News agency Kyodo News has recently been publishing monthly articles written by JET alumni who were appointed in rural areas of Japan, as part of promotion for the JET Programme. Below is the English version of the column from September 2013. Posted by Celine Castex (Chiba-ken, 2006-11), currently programme coordinator at CLAIR Tokyo.
Daneeta Loretta Jackson (Fukuoka-ken, Buzen-shi, 1993-95) was born and raised in the backwaters of Southeast Louisiana. She was educated at public school where she discovered her love for storytelling. She holds a B.A. in English from Loyola University of the South, an M.A. in English from George Mason University, and an M.A. in the Art and Technique of Filmmaking from the London Film School. Her hobbies are international travel, watching movies, anything having to do with dogs, and sleeping. She works as a writer and filmmaker and is a Creative Producer at the ElekTrik Zoo, an arts partnership she co-founded with her husband, Patrick Jackson. She joined the JET programme in 1993 because she wanted adventure. It had a profound affect on her and changed the course of her life.
I was a JET Programme participant from 1993 to 1995 in Buzen-shi, Fukuoka-ken. I never expected to go to Japan. I never dreamed about it when I was a child like so many of my counterparts did. I don’t mean to sound flippant, but the JET Programme for me was a kind of accident. It is too long of a story to recount here. In short, my husband applied for the both of us. He requested a rural post in Fukuoka-ken because a boy from his Japanese baseball team in California was from Fukuoka. When he got word we had been accepted, he told me we were going to Japan. I had about two months to prepare.
Before I knew it, I was on a plane to Tokyo in July of 1993. The first few days were a whirlwind. The orientation in Tokyo and the jet lag made it seem like I was in some sort of dream. I had no idea what awaited me in the countryside, I couldn’t speak much Japanese, and everything seems so strange… so different from my native Louisiana.
When we arrived at the train station in Buzen, Therese from Canada and Rob from the U.S. met us. They had already done one year on the JET programme and were reappointed. My boss from the Keichi-ku Board of Education, Mr. Kaku, was also there. We took a short taxi ride to our teacher’s housing to drop off our stuff before going to dinner at the local izakaya. I can still remember to this day the taste of the food that night. Succulent yakitori and onigiri and miso soup. The food was so much more flavorful than any Japanese food I had tasted in the States. The local patrons treated us to many beers and screamed English phrases like “How are you?” and “I like sushi!” across tables. You have to remember that this was 1993, and we were in rural Japan. I was only one of a handful of foreigners that they had ever seen or talked to.
My time in Buzen cannot be summed up properly here. What I can say was that it was a life-changing experience that I had never expected. The fact that we were the only four foreigners in the town gave us a kind of rock star status that probably does not exist anymore. Therese and I were invited to appear (in postal uniform) at the opening of the new post office. We were dressed in Kimono to welcome home Toyounomi, the local Sumo wrestler. Cakes were left on our doorstep. Random people would show up to take us to festivals and weddings and events.
My fondest memories were of my co-workers at the Board of Education. They were patient and kind and they made us feel like we were part of their tight group of workers even though we were only there for a short time. Mr. Kaku was tireless in his devotion to us JETs and our well-being, and he was our greatest teacher. On one camping trip to the seaside, Mr. Kaku caught fish and immediately sliced them into sushi. We opened rock oysters right on the beach and slurped them down straight from the rocks.
And the children at the seven junior high schools I regularly visited? They were lovely. Quiet and shy and attentive, classroom time was reserved for the necessary lessons. But, it was during school lunch, recess and special events that I felt I could connect with them best. Communication was not so regimented, and they could feel comfortable and relaxed. I could tell them about my life in Louisiana, and they laughed and squealed when I told them we ate alligator and crawfish.
After my second year, I got a job up in Tokyo. I spent five years there and I moved away to London to attend film school in 2000. But, I never forgot about Japan. The London Film School attracted many Japanese students, and I gravitated toward them. I felt at home with them, more so than with the other international students.
In 2002, I returned to Tokyo to shoot my first feature film: a documentary about foreign men seeking the American dream in Tokyo. And, I returned three more times to finish the film. My last time in Japan was in 2004.
I am still in touch with some of the JETs I worked with in Fukuoka-ken so long ago. And, one of my former high school students and I communicate through email on a regular basis. My JET programme experience and my seven years in Japan have had a profound influence on me. It changed me into a more peaceful, communal person. Japan has made its permanent mark on me. How I relate to people, my moral philosophy, and my aesthetic sensibilities as an artist have all be greatly influenced by my experiences in Japan.
For some time, now, I have missed living in Japan terribly. I feel that something is missing and that I must get back there someday. Sometimes at night, as I am drifting off to sleep, I walk the streets of Buzen. Starting at the station, in my mind’s eye, I walk down the main street. I drop into the izakaya, and have some yakitori and feel the warmth of the kind-hearted people of Fukuoka. I say hello to the shop owners and neighbors as I pass them on the street. In my dreams, I can see rice paddies, hills, and temples. In my dreams, I am back in Japan, and I know that I am home.