CONNECT Magazine Japan #126 October 2023

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52 | Konnichi-wow: Experiences Navigating Initial Culture Shock 114 | Fostering Friendships in a Foreign Land


128 | Building Your Resume on JET 142 | Somewhere to Trip in Fall

Issue No. 126

October 2023




reetings and welcome to yet another year of CONNECT Magazine.

When I first joined the CONNECT team in 2020, I had no idea what fantastic challenges would be in store for me. Especially during the pandemic, CONNECT had to get really creative with its publication—from coming up with new and interesting angles for content during a period of abject uncertainty, to shelving ideas that simply were not feasible at the time, to devising solutions to unforeseen pitfalls.

Moving forward, our focus now is on boosting our publication to brand new heights by exploring exciting avenues to broaden our reach to more communities across Japan. This comes with the launch of our brand new CONNECT Newsletter! I highly recommend you subscribe for exclusive content and stories that you won’t get to see in our regular issues, delivered straight to your email! Another big change we have made is to our publication schedule, which will now be on a bi-monthly basis. This decision was made to alleviate some pressure on our team members who graciously volunteer their free time to make this magazine the best it can possibly be. Though our magazine issues will be fewer, their content will be fuller and have more time for creative polish. And so, in this inspiring and content-packed October 2023 issue of CONNECT Magazine, we proudly bring to you something really special. Fresh new members of our foreign resident community can enjoy tips for

Photo by Gor |

overcoming culture shock in our Culture section’s “Konnichi-wow” article, or set their sights on some fantastic locations for viewing the fall colors in our Travel section’s momiji viewing spots listicle “Somewhere to Trip in Fall.” Furthermore, everyone can benefit from our Wellness section’s and Community section’s offerings, which provide helpful insight on finding good food and good company in preparation for the dreaded winter blues. Then we have our exciting new Careers section, in association with the U.S. JET Alumni Association (USJETAA), which aims to provide articles for anybody, especially finishing JETs, planning for a career after JET. Beyond that, we hope that all foreign residents, not only JETs, can benefit from this spiritual successor to our Alumni Spotlight. I would now like to express my whole-hearted gratitude to all of the people who have made it possible for me to carry the torch, to make this magazine the best it can possibly be. My deepest thanks to our CONNECT team alumni for their continued assistance, to Kimberly Matsuno and USJETAA for establishing our new Careers section, and to National AJET and its new chair Spencer Stevens for reaching out to provide support on the back end. Last, but not least, I would like to thank our current team members for really giving it their all these first few months, for this magazine would truly be nothing without every single one of them. Best regards,

OCTOBER MEET THE TEAM QUESTION: What are your favorite fall comforts?

HEAD EDITOR Dianne Yett I love the warm sweet smell of homemade pumpkin pie and the excuse of wearing a funky costume for Halloween.

ASSISTANT HEAD EDITOR Sage Olges I enjoy watching old horror movie classics, paired with caramel corn and an ice cold Coca-Cola.


Kianna Shore Kicking it under the kotatsu with hot chocolate, no matter what the temp is outside! Sophia Maas Drinking warm drinks, eating warm meals, and spending more time inside with friends can’t be beat. Becca Devoto Apples, apples, and more apples. Growing up, the beginning of fall was symbolized by the apple harvest in my uncle’s orchards.


Kristen Camille Ton Taylor Swift’s evermore.

Marco Cian Autumn leaves and a nice jacket.


Abigayle Goldstein It’s not fall without warm, fresh tortillas with butter and beans.

David Spencer I enjoy finally being able to wear jumpers and jackets after a long and neverending Japanese summer!

GENERAL SECTION EDITORS Ryon Morrin All things spiced, crisp, cool air, and trading shorts for blue jeans and t-shirts for hoodies. Pitta Gay-Powell Curling up in soft, warm pajamas for a whole weekend is a vibe I look forward to.

Veronica Nielsen

SOCIAL MEDIA Valerie Mercado Breathing in the cool breeze and getting to smell Pumpkin Spice Lattes once again.

PR Jenny Chang I enjoy hearing the crisp sounds of crunching leaves.


HEAD OF DESIGN & LAYOUT Kristen Camille Ton



SECTION EDITORS Jessica Adler Nabeela Basa Thomas Coleman Sierra Block Gorman Kalista Pattison Jon Solmundson Holly Walder Nomfundo Amanda Zondi

ASSISTANT DESIGNERS Aaron Klein Li Chu Chong Quinlan

COPY EDITORS Tori Bender Sofia de Martin Kaitlin Stanton Zoë Vincent

SOCIAL MEDIA Valerie Mercado

GENERAL SECTION EDITORS Becca Devoto Pitta Gay-Powell Sophia Maas Ryon Morrin Kianna Shore

USJETAA Kimberly Matsuno

WEB EDITORS Marco Cian Abigayle Goldstein Veronica Nielsen

PR Jenny Chang



CONTRIBUTORS Jessica Adler Nabeela Basa Lily Bear Tori Bender Kayla Beyer Jenny Chang Mark Christensen Alexandra Cloete Thomas Coleman Emily Frank Julia Hakes Yuya Himeshima Adam Koueider Ashlee Marrell Sofia de Martin Nompumelelo Mashiyane-Finger Tessa Matsubara Kimberly Matsuno Maya McDonald Zukile Ncube Dylan O’Connell Kalista Pattison Ilse du Plessis Etienne Van Rooyen Jon Solmundson Justin Urso Raluca Veres Holly Walder Dianne Yett 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 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.

Photo by Aaron Klein

CONNECT | Arts 8

Finding Femme Sanctuary in Illustration


The Artistic Legacy of Alphonse Mucha

CONNECT | Culture 26

Dancing at Kita-Harima’s Largest Festival


No Nebuta No Life: Jumping into Aomori Nebuta


Konnichi-wow: Experiences Navigating Initial Culture Shock

CONNECT | Sports 62 Run with the Umineko—Race Day CONNECT | Entertainment 68

5 Japanese Songs for Your Next Nomikai


The Boy and the Heron First Impressions

CONNECT | Fashion 94

Interview With Model Kayla Beyer: Getting Into Modelling in Japan

102 Fall Fits: Fashion and Beauty in Autumn CONNECT | Wellness 110 Fall Foods 114 Fostering Friendships in a Foreign Land CONNECT | Careers 122 Senpai Spotlight: Songs of Successful Business 128 Building Your Resume on JET CONNECT | Language 132 A Look Inside the Mind of a JTE: What Makes a Great ALT? 136 Interview with a Japanese Language Teacher and Content Creator: Yuya Himeshima CONNECT | Travel 142 Somewhere to Trip in Fall 154 Northern Lights CONNECT | Community 170 A Japanese Church Experience: Community Through Faith 176 Post-JET Inspiration: Returning Home to Create Community and Opportunity Through Sports



Sierra Block Gorman I love going up into the mountains to see fall leaves! And I can’t resist a mug of hot apple cider.

Thomas Coleman This year, my fall comfort will be finally escaping from the incessant heat of the summer. I’m ready for the cooler autumn breeze to whisk the leaves and me away to many more comfortable adventures.

ARTS DESIGNER Kristen Camille Ton Taylor Swift’s evermore.

ARTS COPY EDITOR Tori Bender I love fall for the apple picking, hot drinks, knitted sweaters, and pumpkinflavored things.

Photo by Ritz |

CULTURE DESIGNER David Spencer I enjoy finally being able to wear jumpers and jackets after a long and neverending Japanese summer!

CULTURE COPY EDITOR Kaitlin Stanton The delight of my fall season is making a delicious, spicy hot apple cider and enjoying it while sitting outside on a crisp afternoon. Pairing it with locally sourced butternut squash soup makes for a perfect autumn day!



Finding Femme Sanctuary in Illustration Rosie Ball (Hyogo) interviewed by Tori Bender (Hyogo)

osie Ball is an Australian illustrator and co-owner of Tobira Records in the quirky town of Kasai, Hyogo. Originally from the suburbs of Melbourne, she and her husband manage the shop and live together with their two adorable and neurotic cats, Eddie and Kuro, who sometimes make appearances in her work. Entirely self-taught, Rosie creates digital illustrations using Procreate software on an iPad. Her art often explores themes such as femininity, humor, belonging, and environment. The influence of her favorite childhood cartoons makes itself apparent in her cartoony and melancholic style. Most recently, Rosie decided to branch out creatively and release a zine, Hot Lunch, which features two original comics—Itasha and Best Wishes. I decided to sit down with Rosie to chat with her about her unique artistic journey and latest creations. |9

Before we dive into your art, can you tell us how you found yourself co-owning a record store in the countryside? When I first came to Japan, I worked at Nova; after that I became a full-time ALT at a kindergarten in Tokyo, which was great. However, the fact is I’m a massive introvert, and it was draining. My husband—who is Japanese—was working as a salaryman, and he had to be out at izakaya with clients until really late at night. One night he came back from work around one in the morning, and we were both just like, ‘this is unsustainable.’ So we just decided that night, ‘let’s move to the countryside.’

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We then spent about a year planning to move to his hometown. I think in that year we both knew that we wanted to try to build our own business, so in the end we decided to do the shop together, and it really was a two-person job anyway. We met in a live house venue, so we had that music connection already, too. So that’s the story.

I think you guys have got a really good thing going. Thank you for that story! Now, about your art—Can you tell me about your creative process? How does a drawing come about? It depends on what I feel like drawing, but there’s maybe two examples I can give. One genre of drawing I’ve done a lot in is interiors, or women/femmes being inside. I’m a really introverted person and I value solitude so much. I always have felt like there’s a mismatch between my internal and external worlds as well. So those drawings come from a place of wanting to create ‘sanctuary’ for myself, or a safe space, with these characters and beautiful spaces. Another thing is I really like putting humor into drawings, so I like to think of funny situations or characters, and have all of these elements relate to each other in an interesting way.

I love the contrast of drawing your inner feelings but adding humor. I hope that everything I draw has some element of humor. I don’t know why that is, but I always liked comedy and cartoons when I was a kid, so maybe that’s why. Sometimes my drawings are kind of emotional, and comedy just makes it lighter. In terms of the actual drawing process, it’s mainly digital because the cleanup is easier. It cuts the time down. I always wanted to try animation, too, and it just seems easier to get used to digital drawing in order to do that. I also like the way it looks, though. Everyone is always curious about your artistic background, what inspires your style, and these creatures you come up with. What can you tell me about that? Yeah, everyone’s like, ‘where do the characters come from?’ because I’m doing these weird little characters. I do think that the style I naturally gravitate to is pretty much influenced by cartoons from my childhood—specifically like Cartoon Network and MTV. I was literally addicted to cartoons when I was a kid, so I think that’s why my style is the way that it is. It seems like sense of place is a recurring theme in your art. What other themes do you tend to draw? Yeah, that is something that I explore a lot. Hopefully, I imbue the characters with a sense that they feel totally at ease in their surroundings. I think that comes from not always feeling that way myself. Femme joy is another theme. I draw all kinds of genders, but I think I tend to focus more on just femmes being happy and being themselves. So just things like that where women are fully themselves and at ease. I think those are the two main themes. | 11

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We’ve bonded a lot over gender identity and expression. How do your experiences with gender influence your illustrations? I definitely feel that my drawings are very feminine. And what does that mean? It’s hard to pinpoint because femininity is also hard to define as a collection of traits. But I think what I mean is softness, gentleness; soothing, curious and imaginative atmospheres—all of these things are what I would describe as feminine. For that reason, I feel that my illustrations are very feminine. I try to cultivate those traits within myself, but at the same time I do have a masculine side and I do prefer to present in a more masculine way to an extent. So I always found it interesting that thematically my drawings are very feminine. I feel like my characters are fully at ease in their bodies regardless of their gender. I don’t feel fully at ease in my body, but I do love femininity. So you just made your second zine, Hot Lunch, with two new comics—Itasha and Best Wishes. Can you tell me a bit about the zine and comics?

Above: Hot Lunch Zine & Namesake

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The zine is loosely about self-destruction. Itasha, the first one, is based on my neighbor who lives in my apartment building. He’s probably in his mid-twenties and he drives an itasha, which is a car decked out in anime girls and stickers. Taka and I noticed it sometimes looked beat up, and the bumper would always be either on or off. He also would always come home around 3 a.m. or something. We were like, ‘what is this guy doing?’ It was such a mystery. And then we realized, oh my god, this guy is probably out there in the mountains drifting at night. So the story kind of wrote itself. He lives with his parents and has this blonde mullet. In my head he’d just become such a character. I wanted to give him a story that I felt he deserved.

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It’s just this, like, great lore for your apartment complex. I kind of love it. Yeah, so that’s Itasha. And then the second one, Best Wishes, is actually based on myself. It’s sort of a neurotic tale about being in your head and when you start to feel disconnected from reality because you think too much. I was with my friend in Tokyo, and I found this comment on a forum. When I came back, I was sort of in my own head and thinking about this comment. So the start of the story is true. The main character also has this dream— which happened to me, too—and she thinks herself into this crazy place. Then there’s a little twist at the end, which is just like my own wish fulfillment, maybe. What illustration are you most proud of recently?

Above: Itasha Comics

I finished this illustration recently, and there’s a few things going on in it. In the middle ground, there’s this big apartment building; in the foreground there are children, and in the background there’s a huge, many-tentacled monster coming onto the building. On a balcony there’s a woman spraying this monster with a water gun. I feel like that’s the one I like the most right now because it’s so weird and bizarre. I hope that when people look at it they’re like, ‘what the hell is going on here,’ and then kind of have to fill in a lot of blanks. And that’s my favorite, making people wonder what the heck is going on.

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We recently collaborated on an exhibition titled Sanctuary at Void, the gallery and space located above Tobira Records. Do you feel like that experience changed your outlook on being an artist? Yeah, it was completely mind-altering. It was such a crazy experience to be able to show my work in that way and have conversations with people about the work and about the ideas behind it. My art is very emotional and I put a lot of myself into it, so showing people that was very scary but fulfilling. So it really motivated me to keep doing it. Another thing that struck me is that it’s nice to feel like part of the community. It’s just really lovely. What’s next for you as an artist? Basically I’m working on more illustrations that can be blown up to a large size—at least A2, because I would love to do more exhibitions. I love the idea of there being lots of tiny details as an opportunity for comedy and curiosity. It’s out of my comfort zone, but I’m working on that. I have this comic I wanna draw that’s gonna be about 40 pages as well, which could be cool to publish in book form. Lastly—and I haven’t dived into this yet—I want to make an animation. It seems like you have so many new projects to look forward to. I’m really excited to see what you do next! Oh, thank you! One last thing—you’ve told me that you always listen to music while drawing to get you in the right headspace. Do you have any music recommendations? I’ve been loving an artist called Gia Margaret. Her recent album is called Romantic Piano. It’s mostly ambient piano, sometimes with strings or brass. Another thing I’ve been enjoying is Anne, EP by Joseph Shabason. It’s sort of jazzy and funky, but hard to describe. It’s just a vibe! I’ll give them a listen. Thank you for doing this interview! 18 |

osie is an illustrator and co-owner of Tobira Records in Kasai, Hyogo. Her zine and stickers are available for purchase at Tobira or upstairs at Void. You can see more of her art and shenanigans on her Instagram. Additionally, Tobira welcomes all with open arms. ori Bender is an ALT and artist based in central Hyogo. She loves the countryside and anything cozy or nostalgic.

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The Artistic Legacy


of Alphonse Mucha 20 |

Mark Christensen (Fukuoka)

ukuoka Prefecture is a wonderful place to live. From balmy temperatures to beautiful beaches, there’s a lot to enjoy. Yet surprisingly, one of the greatest local treasures is art! With no less than three major art museums (the Kyushu National Museum, the Fukuoka Art Museum, and the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum), local residents have access to an incredible and ever-changing variety of artwork from around Japan and the world. During my time in Fukuoka, I’ve enjoyed art exhibitions featuring French art, the legendary works of Hokusai, art from a Kyoto temple, and much more. But the artist that caught my attention above all others was Alphonse Mucha. Born in 1860 in the Austrian Empire, Alphonse Mucha was a bright student with a taste for music. He was remarkably skilled and was not only a vocalist but also played instruments. However, his greatest passion was for art, and even at an early age his skill was evident. Yet, even with his meticulous eye and unique creativity, which can be seen in many of his early designs and sketches, he met with only mixed success and faced a number of setbacks. For example, when applying to a major art academy in Prague, his application was rejected and he was told to consider other work. He didn’t give up, however, and eventually built connections with other artists and traveled across Europe, seeking to improve his education and pursue opportunities.


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t wasn’t until his later arrival in Paris that he achieved new heights of success and popularity. When Sarah Bernhardt’s popular play Gismonda extended its theatrical run, the theater needed new posters on short notice. Mucha happened to be available, and his vibrant, colorful posters quickly became a sensation in Europe. Perusing through the Mucha exhibition, I too found myself falling in love with his style. Mucha’s art tends to be highly detailed, yet retains a refined, balanced appearance. One of the most recognizable elements of his style is his embellishments. In his piece Gismonda, for example, he created an intricate backdrop of Byzantine tiles and put an incredible emphasis on the embroidered clothing of the main character. Many of his other works also incorporate beautiful backgrounds and borders including flowers, stars, and elegant mosaics. Another unusual feature of his style is his ability to capture very organic and expressive portrayals, particularly of women. I found his art piece Medee haunting for capturing the ghastly hatred and murderous intent of the main character. In contrast, pieces like North Star and Moonlight conveyed feelings of playful sensuality and mysticism, which was further enhanced by his incredible detail to skin and fabric.

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North Star


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was surprised to learn about his interest in Slavic history and mythology. Perhaps one of his greatest works is his 20 piece Slav Epic, which captures many iconic moments in the history of the various Slavic peoples of Europe. While the original pieces weren’t physically present, the representations were quite incredible. It’s not surprising to me in the least that he saw them as his greatest legacy. Mucha wasn’t only focused on grand epics or famous posters, though. One major source of his income was selling art supporting various products, which he did quite prolifically. His products had a clear and unique style, not unlike Andy Warhol’s iconic illustrations for Campbell Soup. The exhibition showed some of these products, which included biscuit tins, perfume bottles, and fans. In fact, his art was so well known that the Czechoslovakian government actually had him create the designs for their postal stamps and paper money! The most humanizing element of the display was perhaps the look into his personal life, which included his childhood art and family life, as well as his relationship with the people he used as models for his art. Tragically, in his final years, Mucha found himself prisoner to the times. A new German dictator declared the annexation of Czechoslovakia, and as a major proponent of Slavic culture and history, he was a prime target. He was arrested and released, dying shortly after due to poor health. Despite decades of oppression, Mucha’s art and legacy survived, enduring both the Nazi and Communist occupations of the Czech Republic.

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Slav Epic

Today, his art is popular all over the world. Even if you can’t catch his exhibition, you can still enjoy his art in the Sakai Alphonse Mucha Museum in Osaka! Why don’t you check it out?

ark 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 at his Instagram.

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About one hour northwest of Kobe via the Kobe Electric Railway is the small suburban city of Ono. A traditional manufacturing hub of the Japanese abacus known as the soroban, Ono exhibits its pride by being home to the world’s largest abacus. Although relatively rural, Ono has many more tourist attractions that punch above their weight. In spring, the Ono Sakura Corridor blooms along the Kakogawa River with nighttime illumination. Similarly, the nearby Sunflower Hill Park’s almost 380,000 sunflowers bloom in early summer with cosmos taking their place in autumn. Finally, the nearby temple of Jodou-ji houses some important cultural properties and a variety of hydrangeas. (1) However, undoubtedly superseding all these attractions is the 小野まつり (Ono Matsuri), the largest festival in Kita-Harima with about 140,000 attendees. (2) Last year was my first time going and I could not have imagined that this year, I would not only be attending, but also participating in dancing on stage.

Photo by Rachel Boatwright

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The Ono Festival primarily involves dance performances on three stages divided between two days. The first day features dances by groups of citizens from the various wards of the city; this is what I participated in. The second day, referred to as the おの恋おどり (Ono Koi Odori) Festival, is a competition featuring dances by professional groups from around Hyogo and sometimes larger Japan. The name “Ono Koi Odori” carries a delightful double meaning: come to Ono and fall in love with it. (3) Experiencing the festival makes it very easy for one to do so.

I anticipated attending the Ono Festival months in advance with my friends who lived there. Through them, I was invited to join in representing their ward by participating in a citizen’s dance called 市民総踊り (Shiminsouodori) on stage. So, about three weeks before the festival, I attended my first and only dance practice.

Dancing at Kita-Harima’s Largest Festival Dylan O’Connell (Hyogo)

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Arriving before my friends, I was struck by how welcoming the older Japanese locals were. There I was, a foreign nonresident of their city who was absent for two weeks of practice and would be absent for two more, but it felt as if I were a close friend. A Japanese English teacher guided me through sign-in and I spoke with a kyuudou (Japanese archery) teacher before my friends came. After everyone arrived, including more foreigners and parents with children, practice began.

There were two dances: the first, a traditional bon dance that may be seen around Japan; the second, a local dance to a local song. Contrary to the testimony of my friends, the dances were easy to pick up and learn by watching others. The bon dance was slower and more methodical than the energetic local dance, but once the pattern of moves was memorized, all one had to do was repeat them to the music of 令和音頭 (Reiwa Ondo) and ずっとおの恋 (Zutto Ono Koi) respectively. Everyone was a novice and laughed as they made mistakes or as children ran between our legs. This contributed to an atmosphere that was pleasant and communal, aiding the ease of learning and becoming comfortable with the dances.

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Weeks later, it was time for the festival performance. I tried to privately practice the dance during my absence, but I was a little rusty. Thankfully, before performing on stage, we would all meet and do it once more. My friends and I arrived at the community center early with our yukata in possession. The men were first to be directed towards a tatami room in the back. An elderly woman there assisted us in adorning our traditional wear better than we could have done ourselves. My friends and I presented a variety of colors and patterns, but other people in the troupe had matching yukata. I learned that some patterns represented their neighborhood where they had lived for decades. The idea of representing not just a ward in the city, but also an individual neighborhood on stage was wonderful. When everyone was dressed, we practiced for the final time. The steps returned with ease, feeling more natural with a flowing yukata and decorated gold uchiwa fan in hand. From the community center, we walked to the site of the festival. On approach, we could hear music from other performances and noise from the crowds carrying across the sunset-lit rice paddies. We waited backstage, combatting the heat by soaking in cool water being sprayed by large fans. Countless group photos were taken with excited smiles belying an underlying anxiety. My chest tightened in anticipation. Curiously, the group performing prior to us also performed the Zutto Ono Koi that we were to do as our second dance. That became a recurring theme of the festival: Zutto Ono Koi being danced by many different teams. Before long, it was our turn to go on stage.

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Photo by Rachel Boatwright

Beckoned by the hosts, we walked on stage and formed two concentric circles afore fire men carrying flower shaped signs spelling the message 大部の華2023 (Obenohana). 大部 (Obe) is the name of the ward, so the phrase roughly translates to “Obe’s splendor.” Because the troupe organizers wanted the foreigners on display, we started at the front of the outer circle. I was nervous but comforted by the sight of familiar faces in the audience and confidence in my own knowledge of the steps. The dance began awkwardly as our spacing was a little off and synchronizing the initial steps with the subtle notes of the song was always difficult, but we quickly entered our groove and moved our way around the circle. Being in the outer circle also yielded the benefit of being able to view those in the inner circle and match their timing.

Photo by Rachel Boatwright

I think almost everyone on stage was using someone else as a point of reference, with no one considering themselves the leader or an expert. Regardless of our individual and collective confidence, the dance went well, and we repositioned ourselves for the second. Switching from two circles to multiple lines of people directly facing the audience, I found myself front and center on stage. Next to me was the teacher who had initially guided me when I arrived at my first practice. He appeared drenched in sweat and was barefoot, a sight which was oddly comforting. We weren’t like the professional teams that would perform that evening and again the next day, we were just average people. That helped me relax and embrace the energy of the second dance to Zutto Ono Koi.

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I never looked at my fellow dancers on stage, only the audience, among whom were friends tempting me to laughter as they mimicked our moves. Although the song was short, dancing on stage I experienced a form of time dilation. Minutes stretched into hours that unfolded in seconds. When the song stopped and we held our final poses, I only wished there were more for us to show, another performance to present. But it was over, and we walked off stage for refreshing cups of water and congratulations.

In corresponding with the Ono City Tourism Division regarding Zutto Ono Koi, I learned it was written for the 40th festival. The lyrics of Zutto Ono Koi paint an impression of the Ono Festival that matches my own experience: yukata lined up at stalls, a hot summer night, limitless dancing, and fireworks. Those on stage will forget the time as they dance and sing to their heart’s content with their friends. (4) The song itself describes my experience on stage.

However, a second and faster choreographed The rest of the Ono Festival was also wonderful. dance exists to a slightly sped up version of the This year, there were 93 dance teams from all song. Before the fireworks on both nights, over the prefecture. The victorious team was members from many of the dance teams bestowed a prize by the mayor of Ono’s sister crowded the stage and performed the fast city Lindsay, California and an ambassador from version. The final performance on the final night the Miss Oriental beauty pageant. The presence was accompanied by confetti, flames, and of this fellow American, as well as the initial fireworks. Perhaps next year, I can learn and inclusion of my friends and I dancing on stage, dance to that version of the dance too, and form seemed to represent the city’s commitment to another integral memory in my life. cultural exchange.

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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 and is often finding peace at shrines. When not on a pilgrimage, he can be found studying Japanese or writing in the comfort of his small town. He also likes occasionally writing on his blog Dylan O’Connell’s Writing Corner. 1. Ono City 2. Ono City, the ‘Heart-full City.’ 3. 46th Ono Festival 4. Ono Koi Dance Song

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It’s hot. It’s humid. As it always is in early August. My yukata is already soaked with sweat, and the brightly colored fabric strips tied around my hips and shoulders have started to come loose from all the jumping. I feel close to fainting until someone offers me a sip of cold tea. It helps, for about 30 seconds. But then—

My throat has been sore for a while now. It’s that sore throat you get from singing karaoke for hours on end. But some out-of-body force causes me to respond to the chant anyway. Someone hands me a bullhorn to lead the chorus myself.

My haneto compatriots chant in return—

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The excitement gives me a second wind, even if just momentarily. My friend Shingo, a former sumo wrestler and Mr. Haneto competition runner-up, somehow musters up the energy to show off his impressive jumping skills. The title of Mr. Haneto is not awarded to the most handsome man in Aomori, but to the jumper or haneto (跳人, literally meaning “jumping person”) with the most impressive height, form, and genki-ness. Pro-level haneto like Shingo, with their limitless energy, encourage everyone else to keep jumping and ignore how exhausted they may feel. I can’t jump nearly as high as Shingo on a good day, and right now my feet feel like they’re about to fall off. But I jump anyway.

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The bright lights of TV cameras momentarily blind me and then quickly disappear as they weave in and out of the crowd, trying not to get swept up in the excitement. Chants of “rasse-ra, rasse-ra!” bounce around the crowd randomly, and I respond whenever I can catch my breath. The power of the drums reverberates all the way to the center of my heart, while the swaying melody of the flutes floats from my head to my feet. Dozens of small bells pinned all over the yukata of every haneto jingle wildly when we jump. The huge lighted floats—the true stars of the festival—loom behind it all, lending their vibrant colors to the entire scene. At some point in the two hours of jumping, I had become locked in a kind of Nebuta trance. And I kept jumping.

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Aomori Nebuta is one of the most iconic and unique Japanese summer festivals. Even if the name doesn’t immediately ring a bell, you’ve almost certainly seen images of the elaborately crafted floats on a tourism brochure at some point. But here in Aomori, Nebuta is not just any week-long summer festival. It’s an economic boom and explosion of excitement in an otherwise quiet northern region, and a cultural treasure that the locals prepare for all year.

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As one origin story goes, long ago, nemurinagashi lanterns were floated down rivers as wishes to boost the energy of weary farm workers during the hot summer. In the local Tsugaru dialect, famous for being almost completely indecipherable to outsiders, nemuri, meaning “sleepy,” became nepute. With time, it diverged into nebuta or neputa in different villages.

The small floating lanterns expanded into enormous works of art depicting legendary battles between gods, dragons, and the forces of nature. Eventually the floats grew large enough and the festival popular enough to make “Nebuta Master,” the artists and craftsmen who design and build the floats, an actual profession.

Due to the truly ridiculous amount of snow that falls in Aomori City each winter, its downtown boasts wide boulevards that allow the Nebuta Masters to craft impressive, threedimensional battle scenes from ancient legends in lantern form, up to nine meters wide and fire meters tall. Large groups of haneto jumpers surround the floats, chanting, jumping, and dancing with every ounce of energy they have. Anyone can become a haneto if dressed in the appropriate outfit, which can be rented or purchased at various locations across the city.

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“The local chant is a slow battle cry, or perhaps scream, of which is frankly a bit unsettling”

While Aomori City’s Nebuta is by far the most famous, over thirty similar festivals are held every summer across the Tsugaru plain and Shimokita peninsula, in western and northern Aomori Prefecture, each with their own styles and unique charms. At Hirosaki’s Neputa, the floats are shaped like uchiwa fans and rotate to show a battle scene on the front and a beautiful woman on the reverse. Small, fish-shaped lanterns called kingyo-neputa are usually carried by children during the festival, and can be seen all over Hirosaki year-round. The local chant is a slow battle cry, or perhaps scream, of “ya-ya-do!” which is frankly a bit unsettling, especially when you’re laser-focused on the beautiful paintings and it catches you off guard.

The most visually impressive of them all is Goshogawara’s Tachineputa. These “standing” floats are approximately the same width as any standard parade float, but up to 23 meters tall— proportions that seem impossible until you see them in person. The low profile of most of Goshogawara’s buildings mean that the floats tower above the rest of the city, and the spider’s web of electrical lines criss-crossing most Japanese cities would be hazardous. To resolve this issue, Goshogawara opted to bury or reroute the electrical lines away from the parade route—proof of the local residents’ dedication to their festival.

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In the summer of 2019, Shingo recruited a large group of local foreigners and Japanese people to jump in Nebuta. While most people rented their haneto yukata and accessories from a local shop, I chose to purchase my own. I had already recontracted for a second year of JET, so I thought I would be able to save money by wearing the same outfit again at next year’s festival, presumably just before wrapping up my time in Japan and heading home to Alaska. Years later, it was still waiting in my closet, untouched. In the late spring of 2020, Nebuta was suddenly canceled, along with every other festival. Of course, this was only a small part of a never-ending flood of bad news at the time. But in Aomori, people were in shock. Nebuta attracts over a million visitors every year to a distant, rural region which relies heavily on agriculture, fishing, and tourism to keep its economy afloat. The prefecture’s population has been decreasing at one of the highest rates in Japan every year, and the Tsugaru region, while culturally vibrant, has been hit particularly hard by the depopulation crisis. The loss of the festivals, even just for a few years, was an economic and emotional blow to the region at a time when people couldn’t afford either. The pandemic had begun midway through my second year on JET. The social isolation of being a foreigner in the countryside, difficult even without an international crisis, was greatly amplified by social distancing rules. Years of festivals and nomikai just didn’t happen. The pandemic robbed us of so many experiences, only to replace them with fear and disappointment. The sense of lost opportunity and community was crushing.

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I had initially planned to stay in Japan for only one year, maybe two, but going home now felt like giving up. Anyway, I had fallen in love with my adopted hometown of Towada and its beautiful natural areas, perfect for socially distant adventures. So I decided to stick it out for a while longer. In the back of my mind, I thought that maybe I’d be stubborn enough to outlast the worst of the pandemic and be able to experience the joy and excitement of summer in Aomori one more time before moving on—and maybe even get my money’s worth on the haneto outfit I'd bought.

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By the end of my fourth year, things were beginning to relax at a painfully slow rate. Some festivals were held again on a limited scale, with mask requirements (despite the dreadful summer heat) and restrictions on chanting, shouting, and crowds. I hadn’t won the lottery required that year to join the haneto, so I went to watch instead. I had no trouble finding an open spot just 30 minutes before the parade began—impossible in a normal year. With the other spectators diligently following the rules, I had to suppress the urge to stand up and scream “Rasse-ra!” when the small, organized groups of haneto passed by. While the floats were as beautiful as ever, the vibe was rather subdued. The Nebuta chaos that I craved hadn’t yet returned.

My fifth JET contract came to an end just as the pandemic was finally beginning to ease. I married my Japanese partner and decided to stay in Aomori Prefecture, despite the strong economic current that sends many retired JETs out of the inaka and straight to Tokyo. On my five-year anniversary of arriving in Japan, I finally pulled my haneto outfit out of storage, drove to Aomori City with my husband, and met up with Shingo to jump again.

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Even if you can’t make it to Aomori during the summer season, you can still get a taste of the manic excitement of Nebuta and Neputa at any time of year, thanks to the festival museums. Only a two-minute walk from Aomori Station, the Warasse Nebuta Museum displays full-size floats from the Aomori Nebuta festival yearround, and holds music and haneto jumping demonstrations daily.

Image Credit:

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Image Credit:

Image Credit:

In Goshogawara, you absolutely cannot miss the If you visit in the spring for Hirosaki Castle’s Tachineputa Museum—it’s the tallest building in famously gorgeous sakura season, stop by the town, and the only place where you can look at Tsugaru-han Neputa Village just outside the park to see Hirosaki’s fan-shaped floats, try your the towering Tachineputa floats from Matsubara originally hails from Sitka, Alaska, hand at drumming and TsugaruTessa Shamisen, or above. Goshogawara is also the starting point Aomoriseasonal from 20 for the popular create your own kingyo-neputa goldfish lantern Towada, She currently lives Tsugaru in Misawa, Aomori withTrain. her This antique train in the workshop. Tetsudo Stove husband, and occasionally posts to her Instagram whisks visitors through the snowy plains to account, @ten.peaceful.fields[[ ttps://www. Kanagi, the hometown of writer Osamu Dazai]] and a stronghold for the Tsugaru dialect.

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Don’t worry too much about struggling with the dialect—most people here speak standard Japanese in tourist areas, because even most Japanese people don’t understand Tsugaru-ben. But if you’d like to learn a few phrases, the locals would love to teach you some.

Tessa Matsubara originally hails from Sitka, Alaska, and was an ALT in Towada, Aomori from 2018–2023. She currently lives in Misawa, Aomori with her husband, and occasionally posts to her Instagram account, @ten.peaceful.field

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If you have ever been in earshot of any foreigners who have lived in Japan, you’ve probably heard references to the horrors of Japanese bureaucracy and its dreaded accomplice. . . paperwork. This was the first thing that tripped me up when I first arrived in Japan. Man, does everyone seem to love filling out forms! One experience stands out among the rest. During my first week at my workplace, a member of the office staff came over to my desk and handed me some documents to fill in. Standard stuff. However, one section in particular caught my eye. Above a blank box was the word “Map.” Perplexed, I turned to the staff member and inquired as to what was expected of me. She proceeded to tell me that I was to draw a map of my route to work in said box. I unintentionally laughed, assuming she was joking. Yet, I received nothing but a serious look in return, also now slightly concerned that I wasn’t taking my task seriously. With no other questions, I was left scratching my head about what to do. I eventually decided to just print out a screenshot of Google Maps and hoped that covered it. I haven’t received any complaints since, so that seems to have done the trick. It looks like paperwork problems require modern solutions!

All jokes aside, while paperwork seems to be everywhere in Japan and can at times be cumbersome, I’ve come to respect how well documented everything tends to be over here. There are times where it can be stressful, yes, but I’ve also grown to feel more secure after completing it. Like any kind of culture shock, you eventually get into the rhythm of it. So bring it on Japan, paperwork fatigue won’t get me down!

Thomas is a third-year JET from the U.K. who is currently working as an ALT at two senior high schools in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture. As a humanities graduate, he has a keen interest in history and culture, and loves travelling around and exploring Japan’s abundance of historical sites. Alongside these adventures, he also enjoys studying Japanese, playing video games and has even picked up kendo, too! | 53

Being an Asian American on the JET Programme, my initial experience of navigating life in Japan may have differed from the experiences of those who looked more foreign. Needless to say, with a mask on, I blended in with the Japanese population and was naturally expected to understand and speak the language. However, when I first arrived in Japan in June of 2020, I hadn’t learned any Japanese in the traditional sense. In fact, my Japanese language ability was a combination of knowing some Chinese because it’s my first language, selfstudying hiragana and katakana prior to my departure, and having watched countless school-life anime as a kid. Miraculously, I could understand about 50% of what people were saying to me, but I really struggled to respond in Japanese.

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That was my initial culture shock. Wherever I went (a convenience store, a restaurant, any type of shop), people expected me to be able to communicate with them. So, in the beginning, it was a lot of looking confused and having awkward staring contests with the staff. Although it was a bit of a struggle, overall, I found it quite entertaining to see the confused frown on people’s faces that had “Why aren’t you responding to me?” written all over them. In order to clear up the confusion, one of the first phrases I learned was: 私は外国人です。 日本人じゃない。(Watashi wa gaikokujin desu. Nihonjin janai.) which means: “I am a foreigner. I’m not Japanese.” Ever since, the light bulb usually goes off in their head and we just have a good laugh at the situation. Funnily enough, I was recently asked to make a sign for my table at work because I’m the first person people see when they enter the office. Visitors kept coming up to me, asking me if so-and-so is here or where they can find so-and-so, but I usually didn’t know anything. So, in a way, this sign is my “Watashi wa gaikokujin desu. Nihonjin janai.” sign.

Jenny is a third-year ALT in Nara Prefecture, beer and coffee enthusiast, and professional napper. Despite constantly going through an identity/existential crisis, she tries her best to fight it by travelling and finding the little joys in life. Overall, she’s a bit odd, but if you give her a chance, she just might surprise you.

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When I first opened my bank account and received the card with a cute mascot staring up at me, I wondered what on Earth it was for. I knew that Japan, especially in the more rural areas, is still a “cash society,” so having cash would be more important than it was back home in the U.K. I still remember using cash back home. . . sometime around 2016? But I had never seen a cash card before. I showed my mum and she said she hadn’t seen one since the 70s! This was my first introduction to the vast differences in financial culture between Japan and my home country. From there, I had difficulties with using an international card for purchases online, struggles with paying in instalments, lack of access to credit cards (and therefore ETC cards), and frustrations with the extra little fees that keep popping up for things that I would not have been charged for at home.

Holly is a second-year JET in Gunma Prefecture from the UK. She’s the Fashion Section Editor for CONNECT. She enjoys photography, writing, and sings the praises of Skype Numbers for managing finances back home. 56 |

To be honest, this is the one “culture shock” that hasn’t dissipated over time. I am still often left wondering why certain transactions—so simple to do back home—are incredibly difficul here. I am continuing to encounter problems, but that’s OK. Each new problem gives me the tools to deal with the next one. And if there is one silver lining, it has made each transaction more visible, and the need for good budgeting more apparent.

It was once explained to me that “Unless you hear an enthusiastic ‘yes’, the answer is ‘no.’” Few cultures have quite the aversion to denying a request as what we see in Japan. Simply saying “no” is terribly impolite, so people rely on indirect ways to reject your request. As someone who is not great at reading between the lines, since arriving, ordinary conversations with locals have become veritable minefields. Instead of an outright denial, the common phrases muzukashii. . . (it’s difficult. . .), tabun (maybe. . ., or chotto (“a little. . . will make their appearance. This is, apparently, our cue to drop the subject.

So what can we do to avoid a social faux pas? Make sure you clarify. If you are not certain, and occasionally even if you are, make sure you and the person you are talking to are on the same page. Misunderstandings will happen regardless of language and culture, the important thing is that you are working to bridge the cultural gap.

Even proficient English speakers will fall back on the unspoken denials and subtle misdirection used in their native language. This has been the case for me when attempting to make plans, both social and for my lessons. Hearing “I’ll think about it," “maybe we can,” and even “that’s interesting,” are all likely to be denials.

Sofia is a British ALT based in Kagoshima. She’s part of the Copy Editor team for CONNECT Magazine. In her free time, she likes travelling, sports, and learning new things. | 57

Every year around July-August, the JET Ladies+ Facebook group gets a deluge of posts from new JETs panicking about all the hair they are losing and asking for advice on what to do, how to mitigate it, or where to find these fancy shower filters that are supposed to help it. As a person with fine curly hair, the feelings of panic are completely valid. I remember reading a lot of these posts when I first arrived back in 2019, and I did notice the larger-than-expected wads of hair coming off my head. I got really into hair care and the Curly Girl Method. I scoured through online product listings, seeking the right products for my hair type because there was no way I’d find curly hair products in a Japanese grocery store. Eventually I decided, “Fuck it,” and shaved my whole head.

There are lots of potential causes for that initial hair loss many JETs experience in their first months. The prevailing theory is that many people are not used to Japanese summer. They might be from a place with a cooler or dryer climate. Then they come to Japan where it’s extremely hot and oppressively humid, and how do their bodies react? By shedding hair to help cool off. It’s natural to lose more hair in the hot seasons, especially if you have curly hair. Obviously, if you are getting bald spots, then you should think about seeing a doctor. Otherwise, just ride the summer out, maintain a healthy hair routine—maybe get a shower filter if it helps—and let your body adjust to the new environment.

Dianne is a fifth-year JET ALT in Gunma Prefecture. She wears a lot of hats—the foremost of which is being the current Head Editor of CONNECT Magazine. She enjoys writing, digital art, long-distance cycling, and shaving her head in her sweaty shower room while blasting Ava Max. 58 |

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Dianne Yett I love the warm sweet smell of homemade pumpkin pie and the excuse of wearing a funky costume for Halloween.

Jessica Adler I love the spooky and mystical atmosphere of fall, as well as snuggling with a nice novel and the best spiced teas.



Aaron Klein Searching for autumnal leaves and migrating birds and watching 1949’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad sets the season for me.

Quinlan I love being able to whip out the fall jackets, scarves and not being perpetually sweaty.

ENTERTAINMENT COPY EDITOR Kaitlin Stanton The delight of my fall season is making a delicious, spicy hot apple cider and enjoying it while sitting outside on a crisp afternoon. Pairing it with locally sourced butternut squash soup makes for a perfect autumn day!

Photo by BBB XZH |



Etienne van Rooyen (Aomori)

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I woke to an early start. I didn’t know whether to get up or to go back to sleep. Eventually, I got up, changed, and ate breakfast. I grabbed the bag I had packed the night before with the essentials: water, a spare change of clothes, sunscreen, hat, and towels. I walked and talked to my parents over the phone on the way to the Tatehana Morning Market. The weather was overcast and predicted rain for race day, but the sun soon broke through.

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My race was at 10 a.m., but I arrived around 8 a.m. I made it in time for the opening ceremony and some words from the city’s mayor and sponsors. After being postponed for four years, they wished every runner good luck. My nerves disappeared as the fun atmosphere put me at ease. There was electric energy and excitement from the crowd. Stalls with lots of free goodies lined the wharf. My bag was stuffed when I handed it to the baggage storage area. Different coloured bibs represented the different categories and age groups of runners. Everyone was dressed to race seriously or to impress in a fun, goofy way. Coworkers, students, couples, and families wore various cosplays, mascots, and costumes. They were on full display in the three-kilometre race at 8:30 a.m., which kicked off the day’s start!

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The spirit and fun of the three-kilometre and five-kilometre races eased my nerves, but the countdown was still on. I paced up and down the wharf, doublechecking my running plan in my head. Before I knew it, racers were being called over to the start line for the main event: the half-marathon. Now, the nerves kicked. It was a gorgeous day as the sun finally broke through the overcast. Everybody was getting into their zone. Jitters intensified as each minute ticked down. Then, the mayor stepped up the podium, starting gun in hand, and all eyes locked on him. He raised it and fired. We began!

Everyone was bunched up at the start, then started to spread out as the race went on. The excellent runners took an early lead. I started quickly and stuck to the middle of the pack. The vibe was great! Hundreds of runners snaked through the wharf and portside industries that built Hachinohe. We passed crowds of spectators, performances, and water stations, all to the sound of「がんばれ」 and「ファイト」while the racers themselves were silent. The pounding of feet on the pavement and short, sharp breaths echoed throughout the track.

Luckily, I had trained to handle the incline and recover on the decline. Upon reaching the halfway mark at Shirahama Beach, I had hit my stride and was making good time, too! I turned around and passed the coast and observatory once again. I was focused, consistent, and going strong.

After the 16th kilometre, I was going down-hill and past Kabushima Shrine again. The home stretch was just five more kilometres away on flat bitumen. . . Five more kilometres. . . . At this point, my legs and body began to slow and shut down completely. I’d never run this far and for this long before. At the five-kilometre mark, we passed our first water station and the beautiful landmark of Hachinohe: Kabushima Shrine. The easy part was over; I averaged about one kilometre every six minutes. Now, it was time to run up hills. Those hills were challenging, but running along the coastline with a blue sky and shining sun improved the endeavour. The sea breeze and gorgeous views made the half-marathon worthwhile. I saw other runners, most likely visitors, pause to take pictures of the coast and observatory.

“Why the hell am I doing this?” flooded my thoughts. Those last five kilometres were tough. My pace slowed considerably as I switched between walking, jogging, and shuffling to make it across that finish line! The running pack I was with started to flounder, too. I would jog past someone I had paced with the whole race, only for them to jog past me as I walked. To be honest, it was all a blur. I only remember two things: how far I had left from the finish line and wishing for it to be over.

My body cramped up at the last kilometre. I couldn’t give up now! The home stretch was within reach. I ran as best I could down the final straight. I reached for the finish line. . . and just like that, I stepped over and finished. There were cheers and applause for each runner as they finished their race. Moments that felt forever were now over.

After crossing the finish line, legs aching and slightly dizzy, I received my runner’s certificate with my finishing time. My final time was 2 hours, 10 minutes, and 9 seconds. I came 187/300 for the A category (male/under 39).

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My goal was to finish the race, but my bonus goal was to complete it in under two hours. I was disappointed, but I’m just happy to have lived to tell the tale! It’s OK, though: next time, I’ll complete it in under two hours. I got my celebratory picture taken, changed, and was picked up by a friend. I felt terrible afterwards, but a trip to the onsen and a bowl of udon saved my soul. I struggled with sitting, standing, and couldn’t keep food down for a while. I also lost some weight and a lot of salt during my run. I weighed 90 kg (about 200 pounds) before the race. After, I weighed 87 kg (about 192 pounds).

Dive Deeper You can find articles written about the event here and here. See me cross the finish line at the 3:00:00 mark. Watch a simple news article about the event.

This half-marathon was not a race; it was a farewell. I have lived and worked in Hachinohe for four years and am sad to say goodbye. That time itself was made to feel longer due to the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which, thankfully, now has subsided and allowed the pace of our lives to start over again.

There are the usual suspects for why someone runs: charity, performance, competition, sheer pleasure (or pain, I don’t judge). I did it to prove what I was capable of. I also wanted to test the adage, “What you put in is what you get out,” about one’s JET experience (or any for that matter). Whether it is through running a half-marathon or not, I thought this challenge was insurmountable; it was not. I couldn’t be more proud!

Etienne van Rooyen is an Australian, fourth-year ALT in the delightful city of Hachinohe, Aomori. He spends his time practising the piano, gaming, or travelling in Japan while improving his amateur photography. He regularly contributes translations of tofu recipes for the prefecture’s online blog “Good Morning Aomori” titled “Miso Hungry.” Photographs courtesy of Etienne van Rooyen This is the second part of an article published in the May 2023 issue of CONNECT. Read the first part here. | 67 Back to Contents


5 Japanese Songs for Your Next Nomikai Adam Koueider (Gunma) Let’s set the scene. You’re at your very first nomikai and the night is going well.

Fear not, for I will guide you, young

You may have even managed to

one, into the weird and wonderful

scrounge up the courage to have a

world of Japanese karaoke songs.

three sentence long conversation with

Once I’m done with you, you’ll be

your kocho-sensei . Life is good. That is,

rocking the roof and knocking the

until somebody mentions heading on

socks off of your Japanese co-

out to the nijikai . “Nijikai?!” you scream

workers. Who knows? You may even

in your head. Why of course, there’s got

impress your kocho-sensei enough

to be an after party, and where better to

that they’ll give you tomorrow off.

take the after party than to the time

Probably not, though (remember to

honored tradition of karaoke. This was

drink water!)

NOT on the itinerary! You don’t want to be the foreigner clicking on the dreaded English menu and queueing up some Ed Sheeran now do you? (No offense, Ed Sheeran fans. . .)

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Image by freepik

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5. “Mayonaka no Door (Stay With Me)” by Miki Matsubara Singing Difficulty: 2 Stars Japanese Difficulty: 2.5 Stars With the resurgence of City Pop

A song about a woman longing for her

around the globe, Miki Matsubara’s

lover to well. . . stay with her after a

debut single “Mayonaka no Door

midnight dream, it’s the perfect mix of

(Stay With Me)” has stood as the most

jazz, funk, and disco. The Japanese

famous outside of Japan. That’s not

level of this song isn’t too high and

quite true in Japan, it was only a

there’s a pretty good chance you’ve at

moderate success on the charts when

least heard the chorus of this song

it first released, but it remains a classic

bouncing around on the internet over

that many people know to this day.

the past few years. The verses are short and sweet, and I’ve yet to find someone who can resist belting out its infectious chorus.

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4. “Haruka” by GReeeeN Singing Difficulty: 3 Stars Japanese Difficulty: 3 Stars If you’re looking to pull at the heart

Due to the context of the song, this is a

strings, this is the song for you. A

common song to be sung at

heartfelt song about a son who’s left

graduations, so there’s a very good

home, it’s one of GReeeeN’s most

chance your co-workers know it and

popular songs and an easy one

might have even sung it for their

to sing in a big group. It’s not the

students’ graduations. Just know that

shortest song at over five minutes, but

the little refrains between the verses

the slow, building pace of the song

and choruses are non-negotiables and

makes it a good recommendation for

MUST be sung.

beginners and advanced karaoke singers alike.

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3. “Whiskey ga Osuki Desho”by SAYURI Singing Difficulty: 1.5 Stars Japanese Difficulty: 1 Stars

No karaoke list would be complete without a

As far as Japanese goes, since it’s

song from an artist from the enka genre, the

supposed to be a conversation in song

Japanese genre most stylistically similar to

form, it’s actually very easy and there are

traditional Japanese music. Of course, enka

no particularly fast elements, making this

is also a very difficult genre to sing without

an excellent song for beginner Japanese

the necessary vocal chops, so instead I’ll

learners to sing. Some of the high notes

recommend a jazz ballad by one of the most

may prove difficult, but you can just as

famous Japanese enka singers,

easily sing it in monotone, and hopefully

Sayuri Ishikawa.

some of your older companions will jump in and carry you through the high notes.

Originally composed as a whiskey ad for Suntory, it’s become a cult classic for its

After you’re done, make sure you hop on

slow piano-led instrumental

the phone and order some Suntory

and conversational lyrics. Many artists

whiskey for further immersion (I make no

including Mariya Takeuchi and even

commission from these articles, but if

alt-rock trio Clambon have covered the song,

someone from Suntory is reading this, I’d

but to this day, I’m most attached to the

take some free whiskey!).

original. Be careful; as this was technically not an enka song, it wasn’t originally titled as

If you’re super sure of your ability

by Sayuri Ishikawa, so some systems have

to croon and wail with the best of them,

the song under the artist name, ‘SAYURI.’

then the enka song to go for is another Sayuri Ishikawa banger titled “Amagigoe.”

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2. “Lemon” by Kenshi Yonezu Singing Difficulty: 4 Stars Japanese Difficulty: 4 Stars For a more modern karaoke classic,

Be warned, it’s a moderately difficult

look no further than Kenshi Yonezu’s

song to pull off. It’s got a few tricky high

smash hit, “Lemon.” With over 800

notes in the chorus, but the verse is

million views on YouTube, it’s by far the

pretty straightforward. Since its release,

most viewed Japanese music video on

“Lemon” has stuck around at the top of

the platform and it’s no wonder. This

the karaoke charts in Japan, so it’s sure

song is a beautifully melancholic tale of

to elicit a great response from the crowd.

longing for someone who’s no longer

You’ll have no shortage of help from your

there. Despite all of the despair, it still

co-workers should you stumble at some

has its high points that feel like you’re

of the more difficult notes, so don’t be

letting go of all of the emotional

afraid to bust this song out towards the

baggage you’ve saddled yourself with

end of the night!

over your life.

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1. “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” by Yoko Takahashi Singing Difficulty: 4.5 Stars Japanese Difficulty: 3.5 Stars Get in the robot, Shinji!

this up and smashing it out of the park in your first karaoke session. It’s fast

And by robot, I mean get to learning this

paced and hard to sing, but put enough

classic anime opening from Neon

karaoke hours in beforehand and your

Genesis Evangelion. This song is so

synchronization rate is sure

famous, it’s the most sung karaoke song

to skyrocket.

of all time according to popular karaoke service provider, Joysound. It’s not the

Quick tip: if you’re not inclined to sing

easiest song to sing, but it’s one that

the entire song, or you only know the

everybody, and I mean everybody, knows.

parts from the anime opening, then

So even if you mumble through a few of

you’ll need to look for the TV size

the faster paced verses, your co-workers

version in the karaoke box list. This

are sure to jump in and carry you through

works not only for this song but all

all the important group choruses.

anime/television songs.

I know, I know. It’s not the most obscure

There you have it. Five songs

anime song, and some of you may prefer

guaranteed to impress even the most

other mecha anime (I’m partial to

austere co-workers and put a smile on

Mazinger Z) but trust me when I

everyone’s face. So what are you waiting

tell you that when it comes to anime

for? Get to practicing at your nearest

songs, this is the Father, the Son, and the

karaoke parlor and you’ll be belting out

Holy Spirit. Unless you’re a prodigy EVA

tunes with the best of them.

pilot (Japanese karaoke singer), there’s not much chance of queueing

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Originally from Sydney, Australia, Adam is a second-year JET living in Gunma. When he’s not playing soccer or rooting for his beloved Parramatta Eels, you can find Adam at Karaoke-kan practicing for his next nomikai star performance.

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Jessica Adler (Kagoshima)

If you have any interest in Japanese

officially retired from the animation

anime or manga, you have probably

scene, he is at it again—with the very

heard Studio Ghibli or Hayao Miyazaki

curious release of his latest film 君たち

at one point in your life. One of the

はどう生きるか (Kimitachi wa dou ikiru

most famous Japanese animation

ka ), which translates to “how do you

directors to break into the international

live” but is known to English audiences

animation movie scene, Hayao

as The Boy and The Heron.

Miyazaki and his production company Studio Ghibli is beloved not only in

Normally, anime fans would rave at the

Japan, but worldwide. While the history

masterful and beautiful animations that

of Studio Ghibli may not be all flowers

usually come with the teaser trailer for

and roses, it is an absolute must for

the upcoming movie. However, the

any anime fan to watch and fall in love

film’s producer had deliberately

with at least one of Miyazaki’s movies.

requested for no advertisements or

While Hayao Miyazaki (age 82) has

trailers to run for the film (more details

claimed to never make any more

at this link here,

films and has

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a very unusual move for the most well-

I was not disappointed.

known Japanese animation studio in

*Warning: there are slight spoilers

the industry. Ghibli Studio producer

for the film’s content from this point

Toshio Suzuki wishes for his watchers


to enjoy the film with just a single visual poster and with little to no expectations (according to an interview with Suzuki.) Thus, the only clue we had so far before Japan’s July theatrical release was the curious poster drawn in watercolor depicting a giant bird that just happened to have two sets of eyes. Before viewing the film, I had the hope that the rumor that his newest film being a fantasy would be true—I love being whisked away into Miyazaki’s worlds of spirits and magic.

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THE ANIMATION Hayao Miyazaki has a very unique way of portraying natural disasters, such as the deep gurgling of the earth to signify an earthquake in his previous title The Wind Rises. The movie opens with a very stylistic animation depicting fire, which immediately struck me as a style reminiscent of other animation studios. Low and behold, in the ending credits, there were mentions of two studios that have also gained the reputation of portraying beautifully haunting imagery of fire and water: ufotable and Studio 4°C. I personally am thrilled with the collaboration of studios and hope this is the start of a path for Studio Ghibli to continue

were poignant, and the landscapes

releasing future films.

breathtaking while paired with the haunting soundtrack. The scenery

My friend said they observed many

starts with very dark colored tones,

moments of symbolism throughout the

such as the deep green of the pond

film, and I agree. Some scenes were

where the heron that tempts the

more obvious than others, but even

protagonist strides languidly in wait, to

without the critical lens I believe it was

the mysterious overgrown vine-

a memorable and beautiful film. The

covered tower in the nearby woods of

protagonist’s emotions relating to the

the protagonist’s new home. If Howl’s

passing of his mother

Moving Castle can be described as a fantasy, then The Boy and The Heron

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is best described as a coming-of-age movie filled with the darker tones of magical realism.

| 85


the characters Mahito met during his adventure, as appearances are

The Boy and The Heron is a tale

deceiving in the mysterious world he

of familial bonds and journeying with

travels through. Overall, I was rather

grief. At first glance it can be described

satisfied with the film and am eager to

as a fantastical journey through a world

watch it again.

of magic, but I believe this is a film that will be appreciated more with every viewing. The core of the film is about the journey of a boy (named Mahito) who lost his mother trying to navigate his new life with his new step-mother. When his new step-mother vanishes, he decides to search for her and bring her back home, which forces him to step into a fantasy world where life and death manifest in shockingly grotesque, unassuming, and beautiful forms.

In this world, Mahito meets friends and foes as he tries to navigate this breathtaking world with the heron that he first encountered in the mysterious, dilapidated tower. The viewers quickly find out that a multitude of different species of birds inhabit this world, looking rather harmless but often attempting to harm Mahito whenever they cross paths. I, personally, had fun guessing the true identities of

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A TRUE SEND-OFF FROM HAYAO MIYAZAKI The Boy and The Heron is filled with a plethora of little references to Studio Ghibli’s previous works. Just offhand I was able to make a substantial list of scenes that played tribute to the studio’s collection of films. My particular favorite would be the mysterious tower and its magic doors, as I absolutely love Howl’s Moving

Castle. I am excited for the next opportunity to see it and find more hidden references. In that regard, it truly felt like a send-off to Studio Ghibli fans. Of course, you do not need to view any of Studio Ghibli’s previous films to immensely enjoy and appreciate Miyazaki’s latest masterpiece. I fully recommend the film for any and all animation appreciators. For all that are anticipating to be moved by Miyazaki’s storytelling, I can assure you that you are in for a treat!

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Jessica is a fifth-year JET and the current Entertainment editor of CONNECT Magazine. Between playing her rhythm games and watching the latest season of anime, she enjoys journaling about her travels throughout Japan. Her favorite Ghibli films are Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, and Princess Mononoke.

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Holly Walder I can’t leave the supermarket without a baked sweet potato!

Nomfundo Amanda Zondi I love visiting a cosy cafe to enjoy a chai latte and people watch.



Kristen Camille Ton Taylor Swift’s evermore.

Li Chu Chong

FASHION COPY EDITOR Tori Bender I love fall for the apple picking, hot drinks, knitted sweaters, and pumpkinflavored things.

Photo by Utakaha |

WELLNESS COPY EDITOR Sofia de Martin The cooler it gets, the more I like to curl up under a blanket or kotatsu with a cup of hot tea and a good book.

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Kayla Beyer (Tokyo), Holly Walder (Gunma) | 95

Thank you for joining us, Kayla. Tell us about yourself.

How did you find this opportunity? Did they contact you?

Hi, I’m Kayla. I came to Japan in 2019, just before COVID. I was on the JET Programme for about three years. I was living in Niigata, in a place called Nagaoka. That was pretty fun. I just moved to Tokyo in August last year. All my friends were leaving and I don’t really love living in the countryside anyway, so I packed up and left to find a job [in Tokyo] with my boyfriend. Our time in Japan didn’t feel quite finished.

The salon lady contacted me through Instagram. I do promotions and stuff through my Instagram. I advertise myself there and I’ve gotten a couple of opportunities through it, even without so many followers. I used to use my Instagram a lot more but it can be kind of draining for me. I try to keep up with it. Maybe after this, I’ll update it so people will have something to look at!

How did you start to pursue modelling? My interest started while I was living in Nagaoka, but of course there’s nothing around there so really there weren’t many opportunities. Yeah, living in Tokyo gives me a lot more opportunity for that. My schedule is opening up [from my day job as a teacher] a little bit soon to do more modelling. Surprisingly enough I did find one opportunity in Nagaoka. It was modelling for a hair salon. The hair stylist wanted to join a hair contest in Kyoto. At the contest, hair stylists came in with models with a bunch of different hairstyles and costumes. So we flew out to Kyoto. [The stylist] dyed my hair green and made it poofy and put me in an outfit. But I didn’t have my glasses, and I didn’t have contact lenses at the time so I was just kind of looking around so confused. But it was really fun. It was an interesting experience.

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What first got you into modelling? My relationship with modelling is quite new, because before—you know, growing up—the image of a model is this skinny white tall Victoria’s Secret goddess. So I never thought that was going to be me. I’m not tall, not white, not blonde. So, I never considered that for myself—I haven’t, even though a few people had told me, “Oh you could be a model.” And I kind of just thought it was like a joke or something. One time, my mom saw something in the mall about sign up sheets for an agency or something, with these very young models, and she said, “Hey, do you want to do that?” And I thought, “How? I’m not a model.” But it turns out that there’s just more than one type of model. And I just never really realised that until I came to Japan and I had a friend who was kind of interested in becoming [a model] herself in Tokyo. There are lots of different types of models—like when you watch TV, maybe you’ll see an advertisement, and it’s not like some goddess—it’s a regular person. There are models in advertising with all sorts of different body types for all sorts of different products, that don’t need to be tall with a square chin.

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So how do you go about pursuing modelling in Japan? You can go about it in all sorts of different ways. An agency is one of the best ways. If you live in a city like Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto, you can sign up to work for them and it’s surprisingly simple. Don’t sign up for anything that requires you to pay. If there is a fee to join, it is a scam, so research the agency before you sign up. I personally use Instagram. I would take pictures of myself in an interesting place or in a fancy outfit advertising myself as a model. I’d put in English and Japanese “DM for collaboration.” There are a lot of hobbyist photographers out there. I would definitely be wary about this on Instagram, though. Of course, we all know that internet safety and personal safety are important. I haven’t had any very bad experiences personally, but you know, there’s always things that you have to watch out for. Would you say that you have to be careful getting into modelling? I wouldn’t say it’s dangerous, I guess, but you just have to be careful. Use common sense and ask a lot of questions. I haven’t had any horrible experiences, but this industry is sketchy at times. So far, in Japan, there thankfully hasn’t been that element of danger or sketchiness. And the community of foreigners is small enough that you can kind of just ask any model about what agency they have worked for and they’ll tell you. That’s how I knew which agencies were pretty good, and then I would research them afterwards as well. But be careful. Don’t just meet up with any random photographer, right?

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Have you noticed any difference between Japanese models and foreign models in terms of getting work? I’m not sure. All the agencies that I signed up for offer work for both. And some of them advertise as foreigner friendly. There isn’t necessarily anything like, “Japanese people go over here and foreigners over there.” I don’t think it’s quite like that. Say you’ve found someone through Instagram or an agency or so on with a modelling gig, how would that usually go? It depends on the job. They say what kind of look they’re aiming for. You meet up and take some pictures. Then they pay you, and you go home. During the job, they might travel with you to different locations, but sometimes you’ll stay in one location. Sometimes they’ll have an outfit ready for you, sometimes they expect you to bring your own outfit. You might change outfits multiple times or you might keep on the same outfit all day. It varies on the makeup as well. Sometimes they’ll have a makeup artist, sometimes you do your makeup for yourself. If it’s for a product, they may want a specific image, but if it’s more like fashion, you may be able to do whatever poses you like to try and kind of see more of your personality. If it’s just pictures for a product, it’s usually not too long of a day—it’s pretty simple and straightforward. I have also been an extra for movies and those are really long days of just standing and waiting, but modelling for photos isn’t very long.

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What do you like about modelling? I like the behind the scenes aspect of it, being able to see what goes into making a commercial. You know, when you’re watching it, you don’t really think about all the extras they hired or all the props that they have. And how many hours people were just standing around for a two minute commercial. It’s also fun to be in a creative environment. I enjoy it. It’s a break from teaching nine to five. You get to see an entirely different world and meet so many people. I do like that aspect. I’m not the most social of butterflies, but I have met some really interesting individuals from all around. I met a guy who was a refugee from Syria. He had an incredible story on how he went through the (pretty horrible) refugee process in Japan, to being able to make a living acting here. I’ve met a lot of Ukranian models. There is still a war going on, their stories are a fresh reminder. There’s also other Americans. It’s cool just listening to so many people’s stories. There are some assholes as well. I mean, obviously in any industry you’ll find a couple, but it’s still sometimes fun to watch. Like, there really are people like that in the modelling industry? By “there really are people like that,” do you mean like models portrayed in media? Wow, there are those people who are arrogant or attention-seekers. I think attention-seeking might be the biggest one in this industry in particular, because they want to be in front of the camera. They want to get the role, right? Even if they’re just an extra. But generally it’s not so dramatic. Do you have a dream gig? There are a couple. Any kind of big brand name would be really cool. It could be really cool if there was travel involved. I had an audition for a job that would take me to Kyoto, but I didn’t make it. That was Back to Contents

so sad. I was really, really close. Especially because I already did kind of have that with the hair model when I was flown out to Kyoto and I really enjoyed it. It doesn’t matter what it is for—even rice cookers, I’d do it. It’s really cool opening a magazine and seeing images of things that you have done. What is your experience with retouching? There was one that did retouch me quite a lot, and I felt like my skin was quite light in that one. But so far they have all looked like me, and even people at work notice them and say, “It’s you!” I wouldn’t like them to make my skin lighter, I feel like that’s not cool. But I am a model and I get paid for my image, and what they do with my image afterwards—that’s what the money goes to. So it’s not like I have any right to have an issue, unless the final image really was degrading. You can’t really do much about it, but if it happened I would speak out—not against the company, but rather against the practice of [skin lightening in photos]. I’m glad that I haven’t had to deal with that too much. Would you recommend modelling to others? Absolutely. Go for it. Everyone who wants to try can do it. I think there’s no harm in giving it a shot. If you enjoy the experiences, keep at it; and if you don’t, you can stop at any time. I would really encourage anyone who wanted to try it to give it a go. There are so many different kinds of models in print and video, as well as runway of course! Kayla models and teaches English in Tokyo. She enjoys everything art, and is often drawing in her free time. You can find her on Instagram @kayla_cbear. Illustrations in this article by Freepik

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Photo by Crew on Unsplash

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Holly Walder (Gunma) The word autumn may conjure thoughts of cosy blankets, warm drinks, and woolly hats, but this is not the case in Japan. Japan is a long country and experiences a wide range of temperatures all year round. Nevertheless, for the majority of Japan, the kotatsu doesn’t need to come out until the end of the season, if at all. In fact, autumn is one of the most temperate times of year in Japan, and most of the time you will be perfectly comfortable in a long-sleeved shirt and jeans. However, like all seasons in Japan, autumn presents its own challenges, namely dealing with dryness and changeable temperatures. | 103

apan stretches over 3000 km from north to south, so you can expect a wide range of temperatures depending on where you are. On top of this, some areas may experience a significant drop in temperature from one month to the next. In my case, September averaged around 20 degrees Celsius and dropped 10 degrees Celsius by November; while in Sapporo, temperatures fluctuate from around 16 degrees Celsius to 2 degrees Celsius in autumn. (1) So, if you are planning to travel in autumn, be sure to check the forecasted temperatures in your destination before you leave. I live in a small apartment with limited storage space (as I’m sure many of you do. Leopalace, anyone?), so I like to rotate my wardrobe, keeping my seasonal wear tucked away in my suitcase when it is not in use. As a very transitional season, autumn allows me to gradually swap out shorts and AIRism tops with light cardigans and HEATTECH leggings.

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The big winter coat and bobble hat don’t make an appearance until the end of the season for me, but it will be different depending on where you are. If you prefer to keep all your things in one place, you may want to consider gradually moving your warmer wear to a more accessible place in your wardrobe. You may also start to experience days with a sharp change in temperature as the day progresses, so it is also a good idea to incorporate layers into your outfits. As it gets colder, it may be tempting to leave the house in a t-shirt and a big jumper. However, with the changeable weather, you may end up too hot in a thick layer and too cold without it. It’s a good idea to carry jackets and thinner cardigans at the start of the season and invest in some HEATTECH clothing to put underneath your outfits as the cold creeps in. Hooded jackets in particular are great in autumn—first for the rain in September, and then to keep your head from getting cold in November.

Photo by Ulrich Knoll on Unsplash

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Photo by Nati Melnychuk on Unsplash

apan dries up with the end of the typhoon season in September. And when I say dries up, I mean dries up. This time last year, I happened to be embarking on training for a half-marathon, so I spent a lot of my time running and experienced a new phenomenon: my sweat dried very quickly, leaving an odd layer of salty “crust.” The air was so devoid of moisture that it induced my first nosebleed. To combat this, consider adding moisturisers to your skincare routine. Even if you were using them before, you may need to swap the light moisturiser that worked in the summer with something that provides deeper

care. This doesn’t just apply to your face. Particularly for those who are prone to dry skin like myself, it is a good idea to try hand cream and lip balm. The novel coronavirus restrictions may have been lifted, but you may notice masks coming back around this time, as many people wear masks in autumn for several reasons, including protecting the face from dry air and wind. You may notice supermarkets stocking up on humidifiers in autumn as well. Humidifiers are great for relieving dryness, so consider buying one and putting it on when you are at home to keep your skin healthy while you are at home.

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here is no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to dressing for the season in Japan, as it really depends on where you are! What you choose will depend a lot on your individual plans, but if you need help, this usually does the trick. September: In the afternoon, a t-shirt is fine; but the mornings and evenings are cooler, so it is better to wear a vest underneath a thin long-sleeved layer and carry a thin jacket or cardigan with you. There is still a risk of typhoons in some areas, so hold onto your waterproofs and umbrellas. October: As it gets colder, you will transition to long-sleeved shirts with hoodies, thicker jackets, or light coats. If you plan on wearing a dress, you

may need to wear some HEATTECH leggings with it or a thick pair of tights. Carry a scarf with you, and maybe some light gloves. If you haven’t got them already, it’s recommended to get some lip balm, mini hand cream, and moisturiser for the dryer days. And, of course, you can’t forget your Halloween costume! November: In the run up to winter, put some HEATTECH vests and leggings underneath long-sleeve tops and jumpers. It’s now time to bring out the boots and woolly socks to keep your toes nice and toasty. You may not need them all day, but bring knitted hats, gloves, scarves, and a coat with you when you go out.

Autumn is a pleasant and beautiful season. The lush green landscape is transformed into blankets of brilliant red acers and yellow ginkgos. It is the perfect time to get your instagram-worthy shots among the autumn leaves. It is all the more reason to dress for the season, and ensure that you’re ready to enjoy everything that autumn has to offer! olly is a second-year ALT in Gunma and the current Fashion Section Editor for CONNECT. She has a seasonal addiction to baked sweet potatoes. (1) Climate Data 108 |

Illustrations in this article by Freepik

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Photo by Heather-Ford on Unsplash

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Nomfundo A. Zondi (Hokkaido)

As the colour of the leaves changes, so do the flavours of Hokkaido. During this time of year, the smell of sweet potatoes cooked over coals dances in the air, bringing a warmth into the chilling air. In this region of Japan, one will note many things that are unique in the food eaten by dosanko (the people of the north). Dishes such as soup curry, chanchan yaki, and sweet potato offer a warm reassurance as we inch towards the long winter months.

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Soup Curry Curry, a world renown dish originally created in India, has a reputation for being delicious, fragrant, and absolutely timeless. Having made its way to the shores of Japan, it continues to uphold this reputation; however, with a twist. If you ever make your way to Sapporo, the capital city of Hokkaido, make sure to go to your nearest soup curry restaurant. You will not be disappointed. Soup curry is exactly what it sounds like; if soup and curry had a baby, it would be soup curry. It has the delicious, spicy elements that make a mouthwatering curry and the luxurious, abundant nature of a soup. This dish is highly versatile, with a variety of seasonal vegetables being added to it, as well as different protein options such as shrimp, pork, lamb, and beef. As delicious as this dish is, these foods also have their different benefits moving into the fall season. As it gets colder, we are less inclined to consume water as regularly as we did in the warmer months, so hydration becomes even more important to work on. Soup curry’s soup-like nature allows for one to contribute positively to their hydration. Along with the added benefit of incorporating a range of seasonal vegetables, which aids in supplying much needed nutrients to boost one’s immune system and provide us with fibre. In the colder months, fibre consumption becomes even more important, as we tend to be less active. A sedentary lifestyle negatively impacts gut motility, which may increase the likelihood of us struggling with constipation during these months. In such cases, fibre becomes a pertinent part of one’s dietary needs.

Sweet Potato If you find yourself around a fire at this time of year, you will most certainly be enticed by the comforting smell of sweet potato wrapped in a paper towel and tin foil being cooked over hot coals. Perhaps you do this in your home country, but many expats agree that sweet potato, prepared this way in the fall season, is a uniquely Japanese tradition. Seeing families and friends share this delicacy instils a sense of community, as they break it in half almost as if to break bread. Sweet potato is well known for being delicious and a great way to satisfy one’s sweet tooth in a healthier, “guilt-free” way. However, another amazing benefit of sweet potato is its beta-carotene (provitamin A) content which our body converts to vitamin A. A 100 g serving of sweet potato may contain all the vitamin A recommended daily for an adult human. (1) So one large sweet potato can be enjoyed twice or even three times to provide you with the vitamin A you need. What is so important about vitamin A, you may ask? Consuming vitamin A may offer us a plethora of benefits which include: a strengthened immune system, improved eye health, good skin health, and supports tissue function in our bodies. (1)

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Image source: NHK World

Chanchan Yaki If you are a fan of the fresh seafood Japan has on offer, then this dish is for you. Chanchan yaki or steam fried miso salmon is a dish typically eaten during this time of year as salmon is in season. Characterised by its rich salmon and miso flavours, as well as the ease with which it can be prepared, hence the chanchan meaning promptly, chanchan yaki can make a great midweek meal at home or can be created over a fire should you go camping. The base ingredients include salmon, cabbage, onion, a miso paste sauce, a small amount of butter, and seasoning. To up the ante on this already wholesome dish, add potatoes, peppers, and mushrooms, which also increase the nutrient quality of the dish, aiding in boosting immunity as we enter flu season. Salmon is well known to abound in omega-3 fatty acids which are are linked

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to reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of cancer, and improving the function of our arteries. (2) The American Heart Association and the National Health Service (NHS) in The U.K. recommend that for an adult to acquire enough omega-3 fatty acids in their diet, they should include two servings of oily fish in their diet per week. (2) In this case, a serving would be about 100 g of fish per serving and other oily fish along with salmon could be trout, mackerel, or sardines. (2) Food is a powerful tool in heralding the changes in season here in Japan. And beyond seasonality, one can find that each dish has its benefits to suit the season. Should you make your way to the northern island of Japan this fall, perhaps you will find yourself indulging in these quintessential Hokkaido dishes. Until then, perhaps you can have a try at creating chanchan yaki in your own home with this recipe.

Serves 4

Chanchan Yaki Recipe

Ingredients 4 fillets (400 g) salmon 1 potato 300 g cabbage 1/2 an onion 150 g mushrooms 3 tablespoons miso 1 tablespoon sugar 2 tablespoons water 20 g butter Small amounts of salt, pepper, and oil Method 1. Flavor the salmon fillets with salt and pepper. Prepare the potato by peeling the skin, cutting in half lengthwise, and steaming for 15 minutes. 2. Cut the cabbage into three centimetre squares. Chop the onion across the grain into one centimetre thick slices. Cut the steamed potato into one centimetre slices as well. Next, make the mushrooms bite-size. For varieties like shiitake with large caps, remove the stem ends and cut the caps in half. For mushrooms in clusters like shimeji, trim the root ends and separate into smaller clusters. 3. Make a miso paste by putting the miso in a small bowl and mix it well with the sugar. 4. Add half the water and mix until miso clumps disappear, then repeat with the remainder.

5. In a large frying pan, heat up some oil and place the salmon fillets skin side facing up. Cook over medium heat. When the fish is lightly browned on one side, flip the fillets over and stop the heat. 6. Add small pieces of butter around the fillets, followed by the onions, potatoes, mushrooms, and cabbage. Pour miso paste over the top. 7. Place a layer of aluminium foil. Press the foil around the pan’s inner rim to make sure there’s a seal. 8. Turn the heat back on. Switch to low when the frying pan has warmed up and steam fry for 10 minutes. Place the frying pan on the table just as is and serve directly. 9. Enjoy! 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.

Source List: 1. ScienceDirect 2. Healthline Back to Contents

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Fostering Friendships

in a Foreign Land

Nomfundo A. Zondi (Hokkaido), Alexandra Cloete (Chiba), Jenny Chang (Nara), Nompumelelo Mashiyane-Finger (Hokkaido), Lily Bear (Kyushu)


here are many things that are daunting when one decides to leave all they know to pursue a new life in a foreign land. Figuring out the healthcare system, the nuances of a new culture, and the language, to name a few. It can be a lot to deal with just on its own. And perhaps one of the most unnerving aspects of leaving your home country is not having your friends and family nearby as you navigate this new life. Sure, our generation is lucky enough to have a plethora of methods of communication, yet nothing seems to beat the presence of a loved one and the joy that comes with being with them in person. So, how do we overcome this unfortunate reality of leaving those we love behind to pursue something new? The older we become, forming friendships seemingly becomes more and more difficult. We no longer have the ease of our school and university years,

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which makes meeting and making friends easy. And in this technological age, meeting people comes with new barriers. Studies have shown that, beyond social satisfaction, there are a plethora of benefits to close relationships. Having close friendships can support overall well-being and can protect one from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. (1) It has also been found that having friendships can improve one’s longevity as people with no friends have an increased likelihood to die prematurely. (2) Another amazing benefit to friendship is that it positively impacts how we respond to stress, resulting in difficult tasks being perceived as less difficult than they actually are. (3) However, even with these benefits, it does not make fostering friendships in this amazing country any easier. Here are some stories shared by expats on their experience of fostering friendships in a foreign land.

Lily Bear (Kyushu)


he ancient adage of “Wherever I go, there I am” resonates with many-atraveller since time immemorial. While it mostly speaks to self-introspection and being comfortable in your own skin in any location that you may find yourself, it should prompt one to ponder not only about self but the inevitable connections that are formed relative to the self. Simply put: humans are inherently social beings. So go ahead, sign up for that local meet-up group!

Like most relationships, friendships are akin to a proverbial garden, and thus need to be nurtured and tended to. I personally try to make it a priority to check up on old friends back home at least once a month. If you drift apart, do as the Japanese— accept it graciously. For those relationships still intact, simply say mata neh? (See you next time). Above all, the zen goddess deep within me (there’s one in all of us) is grateful for the lessons learnt and friendships cultivated in every season of life’s colourful journey.

Lily Bear (pseudonym) is an avid traveller who lives on Kyushu.

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Jenny (Nara)


efore moving to Japan, one of the things on my bucket list was becoming a regular at a local cafe. Of course, this didn’t happen overnight. It took time and getting out of my comfort zone for it to happen. I visited my favourite cafe at least once a month, if not every other week. Whenever I was there, I would order something new on the menu and try to make conversations with the owner of the cafe. Luckily, the owner of the cafe can, and wants to, speak English. One day, I suggested that we should do a casual language exchange so that she can practice English and I can practice my Japanese. She was excited and said a friend of hers would also be interested in joining our language exchange, and that was how we started our little Mutsuki Food & Language Club. We would get together about once a month: enjoy free talk, do English and Japanese crossword puzzles, play scrabble, and have タコパ with a glass or two of beer.

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After we talked, she even started a monthly Scrabble Sunday so that anyone who is interested in English can join and have fun. Unfortunately, the owner decided to close her cafe in June 2023, but we still keep in touch. She recently invited me and her friend over for some homemade Korean food, and we played Scrabble. In the end, I’m glad I initiated and put myself out there so that I could become friends with people in my local community. Jenny is a third year ALT/PA in Nara Prefecture. She studied International Studies and German (yes, German, not Japanese haha) in university. In her free time, she enjoys trying new things, having interesting conversations and cultural discussions with people over a cup of coffee (or beer), traveling, and taking naps.

Nompumelelo (Hokkaido)


have an outgoing and friendly personality, so forming friendships has never been a difficulty. Yet, it has been different in Japan, a large contributing factor being the language barrier. Even though the Japanese are kind and friendly, the fact remains that relationships are formed through communication. I opened up to finding new connections with other foreigners and that has helped me emotionally and mentally. We share our experiences and we have become each other’s support system. I have made Japanese friends too, because they could communicate in English. I have maintained these friendships by finding common hobbies, being

supportive, trying new things, and being spontaneous. Nompumelelo is an educator by profession. She is from Johannesburg, South Africa, and is currently living in a small town called Shikabe, in Hokkaido. She has been an Assistant Language Teacher in Shikabe Junior and Elementary School since August 2022. She is married and has two kids. She is passionate about helping underprivileged children. Growing up, she spent most of her time helping at the orphanages and old age homes. She enjoys learning about other cultures, exploring the world, and she is a sports enthusiast.

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Alexandra (Chiba)


ne of the experiences I most looked forward to in Japan was meeting people from different countries. In a country like Japan, which is a tourist hotspot, finding a foreigner is as easy as finding onigiri in the konbini. Even in the inaka! However, I experienced making new friends in Japan specifically as a bittersweet, layered experience. First, you won’t click with everyone, of course. But what I didn’t expect was to not click with so many people that I met. I blame my own general introversion to some degree, yes; but I also noticed a profound lack of depth in many of my connections with other foreigners. The bitter here lay in that other people were already clique-ed up or more focused on their own “Japanning” to foster a real friendship. The sweet in this is in the little pockets of joy you do experience in new connections and the new knowledge you can pick up about people’s respective countries. But it’s not all bad though, thankfully. In Japan I met some of my, now, closest friends. I found the sweetest sweets in these deep connections—whether

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instant or over a series of meet-ups. The bitter in this sweet was not knowing if these friendships would be long-term ones. Many of us foreigners in Japan live a nomad lifestyle. We’re in this spot for a limited time so if you do hit it off well, there’s no guarantee you’ll both be in the same prefecture, island, or even country in the next year. From all this, I learned a deep sense of gratitude for the present. To soak up those good moments while I’m in them, and to be intentional with the friendships I was fortunate enough to solidify. The traveller’s life can be a lonely one, but every so often you find a gem of a person along the way. And if you’re lucky, you get to keep them close forever. Alexandra is a 25-year-old South African working in Japan in the English teaching industry. She loves travel, plants, cats, and cooking, and is also on a neverending quest to differentiate katakana successfully. She’s always open to meeting new expats and making new travel buddies! Try and find her in Chiba, she’ll have a big afro!


vidently finding and keeping friends is as unique as each of our experiences here in Japan. Do not be disheartened when things don’t pan out the way you wish they would. All you can do is your best in this present moment and remember that is enough. Here are some tips that could be helpful on your journey to foster friendships during your time in Japan: 1. Join online local expat groups on Facebook—these are great for finding out about international events which are great for meeting new people. 2. Sign up to Bumble BFF—this is a low pressure way to meet likeminded individuals also looking to make friends.

3. Be open—keep in mind that you can make friends in unlikely places, sometimes just go with the flow. 4. Make the first move—it’s OK to be the first one to ask someone for a coffee, it could be the start of a beautiful friendship. 5. Don’t be discouraged—know that you are not in this alone. Many expats struggle with forming friendships and if things don’t work out, it’s OK to try again. 6. Make time to catch up with old friends virtually—it can be difficult trying to keep up with friends back home but try to make a point of catching up with them as regularly as you can. These connections have the power to fuel us when things get tough.

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.

Source List 1. Adult friendships 2. Close Relationships and Mortality Risk 3. The Impact of Social Support

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Kalista Pattison Fall wouldn’t be fall without a trip to the pumpkin patch and a handful of pumpkin guts.

Kimberly Matsuno

LANGUAGE DESIGNER connect.ajet.assistantdesigner1 Li Chu Chong

LANGUAGE COPY EDITOR Sofia de Martin The cooler it gets, the more I like to curl up under a blanket or kotatsu with a cup of hot tea and a good book.

Photo by Toby Sakata |


Senpai Spotlight

Senpai Spotlight

Songs ofSongs Succe Successful BusinessBusine

An Interview w An Interview with JET alum Justin Urso (Tokushima, 2006-2007), Director of Mc Director of McMillon Innovation Studio, University of Arkansas and Founder o and Founder of Big Box Karaoke Interviewed by Kimberly Matsuno (Niigata, 2019-2022), Program and Communications Coordinator, USJETAA

Interviewed by Program and C

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

As isyour tradition with every JET Program Tell us about business, Big Box Karaoke. participant, we must ask the questions: Am I correct in assuming it was inspired by JET? Why Japan? your timeWhy in Japan?

I got my bachelor’s degree in International Business Economics from the University of Arkansas. So there was always an interest in international business and working with people from diverse backgrounds. As part of my degree program, I actually went to Japan for a study abroad trip where we visited the corporate headquarters of companies like Sharp, Mazda, Toyota, and Shoyeido. So I had a bit of an introduction to Japanese culture, specifically business culture, from that experience.

I got my bachelor’s degree Absolutely. When my wife and I wereininInternational Japan, Business Economics from University of we had plenty of opportunities to gothe to karaArkansas. therewith wasit.always an interest in oke, and we just fellSo in love That love international and working for karaoke turned intobusiness a business plan as wewith peofromour diverse backgrounds. As part of my wanted tople share experiences with more I actually went to Japan for and moredegree people,program, and that’s when we develstudy where we visited the coroped the aplan forabroad Big Boxtrip Karaoke. porate headquarters of companies like Sharp and Shoyeido. In Japan, Mazda, we saw Toyota, that karaoke is a placeSo forI had a bit o anBeing introduction to Japanese everybody. in a karaoke room isculture, a safe specifica ly business culture, from It’s thataexperience. place of sorts for so many people. place where you can just relax and be comfortable. I also had a dream of being in thetoForeign And that is something my wife and I tried Service someday. So I thought the JET Progra emulate with Big Box Karaoke. would be a great experience that would lend itself well to the career trajectory I saw for my Photo by egodi1| Pixabay self at that time.

I also had a dream of being in the Foreign Service someday. So I thought the JET Program would be a great experience that would lend itself well to the career trajectory I saw for myself at that time. 122 |

We actually tried to open a karaoke place in Chicago right after we got back from Japan, but the timing just wasn’t right. However, Big Box was a passion project of sorts, so we kept the business plan updated while waiting for the right opportunity. Then one day, after we had moved back to Northwest Arkansas, we were walking around downtown Fayetteville and we saw the perfect location. So we put our plan into action, and we were able to open in 2018 six short months later! Our location has seven private karaoke rooms that can accommodate anywhere from 2-25 people—perfect for birthday parties, private events, or even just solo singing practice. And our music selection offers over 71,000 songs for people to choose from. We also have a full food and drink menu, which is mostly Asian fusion—featuring rice bowls, soba, and plenty of Japanese sake. At one point in time, we were the largest seller of sake in the state of Arkansas!

Your business sounds incredibly fun; however, starting a business from scratch sounds like a daunting task for many. What gave you the courage to be able to take the leap and open Big Box Karaoke? It’s actually not as hard as it sounds to open a business. In fact, it’s incredibly easy. Just about anyone can go online and fill out a business application. What can be daunting is the point at which you quit a full-time job and support yourself and your family solely through your business efforts. But that’s where having a solid business plan, financing, and going through the process of market research and testing is so important—so, too, is having a network of people to support and advise you. There are so many resources available today for people who wish to open their own businesses. Most states and cities have some sort of business incubator or assistance program like the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center. These types of places offer one-to-one confidential consulting and cutting-edge market research often at no charge.

Photos by Justin Urso

That said, there is a lot of benefit to going to business school, too. My time at the University of Arkansas certainly laid the foundation for my success, and so many of the connections I’ve made from my MBA program are still playing out today. My wife and I are so grateful to have such an incredible community supporting us, many of whom were my former classmates and advisors. | 123

You seem to be really passionate about being an entrepreneur—to the point where you’ve become Director of McMillon Innovation Studio at the University of Arkansas. What do you like most about being an entrepreneur? I think it would have to be the community aspect of it all—both within the small business owner community and the greater community of Fayetteville. When I’m at Big Box, I get to see the results of our efforts immediately. I get to see the smiles on people’s faces and hear comments—especially from people who have lived in Asia— about how happy they are that a private karaoke establishment exists in their community. And I get to read reviews like “This is the best place to host a birthday party,” or “We loved the fact that we had our own room and could be as loud and silly as we wanted to.” Another great aspect of being a business owner is the ability to innovate and try new things. When the pandemic hit and the first wave of shutdowns occurred, we were one of the very first businesses to do online events. We held an online sake-tasting event with Brooklyn Kura on the very first weekend of the shutdowns. And people loved it! We ended up doing six more throughout the pandemic.

Photo by Justin Urso 124 |

How has being a part of the JET alumni community helped you? I’m actually working on becoming more involved in the alumni community. I had a meeting last week with some of the other members of the JETAA Mid-South regional chapter. We are trying to plan some fun events for recently returning JETs. But in general, JET alums have been incredibly supportive of our business and frequently book rooms at Big Box. It’s really fun hearing about their JET experience and how different yet similar our experiences were. How did your experience in Japan on the JET Program contribute to your success as a business owner and entrepreneur? As an individual, my time on the JET Program was incredibly eye-opening. I was located in the small village of Nishiiyayamamura, Tokushima, which had less than 1,000 people. One of the elementary schools I worked at was located on top of a mountain and had a class with only three students. Being in such an isolated environment gave me plenty of time to reflect and focus on the things that I wanted in the future. It also gave me the opportunity to return to the things I enjoyed. I actually started a basketball league in my town where I got together with a bunch of the local men to play basketball in one of the junior high school’s gyms. . . . I learned a lot about the power of community in that town. In fact, some of the connections from Japan and the communities I was a part of on the JET Program are lending themselves to the program I am currently working on with the University of Arkansas. | 125

If you could go back in time to when you were a JET in Tokushima, what advice would you give to ALT-Justin? Get out and get involved in the community more. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or try something new. Because getting out of your bubble allows you to create more connections and expand your community. And as I’ve found, the community that you create for yourself today has a huge impact on your future opportunities and success. Do you have any words of advice for JETs who wish to open their own business someday? Take all the things you do and think about what problems you are experiencing. The solution to your problem is likely your business. But, and this is something I always tell my students, you can’t just stop there. Don’t just be a solution that needs a problem. Have a problem that needs a solution for everyone. Talk to others and put yourself in their shoes. Because at the end of the day, your business has to work for more than just you. Also, trust yourself. Feel comfortable designing your own life. Final question. . . . What is your go-to karaoke song? That is such a difficult question as my personal karaoke playlist has over 150 songs. But some of my go-to's would have to be “It Takes Two” by Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock, “A Horse With No Name” by America, or Lady Gaga’s “A Million Reasons.”

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Justin and Mailena Urso singing karaoke during their time on the JET Program in 2006-2007. Photo by Justin Urso

Justin Urso has been the Director of the McMillon Innovation Studio at the University of Arkansas since 2021 and has advised the university's Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation since 2014. Before academia, he was a serial entrepreneur, founding ventures such as Skosay, a retail tech company with clients like Johnson & Johnson, and Big Box Karaoke, a popular eater-tainment concept in Fayetteville, Arkansas. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he and his wife also founded Concord Adams, a marketing agency serving over 50 clients, primarily small businesses. Previously, Justin worked in global roles at consumer packaged goods companies and is passionate about education, innovation, and community service, including being a founding member of the family-friendly BeAware Halloween event.

Kimberly Matsuno is a JET alum currently serving as USJETAA‘s Programs & Communications Coordinator. 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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Building Your Resume on JET Emily Frank (Hokkaido, 1993-1996)

What value does your JET experience add to your future job search? If you are planning to go into a field that’s directly related to what you’re doing now, the answer is pretty obvious. But how about for people who don’t want to teach, translate, or work in direct US-Japan relations? The truth is simply doing what you’re already doing is valuable, and there are other ways to add experiences that will appeal to future employers.

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First of all, think about what it is you’re currently doing. If you’re an ALT like I was, it can be tempting to think of your role as just reading sections of a textbook out loud, but think a little deeper. You’re actually doing things like fostering intercultural exchanges (sometimes in two languages) and building rapport with students, faculty, staff, and parents. If you’re a CIR, you are doing things like coordinating international relations and making cultural presentations.

If you hope to continue working in a field related to Japan, of course, you will do yourself a lot of good by formally pursuing your Nihongo studies and preparing for the JLPT. Volunteer for local translation and interpretation tasks, and maybe even get to know some business leaders in your town. If you’re close enough to a major city, you can even see if there’s a way to meet government officials and help out when they meet officials from other countries. (If you’re not a CIR in that city, though, be sure not to step on any toes! Other JETs will be good connections for you in the future, but not if you get a reputation as a jerk.)

Regardless of your official role, you’re also living and working in another country, which means you’re adapting to local culture and learning new social norms, demonstrating enormous adaptability. A bullet point that lives Unfortunately for many of on my resume in perpetuity is, “Exceptional interpersonal communications and rapport-build- us, though, we don’t really ing skills, as shown by experiences living and know what we want to do working abroad.” (Feel free to use that, inciden- when we get home. tally! Just play with it a bit so it feels like yours.) So really dig in and think about how your time So if that’s you, don’t worry, you can still do in Japan has changed you, and how those things that will be exciting for employers to see. changes are potentially appealing to future Just focus on things that matter to you. employers.

For instance, I organized a beach cleanup in my

But there’s also more you town because I couldn’t walk along the little strip can do while you’re still on of shore without seeing everything from fishing lines to discarded bicycles. JET to make yourself an exciting candidate. Organizing events always looks good on a resume. If you know what you want to do when you return, you can find activities that support that. For instance, if you see yourself working in localization, ask to help edit tourist brochures in a way that’s more appealing to those from your home country. If you want to work in travel, be sure you’re offering to take foreign visitors around your region.

It involves getting local government invested, working to schedule people to show up, marketing (I had several ALT friends from nearby join us), getting equipment, and, Japan being Japan, giving a speech before and after the event. I had no idea at the time that I would eventually be speaking and organizing events as part of my

Photo by ineskoleva | Getty Images | 129

professional duties, but I did know that I wanted that little stretch of water behind the Lawson’s to be a place where I could picnic on a nice day. Like many of you, I also had some eikaiwa classes with interested adults in my town. One was mostly for younger travelers and one was for the women in town who mostly wanted to socialize and meet the resident foreigner— which isn’t a piece that makes it to my resume, of course. Since I didn’t leave Japan with a desire to be a teacher, I wasn’t initially sure how to capture those experiences, but I knew they must be important. So what I wound up focusing on is the demonstration of my ability to communicate to diverse audiences, and to adapt to the needs of the group. Think about things like that the right way and they begin to look an awful lot like leadership skills! In other words, spend some time reflecting on your day-to-day life and what that might mean to a possible employer. The things you do naturally aren’t actually effortless if you think about them in more depth. It may seem completely natural to hop on a train to another town to teach a lesson there, but you have to figure out how to get a ticket or a pass, where that next town is, how to adjust your teaching to a different group of students, what the train announcements mean—more than is in your conscious awareness when you hop on!

When I’m counseling job seekers, I usually encourage them to start by writing up a list of their accomplishments. These can be personal or professional because they will likely overlap in a few places. When you write them down, be sure to capture what abilities and strengths you have that let you succeed. When you get in the habit of noting these things, you’ll find you have some great stories to tell, both on your application paperwork and in interviews.

And, of course, you won’t be alone when you do get home. Join USJETAA or your country’s/local JETAA chapter, and make a point of attending events. Other JET alums will be your best support network, and many of those senpai are really excited about helping you succeed. (Also, you will have a built-in audi-ence of people who will never get tired of your stories about living in Japan!)

Emily Frank (Hokkaido, 1993-1996) graduated from Smith College. After spending a lot of time afterward feeling lost, she eventually got a master’s degree in counseling and now helps others who are similarly lost regarding careers. She spent over 12 years working in career counseling at a large public university and has been in private practice with her company Denver Career Catalyst since January 2018. Emily is based in Denver, but does distance work with clients from all over the globe. She has been able to offer free career counseling to more than 50 JET alumni in the past through USJETAA grants and has enjoyed reconnecting with fellow JETs that way. 130 |

Still looking for some resume-building experiences? Consider joining any of the following organizations:

Interested in journalism? Take up writing, designing, or editing for CONNECT.

Like photography or web design? Consider being the webmaster, social media coordinator, or even a contributor for National AJET or your prefecture’s AJET committee.

Interested in a career in tourism? Get your start hosting and guiding tourists with Tatami Timeshare.

Need some leadership experience? Consider volunteering for any of the special interest groups including Stonewall Japan, Asian Pacific Islander AJET, JET Christian Fellowship, or JETs of African Descent. Passionate about local communities? Consider applying for a microgrant through USJETAA and create a project that serves your community. Back to Contents

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Kalista Pattison (Oita) Anonymous JTEs

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both ALTs and JTEs should give them some hints or examples to make it easier for the students to understand. It’s important to create a fun, positive atmosphere so students can feel more comfortable in class. Students like it when ALTs show interest in Japanese culture, even things like anime or ramen. Above all, if the JTE and ALT are getting along with each other and are passionate about teaching, any student can enjoy their lessons and feel motivated. In Team Teaching classes, I think ALTs should have the initiative, and JTEs should just assist them. An ALT should try to be a good role model for students.


Photo by Yusheng Deng |

ave you ever wanted to take a look into the mind of a JTE? What do they really want us to be doing in the classroom? What about outside the classroom? I asked JTEs all across Japan questions such as these and compiled the answers here! So whether you’re a seasoned ALT or you’ve just stepped off the plane in Tokyo, here are a few general tips and tricks for being the best ALT ever. In the classroom, do you have any advice for how an ALT can best assist you? ALTs should give students many opportunities to hear English conversations between the ALT and JTE. When doing this, ALTs should remember to use target phrases or new words as often as possible. While students are working on exercises or pair work, ALTs can walk around the class with the JTE and see if they are doing well. Sometimes low level students have difficulty doing this kind of work by themselves, so

ALTs should pay attention to and adjust their speaking speed depending on the student’s understanding. I want to work with an ALT who can make a good atmosphere with me by singing and dancing with me, someone who is cheerful and active. If I forget to do something in class or the ALT has any suggestions during class, I want them to always speak up and tell me. Outside of the classroom, do you have any advice for what an ALT should be doing? ALTs should participate in club activities and school events in order to build good relationships with students. Students will become more open-minded towards ALTs and will try to talk to ALTs willingly. I would like ALTs to set up a place for students to come and communicate with them in English. Try talking to other teachers not only about work related topics but also daily things. ALTs should go to classrooms during lunch break to talk with students, join club activities from time to time, and also join other classes like calligraphy, P.E., and music. | 133

Photo by Jerry Wang |

Both the students and Japanese teachers will be happy if an ALT joins these activities. Many of them feel less confident in speaking English and don’t know what to talk about or how to communicate with ALTs (even though they actually want to!), so if they see ALTs doing these activities it would give them the opportunity to get to know them. Are there any notable experiences you’ve had with an ALT who has surpassed your expectations? I wasn’t a regular teacher and had to leave school in the middle of the semester, so I wanted to sing an English song in the final class as a way to show my students gratitude. I asked for help and the ALT agreed to sing and play guitar with me. That day has become the most memorable day for me and I really appreciated the ALT’s help. Without me prompting them to, one of my ALTs took the initiative and made many teaching materials and worksheets for me. One of my ALTs made a new style lesson where they would give a presentation to teach

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about global issues and encourage discussions and debates. The students then tried to use the vocabulary they learned to express their own opinions. Throughout the course, the ALT kept supporting the students using English and each activity helped them brush up their critical thinking skills and English level. The most amazing thing I experienced was the ALT said they felt satisfied seeing how our students grew and became emotional when they were thanked by the students. In class, when students weren’t sitting down or concentrating, the ALT stood next to them and helped focus their attention like a homeroom teacher would. Are there any things an ALT should avoid doing? / Have you had any struggles with ALTs and how did you overcome them? ALTs should avoid giving up on challenging themselves to make a change. ALTs should avoid coming late to lessons, forgetting to make the worksheets we need for class, and being too shy to communicate with students and teachers.

I asked for help and the ALT agreed to sing and play guitar with me. That day has become the most memorable day for me and I really appreciated the ALT’s help.

Kalista Pattison is a second-year JET in Oita prefecture. She is currently studying for the JLPT like her life depends on it and can be found in an onsen or hunched over a pottery wheel in her free time.

I think an ALT shouldn’t avoid talking to other Japanese teachers. If they do, there is a chance that others will lose motivation to start conversations with the ALT and eventually the ALT will feel lonely. Conclusion JTEs are sure to come and go as the school years begin and end, meaning an ALT may work with a myriad of JTEs during their time in Japan. Of course every JTE has different expectations and different methods of utilizing ALTs, but by being an ALT who is outgoing and willing to take initiative, you’re sure to improve the quality of your classes and your school relationships.

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Yuya Himeshima Interview with

Interview by Kalista Pattison (Oita)

In February 2022, Yuya Himeshima started posting Japanese language content on his Instagram. Around September last year, his profile blew up overnight. Now that he’s approaching the one-year mark of his internet fame, I decided to meet up with him to ask all about it. In this interview we’ll get a deeper understanding of what it takes to be a language teacher and content creator, and how Yuya goes about bringing his audience new and engaging content. Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from, what led you to now? I’m from Japan of course, I was born and raised in Oita. Then, I graduated from highschool and moved to Fukuoka to learn about technology and computers for two years. After graduating from that program, I got a job at a TV station in Hiroshima. I worked there for 10 years, and when I was 30 years old, I decided to come back to Oita. When I was young, I didn’t like Oita and wanted to move to a big city like Tokyo or Osaka, but I realized how good Oita is with its hot springs and nature.

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Japanese Language Teacher and Content Creator Here, I worked at another TV station but the work environment was bad, the hours were long, and one day I collapsed at work. After that, my health condition was too bad to work, so I changed my environment by moving to where I live now in Oita. I couldn’t drive or work at the time, but I realized I could speak Japanese. I wanted to use that to help other people, so I chose to start teaching Japanese online in 2020 to Vietnamese students who wanted to come to Japan for work.

When and why did you start your Instagram?

“I also have some struggles with English and there“is a possibility that Japanese learners have those same struggles, so I make content inspired by that.

At first, I didn’t get many students in my online classes; so in 2022 I started making videos on Instagram. I saw other content creators who made effective and fun content. I thought that I could do that too. I don’t know why but I thought I could make more effective and funnier content.

So, I started in February 2022 and in September I reached 10,000 followers when a video of mine went viral. It was a video about pitch accent and Japanese homophones. There are many homophones in Japanese and many learners have a hard time distinguishing them. That video got 500,000 viewers. How do you come up with content for your page, what does your process look like? For example, counting numbers in Japanese is difficult, and when I teach to my online students, some of them don’t know these simple things, so I make content that reflects what my students struggle with. I also like to watch comedy videos on Instagram. They aren’t related to language learning, but I take inspiration from them to make my own videos interesting.

Has your content making process changed from when you first started? Yes, of course, I think I grew a lot as a creator. I skilled up my editing and how I come up with ideas. I was actually embarrassed to look back on my earlier videos. What do you think makes your page stand out? My account doesn’t actually get many followers compared to other creators, but my philosophy is: I want to make funny content. I see other creators who make serious content but I don’t want to do that. I think Instagram isn’t for serious learning, so I want my posts to reflect what people who open Instagram want to see. I also don’t like teaching grammar, my online lessons are for practicing what my students study on their own and I think my Instagram content reflects how I want my online classes to be.

I also have some struggles with English and there is a possibility that Japanese learners have those same struggles, so I make content inspired by that.

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What are some things you’ve learned since you started teaching online and making content on Instagram? My students are very impressive and many of them have successful and interesting careers, so not only do I teach them Japanese but I actually learn many things from them through our conversations. Like about their job and their country. I think I’ve always been good at connecting with other Japanese people, but I’ve become even better at communicating with foreigners after I started teaching Japanese.

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Do you have any advice for people who want to start learning Japanese? I think it depends on their goals. Some people don’t like studying grammar, but I think everyone should learn basic grammar first, no matter their goal. After that, people can branch off into studying for a test or studying to have daily conversations. I also think kanji writing practice isn’t needed at all, reading is important if you live in Japan but writing is not, so don’t waste your time. I recommend using AI as well. I think ChatGPT is very useful for learners who want to understand nuances in Japanese.

What are your next steps? I have a small business idea. Now the number of tourists to Japan is increasing, so I want to create a “Trip to Japan” course where tourists can just learn phrases they would use at places like convenience stores and restaurants, as well as about the culture and etiquette, like what to do at shrines. A long term goal would probably be volunteering to teach children, if I were rich. I also want to create a new Instagram that showcases fermented food, since Japanese cuisine uses so many fermented foods like natto, soy sauce, and mirin. Finally, I just want to encourage more people to explore places outside of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto.

Yuya Himeshima is a lover of Oita prefecture, onsens, and cats. His hobby is going to hot springs but especially looking for hidden and wild hot springs. He also enjoys playing an African drum called djembe. All photos by Yuya Himeshima

Kalista Pattison is a second-year JET in Oita Prefecture. She is currently studying for the JLPT like her life depends on it and can be found in an onsen or hunched over a pottery wheel in her free time. Back to Contents

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Jón Solmundson Fall is best enjoyed from the comfort of a warm, wood-framed window, pizza in hand, book on the table beside you. You should read it, you’ve been meaning to for a while, but you won’t. It’s okay; there’ll be time tomorrow.

Nabeela Basa I love watching the leaves change colour. Especially a big Ginko tree at my school, which turns bright yellow and decorates my footpath to work.

TRAVEL DESIGNER David Spencer I enjoy finally being able to wear jumpers and jackets after a long and neverending Japanese summer!

COMMUNITY DESIGNER Aaron Klein Searching for autumnal leaves and migrating birds and watching 1949’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad sets the season for me.

TRAVEL & COMMUNITY COPY EDITOR Zoë Vincent Letting the air conditioner rest for the first time since April. Finding piles of leaves to stomp in. Feeling vindicated for owning over ten jumpers.

Photo by Takashi Miyazaki |


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Many foreigners living in Japan have likely encountered some variation on the phrase “do you know Japan has four seasons?” It’s a point of national pride that the landscape experiences an enormous diversity of textures and colours throughout the year, and while the pink sakura blooms of spring are perhaps most internationally famous, the rich reds of autumn are no less worth venturing out for.

Known as 紅葉 (kouyou), the trees’ gradual change over to autumnal hues can be seen all throughout the country from September to October, but we asked around for some of the very best viewing spots so you can find the most spectacular scenery near you.

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Kagoshima Prefecture in the southern part of Kyushu provides a myriad of stunning places to explore in autumn. If you find yourself in the Kawanabe vicinity, just north of Minamikyushu, and not too far from the city of Kagoshima, you can delight in the beauty that Iwaya Park has to offer. Experiencing the picturesque autumn foliage of the so-called momiji (red maples— or the delicate rainfall of sakura, if traveling in spring—along with the traditional architecture of the bridge and the stunning cafe surrounded by a koi pond, you can easily feel as if you are in Kyoto. The locals here relish in a variety of activities year round. In the summer, families gather around the river, splashing and waddling in the refreshing clear waters.

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Last fall, I had the pleasure of strolling down the park’s many winding paths, through an array of foliage textures and colors, while taking in the soothing sounds of the surrounding flowing waters, and breathing in the crisp, fresh air. The scenery here is unmatched, and the cafe at the center of the koi pond is equally delightful, offering a seasonal menu as well. Elegantly crafted, the drinks and treats beautifully complement the captivating views, enhancing the cozy fall vibes. Iwaya Park is a natural treasure that can recharge my battery and refill my cup any time I need to refocus and become grounded. I wholeheartedly recommend exploring the park and its various lovely amenities. Raluca was born and raised in Romania, then lived in the U.S. from the age of seventeen. As of last year, she’s made Japan her third country of residence. | 145

From late October to mid-November, Oita sheds its shades of green and adopts a symphony of rich reds and brilliant yellows. Fall rolls through slowly and sporadically due to Oita’s wide range of altitudes, but the town of Yufuin brings the best of Oita’s literal highs and lows with its rolling hills and freshwater onsen. When I came to Japan, one of my first trips out of my small inaka town was to Yufuin. I was beginning to feel the sadness of being away from my friends and family when this cozy town stepped in to comfort me as an unexpected yet perfect backdrop to my favorite season.

At the edge of the city and nestled at the base of Mount Yufu is Kinrin Lake. Not only is this lake surrounded by maple and other color-changing trees, but Mount Yufu looms overhead with its own patchwork of fiery colors. I first visited on a chilly fall morning, and to my surprise was met with a mysterious fog rolling across the lake’s surface. As the day warmed and the fog dissipated, reflections of the looming and colorful trees started to shimmer across the water’s surface. A walk across wooden bridges and around the lake brought me to Tenso Shrine and a maple leaf shrouded view of a lone torii gate standing partially submerged in the lake. A morning spent relaxing at the nearby waterfront cafe and peering into the reflective water puts Yufuin and Kinrin Lake at the top of my list for viewing fall colors in Oita.

Kalista Pattison is a second-year JET in Oita Prefecture. She is currently studying for the JLPT like her life depends on it and can be found in an onsen or hunched over a pottery wheel in her free time. 146 |

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Although there are countless places around Nara Prefecture where one can enjoy fall foliage—such as Nara Park, Hasedera, and Tanzan Shrine—my personal favorite has to be Mitarai Valley in Tenkawa Village. I was lucky that when I first arrived in Nara in 2021, a Japanese friend, whom I met through a departing Nara JET, took me around Tenkawa Village to experience the autumn leaves and a local onsen in the area. As someone who grew up in Southern California, where there are basically no distinct seasons, I was in awe of the vibrant warm colors before me. That was the moment when I decided that autumn is my favorite season.

Tenkawa Village is located in Yoshino-gun, the southern part of Nara, which covers a total area of 2,055 km². Getting to the village without a car can be challenging, because, even though there are public transportation options, they are quite limited. From Nara City, the journey can take up to three hours. Nevertheless, I still believe that the trip is worthwhile. In fact, it gives you a good reason to stay a night or two in the area, to fully immerse yourself in the experience.

Jenny is a third-year ALT in Nara Prefecture, beer and coffee enjoyist, and professional napper. Despite constantly going through an identity/existential crisis, she tries her best to forget it by travelling and finding the little joys in life. Overall, she’s a bit odd.

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There are plenty of places to take in the beautiful fall colors of Japan, but none combine natural beauty with history like Nikko, Tochigi. With beautiful mountain views and the gravesite of the famous Tokugawa Ieyasu, it is a must-visit for anyone wanting a deeper appreciation of Japan.

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Tokugawa Ieyasu was the first shogun (military ruler) of the Edo Period, arguably Japan’s most famous historical period. He and his descendants governed Japan for over 250 years of isolated peace. In his decadent mausoleum in Nikko, you’ll see famous wooden reliefs using the local style of carving called Nikko-bori, which you can even try for yourself at the right shop.

Just outside Nikko, you’ll also find scenic Chuzenji Lake on the slopes of Mount Nantai, one of the peaks catalogued among Kyuya Fukada’s prestigious 100 Famous Japanese Mountains. With gorgeous views, a ferry that crosses the lake, and plenty of hiking in the area—including visits to several waterfalls like Kegon Falls (often regarded as one of Japan’s most famous waterfalls)—you’ll definitely get a taste of the natural beauty here.

And these are only the top spots in the Nikko area. If you spend more than a little time here, you’ll also discover yuba (dried tofu skin), imperial homes, art museums, old embassy villas, history museums, and of course the picturesque shrines and bridges. If you’re a fan of gorgeous views, stunning traditional art, or history, then you need to put Nikko on your list.

Maya (she/her) is a writer, actor, and ALT living just outside Tokyo. When she isn’t consuming/ participating in pop culture, she loves exploring, especially in the outdoors. | 151

A short drive out of Yubari City is the not-sohidden valley of Takinoue Park. The park has two evocative names: the Japanese Takinoue which translates to “above the waterfall” and Ponsa Kamui Kotan, which means “where the gods of the north live” in the language of Hokkaido’s indigenous Ainu people. Takinoue is a popular destination to view cherry blossoms in spring, but the area is especially stunning later in the year when the rich colours of autumn overtake the valley. Distinctive red bridges allow visitors to cross over the rapids that flow from the park’s waterfall, which locals say is famous for “flowing horizontally”—its water cascading over the surface of the tiered stone slopes rather than dropping straight down. The falls are visible from the bridge and, for the budding photographer, the bridges themselves make for a great shot when surrounded by the dense autumn foliage.

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Despite the park being quite well known, the crowds never get too big. Most visitors to the area are the town’s elderly residents or young couples on dates, which enhances the area’s quaint and peaceful atmosphere. The park is open and spacious, and thanks to the small amount of foot traffic, you can often find yourself alone, surrounded by nature’s vibrant oranges, yellows, and reds. Entrance is free and there is a large parking area, so there is never any need to feel rushed whilst walking through the enchanting forest. And, of course, you can always walk across the road and buy some of Yubari’s famous melons to truly treat yourself on your autumnal adventure. So, pack yourself a picnic blanket and find yourself a spot to lose track of time in Takinoue.

Ashlee is a third-year ALT in Hokkaido. She is from sunny Australia and is just trying to survive the northern winters every year. When she isn’t dissociating into a book, she is going on roadtrips, doing stamp rallies, and playing Taiko.

Icons Source: Icons8

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There’s always something going on if you just know where to look, and even just within my sub-prefecture of Sorachi I’ve never found myself with a free weekend that I didn’t want. Having that time to explore has given me the privilege of exploring some of Hokkaido’s less-well-known festivals, which make for an interesting contrast compared to their more famous counterparts.

Sapporo’s Snow Festival is internationally renowned, and so it’s constantly bustling with visitors from abroad. But, though no one will explicitly tell you this, the large festivals aren’t the only ones that visitors from out of town are welcome to attend: While many of the smaller festivals around the prefecture are filled primarily with local attendees and those from neighbouring towns, they still enthusiastically welcome anyone that comes from farther away. Many a food vendor, upon noticing you aren’t Japanese, will try out their English in an attempt to coax you to taste whatever it is they may be selling. Hokkaido’s festivals, both big and small, exhibit some of the best characteristics of the prefecture and, thanks to the large number of farms in Hokkaido, often feature fresh food sourced nearby.

Image Source: Unsplash - Lucas Cheng

Sapporo Snow Festival Early February Venue: Odori Park Map

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Go a little ways south of the capital during wintertime and you will find the very popular Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival. A short distance from the lake, enormous towers and walkways of ice are erected. At night, they are lit with a fantastic array of colours, making the ice look as if it is glowing from within. Walking through and around the shining ice makes it seem as if you have stepped into another world, an effect amplified by the strange, synthesised soundtrack which echoes through the park during festival hours. The site is also dotted with impressive ice sculptures, in shapes such as pianos and rabbits. Visitors can even climb up on top of the ice wall surrounding the festival grounds, and take an ice slide back down.

Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival January and February Venue: Lake Shikotsu Visitor Centre Area Map

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On the day of the festival, a long section of street stretching out from the station for many blocks is closed off. So are a number of smaller sites off to the side, such as parking lots and temple grounds. Throughout the day, volunteers work hard to set up 12,000 In February, Takikawa holds the paper bag lanterns, filling the bottom of Kamibukuro Lantern Festival. The each with just enough snow so that weeks that lead up to the festival they aren’t at risk of blowing away, and have people all across the city busily then placing a tea light carefully on constructing their lanterns from paper top. The snowfall in central Hokkaido bags. Some are made by children who is impressive, and the heaps of it draw pictures on the outer layers, some on both sides of the road, as well as are made by companies that quickly other scattered piles, provide a stage print out designs to stick on, but the for many of the lanterns. Others are most eye-catching are the thousands of set up in elaborate patterns atop the lanterns constructed by paper cutting. road’s smooth surface of hard-packed People across town painstakingly cut snow. They form paths and shapes out elaborate shapes and patterns from such as hearts, jellyfish, and stars. paper bags, which become reminiscent Some, arranged in elaborate snowflake of autumn jack-o-lanterns once lit. patterns, stretch almost from one side of the street to the other. But among all of Hokkaido’s many famous and grand winter festivals, my favourite takes place not in any of the large cities, but in Takikawa—a countryside city boasting a population of about 40,000.

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Anyone that comes during the day can make their own lanterns to add to the festivities. The city provides all the necessary materials, as well as volunteers to help guide anyone interested through the process. There are paper bags in all sorts of colours, as well as stencils, markers, box cutters, cutting boards, and more.

When night falls, all the lanterns are lit, filling the streets with a warm glow. From afar the swirling designs twinkle like fireworks brought down to the earth. The weather is particularly cold once night falls, but visitors warm themselves near campfires and with hot, fresh food from the cluster of vendors set up just off of the main road.

Kamibukuro Lantern Festival February Venue: Takikawa Station Area Map

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After the snow melts away and the weather warms up, Sapporo’s Yosakoi Soran Festival comes, signalling the beginning of the summer festival season. It’s an excellent choice for anyone interested in dance, as yosakoi is a particularly high-energy and sensational style that’s a delight to watch. Teams gather from all over the country for the combination festival and competition. Although yosakoi may not be particularly well known outside of Japan, the Soran Festival is big enough that the number of expected international visitors warrants a web page with information in English. For the greater part of a week, roads close down to accommodate flashy parades and parks all over the city are turned into stages. Participating dancers are easy to pick out by their costumes, often in bright colours and sometimes boasting ornate designs with many components. When participating in the parade, dancers will deliver successive performances while moving down the street, typically followed by a team truck which is decorated to match their costumes and plays the music to which their movement is choreographed. Despite the supposed competition, interactions between teams are high spirited, and competing teams often seem more excited about performances than even the paying spectators. They greet each other, and any children that may come to say hello, with the same bright enthusiasm that they exude while performing. 162 |

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Many of the teams that perform at Sapporo’s Yosakoi Soran Festival also continue on to many other local festivals held around the island. Even small countryside teams may perform at fire or more additional celebrations around the area that they’re based. If you missed a team that you wanted to see perform in Sapporo, you might have luck at one of the many countryside festivals.

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These unassuming festivals usually have something unique to offer if you know where to look. In Sunagawa, a stage is set up in front of the lake at Oasis Park, and the bright colours of the setting sun reflected in the water cause the performances to look almost otherworldly. The fireworks show is carefully set up in such a way that it seems as if you could reach out and touch the bright bursts of colour. In Utashinai, famous for being the smallest city by population in all of Japan, the festival is held at the base of a mountain, making it almost feel as if the celebration is happening within a forest.

Some of the groups that come to perform shine with such energy and enthusiasm that they manage to convince everyone to dance to unplanned songs, even under the oppressive summer heat. In Moseushi, a town of only 3,000 people, the performers draw people from the crowd into the dances. They call people out by name to convince them to join in and encouragingly teach the dances to any kids that come forward.

Sunagawa Noryo Fireworks Festival August Venue: Oasis Park Map

Utashinai Citizen’s Festival Early July Venue: Utashinaishi Community Centre Map

Moseushi Shrine Festival September 14-15 Venue: Moseushi Shrine Map

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In Akabira they hold a fire festival in the summer that proceeds regardless of the weather. In the late afternoon, a large group begins to gather. People from around town and even from neighbouring towns all sign up to participate in carrying the torches. In groups they run through town, the women wearing t-shirts, shorts, and happi, and the men in only fundoshi. By the time that night has fallen, the runners begin to return to the festival grounds. The twinkling light of their torches makes them easy to pick out from afar. After some fanfare and some speeches, a handful of the runners depart once more. This time, they leave to carry their torches all the way up a mountain. Back at the festival grounds, everyone eagerly waits for them to reach their destination. In the meantime, there is singing and dancing, taiko performances, and more types of food than any one person can eat. When the runners arrive at their destination, the festival grounds fill with excited gasps and exclamations: Up near the top of the mountain, the runners have set fire to blazing torches. In the distance the flames slowly spread until they form the kanji character for “fire.” For the remainder of the festivities the fire flickers up on the mountain, like a firework that doesn’t go out.

Akabira Fire Festival July Venue: Akabira Community Square Map

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Image Source: Unsplash - Kentaro Toma

Hokkaido’s largest and most famous festivals are usually large and famous for a good reason. They may have stunning displays that simply require a budget impossible for smaller cities, or feature a near-endless number of booths, or invite well-known performers to provide entertainment. You can spend all day exploring the festival grounds and still not experience everything on offer. At the same time, things that may initially seem like weaknesses of the smaller events can sometimes work to their advantage: They might have the festival-goers contribute to the displays, or have booths run by local restaurants with specialties unique to the town, or run traditional performances richly embedded with local history and culture. Going to these smaller festivals makes you feel more like a visitor than a tourist. They invite you to participate in the festival, contribute, and be part of it.

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Hokkaido combines traditions from all over Japan in its festivities. Many of the people up here have family from all over the country, and so they bring with them the celebrations from all of these places. This blending of cultures offers a taste of everything from across the length and breadth of Japan, but always executed in its own unique Hokkaido style. If you’re looking for a way to sample that uniqueness, there’s few better places to get your dose than one of the island’s many spectacular festivals.

Julia Hakes is a second-year Canadian ALT living in Sunagawa and working at four elementary schools. She spends her time acquiring new hobbies when she isn’t busy dragging her friends to various events around Hokkaido. Recent additions include raising herbs indoors, sewing by hand, and console gaming. Back to Contents

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Community Through Faith Ilse du Plessis (Kagoshima) 170 |

“I would encourage new ALTs to find ways to join their Japanese communities and to not just remain in an ALT bubble.”


hy is fellowship so important to me? I think of this famous story in the Bible where four friends are carrying their paralyzed friend on a mat and they’re trying to get him to Jesus to be healed. A large crowd was blocking their way and they decided to climb onto and make a hole in the roof of the house where Jesus was. Through this hole, they lower down the paralyzed man on his mat right in front of Jesus. Impressed by their faith and determination, Jesus healed the man. In the same way, when you’re feeling spiritually weak, you need others to support you and get you to a place of healing again. I have always been someone who prioritizes going to church and having fellowship with other people who share the same faith as me. From tagging along with my family when I was young, to attending two churches in high school and church hopping in university in order to find the right one.

After being accepted into the JET Programme and receiving my placement in Kagoshima City, I was curious about whether I’d still be able to attend a church while living in Japan. Online searches led me to mostly Catholic churches and very few with English options, so I gave up my search and hoped I could figure it out once I got to Japan. Fortunately, through another new ALT who had previously done a church exchange trip to Kagoshima, I was introduced to Calvary Chapel Kagoshima, a bilingual community church. There are two English pastors and two Japanese translators. It’s the tiniest church I have ever been to, with under 20 members, and it has become home. Let me take you on a little tour through our tiny church. When you first walk in, you’ll be introduced to four very energetic and mischievous kids playing in the kids’ room. One of the kind mothers greets you, and she’s noticeably excited about a new face. You’ll enter the main room and start singing in both English

and Japanese—a unique experience that also improves your language skills. After the sermon there will be time to talk, and you’ll be introduced to all the wonderful characters that make up the church. And one thing is for certain—you will never leave the church building with an empty stomach, as great importance has been placed on feeding everyone! Additionally, every first Sunday of the month, there will also be a potluck, so everyone will bring a dish from home to share. You’ll meet Reiko—an enthusiastic busy bee, a 70-year-old French and mathematics tutor, part-time café server, and an assistant English teacher for Junior High School. She loves traveling and meeting foreigners. There is Momoko and Brian, a couple who loves baking. I have had so many delicious and creative treats as a result of this. You’ll also meet Kaori; she has a beautiful country home that she loves inviting people to for barbecues and karaoke. She is also great at doing hair and nails. After many conversations and prayers, you can join some of the church members as they venture out to enjoy the beach, park, or karaoke!


have come to truly consider the people I have met as family. It’s been a privilege to get to know local Japanese people of different ages and backgrounds. I have been able to share cultural experiences with them, learn and understand the struggles they have, and share my own. It is a refreshing space where people have been allowed to be honest and vulnerable about themselves. I have also had the opportunity to become friends with other non-ALT foreigners from the Philippines, America, China, and Hong Kong. Throughout my time on the JET Programme, I’ve encountered many spiritual lows and faced trials that include feelings of isolation, uncertainty, and identity-related struggles. In these moments, I have been able to find a lot of warmth, support, encouragement, and of course, delicious home-cooked meals at my local church.

“I have come to truly consider the pe privilege to get to know local Japanese pe 172 |

As I continue to navigate life in Japan, I am grateful for the relationships nurtured within this tight-knit community, which consistently remind me of the significance of shared beliefs and the beauty of “unity through diversity.” I would encourage new ALTs to find ways to join their Japanese communities and to not just remain in an ALT bubble. It was easy to come here and have this feeling that everyone around me was a “non-player character,” but getting to know the people around me helped fill these characters with life. Religion was one way for me, but there are many other opportunities available to make connections. Most cities or towns have international exchange centres, sports clubs, language classes, and community events that can help with this. I also believe that knowing a bit of the language is a great confidence booster to help put yourself out there.

eople I have met as family. It’s been a eople of different ages and backgrounds.” | 173

Wishing everyone the own com

Ilse is a second-year South African ALT engineer in South Africa. She enjoys tra going to church.

Photographs courte

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old h

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e best in finding their mmunity!

in Kagoshima Prefecture. Previously an aveling, spending time with friends, and erses 5:17 is 2 Corinthians 5:17 Corinthians

esy of Ilse du Plessis

has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

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Post-JET Inspiration Returning Home to Create Community and Opportunity Through Sports South Africa to Japan

Nabeela Basa (Kagoshima)

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” — Nelson Mandela

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Zukile Ncube lived and worked in Japan (Shimane and Kyoto) for four years as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) and rugby player. He is also a fellow South African and friend, a deep-thinker, and one of the most disciplined people I’ve ever met. We both arrived on the JET Programme in 2019 and kept in contact throughout our journey. Our conversations evolved through a pandemic, travel-ban restrictions, and natural disasters. Regardless of the circumstances, our conversations have always carried a forward-thinking approach, while making light of tough situations. This is something I think may resonate with many South Africans: resilience with a side of laughter. Earlier this year, Zukile returned home, with a plan and the characteristic passion I’ve come to appreciate. The plan was to pursue a business project, based on all the things he is passionate about: education, sports, community, impact, and change. Thus, The Athlete Performance Mentorship (APM) was founded. Leadership is at the forefront of this project, which can be understood better after looking at what drives Ncube’s leadership: where he grew up, and the skills and experience he gained from his time in Japan.

“The plan was to pursue a business project, based on all the things he is passionate about.”

South Africa, with its oppressive and disadvantageous history, is still quite young in its democracy, and still has many socio-economic issues. The opportunities many Black, Indian, and Coloured (a classification of a race) South African people have today, was not a reality for many of our parents and grandparents. Many of us are the first in our family to leave the country, and, for Zuki and I, Japan was the first country we travelled to, worked, and lived in. APM’s mission and vision is motivated by the significant disparities in education and opportunities for the youth of South Africa, which often leaves them likely to engage in illicit activities and unfavourable pursuits. APM aims to pay it forward to the South African youth, with the intention of making them a means of positive influence and growth for generations to come. Zukile expressed that he had no international experience before coming to Japan. However, soon after his arrival in Japan, he left no time to waste and joined projects within his community. He was an assistant in strength and conditioning for the TID Youth Girls Team and joined the Rokko Fighting Bull rugby team. He says that his experience in Japan is something that will stay with him for the rest of his life.

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South Africa is a country rich in minerals, nature, cu value during cultural exchange between Japanese a South Africa has faced, Zukile is one of the many So itive attitude, resilience, and creative talent that has Performance Mentorship is rooted in South African Zulu word which means “forward or ahead.” Phamb include excellence, commitment, integrity, respect, tion encompasses another very important African p tional African concept which comes from Zulu and others.” A concept that may resonate with Japanese harmony and the spirit of sharing within a society.

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ulture, and diversity. These aspects may be of great and South African students. Despite the dark history outh Africans that represent the potential, drive, poss come to surface over the past 30 years. The Athlete n concepts such as the Phambili values. Phambili is a bili values are what form the foundation of APM, and , collaboration, and positivity. The value of collaboraphilosophy:“The Spirit of Ubuntu”. Ubuntu is a tradiXhosa and roughly translates as “humanity towards e people, as it encompasses the values of maintaining

APM believes that if young people are equipped with skills and opportunities, this will allow them to contribute and become great leaders. In a presentation about APM, Zukile explained his aim is to create “new opportunities for young athletes from South Africa to study and play sports in Japan by providing them with the tools and support to excel academically, athletically and in life.” Personal growth and well-being are a priority when promoting cultural exchange through community and economic growth. “Ultimately, we are committed to empowering student athletes, nurturing their talents, and leaving a lasting positive impact on individuals, communities and the world.”

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Zukile Ncube was an ALT w Japan for four years.He stud tional relations at the Unive passionate about education that “all people have potent and experiences we can ex

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In just a matter of months after returning to South Africa, Zukile is well on his way to building his business, with this amazing mentorship program between South Africa and Japan. His story has been an inspiration to me and a great reminder. A reminder of the drive, attitude, and belief that it once took for us to leave our countries for the very first time and live abroad, through all the challenges. Furthermore, our experience of Japan can help us return home with a clearer vision for addressing, and contributing within, our communities. We are also given the opportunity to open doors of communication with the communities we become a part of in Japan. I am inspired by him as a fellow South African and someone who is preparing to leave Japan and start a new chapter. Thank you, Zukile Ncube. You have ignited the spirit of Ubuntu in a fellow South African. “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” (which literally means “a person is a person through other people”).

Photographs and logo courtesy of Zukile Ncube. You can follow and support Zukile at APM Instagram and Kilometers for Opportunity.

Sources 1. Ubuntu (philosophy) 2. Definition of Phambil 3. Ubuntu- I am

who lived and worked in died politics and internaersity of Cape Town. He is n and sports. He believes ntial. Through opportunities xplore what is possible.” tesy of Zukile Ncube am and Kilometers for Opportunity

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