within myself,to the point where I now have a habit of thanking people for thanking me. Haha! Who would’ve thought, appreciation for being appreciated.

Gratitude can take many forms. Scientists studying it have postulated that there are three types of gratitude. (1) The first being one’s natural disposition. That’s right, some of us are just born more grateful than others. If you don’t resonate with this, do not despair. There are ways to work on this. Along with it being an affective trait, gratitude is also a mood. You know that feeling, when you wake up and just feel good, and you have warm thoughts of love towards life and your surroundings? That is gratitude. And the final type of gratitude is the emotion which you may feel temporarily when a kind coworker gives you omiyagefrom the trip they took over the weekend.

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So, how does gratitude impact our daily lives? Professor Richard Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California, says that gratitude makes us awaken to the good around us by taking note of it. (2) Emmons goes on to add that gratitude also makes us realise external sources that bring goodness to us such as other people, a higher power, or destiny. (2) It is, in fact, the cornerstone that keeps us together. Such ideals are much the same as that of the spirit of ubuntuas in my native South Africa. Ubuntu is the spirit of togetherness, to realise that I am because you are. (3) This allows us to have a sense of indebtedness to one another which spurs us to act kindly towards each other in gratitude for the ties that weave us together as a community. The concept of ubuntu also extends beyond humans, to the nature that surrounds us. Feeling grateful to others, or to the world, encourages us to extend help to those who have helped us, as it gives us a sense of responsibility. Not only that, but it also ignites us to help absolute strangers. (4) I think it is safe to say gratitude has the power to create a virtuous cycle, if you will, of ongoing kindness and gratitude.

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The benefits of gratitude do not stop there. Studies done on gratitude have shown it has the ability to improve mental health and well-being. (2) This is due to how we, as humans, are often cognitively more aware of the challenges we face than of the benefits we receive. So, by being more aware of the benefits, we are able to experience gratitude and, therefore, are able to have a more helpful outlook on life, which stirs positive emotions. These positive emotions spill over, which results in gratitude being a great way to cope with stress and build resilience in difficult situations. (5) There has also been evidence that suggests that gratitude can build self-esteem, with studies done on youths showing that those who reported feeling more grateful had a higher sense of self-esteem. (5) This may also be linked to how gratitude is related to the aforementioned ubuntu. When we feel less alone in life, we have a greater sense of security, which then enhances our self-esteem. (5) There are suggestions that gratitude may encourage complacency, because if we are grateful, it is assumed that we have no motivation to work towards any goals. Quite the contrary is true, as research has shown that gratitude can make one believe they are prone to, or deserving of, good things. (6) This then motivates us to work towards our goals with the belief that it can happen for us, spurring us on. It seems that the sky’s the limit when it comes to gratitude.

Perhaps you are reading this and thinking, “Wow, I could really use feeling or being more grateful in my life, but I just don’t know how’’ Whether you have a naturaldisposition to being grateful or not, we all can use a little more gratitude in our lives. Here are some ways gratitude can be expressed, felt, and increased in your own life:

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Start a gratitude journal—Make it a habit to write down three things everyday that you are grateful for. Initially, it may be your health, your friends, or your job, but this practice will make it a habit for you to look for things to be grateful for.

Tell a loved one ‘thank you’—Many of us are where we are today thanks to the help we have received from someone at one point in time. Pop that person a text telling them how thankful you are and how their help impacted you positively.

Pay it forward—Don’t wait for things to be grateful for, go ahead and create them! Do small acts of kindness for those around you.

Spend time in nature—Being in nature has the power to remind us all that nature does for us. How the trees continuously clean the air and provide us with oxygen, how the sun gives us light, and how the rays of the sun on our skin allows us to make vitamin D, strengthening our bones.

Go out with friends—Friendships have a spectacular way of reminding us how fulfilling and uplifting close connections can be.

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Look at the bright side—Those who tend to feel more grateful are able to see the good in situations. Try to always look for that silver lining, even in the mundane.

Mind your language—The way we speak impacts how our lives go, whether we like to believe it or not. Be mindful of how you speak. Those who are able to experience more gratitude choose to complain less and speak of the good things life has brought them. Therefore, increasing their belief that more good is able to reach them. This is not to say that one should stifle the very valid feelings they may be struggling with. However, keep in mind that what we believe to be true influences our reality.

We may not always feel grateful but we can take small steps towards cultivating more gratitude within ourselves and in our lives. I hope you can take this spring to launch yourself into a new era of gratitude. Take the time to look around you and you will find you have a lot more to be grateful for than what you initially might think. If you want to dive more into research done on gratitude, feel free to go to the links in the source list below.

Source List:

1. Gratitude Whitepaper

2. The Science of Gratitude

3. The African Philosophy of Ubuntu

4. Gratitude and Prosocial Behaviour

5. The Benefits of Gratitude

6. How Gratitude Motivates Us To Be Better People

Nomfundo is a second-year ALT from South Africa based in Hokkaido. She studied Dietetics and Human Nutrition in university. Her approach to health and wellness is multifaceted as she believes it comprises more than the food we eat. She enjoys writing poetry, going to art galleries, going to live concerts, and being in nature. In her spare time, she produces a podcast “The Sun in Japan” to help uplift others through storytelling. Connecting with people is her passion and learning more about the world and what brings us together as a human race.

Photos in this article by Unsplash.

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Well folks, we made it to what I think is the best season in Japan spring! Here’s to yummy food eaten under the cherry blossoms, a vast array of gorgeous blooms, and, of course, warmer and longer days. Bye-bye seasonal depression and hello to sweltering heat as we move into summer. Being from the southern hemisphere, I am no stranger to sweltering heat, but humidity? I am not used to it. Before arriving in Japan, I had no idea what to expect weather-wise. I, ignorantly, thought since it is an island, it must have really nice summery weather and a constant cool sea breeze. Of course, there are places and times where you can get this type of weather. However, nothing prepared me for the humidity in Japan. If you were here last summer, you remember how rough it was. And that is me speaking from the perspective of one who is based in Hokkaido, so I cannot imagine what the situation was in the southern parts of Japan.

Nomfundo Amanda Zondi (Hokkaido)
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I was especially excited for summer after what felt like the winter from Game of Thrones here in the north of Japan. I imagined myself in cute summer dresses, shorts, sleeveless tops and getting fried by the sun, after applying a thick layer of sunscreen, of course. However, I was surprised to see how the Japanese tackle the summer. After talking to the locals, I realised that East Asian beauty standards encourage this hypervigilant form of sun protection. With beauty being synonymous with being fair, it was no wonder Japanese ladies go through so much effort to shield themselves from the sun’s harsh rays. Albeit, I found it a little funny, as in the southern hemisphere being tan just means you spent some time in the sun, probably on the coast, sipping on some delicious summer drinks. In the West, having a beautiful bronze glow is something to be desired. Nonetheless, prolonged exposure to the sun can have undesirable side effects. These include accelerated ageing, the appearance of blemishes such as sun spots, increased chances of developing skin cancer, and increased risk of getting heat stroke. So how do the Japanese stay safe in the heat of summer?

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High sun protection factor (SPF) sunscreen is a must-have. This seems like an obvious move but many of us do not wear enough sunscreen, if we wear any at all. We wake up, slap it on in the mornings, and keep it moving. Did you know that you are meant to reapply sunscreen every two hours, especially after breaking a sweat or swimming? Well, now you do. Japanese sunscreen is highly regarded as it contains ingredients that are not yet legal in the U.S. and Europe. These include Tinosorb, which offers wide spectrum protection against the sun’s rays, and Mexoryl, which is famously known for its superior protection against UVA rays. With people being more aware of the effects of the sun on their skin, many products with SPF are now available, such as moisturisers and foundations. A popular item in Japan is the sunscreen stick, which is easy to carry in your bag and to apply, making it more convenient to keep up with applying it every two hours.

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Even in Hokkaido, with the cooler than average summer temperatures, I was surprised by the summer fashion donned by the ladies. In Western cultures, summer means wearing very little fabric. However, in Japan, you will find person after person wearing long sleeved shirts over dresses and tank tops, big hats, and an interesting mask that hangs down like a veil to your chest. I was especially fascinated by how many women would wear long sleeved fingerless gloves to shield their arms from the sun. Japanese sun protection, seemingly, is on a whole new level. Protective clothing is a pertinent part of preparing for the summer. I was fascinated to find that, during the summer months, Uniqlo offers a range of clothing that is strictly to protect you from the sun’s harmful rays. Nevertheless, let’s say you want to use your clothes to protect you from the sun this summer but are not willing to break the bank and go buy new clothes. How can we use the clothes we have to protect us?

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According to the Skin Cancer Foundation of America, the factors we have to take into consideration are the colour, construction, content, ultraviolet protection factor (UPF), fit and coverage of our clothes, as well as the activity we are doing in them. (1) To get the best possible protection, your garments should be black or colourful as these tend to absorb light instead of it penetrating your skin. Fabrics which are opaque are preferable to sheer materials, which let light through them. To test your clothes for this, you can put them up in the light and the less light that shines through, the better. In terms of content, the manner in which fabrics are made is also important. Unbleached cotton contains natural lignins or plant compounds which are effective in absorbing the sun’s rays. Shiny polyesters and lightweight satin or silk is also effective as it reflects radiation. The UPF of garments indicates how well an item can protect you from UV rays. For example, if an item is said to have a UPF of 40, it means it can protect the skin covered by it from 90% of the sun’s rays. At Uniqlo, items with UPF can be found should you be interested in them this season. (2) The fit of clothes seemingly can have a dual function: aeration (from loosefitting clothing) and sun protection. The reason being, tighter clothes are more likely to stretch out, which then allows the sun’s rays through. It seems obvious that the coverage of one’s clothes determines how protected you are. So opt for longer sleeves and pants this summer to ensure that you are in the green. Be mindful that no matter how high the UPF of your clothing may be, if your clothing gets wet or stretched out it will lose some of its ability to shield you and become more transparent, hence exposing you to the sun.

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We can’t talk about summer and not mention accessories! Perhaps this summer you will fancy one of those adorable hand-held fans or a brightly coloured umbrella for when you are walking and the sun is beating down. Wherever you are in Japan, I hope you are able to beat the sweltering heat this summer.

1. Sun Protective Clothing

2. Uniqlo’s UPF/UV Product Information

Nomfundo is a second-year ALT from South Africa based in Hokkaido. She studied Dietetics and Human Nutrition in university. Her approach to health and wellness is multifaceted as she believes it comprises more than the food we eat. She enjoys writing poetry, going to art galleries, going to live concerts, and being in nature. In her spare time, she produces a podcast “The Sun in Japan” to help uplift others through storytelling. Connecting with people is her passion and learning more about the world and what brings us together as a human race.

Illustrations in this article by Canva.

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Kalista Pattison

I miss spacious kitchens! Everytime I feel inspired to cook or bake, that inspiration is just absolutely crushed by my lack of counter space.


Li Chu Chong


Sofia de Martin

I miss walking into a bookstore and being able to read the titles with ease.


Kimberly Matsuno

Photo by David Spencer @davidspencerjapan


6 Essential Resources for Success

Navigating life after JET can be difficult—especially when it comes to job hunting. As we’ve seen time and time again this year across CONNECT’s Careers section, your time spent in Japan on the JET Program provides you with skills and experiences that can assist you in a wide range of interesting and exciting careers. But, if you’re anything like me during my last months as a JET, you’re probably not too sure where to begin when it comes to finding all those exciting careers.

As the career section editor, I have interviewed dozens of successful JET alumni, attended career fairs, and sat in multiple career seminars this past year. It’s safe to say that I’ve recently learned about a ton of resources that I wish I had known about sooner. So, to help those who are looking for some guidance when it comes to finding a post-JET job, I’ve put together a list of six essential resources to help get you pointed in the right direction.

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1) Industry Specific Job Boards

For Higher Education/Research: JREC-IN Portal

For those seeking a career in higher education or as a researcher at a university, this platform should be the first place you look. The site is operated by the Japan Science and Technology Agency to assist in the expansion of the career paths of research personnel in Japan.

For ESL Teaching Positions: O-HayoSensei

This twice-monthly newsletter provides subscribers with open ESL positions across Japan straight to their inbox. The newsletter is similar to the classified section in a newspaper, so there is no search function per se, but for those always open to a new position, the one-time fee of $12 USD may just be worth it to guarantee you get a jump on other applicants.

For those in the Creative Industry: Creative Tokyo

For those looking to get into a creative industry (including tech/IT), Creative Tokyo is a good website to bookmark. Creative Tokyo is a connection-centric networking organization for creative folks living in the greater Tokyo area. It started as a small 10-person group looking to share ideas in a crowded Shibuya bar and has grown into a much larger organization, which now hosts networking events and, you guessed it, a jobs board.

2) Foreigner-Focused Job Boards

If you’ve lived in Japan for a while, you’ve likely heard of the “big three” platforms for foreigners looking for jobs in Japan: Daijob, GaijinPot, and Jobs in Japan. While these platforms are certainly worth a browse, there are several smaller platforms that may also be worth your time.


Career Cross is one of Japan's largest recruitment sites for foreign-affiliated companies— particularly in IT and web design. It provides information on bilingual work in Japan for bilingual Japanese and English speakers. Job seekers can search by job type (full-time, part-time, contract, etc.), minimum salary, and Japanese language requirements.

Jopus Connecter

Jopus Connecter is unique in that the platform provides job seekers with the opportunity to connect with a foreign employee, called a Connecter, who is already working at the company the job seeker is interested in before applying. The platform lists jobs in a range of fields including manufacturing, business development, global sales, marketing, translation, administration, corporate planning, design, and more.

en world

This platform focuses on connecting career changers with both international and Japanese companies in Japan. Job seekers can filter by salary range, remote work, international company, and more. The platform often has mid-level and senior-level jobs listed, so it would be a great place to look for someone looking to advance their career.

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3) National Job Boards

International job boards such as Indeed and LinkedIn are used in Japan—though possibly to a lesser extent than your home country. Japanese job seekers seem to prefer recruitment agencies and Japan-based job boards. Whether or not to use a recruiter is a whole conversation on its own, but, for those with proficient language skills, there are a few job platforms that may be worth your time.


Doda is probably the most well-known and most used job search site among job changers in Japan. Many of the job openings are unique to Doda and are not posted on other job search platforms. Their website currently boasts over 280,000 available jobs to filter through.

Recruit Agent

Recruit Agent prides itself on holding the record for the highest number of job placements according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. Recruit Agent is more of a “recruiter style” platform in which a career advisor will call you to discuss your ideal job conditions/requirements, but the platform does also have a public job search feature for those who wish to go about it on their own.

Mynavi Agent

Although the total number of job postings is lower than Recruit Agent or Doda, Mynavi Agent may be more suitable for those seeking employment in areas outside the major metropolitan areas. The company also has a secondary search platform called “Mynavi Baito” for those who may be interested in part-time jobs.

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4) Metropolitan Employment Service Centers

Did you know that the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare runs multiple public employment offices specializing in providing job counseling and placement services for non-Japanese residents in Japan? Well, they do! We’ve listed three of the largest below, but it’s worth asking if the largest municipality near you has one as well.

Tokyo Employment Center for Foreigners

Foreign Residents Support Center, Yotsuya Tower 13th floor, 1-6-1 Yotsuya, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo (TEL 03-5361-8722)

Nagoya Employment Center for Foreigners

Yamaichi Bldg. 8th floor, 2-14-25, Nishiki, Naka-ku, Nagoya (TEL 052-855-3770)

Osaka Employment Center for Foreigners

Hankyu Grand Building 16th floor, 8-47 Kakuda-cho, Kita-ku, Osaka (TEL 06-7709-9465)

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5) Japanese-Focused Job Boards in Your Home Country

For those on the fence or focused on returning to their home country, there are platforms available that allow you to search for jobs utilizing your Japanese and international experience. The three sources below are specific to the United States/North America, but please reach out to the JET alumni community in your country for resources available to you.

Nihongo Jobs

Nihongo Jobs is a job board that showcases jobs in the United States that need or desire Japanese language and/or business culture skills. Many of the jobs on the platform are for positions within the American branches of major Japanese corporations such as Fujitsu, Yoshinoya, Capcom, and more.

Quick USA

Quick USA is a Japanese-style recruitment agency that helps job seekers find placement in American branches of Japanese corporations. Former Japanese Teacher of English, Takeshi Yamagishi, offers free career consultations to current JETs and JET alumni looking to work in the United States.

American Association of Teachers of Japanese

Looking to switch from teaching English, to teaching Japanese? The American Association of Teachers of Japanese is a non-profit organization seeking to promote the study of Japanese language, linguistics, literature, culture, and pedagogy, at all levels of instruction. They have a job board for Japanese teaching positions ranging in level from kindergarten to university.

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6) The JETAA Community

With over 70,000 JET alumni and 52 JETAA chapters worldwide, there is a good chance that there is another JET alum out there working a job similar to what you’re looking for. The JETAA community in general is very supportive of returning JETs with many chapters hosting career events and networking events. There are also several job search platforms run by JETAA chapters and organizations.

JETAA Job Board

This Google group, co-operated by USJETAA and JETwit, emails members open jobs submitted by other JET alumni. Since JET alumni submit the open positions themselves, applicants can rest assured knowing that they have at least one contact already within the company.

AJET & JETAAI Job Listing Facebook Group

Similar to the JETAA Job Board, this Facebook group allows job seekers to view jobs posted by other JET alumni. This group posts jobs within Japan and around the world.

CLAIR Career Support

No list of career services available to JETs would be complete without mentioning CLAIR’s career support services including the Career Vision Conference, Essentials of Job-Hunting in Japan Webinar, After JET Networking and Career Consultations, and the JET Program Career Fairs. Unfortunately for current job seekers, these events have already passed for the 2024 career hunting season, but the Essentials of Job-Hunting in Japan Webinar is available to view on YouTube— offering helpful tips when it comes to writing a Japanese resume and interviewing in Japan.

Kimberly Matsuno is a JET alum (Niigata 2019-2022) currently serving as USJETAA‘s Content Strategist. She was an ALT in Niigata from 2019-2022, during which time she contributed to CONNECT Magazine as both a writer and a section editor. She is excited to continue contributing to CONNECT and to assist in fostering relations between current JETs and the JET alumni community.

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Cracking the Cracking the Code of Code of Game Game Localization Localization

Rebecca (Becca) Guttentag (Oita, 2014-2018)

Localization Producer, Riot Games

Interview by Kimberly Matsuno (Niigata, 2019-2022)

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As is tradition with every JET Program participant, we must ask the questions: Why JET? Why Japan?

I was actually born in Japan. My parents were both Air Force doctors. Even though we moved back to the United States when I was about two or three years old, I grew up hearing lots of stories about Japan and became interested in Japanese culture. I discovered Japanese games as a kid and found yet another connection to Japan.

I finally got the chance to return to Japan when I took a year to study abroad in Tokyo at Waseda University. The whole experience was formative, to say the least, but I feel like the time spent with my host family was truly inspirational. I was placed with a family with two small children, and it was such a moving experience seeing the kids growing up with a global mindset.

I heard about the JET Program sometime after I returned to the U.S. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to give back to Japan and to help more children develop a more global mindset.

Tell us about your current position as the lead Localization Producer for VALORANT.

My company, Riot Games, is an American company that produces games in English. However, roughly 85% of our players are not playing in English.

My job is to facilitate the translation of the English source into the 17 other languages that the game supports. I act as a bridge between the developers, the marketing teams, the regional teams, and more to ensure that our games are as locally resonant as possible. Because at the end of the day, we want all of our players to feel like the game was designed for them.

Essentially, that means I need to understand what the linguists need to know, what sort of plans the developers and marketers have planned, and that everyone has the information and tools necessary to do their job. It’s a lot of meetings but it’s highly rewarding.

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What is the difference between localization and translation?

There is certainly an interplay between the two. I always simplify it in layman’s terms by saying that if translation is translating words directly, localization is translating everything else around the words.

We have to consider things like if a language is read right to left or top to bottom as this can affect display screens and menus. And we have to consider if certain phrases or references will make sense in other cultures.

I love this example from our game League of Legends. We have a character named Galio, and one of his lines in English is “We serve cookies in Hell, and they've all got raisins.” To Americans, it’s obvious that these hell cookies are terrible because we all know raisin cookies are the worst. But the intent would be lost on a culture that actually likes raisins in cookies. So with our Italian team, the line was instead changed to “We serve pizza in hell, but only with pineapple.” Because in Italy, pineapple pizza is almost sacrilegious.

Sometimes I hear debate around localization and people questioning if we’re losing out on accuracy. But we feel it’s important to capture as many fans as possible, and we don't want our fans to feel alienated or like the game wasn’t made for them. So I feel there is a balance between the creation aspect and business intent.

Localization as a jobs sphere is still pretty new. Everyone knows and needs translation. However, people are starting to learn more about the larger concept of localization and see its importance.

What does your typical day look like?

I work out of our office in Santa Monica, California, but the teams I work with could be anywhere. Our developers are mostly in Los Angeles, the testers are based in Montreal, and our linguists are scattered across the globe. That’s a lot of time zones. This means emails are coming in at all times of the day and night.

So, I review what is going on and connect with regional teams in the morning. The middle part of my day is spent communicating with test leads to understand where the state of our testing is and what concerns they have.

Since VALORANT is a “live service game,” patches are happening every two weeks. So the last part of the day I spend working alongside the developers and publishing teams in the office to understand what is coming down the pipeline.

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What games/projects have you worked on?

At Riot Games, I’ve worked on projects such as “League of Legends,” “Team Fight Tactics,” “Legends of Runeterra,” and, of course, “VALORANT.”

But I didn’t start working on these big-name games right away.

I actually started my career in localization with a “vendor-side” company (as opposed to a “client-side” or in-house studio like I’m at now). Most studios can’t hire in-house translators. So many work as freelancers. I worked for a vendor company that worked as the middleman coordinating between studios and translators. My role was to understand the needs of the game companies and find the best translator/reviewer for that job.

Do Localization Producers need a high level of Japanese (N2 or N1)?

This is such a “JET Program answer” but ESID. Every situation is different and it really depends on the company.

When I was getting started in the industry, I looked for Japanese companies in the U.S. like Sega, Nintendo, and the Pokemon Company at first. I found that because those are the “branch” companies with the central team being in Japan, those companies tend to require a higher level of Japanese. Corporate communications are in Japanese, and the same usually goes for any presentations you are expected to give. Since Riot Games is an American company and corporate communication is in English, strong Japanese skills are not as necessary but can certainly help.

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How has being a part of the JET alumni community helped you?

I would not have my job if not for a JET alumni. The person who got me a foot in the door was a JET alum herself. And when it comes to game localization in general, there are a lot of JET alums that ended up in the industry.

Back when I was just getting started, I cold-messaged people on LinkedIn who worked in the gaming industry and had JET experience. Actually, looking back on those messages now is a bit embarrassing, but I’m amazed seeing how so many of those early contacts have progressed in their careers into senior leadership positions. The JET alumni network is such a tight-knit network that if you pull on the threads enough you will find someone willing to guide you.

Building that communal network has been so rewarding and something that I would highly recommend to any JET finishing their contract—not only for professional connections but for personal ones as well.

Personally, I am the co-president of the JET Alumni Association of Southern California (JETAASC), and participating in my local chapter has been such a great experience. It is easy to get yourself in your own professional bubble, so it is rewarding to connect with people who have taken their JET experience and used it in a completely different field.

How did your experience in Japan on the JET Program contribute to your success as a Localization Producer?

Working at Riot doesn't require me to use a language other than my native language, English. But what my role does necessitate is a global mindset.

When I tell people about my job, many times they assume I speak a lot of languages. I don't. But my experience as a JET in Japan and being the “fish out of water” helps me understand many of the struggles our non-English speaking players go through.

Because of my time spent in Japan, I know how to think dynamically about how certain Englishcentric mindsets can cause problems for our linguists later down the line. A simple sentence can create numerous conflicts in other languages due to things like plurality, gender, sentence structure, and more. A monolingual person might not understand that innately, so the global mindset I developed on the JET Program helps me to understand where all my regions are coming from and vouch for their needs.

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Do you have any words of advice for JETs who wish to work in the gaming localization industry?

Looking at the gaming industry from the outside felt like a big black box. I was always a fan of games and, more recently, a Japanese speaker, but I had no idea what the ins and outs of the industry looked like. I would recommend those interested in gaming understand what the average developer is doing, and what skills you need to be able to assist them.

There is a great conference called the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco every year. You can apply to work the event as a volunteer and in return, you get an all-access pass. That was the first time I got a chance to see how the developers were working. And it was hugely influential to me.

But the internet is vast. There are so many free courses on designing games. Understanding the technical side of things is a huge benefit when it comes to working in localization.

Additionally, I’d never say that this is the only route, but my experience at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies was another huge factor that allowed me to get where I am today. Their Master of Arts in Translation and Localization Management (TLM) degree really prepared me for my career. And I know other alums have gone on to work for huge companies like Netflix and Google. Plus, there is a scholarship for JET alumni. In my Japanese cohort, more than half were former JETs.

Also, cold messaging on LinkedIn is scary but does have its benefits.

Final question. . . . What is your favorite video game?

I grew up pretty solidly in the Pokemon uprising. I’d have to say it’s my most consistent game. But I love RPGs, and my favorite game of all time is Tales of the Abyss. I love how it shows how immersive a narrative can be if you put the time into it, and the localization was top-notch.

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Becca Guttentag is a Japanese-English localization specialist and gaming enthusiast with a dedicated passion for producing engaging cross-cultural experiences through localization. After finishing her undergraduate studies at Kenyon College with a Liberal Arts BA and a focus in Sociology and East Asian studies, she spent four years as an Assistant Language Teacher in Japan with the JET Program, working to enrich her local community & foster cross-cultural exchange through community engagement on her local prefectural event planning committee. She returned to America with a newfound drive to hone her localization skills at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies' Translation and Localization Management MA degree program. She now works tirelessly to advocate for localization and internationalization strategies in Game Localization through her work with Riot Games as the lead Localization Producer on VALORANT.

Kimberly Matsuno is a JET alum (Niigata 2019-2022) currently serving as USJETAA‘s Content Strategist. She was an ALT in Niigata from 2019-2022, during which time she contributed to CONNECT Magazine as both a writer and a section editor. She is excited to continue contributing to CONNECT and to assist in fostering relations between current JETs and the JET alumni community.

this article by

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Images in FutureLucky

The Career Section was created through a partnership between CONNECT and USJETAA.

The United States Japan Exchange & Teaching Program Alumni Association (USJETAA) is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization that furthers US-Japan understanding through the network of 35,000+ alumni of the JET Program and the 19 JET alumni associations across the United States.

USJETAA promotes cross-cultural understanding at the grassroots level through support and resources for JET participants, alumni, and alumni associations throughout the United States. Thereby strengthening the capacity of the JET alumni network, enabling alumni to contribute to the greater US-Japan relationship, and fostering education and understanding of Japanese culture in the United States.

USJETAA encourages all JET Program participants to join their local JETAA chapter in the U.S. or around the world for access to resources and support.


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Need an activity to boost your kids’ energy in class while also being beneficial for their English education?Among the many learning games out there, Kahoot! is a great online resource for teachers to engage students in their learning, and Japanese classrooms are no exception. It’s fun, colorful, engaging, and adaptable, making it an ideal teacher’s tool.

Annabelle Chang (Hokkaido)

Need an activity to boost your kids’ energy in class while also being beneficial for their English education?Among the many learning games out there, Kahoot! is a great online resource for teachers to engage students in their learning, and Japanese classrooms are no exception. It’s fun, colorful, engaging, and adaptable, making it an ideal teacher’s tool.

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Kahoot! is a website and an online platform that uses quiz-style games to encourage learning and can be accessed at kahoot. com. The games themselves are called “kahoots,” and teachers make multiple-choice quizzes which students can access on a web browser or the app. There’s also an information slide portion, but in my experience, it’s rarely used. Many western high school and university students are likely familiar with how to play (but with the rise of technology in recent times, I wouldn’t be surprised if elementary students are using them as well), and I personally have been a player since high school. The website is completely free, aside from paid bonuses. Kahoot! is applicable to a variety of settings and subjects, and in my experience, does very well in English class in Japan. The great thing is, from elementary to high school, Kahoot! can be used for all levels of learning, and all subjects.

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For context, I teach elementary school (but I’m sure kids of all ages will enjoy it!). When I first started as an ALT, I noticed the kids were very weak in their English reading skills, as our classes mainly emphasized speaking. A big problem that dawned on me was that the curriculum focuses a lot more on learning set phrases, and vocabulary was drilled using flash cards with a picture. Even though the word was written on the card, they mostly associated how the word sounded with a picture of the concept. Now, I use Kahoot! as a way to lightly test my kids’ vocabulary reading skills, and show them that they need to not only pay attention to the pronunciation of a word, but also the spelling. All of the kids now have their own tablets they use, and they’re all generally tech-savvy, which makes explaining how to use new technology easier.

Day-to-day at work, I personally do a kahoot right after greetings with my fifth and sixth graders at the beginning of class as a vocabulary review of our current unit. My typical format is: “What’s [word in Japanese]?” Each kahoot is two of these, which may seem like very little, but as part of the daily warmup, it’s a sweet spot, according to my JTE. Sometimes the other answer choices are other vocabulary words, and sometimes they’re misspellings of the target word. For special occasions (Halloween, Christmas, etc), I made a five-question holiday trivia, and I’ve made a match upper to lowercase one as well for my fourth graders. I like matching the background to the season for fun, and the kids enjoy that as well as customizing their avatars and nicknames each time. After each round, the screen shows the correct answer. I go over any questions, and have the kids read out each actual word answer choice to further practice their reading and speaking to make sure there weren’t any flukes. For trivia kahoots, I provide any other explanation to the answer or elaborate on them.

Besides my elementary school experience, I’ve heard of a junior high school ALT making questions that test which sentence properly uses the target grammar correctly.

My kids love getting to do kahoots every class and are excited to see their names come up on the podium at the end. If the teacher is nice and flexible, they’re also always thinking about what their kahoot nickname of the day is going to be, while some always go by the same thing. It’s given me more topics to talk about with my kids and get to know them, based on their nickname or the avatar they choose.

From the teacher’s perspective, I really do believe that doing this every class has helped improve their reading, with an activity other than staring at a textbook and doing flashcards every time.

My impact has gone beyond the English classroom at my schools. After I implemented it into my classes, one of my schools with a tech-savvy teacher started using it in other subjects, like social studies and math. Even though I don’t normally use it with fourth graders, as I thought they might have been too young for it, I’ve seen a former sixth grade teacher, now fourth grade teacher, using it in their class regularly. That’s what inspired me to create an alphabet one for them, since they’re not at the level that requires to know to read words just yet. The use of kahoot just continues to spread.

In fact, I think one school even used it for one of their training conference meetings. . .

So what are you waiting for? If you haven’t already, share the idea with your JTE and get started with Kahoot! in your next class!

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The process of implementing it in the classroom is fairly easy and straightforward. First, you create an account or sign in with an existing social media profile. There should be an option for “Kahoots” on the side bar; click “Drafts,” and you can’t miss the big blue “Create Kahoot” button. Then, you add as many questions as you want! The free, basic version comes with the classic up-to-four answers quiz (you can choose multiple correct answers as well), a true/false quiz, and PowerPointlike information slides. You can add as many questions as you like, change the time limit per question, add pictures to your questions, write two to four answer choices, and customize the background.

Once you’ve created a kahoot and are ready to use it in the classroom, click “Start” on the one you want to play. For a standard game, you’ll want to pick “Classic Mode.” A game code will be generated, and students can input it into on their tablet, or they can scan a QR code to directly proceed to the nickname screen. Once everyone’s put in their name, you can start the game!

Aside from “Classic Mode” in which students participate individually, the teacher can also select for the students to be able to participate in teams. These are teacher-led. Kahoot! also has some student-led games, some of which are part of the paid bonuses, but sometimes can be played for free. These usually have a theme to them, like castles, treasure boxes or the like.

As a warning, it takes the kids a bit of getting used to actually get to the site. They all want to search kahoot,, kahooto, kahuto, カフート, or some other variation into Yahoo! Kids or Bing. Usually, it’ll be the first thing that comes up anyway, but they’ll instinctively use Yahoo! Kids instead of directly typing in the address bar. I’ve found that they can either bookmark to make things easier, or they’re eventually able to figure out typing into the address bar is much faster. The browser’s history auto-fill function is also particularly helpful.

Annabelle hails from sunny, suburban Southern California and is currently an ALT at an elementary school in chilly, rural Hokkaido. Her hobbies include learning languages (nine live in her head to various degrees of fluency), writing stories (when writer’s block disappears), consuming Japanese media (the best way to study, obviously), eating good food (who doesn’t), and drinking boba (not an addiction, she swears). She blogs about life in Japan and boba, her two current obsessions.

Illustrations in this
article by Canva.
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At the same time, there are also artists that put in work to make sure the English compliments the Japanese they’re using. There are bilingual artists that combine English and Japanese in their songs in novel ways. Rather than having English lines floating about without any particular connection to the rest of the Japanese song, these artists can make English and Japanese work together resulting in a unique effect.

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A really interesting example of this is the song “人は嫌い (I Don’t Like People)” (1) by Michel Ko. Ko is a singer from Taiwan that often uses multiple languages in his songs. In “人 は嫌い,” the second verse of the song describes a conversation and quotes that conversation directly, while also detailing the speaker’s thoughts on it. The distinction between spoken words and unspoken thoughts is made clear through switching between languages. The parts of the conversation that the singer is quoting are sung in Japanese, while thoughts and other details are explained in English.

The first few lines, “this week’s been kinda rough, ran into some old friends” sets up the conversation. Then the conversation begins with the friends speaking, “they said 最近 元気なの?(how are you doing these days?) I tell them I’m okay.” (2) The rest of the short conversation continues on in this manner.

This is an interesting stylistic choice that serves a very practical function in clearly defining the barriers between what is spoken and unspoken. Furthermore, it can also be an interesting example of one way that the speakers of multiple languages may choose to use their language abilities in unconventional ways.

Outside of music, I’ve witnessed Japanese-English bilingual speakers have two conversations at once while texting one another, differentiating between the two topics by following one line of conversation in English, and the second in Japanese. This can be very practical as it makes it clear which topic any given message or comment is on, without the need to clarify.

The conversation described in “人は嫌い” ends with the singer commenting “hate all the small talk, 時間あったら飲みに行こうよ (when you have time, let’s go for a drink), thank god you’re here with me, so I wouldn’t feel out of place.” (3) This portion of the conversation is particularly interesting to look at as the quoted portion in Japanese comes across much more as an insincere invitation when contrasted by the thoughts of the singer, in English, that directly precede it. The English portion affects the way that the Japanese portion is interpreted. The different languages interact with one another, rather than just sitting alongside each other.

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Later in the song, Ko also makes English and Japanese play off each other in a very different way. He starts with a line, “空気なんか読めない (I can’t read the air)” (4) in Japanese and has it smoothly transition back to English through an overlap in sounds. The song continues with “I didn’t know that you were searching for another guy.” Because the final vowel sound in 読 めない is pronounced the same way the first “I” in the English portion is, the two sections flow together cohesively. This is much more of a surface stylistic choice than the previous conversation, but it is still an interesting method of blending the two languages in a cohesive way. Rather than the way that the previous conversation used the switching of languages as a way to bring attention to the contrast between the spoken and unspoken, this sort of transition makes the switch sound and feel seamless.

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The bilingual Japanese artist Kenta Dedachi also makes use of multiple languages in novel ways. In many of his songs, he will throw English words into the middle of a line in Japanese or Japanese words into the middle of a line in English. While it may be that no two people use language in exactly the same way, some speakers of two or more languages will use this sort of language mixing within a single sentence during conversation.

An example of this sort of speech in Dedachi’s music is the line, “you put it on me, 溺れる (drown) sickening pressure on me” (7), in his song “Strawberry Psycho.” These lines could have been written entirely in English and maintained the same meaning, but the structure of them would have changed and they would sound different. As it is now, the song has a very distinct, almost staccato, quality that is emphasized by the fast and distinct syllables of 溺れ る. Although the brief switch to Japanese is not necessary, the line would lose some of the snappy rhythmic quality that it has now.

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Switching languages mid-sentence is a little bit more complicated than just using a single word of one language in a sentence of the other, but it can also allow for some more interesting use cases.

This also happens in both music and actual conversation. One of my Japanese friends loves to use English phrases while speaking Japanese, often saying things like “my car で行こう (let’s go)” (8) or “たぶん (maybe)、I can’t go かもしれない (maybe).” (9)

There’s a fun example of this in Dedachi’s song “Beau,” where he says that “だって彼 は (because he’s…) not your type.” (10) This sentence maintains a Japanese grammar structure, but includes the expression “not your type” in English. By using a set phrase in English, the expression exists within the sentence without English grammar clashing with Japanese grammar and making the sentence sound unnatural.

A second similar instance of this is the line “up and down はしょうがないじゃ ん (can’t be helped)” (11) in Dedaichi’s song “Fire and Gold.” These two examples are interesting to look at together, because although one moved from Japanese to English, and the other from English to Japanese, the sort of language used in the Japanese portion is similar between both lines. The parts of speech important to Japanese sentence structure remain in Japanese, as well as things like だって and じゃん which have a very particular sort of tone to them. In both cases, the set-up of these lines allows them to sound impressively smooth and natural.

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One last method of combining languages that leads to interesting results is when switching languages allows the artist to say essentially the same thing, but with completely different words. In some ways, this sort of language use reminds me of what it was like to be writing essays in university, rephrasing things that I had already said, nominally to provide clarity, but in reality motivated by a desire to increase the word count. Pop songs aren’t essays though, and in this discussion the reason for the inclusion isn’t as important as the effect that the inclusion creates.

There are two types of repetition in the song “全部あなた のせいなんだ (it’s all your fault)” (12) from the band I Don’t Like Mondays. The first three lines of the chorus are “it’s your fault that I’m in trouble, fuck I’m in the middle, 全部あ なたのせいなんだ” of which, you may notice, the first and third are functionally the same.

Even though the singer is essentially saying the same thing twice, because he does so in two different languages rather than truly just repeating himself, the lyrics don’t end up sounding repetitive. The repetition of the sound of the line isn’t there, just the repetition of the meaning. This allows the song to stress the point of those lines, as repetition would normally, but also for each line to sound and feel different.

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The second sort of repetition in this song is complete repetition, where the same thing is repeated in exactly the same way. At the end of the chorus, the singer sings “around and around and around and around” twice. Unlike the first type, this exact repetition ends up sounding and feeling monotonous, which fits with the meaning of the lyrics.

Comparing the two types of repetition highlights the sort of situations in which switching languages can be used. The switch avoids the lines sounding redundant, but also avoids the risk of sounding like the singer’s best friend is a thesaurus, which would come with sticking to one language and just rephrasing the second line.

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Looking at the way Japanese and English can be used to work together in songwriting can be a fun way to explore some of the ways that language can be used in unconventional ways. Being able to speak and use more than one language increases the number of options there are for communication, not only in a practical sense, but also in an artistic one.

There’s a lot more to language than the literal meaning of the words being used. Taking a better look at how the words are used opens up opportunities to play with language and communication in new ways.

1. ひとはきらい - hito wa kirai

2. さいきんげんきなの - saikin genki na no

3. じかんあったらのみにいこうよ - jikan attara nomi ni ikou yo

4. くうきなんかよめない - kuuki nanka yomenai

5. こうみんかん - kouminkan

6. いちねんせい - ichinensei

7. おぼれる - oboreru

8. my carでいこう - my car de ikou

9. たぶん I can’t go かもしれない - tabun I can’t go kamoshirenai

10. だってかれは not your type - datte kare wa not your type

11. はしょうがないじゃん - wa shouganai jan

12. ぜんぶあなたのせいなんだ - zenbu anata no sei nanda

Julia Hakes is a second-year Canadian ALT living in Sunagawa and working at four elementary schools. She spends her time outside of work acquiring new hobbies, when she isn’t busy dragging her friends to various events around Hokkaido. Recent hobby additions include baking muffins, sewing, and skiing.

Photos in this article by the respective artists/bands.

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Jon Solmundson

I miss using chopsticks without being congratulated for it.


David Spencer Fish andChips!


Nabeela Basa


Aaron Klein

Being able to walk outside without incessant warnings that there could be venomous snakes just about anywhere on Amami. Maybe I should retire and become a habu hunter.


Zoë Vincent

While I was living in Japan, I missed weird things. Feta cheese. The smell of a woodfire on a cold winter evening. Being able to step on crunchy autumn leaves before they get tidied away. Though I didn’t know I had missed those things until I had them again.

Photo by David Spencer


Chloe Holm (Tokyo)

What is the Shimanami Kaido?

Japan’s 70 km (43 miles) world-famous, island-hopping bike route is a cyclist’s best dream and worst nightmare.

Stretching across the Seto Naikai Islands and spanning across two prefectures (Ehime and Hiroshima), it’s the perfect way to enjoy and explore the countryside while still completing a feat comparable to climbing Mount Fuji!

The Shimanami Kaido translates literally to “the road of islands and waves,” and this is a pretty accurate description of the cycling route: the path takes you parallel to the Nishi Seto Expressway that connects the small offshoot island Shikoku to its larger, neighboring mainland island Honshu. Built in 1999, the route’s bridges are some of the first and longest cable-stayed bridges in the world. The route is even used as a rite of passage for young teens that walk a stretch of the path to commemorate their 20th birthday! Despite its proximity to the expressway, the biking path follows a winding up-anddown countryside path and the route is very conveniently marked out with a blue line on the road, guiding cyclists the whole way!

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Who can (realistically) make the trek?

Anyone! Despite the distance being equivalent to a round-trip hike around the Grand Canyon, the trek can be completed by new cyclists, although a bit of training is preferable to complete the course in one day. With a total of six large hills over the span of 70 km, new cyclists may experience fatigue. Fortunately, buses are available to take you the rest of the way if you have to stop halfway through—just make sure to return your rental bike at one of the numerous rental terminals along the route as bikes cannot be loaded onto buses.

What is the route like?

Expect lots of hills, lots of cyclists, and stunning views. Despite the Shimanami Kaido following along a major expressway, the cycling route meanders around the islands that dot the connecting Seto Inland sea. It enfolds stunning views of the sea, islands, and many citrus trees the area is famous for. With the popularity of this route, many Imabari and Onomichi locals frequent this cycling path for a weekend outing. Plan accordingly for lots of cycling traffic and pace yourself for the hills—the first few may seem easy enough, but make sure to not run out of steam by hill five or six.

When is the best time to bike?

Summer might bring stunning views of the Seto Inland Sea and islands surrounding the gorgeous path, but with temperatures ranging in the mid 30s Celsius (high 90s Fahrenheit), an extensive day of biking might be too much to handle. Instead, consider spring or fall, as the weather is milder but the sights still bloom with the abundance of natural beauty Shikoku is known for. Just try to avoid the monsoon season, if possible (from September to October).

How long will it take?

The journey can take anywhere from 8-12 hours, depending on rests and fitness levels. An experienced cyclist may complete it in as little as six hours, but plan for a full day dedicated to cycling.

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I’m concerned about my fitness level. Can I complete it?

This 43-mile bike path can definitely seem intimidating, but most new cyclists are able to complete it with a bit of help! Consider stopping halfway to take a bus the rest of the way, renting an e-bike (electric bike) for an easier time on your knees and an extra boost up hills, or even spending the night on one of the islands and finishing the route in the morning! The main cycling path is full of ups and downs and hilly twists and turns, but there are plenty of flat stretches to give your legs a bit of a much-needed reprieve. With these modifications, most concerned cyclists can muster up the courage to complete this trek across Japan in one piece!

I don’t have any equipment. What about bike rentals?

For new cyclists or bikers without their own equipment, there are many rental options before beginning the trek. When choosing a bike to rent, there are three different types to consider:

•City bikes (cross bikes): The most accessible (and cheapest) bike to rent for this trek, these bikes typically have between one and three set speeds, so be warned that hills will be tougher without the ability to change speeds.

•Road bikes: These standard 10-speed bikes are simple enough for most riders to operate but also have the range for increased horsepower and speed to help you crest the trail’s many hills.

•Electric bikes: If you feel you might need extra help on the journey, consider renting an electric bike. This will make it easier on your legs and speed up your trip, but it’ll be more expensive.

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What’s a good route to take?

7 a.m.: Head for Imabari Port, Ehime, taking JR limited express lines to the small port city. The route is doable in one day, but there are also local bed-and-breakfast options on the islands, so you can spend the night, rejuvenate, and be ready to finish strong the next day. Get an early start on the route as the buses stop running on the route around 5 p.m. and you will want to make it to the end (or lodging) before dark!

With that being said, as the biking route is such a big excursion, I recommend staying at a local hostel or hotel near Imabari to get a good night’s rest before beginning the route in the morning. There are many budget friendly options, including biking hostels and business hotels where you might meet other cyclists!

9 a.m.: Rent bikes from either Sunrise Itoyama or Giant Store. It’s about a 20 to 30 minute bike ride to the starting point of the Shimanami Kaido, so this little warm up will be perfect to limber up your legs before beginning the trek.

9:30 a.m.: Begin the bike trek and climb the world’s first triple suspension bridge to the islet Oshima. Enjoy the amazing views for the start of your journey!

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11 a.m.: Take a break at a roadside convenience spot for drinks, snacks, and a gorgeous view from the first island, Oshima.

12 p.m.: Stop for lunch at one of the many convenience stores on island two, Hatakatocho, or the larger third island, Omishima. The third island has some stunning shrines (and some of the oldest in Japan) to visit as well if you have spare time.

2 p.m.: Continue on to island four, Kuchi Island, and make sure to take a picture crossing from Ehime Prefecture into Hiroshima Prefecture on the connecting Ikuchi Suspension bridge!

3 p.m.: Stop to enjoy the abundant citrus trees on the fifth island of Innoshima and for a quick photo shoot with the white dinosaur that marks one more island to go!

5 p.m.: Reach the final island of Mukaishima and congratulate yourself! Return rental bikes and take a bus into the town of Onomichi to enjoy a well-deserved bowl of Onomichi ramen and some rest.

After crossing the six islands of the Seto Inland Sea, congrats! You’ve made it to mainland Japan, and the quaint coastal town of Onomichi.

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What can I do in Onomichi?

With a population of about 130,000, it’s a small town in Hiroshima Prefecture, famous for citrus and cats. Thanks to its proximity to the cycling route, there are plenty of souvenir shops in the town where you can buy T-shirts, mugs, and memorabilia to commemorate your cycling efforts!

• Temple walk: If you have a day here, there’s a beautiful path that leads you around to all the local temples which look out over the Seto Inland Sea. If short on time, prioritize Senkoji Temple: the observatory offers stunning views of the sea and a short Literature Walk commemorating famous Japanese poets and authors.

• Cat alley: A collection of alleyways along the temple walk host cat-themed artworks and decorations and many stray kitties are known to roam the area.

• Ropeway and overlook: From this vantage point, you can actually trace your biking path with the white suspension bridges and get a bird’s-eye view of the mountains you cycled over!

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Any other advice?

•Keep it slow and steady: The path is a marathon, not a sprint. Your body will thank you the next day (or week) for taking it slow!

•Add an extra cush for your tush: If you’re renting bikes en route, keep in mind the seats are hard plastic ones and the route has many bumpy hills; your bottom will thank you for the extra padding!

•Layers, layers, layers: Even in the heat, the wind chill and outdoors exposure can cause body temperatures to drop rapidly; prepare extra layers, especially for your hands, face, and butt!

•Bring extra water and sunscreen: The sun exposure is no joke on this cycling path; extra hydration and sun protection is a must.

•Eat and rest at convenience stores: For a quick energy boost, stop at the convenience stores that dot the trek. It’s much quicker than sitting down at a restaurant and they’ll have plenty of food, drinks, and sun protection!

And that’s it! Whether you’re a seasoned cyclist or just beginning your newfound passion for cycling, the Shimanami Kaido is sure to delight and astound both experienced and new adventure seekers everywhere.

Chloe Holm is an Ehime JET alumni from Ohio who is now working as a professor in Tokyo. She loves keeping up with the latest movies, shows, and pop culture trends in Tokyo and abroad. When she’s not writing or teaching, she’s always on the hunt for a new book and to find the best coffee in the city.

Image credits: Chloe Holm

Title page: Unsplash @mak_jp

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Mark Christensen (Fukuoka)
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Kumamoto Oita Miyazaki Kagoshima

In Part One of this article, we covered western Kyushu—finishing our time on the road with a rest in Obama. Now, before we begin our journey east, we’re going to make our way back north to Omuta, Fukuoka. (1)We skipped over it on the way down, but now’s a great chance to explore the seaside city, as it sits right on the border of the next prefecture on our all-island tour.

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The drives in this region are among some of Kyushu’s longest, but they also contain a high concentration of one of Japan’s nicest amenities, the michi-no-eki (“road station”). If you ever need to stop, eat, or just take a moment to think, these special places are available at regular intervals. They’re also a great shopping stop if you want to pick up local delicacies or souvenirs.

Entering Kumamoto from Fukuoka, we have a large number of travel options open to us by road, but for this trip our first stop will be one of my favorites: the unassuming Mount Kimbo (2) on the outskirts of Kumamoto City. While the mountain itself isn’t so special, it contains an adorable secret: Yamegara birds. Also known as bushtits, these friendly birds are more than happy to drop by and snack on peanuts right out of your hand, much like Canada Jays in North America.

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To get ourselves a more spectacular view, we’ll next head to the legendary Mount Aso. (5)However, the path to reach this giant also holds some remarkable spots. On the winding road approaching the mountain, we’ll stop and take a break at Kikuchi Gorge, (3) which features a visitor center overlooking a brilliant blue river. Here, we can purchase sweets and freshly cooked trout. In the summer, it’s a very popular place to get away from the heat. If we take a short walk up the bankside trails, we can enjoy a series of small waterfalls and wading areas.

Continuing along the same road, we’ll next come across the Aso Skyline lookout. (4)Here, with Mount Aso’s impressive shape looming in the background, you can get a breathtaking view of the Aso Caldera, an incredible 18 x 25 km (11 x 15 mile) crater valley. Should you visit the volcanic observation area, you can look directly down into the bubbling blue-white volcanic waters inside the Nakadake Crater. Though be sure to check local information in advance, as eruptions can shut down the area for weeks or even longer; in 2021, the crater was inaccessible to the public for a year, and it is currently closed and has been since February 2024.

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The first peaks we see are those of the Kuju mountain range. (6) If you’re a fan of flowers, hiking, or camping, this is one of the best places on the entire island. In May, the peaks are covered in vibrant pink azalea flowers, while fall fills the valleys with fields of golden grass.

Our next stop, the city of Yufuin, (7) features a rustic setting that’s said to be popular with foreign visitors. It also offers a scenic view of the sweeping green slopes of Mount Yufu, a mountain with a distinct double peak which slightly resembles cat ears.

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Finally, we arrive at the eastern coast, and discover one of Oita’s other treasures: its plethora of onsen and hot springs. Driving into the city of Beppu, (8) you’ll quickly notice the overwhelming number of steam vents; it sometimes looks as if parts of the city are on fire.

Some of the most interesting hot springs, however, are not the ones that you can soak in. The Seven Hells of Beppu, for example, are a series of very strange hot springs. One, Oniyama, actually contains live crocodiles, while another, Chinoike, contains blood-red waters which have the consistency of tomato soup.

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Takachiho Gorge (9) is nestled deep in the reaches of the prefecture’s mountains. In good conditions and with some forward planning, you can rent a boat here and travel up and down the narrow river to enjoy the stately ravine and waterfalls.

A short distance away is the sacred site of Amanoyasukawara. (10) Consisting of a small cave shrine nestled next to a river, it is said that the goddess Amaterasu once hid the world’s light away here until she was eventually drawn out with dancing and song.

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Travelling a few more hours on the southern coastal highway, we next encounter Aoshima, (11) a curious, small island connected to the mainland by bridge. The tiny, isolated forest contains a unique microbiome consisting of the world’s northernmost population of Chinese fan palms. The island’s rocky beaches are also very unique, jutting out in a tile-like form at seemingly unnatural angles, which has earned the area the nickname “The Devil’s Washboard.”

Another half hour down the coastal road takes us to Udo Jingu. Passing through the massive shrine gate, the complex continues downwards, marked by lanterns and rabbit iconography, until you finally arrive at a cave area nestled into the stony cliffside with a number of shrine buildings tucked inside. The entrance of this cave faces the sea, and if you’re up for a challenge, you can purchase clay pebbles from the shrine to throw down at a target on a stone pillar below. If you succeed, it is said that you’ll have good luck!

Crossing back towards the west, we find one more curious place of legend, Mount Takachihonomine. (12)

Only a short climb from the Takachihogawara parking lot, this volcano hosts the legendary god-spear Ame-no-Sakahoko at its summit. While the current spear is a replica, records show that a mysterious metal spear was actually once found here. Today, this area offers a beautiful overlook of Kagoshima’s volcanoes.

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From Saigo Takamori to Okubu Toshimichi, the prefecture has produced many important people who changed the course of Japan’s history.

Just a few kilometers from Mount Takachihonomine, the Ebino Plateau (13) is one of Kyushu’s great hiking areas, giving superb views of volcanic lakes and active volcanic craters. If you’re a James Bond fan, one crater, Shinmoedake, might look familiar to you, having been featured in 1967’s You Only Die Twice.

Once again turning our route to the south, the road leads to Chiran. (14) The town hosts a kamikaze museum which offers a different look at one of Japan’s most controversial policies during the Second World War and humanizes the pilots behind the term. A nearby restaurantmuseum, the Hotarukan Tomiya Shokudo, tells the heartbreaking story of Torihama Tome and the young pilots she cared for. It was featured in the 2001 film Hotaru.

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Kaimon (15) will be the southernmost point of our journey. Known as “Satsuma Fuji,” it’s a near-perfect replica of Japan’s most famous peak, albeit far smaller and greener.

As we once again head north, there are a few final gems to check out.

The Izumi Crane Observation Center, (16) located near the Kumamoto border, is one such place. Carefully cultivated as a refuge for cranes, it attracts some very rare visitors; between October and March, 80 percent of the world’s hooded cranes and 50 percent of white-naped cranes winter here!

Now, instead of entering Kumamoto on the main highway, we’re going to take a detour to the west with a car ferry to Shimoshima Island.

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Located north of the ferry port in an isolated bay lies the old fishing village of Sakitsu. (17) Surrounded by steep forested hills and turquoise water, this quiet settlement was also home to a major population of Hidden Christians. Today, their story is told at the local museums and Sakitsu Church, a World Heritage Site. The village is notable for interfaith tolerance and coexistence; for a short time, it was the only location in Japan where one could get Shinto, Buddhist, and Christian "goshuinstamps" all in one place.

To the north, our last stop will be Iruka Marine World. (18) Located in a small port area with a view of Nagasaki’s Shimabara peninsula to the north, this tourist spot is home to a large number of playful dolphins. A quick boat ride out to them will reveal their incredible numbers; as each wave breaks, rows of ten or more dolphins follow.

From here, the road leads back through the Amakusa Islands and north to Kumamoto City, and thus our journey comes to its end.

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Kyushu is a marvelous place ripe for travel. While it may not be as famous as some of Japan’s most iconic regions, it’s no less beautiful and contains a charm all of its own. The roads may be long, but they’re definitely worth it. When you’ve next got time, why don’t you try a road trip here yourself?

Mark Christensen is a fifth-year ALT from Snohomish, Washington in the United States. An avid photographer, he has a passion for mountaineering and capturing the beauty of Japan. He currently resides in Omuta, Fukuoka. You can follow his photography on his Instagram.

All image credits: Mark Christensen

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Amaris Lopez (Shikoku)

used to love reading books because they took me to magical places—where I could imagine myself as a magician, a knight, or an explorer on a trip to Neverland. But as we get older, these kinds of joys frequently diminish, and the life-changing power of reading and creativity tends to disappear. I had no idea that working as an English teacher in Japan would not only rekindle my childhood fantasies, but also result in an experience that would change my life and the lives of my pupils.


hinking back to my early years in America and all the time I spent in vibrant libraries, I was drawn to the idea of bringing the same magic to Gunchu Elementary School in the charming village of Iyo, Ehime. I set out to transform our school library into a multicultural inspiration and haven, spurred on by the encouragement of a microgrant from the US-Japan Exchange and Teaching Program Alumni Association (USJETAA).

The microgrant I received from USJETAA allowed me to transform our school library by providing funds to purchase Englishlanguage books that explore American culture and highlight stories from various international origins. This support from USJETAA was instrumental in bringing the magic of reading and creativity to Gunchu Elementary School.

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lassrooms in Japanese schools don’t have the same warm, colorful image of the settings I loved back home in the States. Recognizing the financial limitations my school faced, I took advantage of the microgrant opportunity to create a library rich in culture. My goal was to provide our children with a creative and comfortable environment to spark their interest while introducing them to American and other cultures and the English language.

With over 1,000 pupils, Gunchu Elementary School offered a special challenge. Although the library was spacious, it did not have a wide selection of books—especially English books. With the microgrant, I carefully chose English-language books that looked at American culture as well as Japanese stories that told of people from different countries, like Frida Kahlo, Leonardo Messi, Malala Yousafzai, and Anne Frank. I chose to buy cute animal chairs, a carpet with an earth map on it, a lot of wall stickers, and an earth globe as well.

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hat was once just a library of books became a driving force behind the growth of intercultural awareness and global competency. Yoshioka Hitomi, an English teacher and supervisor at Gunchu Elementary, said “. . . the children are able to obtain information they do not learn in class.”

Yoshioka-sensei went on to explain the importance of this, stating, “From the elementary school stage, it is important to make children aware that there are many cultures and people in this world with different cultures and histories than those in Japan. I believe that [this library] will lead to cross-cultural understanding and help them acquire the qualities and attitudes that will enable them to live in harmony with people from all over the world”

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hrough exposure to diverse literature and cultural exchange activities, our students have developed a greater understanding and appreciation for different cultures. This has not only enriched their educational experiences but has also fostered a sense of empathy and open-mindedness. Additionally, the library has become a hub for students to freely express themselves and embark on academically challenging literary adventures.

“The number of children who visit the multicultural corner and pick up books has increased because the atmosphere of the entire library has become brighter, making it more approachable. . . It made me realize how important it is for us as faculty members to have this kind of perspective.” —fourth grade elementary school teacher

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he transformation in our students' attitudes and engagement with learning is evident in their improved academic performance and the positive change in the school's overall atmosphere. Not only have the children seen good improvements, but the school as a whole, with its 60 staff members, has experienced a discernible change in atmosphere and tone.

“There are a lot of foreign books, and I would like to read the ones that are multicultural from now on. I think the wall stickers and carpet chairs are really cute. I am excited to read soon.” —fourth grade elementary school student

“I thought the wall was cute. I thought the map carpet was educational. I thought it was amazing that there was so much to do.” —fourth grade elementary school student.

This project has demonstrated the transformational potential of giving to the community without expecting anything in return. And I hope that this is only the beginning; I plan to submit another microgrant application again next year for more funding in order to improve the library even more. The accomplishment of this project has confirmed that even tiny deeds can have a profound impact on someone's life, and it has also reinforced my will to change the world for the better

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s I write this article, if you told me that I could create something that would have a lasting impact on a community before I departed from the airport in San Francisco, California, I wouldn't have ever imagined something like this. This just showcases the power that

one person can have in a community by just taking the initiative. Being an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) involves more than just teaching English; it includes being a cultural bridge and having an impact on our communities, of which the first step is taking the initiative.

The multicultural library at Gunchu Elementary School has truly been a journey of imagination and transformation. The library demonstrates the power books have, and cultural exchange has sparked the curiosity and creativity of our students, enriched their educational experiences, and fostered a sense of empathy and open-mindedness.

As educators, we have the power to build environments that inspire and change lives, and this library is a testament to the profound impact that one person can have in a community. Let us continue to encourage a love of discovery, language acquisition, and the celebration of various cultures for years to come through the power of reading and imagination.

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Amaris (Reese) Lopez is residing as an English teacher and Regional Advisor for Iyo City, Ehime Prefecture, on the island of Shikoku. She is an accomplished professional with a diverse background in education, research, cultural promotion, and organizational leadership. Her unique blend of skills and experiences is evident in her passion for enhancing student experiences, fostering cultural awareness, and advocating for mental health. She plays a pivotal role in community-building and support, reflecting her commitment to cultural exchange and global perspectives.

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Every Wednesday evening, in a brightly lit room on the second floor of our city hall, a lively eikaiwa (English conversation) group takes place. Small talk is encouraged, cultural events discussed, and grammar explained using a range of games and activities. Every week is different, but there is always laughter and an exchange of interesting stories. The group is facilitated by myself and the other ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) living here in Mie-machi, Bungo-Ono. Never heard of this place? It’s the location of my JET placement, in Oita Prefecture on Kyushu Island, southern Japan.

Technically, Bungo-Ono is a “city, ”but really it consists of seven small towns spanning over 25 km, surrounded by mountains and rice paddies. One of these towns is Mie-machi. From here, 50 minutes on a turbulent twocarriage diesel train will land you in Oita City. There you can board a slightly faster JR line that ferries you to Kitakyushu and the bullet train route after a further 90 minutes of travel. Not the placement I was expecting when I requested Osaka, but nonetheless one I have come to love—partly for the sense of community fostered by this eikaiwa group.

It is here that I have had the pleasure of meeting Bungo-Ono’s older residents and learning about their lives. And I want you to meet them too. Mitsuko, Ka-chan, and Kimi-san —aged 72, 79, and 62 respectively—are dedicated members of the eikaiwa group. Since I started volunteering here in August, they have yet to miss a single session. I interviewed them to learn more about their motivations for learning English, their interactions with foreign cultures throughout their lives, and the impact of foreign teachers in the community. I prepared some questions and sat around a table with the three of them in the city hall after an eikaiwa session one Wednesday evening.

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sTories From an eiKaiwa group

Three culTural exchange ambassadors in rural Kyushu


Mitsuko speaks excellent English and has a calm, elegant presence. She explains with a smile that she was “born in Mie-machi, raised in Mie-machi, and now I’ll die in Mie-machi.” She recalls the first time she met a foreigner: “I was in high school and had a chance to take part in a speech contest. My English teacher, who was Japanese, invited an American to our school to train me.” Mitsuko was very nervous and could not communicate with the American man at all when they first met, and she didn’t win an award at the speech contest. Nonetheless, she was inspired to study English.

After earning a degree in education at Oita University, Mitsuko married her husband and— like many Japanese women back then— became a housewife. However, from the ages of 36 to 66, Mitsuko worked from home tutoring middle school and junior high school students in English. She has been attending eikaiwa for four years, often supporting her former English teacher from high school, who attends the class. He is now 88 years old and lives with mobility needs. Mitsuko picks him up from his house, drives him to the city hall, and helps him walk down the corridor.

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30 years ago, Mitsuko tells me, a Canadian man called Ian Davidson came to teach English at a private school in Bungo-Ono. She says Ian “couldn’t speak Japanese at all but loved soccer” and that he got involved with the local boys’ soccer team. Mitsuko’s son was in the team at the time so he interacted with the Canadian teacher. She says Ian was “kind and had a calm character, so was easily accepted by the boys and their families.”

Mitsuko describes a trip Ian organised through the school, which brought the boys’ soccer team over to Canada. “We were so happy. There were in total 50 members including 15 parents going to Canada. . . so most of them were children.” The boys “had never got on a

plane. . . Of course they had never been to a foreign country—it was so exciting.” Whilst the parents stayed in a university dormitory—it was summer vacation at the time—the boys did homestays with Canadian families. Mitsuko found it amusing because the hosting families were “rich so they had pools, so the children thought that in Canada all houses had a pool.”

When the boys returned to Japan after the 10day trip, Mitsuko remembers that “most of the children were excited to drink Japanese tea and eat Japanese bento. They thought it was so delicious. They were so cute.” Aside from missing Japanese food, the boys made “very good memories,” and two went on to become English teachers when they grew up.

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Our next ambassador is the reason I wanted to conduct these interviews— she has endless interesting stories and a great sense of humour, energetically using gestures to explain herself when she can’t remember the English words. Her passions include gardening, music, and learning English.

Ka-chan’s first interaction with foreigners was when she lived and worked at Osaka Port as a typist. She was 20 at the time, recalling that “about 55 years ago, Japan had many imports from all over the world.” I’m fascinated— imagining Osaka Port in the mid 1960s, foreign ships docking from “the Middle East, Europe, and Russia”— ship crew mingling, interacting with Japanese culture. I wonder if they tried

takoyaki or okonomiyaki, what they would have thought. During this time, Ka-chan “met many foreigners. . . They were friendly to Japanese people but I was very sad we couldn’t speak English.” This is when Ka-chan realised she wanted to study English, so she could communicate with people from other countries.

After working in Osaka, she returned to Oita, married her husband, and also ended her career to become a housewife. The years passed and Ka-chan was busy looking after her family, so her desire to learn English was put on hold. But when her children grew up, she had more time to travel and study. First, Ka-chan visited Europe, spending time in Paris, which she found a little disappointing: “it had a bad smell.” In Italy, she fondly recalls enjoying wine and pasta, and staying in an “old and historic hotel” in Rome where she “opened the window and found the tomb of Augustus.”

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Iasked how travelling had impacted her, how she managed it all in the days before Google Translate. She couldn’t speak a word of French, Italian, or English when she visited Europe, and I imagine this must have been very difficult. Despite the language barrier, Ka-chan explains that people “were very good and kind to us.” In Italy, she lost her way back to her hotel, but “many people gathered round and one of them brought me back.” On another trip to Hawaii, she missed her bus and “a kind young man picked me up and took me to the hotel.” Ka-chan realised that “human beings are the same all around the world. Everywhere.”

15 years ago, an American ALT named Nicole came to Bungo-Ono and started the eikaiwa group. She supported Ka-chan in starting to learn English and they became close friends. Mitsuko adds that “Nicole’s contribution has been significant.” She has since kept in touch through regular Skype calls “between San Francisco and Bungo-Ono.” When Ka-chan told her that the eikaiwa group was still going strong all these years later, Nicole was “very surprised and she felt very happy.” She came to visit in late December and stayed at Ka-chan’s house.

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Kimi-san K

imi-san’s motivations for learning English are slightly different, stemming from music and religion. As a child in the 1960s, he recalls listening to the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Simon & Garfunkel, artists who had a profound effect on him. He is proud to know the lyrics to 10 Simon & Garfunkel songs, including “Scarborough Fair”—his personal favourite. He explains that “Scarborough Fair” was originally based on a Scottish folk song, but was shortened when recorded by Simon & Garfunkel to make it “easier for many people around the world to listen to.” He regularly quotes poetic lyrics during the eikaiwa group. When I don’t recognise the reference, he smiles and says the song was before my time.

Kimi-san started attending church as a high school student, and continued going every Sunday when he moved to Tokyo for college in the early 1980s. This is where he first

interacted with foreign people. He explains that “a famous American pastor came to Japan and spoke in several places.” He was invited to Kimi-san’s local church in Tokyo, where the Japanese pastor interpreted for him. At that time, Kimi-san says he “spoke so little English” that he was unable to communicate directly with the American. He then met another “remarkable” overseas student from New York, who was “certainly a Mormon and spoke fluent Japanese.” Kimi-san was impressed by his bilingualism and commitment to Japanese culture. Kimi-san later returned to Bungo-Ono to teach Japanese at Mie High School whilst studying English in his spare time. He has been attending the eikaiwa group for the past 10 years.

Kimi-san and Ka-chan now play in a band together alongside Japanese friends and former ALTs from America. Kimi-san switches between acoustic and electric guitars, while Ka-chan plays the harmonica and ukulele. They are very talented, practising regularly. I had the pleasure of watching them perform at our eikaiwa Christmas party whilst we enjoyed onigiri and Japanese desserts made by the eikaiwa participants, mashed potato and cookies made by the ALTs, and—the staple of Japanese Christmas—take-away fried chicken. The band played a mix of Japanese songs and western Christmas classics.

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Kimi-san is happy that families here now celebrate Christmas and Halloween alongside Japanese cultural events. He says that “different kinds of cultures are mixing together, and a new kind of culture will be born. . . The JET Programme has contributed to those kinds of things.” He explains that Bungo-Ono is “a narrow local place and everyday [people here] think the same things. . . [they] seldom experience new things and new thoughts, whether it is religious matters or music or different cultures.”

Ka-chan agrees that “Japanese culture and other cultures must interact.” She is keen to meet people from other countries and build friendships saying she wants to be “a citizen, ambassador like that.”

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Like Kimi-san, Mitsuko values the JET Programme, and has “envy [for] current students because when they are young they can hear native speakers.” But she feels “so happy to have the English eikaiwa class” which means she can “enjoy lifelong learning. . . I always thank the ALT teachers.”

Alongside English study, Mitsuko is now learning Korean from the Korean JET CIR (Coordinator for International Relations) in our town. She also volunteers to support the new community of migrant workers living in Bungo-Ono, who are from Nepal, China, and Sri Lanka and work on the kiwi plantation and for a construction company. She says that “once a month we enjoy cooking, playing games, and teaching Japanese. . . It is very interesting to

learn about each other’s cultures and lifestyles.” Mitsuko hopes “they will not be isolated in an unfamiliar country.” I am warmed by her empathy towards the foreign communities that live here. She has been very kind to me and the other ALTs, quick to answer questions and help us navigate living in Japan.

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In fact, I could say the same about so many members of the community here. Whether I need to jump-start my car battery, find a doctor, or buy a specific ingredient, local people have rushed to help me. It is rare for a week to go by without being given a plastic bag full of homegrown sweet potatoes, kabosu fruit, or persimmons, depending on the season.

So whilst life in Bungo-Ono feels like a world away from the buzzing megacities of Osaka or Tokyo, there is no shortage of kindness, community, and unexpected opportunities for cultural exchange here. I am certain that many rural JETs would agree that being placed in a smaller community is a unique and special experience. People like Kimi-san, Ka-chan, and Mitsuko epitomise the warm welcome that so many Japanese people give to foreigners, and their commitment to studying English is inspiring. I hope that in years to come, they can continue attending the eikaiwa group and building friendships with future JETs.

Before moving to Japan, Kira worked as a refugee support worker, promoting intercultural exchange and supporting families to restart their lives in the U.K. She is now a first-year ALT in Bungo-Ono, Oita. Alongside volunteering at the eikaiwa group, she enjoys exploring new cities, hiking Kyushu’s peaks, and studying Japanese.

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Learn in person or online.

JET alumni and participants are eligible for a 25 percent ($11K+) annual scholarship toward a master’s degree at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, a graduate school of Middlebury College.

Current JET participants can take part-time courses online while continuing their JET work.


• International Education Management

• Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)

• Teaching Foreign Language

• International Policy and Development

• Translation and Interpretation

• Translation and Localization Management and more GET YOUR JET SCHOLARSHIP 164 |

Heading home from JET? Land your dream job in the US with Quick USA!

Calling all recently graduated JETs!

As your JET Programme journey comes to a close, a new adventure awaits you back in the States. National AJET is excited to connect you with Quick USA, our official recruitment partner specializing in helping JET returnees like you transition back into the US workforce.

Why Quick USA?

• JET Expertise: They understand the unique skills and experiences you gained on the JET Programme

• Job Market Savvy: They have a deep understanding of the US job market and can help you translate your JET experience into compelling applications.

• Nationwide Network: With offices in major cities across the US, they can connect you with opportunities that align with your career goals, no matter where you want to land.

• Personalized Support: Their dedicated team will guide you through the resume and interview process, ensuring you put your best foot forward.

National AJET and Quick USA are here to help you make a smooth and successful return to the US. Leverage your JET experience and land the perfect job!

Visit Quick USA today:

Don't navigate the US job market alone. Let Quick USA be your guide!

National AJET The National Association for Japan Exchange and Teaching
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