Monday, August 29, 2011

Heart of Japan

July 14, 2011

The one thing I was most curious and anxious about when I applied for the JET Program was my placement, a.k.a. my new home in Japan. Unlike the interview and acceptance notices, the placement notifications were unprecedentedly late (by a whole month). It was great news to know that I was accepted but then surreal to believe I'd actually moving to Japan in only three months when I hadn't heard from the consulate in so long.

The Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami happened a month before I was informed that I had been accepted. At first, the fears of my loved ones had been completely unfounded seeing that I hadn't even been accepted yet. However, as that terrible situation continued to unfold, news of my acceptance brought about genuine concern and anxiety. On the application that I submitted in November, you are allowed to request up to three places (with no guarantee that you'll be placed in any of them). Not heeding the advice given to me about the likelihood of receiving a popular request, I put choices like Kyoto and Hirakata (near Osaka). These places are familiar to me since I had studied abroad at two universities in the area, but weakened my chances of actually getting a requested location.

As suspected, the delay was in fact due to the March 11th events. When the events happened, CLAIR, one of the JET Program branches, had to drop everything concerning getting the new applicants established with a contracting organizations (CO) and instead confirm the safety of their current JETs. This was, of course, completely understandable but it created a unique set of circumstances for this year's batch of new JETs. Being accepted into the program is not the end but more like being three quarters on your way to moving to Japan. The more time you have knowing where you're placed allows you to prepare more effectively, get in contact with your predecessor and schools, mail boxes over, and so on.

The days of June 13 / 15 / 28, 2011:
This odd assortment of dates represent when I finally knew the details of my placement. On June 13th, I was contacted via an unknown email that turned out to be my CO. They had a random question about my preferred living arrangement. This was a very perplexing way to find out my placement because 1) your CO should not be contacting you before your consulate does, 2) I had only been told the prefecture I was in, not the city, and 3) how do I tell them my preferred living arrangement without outright stating my exact preference of city? The last one I handled well. I volunteered that there was only one city I had been to in that prefecture and that I wouldn't mind going back to live in it. This strategy either went unnoticed or failed in the end. ::le sigh:: So which prefecture? Hyogo! But, but where in Hyogo?! Hyogo is ginormous! So that city I mentioned? A little place called Kobe. You might have heard of it as one of the most popular, well-known, cities in Japan. Kind of exciting right? I practiced restrained excitement, but already knew I'd be in Kansai, my area of preference and thus was hugely relieved.

On June 15th, I was contacted via email by my Consulate with the kind of subject line I had originally anticipated - "JET Placement!" This was nothing but a huge tease since I was hoping to find out more concrete information. It turned out I am what is called a Prefectural JET and so my Consulate only knows my prefecture until my CO contacts me with more information. Considering I had been asked nearly everyday if I had heard my placement, I decided to let my family and friends know the prefecture even if I didn't know the city yet. They were so happy and relieved as well.

So without much else to go on, I finally started researching my prefecture!
Hyōgo Prefecture is know as 'The Heart of Japan' because it is geographically the center of the country. When I think about it, Japan has always been in my heart so I found it fitting that I'd be living in its figurative heart as well. As I mentioned earlier, prior to learning my placement, the only time I had been in Hyōgo was to visit the capital city, Kobe. I loved the ultra-modernness of Kobe even though I was only able to see the port area. I hadn't tried Kobe beef either so I was excited to go back and have some ridiculously expensive and delicious meat! Hyōgo is also known as 'Japan in miniature.' This is because the prefecture is rich in traditional and contemporary culture, full of natural beauty, and home to a highly modernized society and business market. Japan as a whole is often remarked upon for having these contrasting yet appealing aspects and considering this one prefecture possesses all of these traits, makes 'Japan in miniature' a fitting description.

I was very excited to live here after just reading a few things about this place. But like I said, Hyōgo is a large prefecture and my eyes couldn't help but roam towards eastern Hyōgo where I could be more closely located to my requested cities of Kyoto and Hirakata as well as other large cities like Kobe, Osaka, and Nara.

Finally, on June 28th while away in New York visiting my brother, I was watching a Project Runway marathon, having a conversation, and checking my email at the same time (ADD or great multi-tasker? you decide) when I noticed the email from my CO. Quite matter-of-factly, he wrote that I would be at Hikami Senior High and gave me a link to the school's website. My first shock was that I was at a high school. I had requested elementary but I later guessed the teaching experience listed on my application better suited me for high school. Next, I rushed to find out where in all of Hyogo Hikami was, only to find out that recently, Hikami had been merged with six other towns to form the city of Tamba - in eastern Hyōgo!! I must admit that this wasn't how I felt at first. I had foolishly hoped too much for Kobe and had also seen some other towns even closer to Kyoto and Osaka. In the end I realized I was being ridiculous though since I definitely could've been on the other side of the prefecture, way too far from my favorite places to go often at all. The town also seems a quite rural, something else I hadn't requested, but at least people have heard of it which was definitely a good sign.

Here's Tamba City in Eastern Hyogo!

As you can see, I am not that far from the major cities I requested (total city girl here). In fact, according to Google maps, I'm about 2 hours all these major cities, making them definite options for weekend trips!

There you have it! Though I'm excited and grateful for being placed in Hyōgo, at the moment I'm more focused on soaking up Miami and making sure I'm ready for the transition.

Here I come!

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