By Julio Perez Jr. (Kyoto-shi, 2011-13) for JQ magazine. A bibliophile, writer, translator, and graduate from Columbia University, Julio currently keeps the lights on by working at JTB USA while writing freelance in New York. Follow his enthusiasm for Japan, literature, and comic books on his blog and Twitter @brittlejules.
Everyone has felt out of place at some point in their lives. People who choose to live abroad sometimes make that their everyday. In Tonoharu, cartoonist and JET alum Lars Martinson (Fukuoka-ken, 2003-2006; Kyoto-fu, 2011-2016) illustrates a story exploring themes of human relationships through the experience of an English teacher in Japan on a journey of self-discovery. Told in three parts, the final volume was released in November and represents many years of work for Martinson that began to see fruition when he received the Xeric Grant for Comic Book Self-Publishers in 2007.
Tonoharu is a tale of several non-Japanese teachers of English living in the titular rural town outside of Fukuoka City, mostly from the viewpoint of a young American named Dan Wells. Wells feels out of place in Japan, but claims to have felt the same way back home without having the excuse of being a foreigner. The reader climbs in the back seat for an intimate road trip with him through his pursuit of purpose and success in his job and social life, privy to all manner of encounters from intimacy in the bedroom to traditional parades with locally made floats. In just one year, Wells encounters unique challenges in his work, frustrations with seemingly unrequited romantic interest for another American, confusion and alarm at the mysterious activities of other foreigners in Tonoharu, and worst of all, the inability to replace light bulbs in his apartment!
Tonoharu is full of quiet moments that when described may come off as unimpressive, but they are always captivating and powerful in the way the words and imagery captures the moodiness of imperfect exchanges between people that are not usually seen in glossier fiction. This quality is enhanced by a lack of narration—the framing story of Dan’s successor (also named Dan) features his narration, but in the main story the characters only express themselves by speaking to one another. Often the things they don’t say, their expressions and their body language, and the things they choose to say while alone, speak just as powerfully as the introspective autobiographical style of narrative-driven graphic novels such as Persepolis.
From the silver screen to the stage to J-pop, November is just as colorful as the autumn leaves drifting through the air. Add these live events to the mix and you’ve got an irresistibly epic rundown.
This month’s highlights include:
Friday, Nov. 4, various times
Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn, 445 Albee Square West
East Coast premiere! This award-winning documentary debuted at Sundance and SXSW earlier this year chronicles the back story of the hard rock band X Japan, as its star drummer Yoshiki prepares for a reunion concert at Madison Square Garden. While virtually unknown to U.S. audiences, Yoshiki has sold more than 30 million records overseas, where he enjoys an A-list following. Directed by Stephen Kijak (Stones in Exile) and produced by John Battsek (Searching for Sugar Man), We Are X includes testimonials from such high-profile X fans as Gene Simmons and Marilyn Manson. See Yoshiki and director Stephen Kijak in person for Q&A on Fri, 11/4 following the 7:30 p.m. show. Director Stephen Kijak appears in person for Q&A Sat, 11/5 following the 6:30 p.m. show.
Tuesday, Nov. 8
The long-awaited final volume of the critically acclaimed Tonoharu series from JET alum Lars Martinson (Fukuoka-ken, 2003-2006) rejoins Dan Wells several months into his tenure as an English teacher in the Japanese village of Tonoharu. As personal stresses push Dan to the breaking point, he decides to take an extended cross-country vacation to let off steam. His time away grants him a fresh perspective on his troubles, but upon his return to Tonoharu, Dan discovers that dramatic change has occurred in his absence. Will this upheaval render his new-found epiphany moot? With hundreds of beautiful, detailed illustrations that evoke 19th century line engravings, Tonoharu provides a nuanced portrayal of the joys and frustrations of living abroad.
Friday, Nov. 11, 8:30 p.m.
Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street
$20, $15 Japan Society members. A limited number of Lobby Seats are available for purchase. Please call the box office at (212) 715-1258 to inquire.
Step into a space where otherworldly sounds abound. Led by Ko Ishikawa, master player of the sho (ancient Japanese mouth organ) and internationally active contemporary musician, this program offers selections spanning from medieval gagaku (Imperial Court music) to works by acclaimed music composer Mamoru Fujieda. Ishikawa will be joined by Kayoko Nakagawa on koto and Ami Yamasaki on voice for this musical soiree, which also incorporates the sounds of fermenting shochu (Japan’s distilled alcohol), a highly sacred beverage in Japanese mythology.
The third appearance by former Toyama JET Randy Higashi. Unlike most of the other returnees I know, Randy actually went back to Japan for another two year stint. In this episode, we spend a lot of the discussion comparing the two experiences. Be sure to follow Randy on Instagram and check out the Takkomachi Facebook Page!
Why go back again? (1:20)
Which stay in Japan was better– the first or second? (8:36)
— Jon Dao (@CommDao) August 23, 2016
How does it feel to come back a second time? (10:10)
How can you tell going back to work in Japan is a good decision or not? (12:57)
Did you see unrealistic expectations and fandom of Japan from ALTs? (16:46)
The Japanese Office Culture (19:40)
Fan Question (24:40
Don’t Leave Your Cleaning/Packing Up Til the End (30:30)
Omiyage Again (38:02)
Posted by Tom Baker (Chiba, 1989-91).
The Japan Writers Conference is a free annual event for English-language writers, held in a different part of Japan each year. In 2016, it will take place on the weekend of Oct. 29-30 at Tokushima University in Shikoku. A good number of current and former JETs always take part, and one of them is this year’s conference host: Tokushima University Lecturer Suzanne Kamata.
Suzanne has written several novels and compiled several anthologies and is an editor for www.literarymama.com. She and three other published authors will participate in a panel called “Inspiring Fiction: Where do You Get Your Ideas?”
That panel is just one of about 30 presentations scheduled. JET alum and textbook author Todd Jay Leonard will give a lecture titled “Helpful Hints on How to Get Published in the EFL Market in Japan.” JET alum Elaine Lies, a Reuters journalist, will present “Food, Glorious Food,” a workshop on how to write evocatively about the emotional, sensory and nostalgic power of food. Current JET Victoria Vlisides, who writes for JapanTravel.com, will give a presentation called “Bust into the Japan Writing Scene.”
Poet and novelist Holly Thompson, who first came to Japan in connection with the pre-JET MEF program, will give two presentations. One is “Poems with Plot—A Narrative Poetry Workshop.” The other, with novelist Mariko Nagai, is a joint lecture on “Verse Novels Crossing Borders.”
In this episode of The Low Dao, Jon reconnects with two Toyama ALTs: Amy Derrah Noel and her husband Chris. Are you a soon-to-be returning JET worried about getting a job? This one’s for you! Have you ever thought about starting your own business? This one’s for you!
Listen to all the brutal honesty here:
— Jon Dao (@CommDao) January 23, 2016
What do people do after JET? Here’s one great example.
On November 16, JETAA DC held the latest in their JET Talks series with a talk by JET alum George Rose (Fukushima-ken, 1989-91), former interpreter for Hideki Irabu and current Director of Pacific Rim Operations for the New York Yankees, not to mention former JETAA NY President.
Here’s a video of the talk. (Thanks to JETAA DC Vice-President Joy Young for passing this on!) Many great anecdotes including one about interpreting for Hideki Matsui on the Regis and Kathy Show. Plus, did you know that George played a role in helping the Yankees sign Masahiro Tanaka? Watch and enjoy!
Bruce Feiler (Tochigi-ken, 1989-90), author of Learning to Bow as well as several books on religion including Walking the Bible, Abraham and Where God Was Born along with other popular books including The Council of Dads, and, most recently, The Secrets of Happy Family, can now add CNN commentator to his resume. He has been providing religion-related perspectives in live conversations with Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer and others.
To read prior JETwit posts about Bruce Feiler, please click here.
For more regular updates, follow Bruce on Facebook: www.facebook.com/brucefeilerauthor.
And Twitter: www.twitter.com/brucefeiler.
A great article on the foreign policy advisors to several Republican candidates, including JET alum Richard Fontaine–outsider foreign policy advisor to Jeb Bush and former security advisor to Sen. John McCain–who is featured and quoted extensively in the article.
As part of the drive to promote tourism to Japan (not to mention combining a long-held passion and dream), ex-JET Julius Pang introduced a Tohoku photography tour to showcase the beauty of Japan in autumn, in an area that sadly has become known for other things in recent years. Americans are especially well-suited to taking advantage of this tour package, considering how strong the US dollar is against the Australian (yes, Julius’s Australia-based company, Incredible Photo Tours, welcomes overseas clients), travel will be especially cheap, with accommodation, transport and food taken care of.
Starting from Tokyo, the tour goes to various places throughout Tohoku such as Zao Onsen, Sendai, Hiraizumi, Akita, Bandai, Aizu-Wakamatsu, Nikko, Naruko Gorge, Shirakami Sanchi, Hirosaki, Nyuto Onsen and Lake Towada. With the advantage of the inside knowledge of an ex-JET, and the expertise of a tour guide who has won awards for his photography, it’s a great tour package to consider for your next trip to Japan. Julius also has other tours, such as the Japan Classic Autumn tour, that does the classic route of Tokyo, Hakone, Himeji, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Okayama, Takamatsu, Mt Koya and Osaka.
As spring continues and the weather continues to warm, New Yorkers can enjoy activities all over the city both indoors and out.
This month’s highlights include:
Friday, May 1, 8:00 p.m.
Best Buy Theater, 1515 Broadway
Japan’s most daring rock band, VAMPS is fronted by vocalist hyde of L’arc~en~Ciel and guitarist K.A.Z of Oblivion Dust. Now touring in support of their latest album, Bloodsuckers (available on iTunes), VAMPS returns to take another bite out of the Big Apple for their first area performance since 2013.
Monday, May 4, 6:30 p.m.
Asia Society, 725 Park Avenue
$15, $10 Asia Society members, $12 students/seniors
Join this annual conversation between contemporary Japanese and American authors in which Asia Society hosts an international dialogue, curated and moderated by the co-founders and editors of the Tokyo-based literary journal Monkey Business with writers who are featured in the latest edition of Monkey Business (#5), a unique, cutting-edge annual literary journal which showcases newly-translated Japanese as well as contributions from contemporary American and British writers.
Thursday, May 7, 6:30 p.m.
Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street
$12, $8 Japan Society members, students/seniors
Since 1989, Jay Rubin has translated many of Haruki Murakami’s most successful and prize-winning novels, including The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Norwegian Wood and 1Q84. In this program, he is joined by Ted Goossen, translator of Murakami’s most recent U.S. publications, The Strange Library and Wind/Pinball: Two Early Novels, and co-editor of Monkey Business literary magazine, which showcases the best of contemporary Japanese literature for an international audience. They will discuss the unique challenges of translating modern Japanese literary works into American English, and vice versa. Rubin will also talk about his transition from translator to novelist vis-à-vis his debut novel The Sun Gods. Joining the discussion from Tokyo will be authors Aoko Matsuda and Satoshi Kitamura, and Motoyuki Shibata, friend and translating partner of Murakami. Author Roland Kelts, co-editor of Monkey Business, moderates the discussion. Followed by a reception.
For the complete story, click here.
A great summary of the long-term value of the JET Program (i.e., Return on JET-vestment) by University of Indiana journalism professor (and JET alum) Emily Metzgar:
The JET Program and the US-Japan Relationship: Alumni of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program are an important part of bilateral ties.
As official Washington prepares for the late April visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his scheduled address to a joint session of Congress, many aspects of the bilateral relationship between the United States and Japan will rightly be feted, including a robust strategic alliance and significant economic ties between the two nations. The visit also presents an opportunity to consider a less discussed but increasingly important aspect of the U.S.-Japan relationship writ large: The extensive – and growing – network of American alumni of Japan’s long-standing Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program.
Click here to read the rest of the op-ed: http://thediplomat.com/2015/04/the-jet-program-and-the-us-japan-relationship/
Dear American JET Alumni,
I’m writing a book about American alumni of the JET Program and the growing influence of this community on the broader US-Japan relationship. I’m a professor at Indiana University and a JET alum (Shimane, 1993-1995). I’ve already published some research about American alumni of JET and the tremendous potential of this pool of college educated people with on-the-ground experience in Japan. My book will document that influence in a variety of contexts — political, cultural, educational, corporate, etc.
As I work on this book I need your help. I’m interested in talking with American alumni about the various ways they remain involved with Japan after finishing their tenure with JET. Would you be willing to be interviewed for this project?
I’ve set up an online data collection site and am asking that alumni who are willing to be interviewed use that link to provide a few details about themselves so I can determine whom to contact and when, based on my research timeline. This project is authorized by my university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) and as the first item at the link below indicates, all safeguards associated with such university-approved research are in place.
If you’re willing to share your post-JET experiences and your insights about the growing influence of the American JET alumni community please click on this link (http://bit.ly/1Fvjvof) and provide the requested information (name, contact info, years & position on JET, current job, and nature of continued involvement with Japan). I will follow up with you soon to set up a phone or Skype interview.
If you have any questions about this request or if you’d just like to know more about this book project — I’m always happy to talk about it! — please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Thanks so much for any insights you can share. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.
By Sheila Burt (Toyama-ken, 2010-2012) for JQ magazine. Sheila is a grant proposal writer at the Center for Bionic Medicine at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Read more of her reporting and writing at her blog.
Robin Hilton (Aichi-ken, 1996-99) is a radio producer and co-host of NPR’s music program All Songs Considered. In this JQ exclusive, Hilton shares his experiences on the JET Program in the late 1990s and his radio documentary Big in Japan, a comical and poignant reflection on his daily life as an English teacher in Japan.
Growing up in the small town of Abilene in central Kansas, Hilton never imagined living or working in Japan. But around the same time he graduated from the University of Kansas in 1992, Abilene initiated a sister city and exchange program with Minori, Japan (now Omitama) in Ibaraki-ken. At the encouragement of the program’s director, Hilton applied for a job teaching English more than 6,000 miles away from his hometown, as he was excited to begin a new endeavor outside of his comfort zone and experience a different culture. Yet Hilton would still have to wait a few years before his new adventure in Japan could begin.
“I didn’t get [the position],” Hilton recalls, “but it planted the seed in me, so a few years later I decided to try for the JET Program. I didn’t grow up with a deep fascination with or love of the country. But it ended up being one of the greatest things I’ve ever done with my life, and I certainly have that deep love for Japan now.”
By Eden Law (Fukushima-ken, 2010-11) for JQ magazine. Eden currently serves on the JETAA New South Wales committee in Sydney, Australia as the online social media, webmaster and occasional editor. Got feedback? Leave a comment below.
In 2013, the JETAA Initiative project was launched by the United States-Japan Bridging Foundation (USJBF), with funding provided by the The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership (CGP). The first phase of the project was to assess the feasibility of a national JETAA organization, with the next phases dealing with the structure, duties and objectives of the new organization.
The first phase (feasibility study) has now wrapped up and its findings presented at the September 2014 National JETAA USA Conference, and the next phase is currently underway. JQ spoke with Laurel Lukaszewski (Kagoshima-ken, 1990-92), JETAA Initiative project director (who is also a highly noted, Washington D.C.-based ceramic artist in her own right), who kindly gave her time to discuss the JETAA Initiative, the findings and next steps for the project.
How did you come to be selected for the role of project director of the JETAA Initiative?
I applied for the position after I saw the job announcement posted in a number of different places. I work as an artist full-time, but my schedule is flexible and I thought this would be an exciting project. In my previous career, I was the executive director of the Japan-America Society of Washington, D.C. Before that, I worked for the Japan-America Society of the State of Washington in Seattle as their program director. I’ve also been part of the JET selection process for over 15 years (reviewing applications, interviewing, working at the embassy as the review committee liaison for two seasons). I have also been a board member of the National Cherry Blossom Festival since 2002 and have served on a number of arts-related nonprofit boards and committees over the years. I was also the secretary, then president, of the JETAA Pacific Northwest chapter in Seattle in the late ’90s, so JETAA is near and dear to my heart.
It’s been a year since your appointment. What were the main challenges you faced as a director?
While not exactly a challenge, it has been paramount to reach out to all 19 chapters in the U.S. to give them an understanding of what we are doing and why we think creating a national organization is necessary. To do this, both [JETAA co-founder] Paige Cottingham-Streater (Mie-ken, 1988-89) and I have attended national and regional conferences to give presentations and speak with alumni to garner their support. We have also made site visits to chapters in Kansas City, Atlanta and Denver to find out what challenges exist at the local level. It was also imperative to show the progress we made over the first year to our funder, The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, so that we could continue.
Why was there a need to examine to conduct a feasibility study on whether a national organization was required?
The only way a national organization will be successful is if the JET alumni community wants it. This is being created for them. I believe very strongly that a national organization will strengthen the network and relationships between both chapters and individual alumni, as well as elevate the status and recognition of the JET Programme and its alumni in the greater U.S.-Japan arena, but the JET alumni community needs to believe this, too. We hope that the national organization will provide much needed support to smaller chapters and give alumni who live outside of large cities a way to connect to the broader JETAA community.
If Emily’s name sounds familiar, it’s because she’s also the author of Promoting Japan: One JET at a time, a paper based on surveys of and research on the JET alumni community that attempts to measure return on JET-vestment.