Feb 6

Kyodo News “JET Alumni” Series: Laura Tasharofi (Kochi)

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 January 2014. Posted by Celine Castex (Chiba-ken, 2006-11), currently programme coordinator at CLAIR Tokyo.


Laura Tasharofi (Kochi-ken, Yusuhara-cho, 2004-07) hails from Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. After a Bachelors Degree in Japanese Studies from Griffith  University, Gold Coast, she joined the JET Programme and was placed as a CIR in a little Shikoku town where she spent the next three years. She currently works as the Student Loan Coordinator for Queensland TAFE and has been the President of JETAA Queensland since 2011.

Laura T.

“I always encourage young people I meet to consider the JET Programme as a life experience, and I am eternally grateful for the opportunities the JET Programme gave me.”

The Town Above the Clouds

Yusuhara: Town Above The Clouds (梼原町:雲の上の町).  With a slogan like that, I suppose it should have been obvious, but as my supervisor drove me home from Kochi Ryoma Airport, I couldn’t believe how far we were climbing into the mountains.  The deep green pine trees were towering over the winding road, and there were wisps of low cloud around us after the rain on that hot, humid day.   The scenery was beautiful.  Little did I know, I would spend the next three years becoming part of a wonderful community and making life-long friends.

Yusuhara had a population of a little over 4,000 people at that time.  It is famous for being on the route that Sakamoto Ryoma took when he made his crusade to bring about the Meiji Restoration.  You can follow the signs and walk the ‘Sakamoto Ryoma escape route’ (坂本竜馬 脱藩の道), through the hills to finish in Ehime-ken.  It has a beautiful onsen and hotel, a pretty river and it is a short drive to the Tengu Highlands.  Such a picturesque place, but there weren’t many tourists in those days.  Some time after I left, NHK ran a TV series about the life of Sakamoto Ryoma, and that put Yusuhara on the map as a tourist destination for fans of the show.

In a small town like that, a tall Australian woman like me really stood out.  People quickly came to recognise me.  Everyone would say ‘good morning’, or ‘hello’ as I travelled to work or walked around town on the weekends.   They knew where I lived and which car I drove.  I very quickly learned that everyone knew where I was and what I was doing at any given time.  At first I felt like I had lost my privacy, but I soon felt very safe and comfortable living in a small, friendly community where everyone knows each other.

I was quite busy as a CIR.  I spent a lot of time visiting schools to do cultural and English lessons with kids from kindergarten up to Junior High School.  I taught the kids how to play cricket, how to make rocky road (chocolate filled with marshmallows, nuts and cherries), I arranged a letter and Christmas card exchange between some of the students in Yusuhara and students at the school where my mum works in Tasmania.  I assisted with the annual overseas study trip for 10 students from our town to our sister school in Queensland.  I helped out at town events like the marathon and the kagura taikai (神楽大会).

I also did English lessons in the evening for adults and I was surprised at how good some people’s English was.  Living in Yusuhara, they didn’t get to practise it very much so they enjoyed coming to class.  One lady in her 50’s who came to my evening class had never been outside of Japan.  After attending my classes, she worked up the confidence to travel to Australia.  Do you know where she went?  My home town, the Gold Coast.  I was so proud of her.

Outside of my job I tried to do as much as I could for the town.  I took part in town clean-up days and sports days, I swam at the pool and made friends with swimmers who I wouldn’t have met otherwise.  I supported the Junior High School kids at their home and away baseball, kendo and volleyball games.  I really felt like part of the community, and the day I left was a very sad day for me.

The people of Yusuhara still occupy a big piece of my heart.  Since I left in 2007 I have been back five times, and I can’t wait to go again.  I have good friends there.  We keep in touch by email, we exchange Christmas cards and nengajo, and I have made friends with some of my former students on Facebook.  Technology allows us to keep in touch easily, but there is nothing better than being there in person, face-to-face, sharing a meal, reminiscing about fun memories, and catching up on what was new in our lives.

Right now, the daughter of my closest Yusuhara friend is here in Australia studying English, and she is about to start a working holiday.  She is staying in a town about 90 minutes’ drive from my home and I visited her recently to see how she was going.  I bought her lunch, but she was resistant to me paying.  She kept apologising and thanking me.  I told her that no matter how many times I bought her lunch, I could never repay the debt of kindness I owe to my friend, her mother.

My time on the JET Programme is defined as a three-year period, but really, those years were just the first part of a life-long relationship with the town of Yusuhara and the people in it.  Now I am the president of the Queensland chapter of the JET Alumni Association.  I assist the Consulate-General of Japan, Brisbane with JET interviews and other Japan-related events.  It is a way of staying involved with Japan and JET.  I always encourage young people I meet to consider the JET Programme as a life experience, and I am eternally grateful for the opportunities the JET Programme gave me.

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