Feb 12

CLAIR Magazine “JET Plaza” series: Marshall Ikeda (Miyagi)

Each month, current and former JET participants are featured in the “JET Plaza” section of the CLAIR Forum magazine. The December 2013 edition includes an article by current JET participant Marshall Ikeda. Posted by Celine Castex (Chiba-ken, 2006-11), currently programme coordinator at CLAIR Tokyo.


“From the day I set foot in Natori as a JET, I knew it would be a life-altering experience. As cliché as it sounds, I really do feel like [it] is my home away from home.”

Born in a Japanese family based in Toronto, Canada, Marshall Ikeda (Miyagi-ken, Natori-shi, 2010-present) was brought up in a bi-cultural and  bilingual environment. After graduating from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations, he joined the JET Programme as a junior high school and elementary school ALT. Placed in an area of Miyagi that was heavily struck by the 3/11 disaster, he stayed in an evacuation shelter and went out of his way to help out his local community. 

Natori My Second Home

It was the heat, humidity and the overpowering sound of cicadas that welcomed me to the city of Natori. Bordering the neighboring city of Sendai, Natori is nestled between a mountain range to the west and Pacific beaches to the east. The mixture of city and country was a perfect combination to satisfy my curiosity and love for travel. After arriving, I began exploring the wonderful aspects of Natori every weekend, and quickly grew to know and love the area.

My commute to three different schools, two Elementary and one junior high, also helped me get acquainted with Natori. My favorite school to visit is an elementary school buried far in the mountains. In order to get there, I have to set out on a hard one-hour bike ride early in the morning. From the time I first arrived, this hour spent outdoors has allowed me to experience the beauty of all four seasons on my way to work. Paired with my time outdoors spent biking, the scenery surrounding Natori has made it easy to integrate the seasons into my classroom activities. In spring we hold classes under the cherry blossoms. In fall we trace Japanese maple leaves onto paper. In winter, we build three-piece snowmen. These experiences represent a unique cultural exchange for my students. I feel fortunate to be able to use my natural surroundings as a teaching aid. As Canada is also rich in natural beauty, it is easy to make ties to my homeland. Infusing nature into my teaching curriculum interests my students academically and culturally.

Despite many successful attempts to incorporate active teaching styles into my lesson plans, the most challenging aspect of teaching English has always been engaging the students. When I first began teaching, I was deluded by an unrealistically positive vision that all students adore English. I soon realized of course that this is simply not true- some students do not even want to try speaking at all! While I cannot force every student to love English, (and I am not expected to), I still try to demonstrate to my students how English is beneficial for travel, work, school, and lifestyle. My efforts in readjusting students’ perceptions of English is certainly not an overnight process, but I believe it is the driving force for myself, and many other ALTs working in Japan.

While it is discouraging at times that some students simply do not show an interest in English, there are always those students willing to go the extra mile. Over the past year, I had the pleasure of coaching one of my junior high students to the finals for the All Japan National Speech contest. Through her consistent time and effort, she was highly successful in her English goals. I feel very rewarded in circumstances where students display a positive attitude towards English, and want to put forth their best efforts. I believe that the most rewarding aspects of being an ALT comes from being able to see tangible results.

During my time on JET, I have learned how to foster international relations both inside and outside of the classroom. Upon realizing how my students reveal their true selves most notably during club activities, I joined the table tennis team. Without any prior training in table tennis, I was able to learn on the same level as my students. These interactions outside the classroom led to a more positive attitude towards English when it came to teaching. My presence at neighbourhood clean-ups, barbecues and sports events also allowed students to open up to me. Students were friendlier and more willing to speak to me at these events than they were at school. Soon greetings of ”ohayo gozaimasu” lessened, and saying ”Hello!” became the norm.

It was not until the Great East Japan Earthquake, however, that I recognized how to maximize my contribution to Natori on the grassroots level. Occurring seven months after I arrived in Japan, the earthquake represents a turning point for my life on JET where I shifted from feeling like I could be doing more to knowing I was trying my very best. The strength and perseverance my community showed during the devastation was tremendous.

It was the inspiring collective energy of Natori’s people that convinced me to stay and help Visit of Prime Minister of Canada to Miyagiinstead of leaving the area. In the evacuation shelters, I served as an informal translator for the foreigners in the area, most of whom were young international students. In the evacuation camps, I held small English lessons for kids who gathered in small groups. In the months that followed, I volunteered within neighbouring cities. My experiences in the classroom helped greatly in my volunteer work with kids and students in the emergency shelters.

My work for my community continued a year following March 11th. During the recovery efforts in my city, I was asked to translate for the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper. His visit signified the support and recovery efforts Canada had extended towards Japan. During this exchange, I felt like a small, but symbolic part in the recovery efforts. Six months later I would be selected to represent foreigners on a committee of International Relations that aimed to make Natori a more ”foreigner friendly” city. I was able to reap the benefits of community involvement by deciding to simply be there.

From the day I set foot in Natori as a JET, I knew it would be a life-altering experience. Though Natori has undergone many challenges, my feelings towards this beautiful city, surrounded by mountains and beaches, will never change. I will continue to try my best at teaching, fostering grassroots internationalization and helping in the recovery process. These efforts would be impossible without the many kind and strong-hearted people in the community I have met along the way. I owe so much to the people of Natori, and I know that the relationships I have built here will be everlasting ones.

As I write this, it is almost autumn here, and the cicadas have all but gone. Though I have faced many obstacles along the way, I am glad for this rewarding experience on JET. I feel my experiences have changed me for the better- not only as a teacher but as a person. I often am asked if I miss Canada. As cliché as it sounds, I really do feel like Natori is my home away from home. Though sometimes I really do long for a cup of apple cider.




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