By Audrey Shiomi, firstname.lastname@example.org
Once you’re a JET, you’re always a JET. That’s what I’ve come to realize these past few months. Along with the rest of the world on March 11, I sat in front of my TV, watching the horrible scene of houses being swept away by the tsunami and feeling utterly helpless. But unlike most, I was a JET, so I knew there were ways to help aside from donating money to the Red Cross.
Within days, JETs old and new were seeking each other out on Facebook, starting networks, and brainstorming ideas to help the Tohoku region. Worried parents began contacting our network in search of missing JETs, so we collectively scoured Google’s Person Finder for information. I personally offered to interpret for anyone wanting to contact people in the Tohoku region. Another JET friend took to Twitter to send out “Looking for…” messages in Japanese.
Months later, my local JETAA chapter here in Southern California participated in the Socks for Japan drive for those evacuees who had so little time to grab enough clothing before the tsunami hit. Our chapter contributed to a worldwide collection of 175,115 pairs of socks, and counting.
More recently, I heard about an opportunity by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to return to my host institution in Sendai and help promote the city. Japan’s tourism industry was hit hard by the March 11 disaster, and it compelled the government to take unconventional measures—offering free tickets to Japan—to help bring tourists back. So in September, I flew to Sendai City, met up with friends, traveled to East Matsushima to survey the devastation, and then went home to write articles and blogs about it in the local paper. (You can find some of them on rafu.com. Just keyword search “Audrey Shiomi.”)
It didn’t end there: While I was in Sendai, workers at my former office told me about an event to be held at its Sister City—Riverside, California—in the coming weeks. They were planning to promote Sendai with a cultural booth and needed a few bamboo trees for their display. (Sendai is famous for its Tanabata Festival where people decorate bamboo branches with messages written on strips of colored paper.) They had no idea where to buy bamboo in the U.S., so I offered to contact my neighborhood Japanese nursery and personally deliver them to Riverside. They were extremely grateful that I’d take time to help on such short notice. For me, it was a no-brainer; it was my way of giving back.
I thought my JET career ended when I left Sendai City. Ten years later, they’re calling me back. In fact, they’re calling all of us back. Just think, Japan experienced one of the worst disasters in modern history that took a tremendous toll on their economy. How could they not need our help?
During our time as JETs, we made friends, traveled Japan, studied the culture, experienced how the Japanese people work; some of us even picked up the language. Now is our chance to continue our ambassadorial duties back home. Here are some suggestions for doing so:
1) Join a Japanese prefecture association in here in Southern California.
Prefecture associations, aka, kenjinkai, won’t be around much longer if younger generations don’t help revive them. Most were founded over 100 years ago by first-generation Japanese Americans, but the remaining Nisei members are well into their 70s (if not 80s) and most of their children and grandchildren are not active participants. Many of the organizations stay in solid communication with their prefectures, so there’s much that could be done—homestays, school visits, cultural exchanges, etc.—if people were willing to put in the effort to plan. The organization I’m a member of, Hiroken, is to taking a group of first-time Japan visitors to Hiroshima next year. It’ll be our inaugural trip and I’m both excited and nervous. Contact me if you’d like to help us.
2) Become an active member of JETAA.
We could always use the help promoting the JET Programme.
3) Stay in contact with your coworkers/BOE representative in Japan.
Government workers get shuffled every few years, so the next time you visit your old office don’t expect to see any familiar faces. Yes, it’s a sad thought, but you never know when you’ll need their help. When MOFA announced the Tohoku trip, they required us to directly contact our host institutions for approval. Luckily, a good friend still worked at my old office and put in a good word for me.
4) Contact your host city’s Sister City association in the U.S.
Many cities throughout Japan actively engage in Sister City/Friendship City activities via official delegations, international conferences, exchange visits, and more. Volunteers are integral in helping to make things run smoothly. Even if your host city doesn’t have a Sister City in Southern California, you can try contacting other Sister Cities linked to Japan. Here are a few: Mito/Anaheim, Ota/Burbank, Kaizuka/Culver City, Ichikawa/Gardena, Tsukuba/Irvine, Fujinomiya/Santa Monica, Mishima/Pasadena, Okazaki/Newport Beach.
5) Continue studying Japanese.
It especially comes in handy when ordering sushi, so keep on studying whether it be through community college, Meetup groups, language exchange partners found on vivinavi.com, or by Skyping above mentioned coworkers from time to time. The Japan Foundation will be holding language classes in downtown LA starting in January. Check their site for details: www.jflalc.org