February Events Calendar

Baily Jo Josie (Miyazaki)

Block 1

69th Sapporo Snow Festival

1 February – 12 February

Sapporo City, Hokkaido Prefecture

Website

Oyasusukyo Shigakko Festival

3 February

Yuzawa City, Akita Prefecture

Website in Japanese only

59th Asahikawa Winter Festival

7 February – 12 February

Asahikawa City, Hokkaido Prefecture

Website 

Namahage Sedo Festival

9 February – 11 February

Oga City, Akita Prefecture

Website  

Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival

9 February – 12 February

Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture

Website  

Otaru Snow Light Path Festival

9 February – 18 February

Otaru City, Hokkaido Prefecture

Website  

Inukko Matsuri

10 February – 11 February

Yuzawa City, Akita Prefecture

Website in Japanese only  

Iwate Snow Festival

14 February – 18 February

Shizukuishi City, Iwate Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Hachinohe Enburi

17 February – 20 February

Hachinohe City, Aomori Prefecture

Website 

Naked Festival

22 February – 23 February

Oshu City, Iwate Prefecture

Website in Japanese only   

Block 2 

Snowman Snow Statue Contest

3 February – 4 February

Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture

Website in Japanese only   

Tochio Snow Festival

3 February – 4 February

Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Aizu Candle Festival

9 February – 10 February

Aizuwakamatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture

Website in Japanese only  

Snow and Fire Festival

10 February

Mishima City, Fukushima Prefecture

Website 

23rd Ooyama Shinshu Sakagura Matsuri

10 February

Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Minamiuonuma Snow Festival

10 February – 11 February

Minamiuonuma City, Niigata Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Ojiya Balloon Festival

24 February – 25 February

Ojiya City, Niigata Prefecture

Website in Japanese only  

Block 3 

Ashikaga Flower Park

22 October – 5 February

Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture

Website 

Yunishigawa Kamakura Festival

27 January – 4 March

Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture

Website 

Setsubun Costume Parade

3 February

Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Akagi Mountain Snow Festival

3 February

Maebashi City, Gunma Prefecture

Website in Japanese only  

Choco-Run 2018

4 February

Midori Ward, Saitama City, Saitama Prefecture

Website in Japanese only  

North Karuizawa Fire Festival

10 February

Naganohara Town, Gunma Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

36th Iiyama Snow Festival

10 February – 11 February

Iiyama City, Nagano Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Mito Plum Festival

17 February – 31 March

Mito City, Ibaraki Prefecture

Website in Japanese only  

Chichibu Whiskey Matsuri

18 February

Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Block 4 

Sagamiko Illumination 2017-2018

11 November – 8 April

Sagami Lake Resort Pleasure Forest, Sagamihara City, Kanagawa Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Edo-Tokyo 100

28 November – 4 February

Shizuoka City Tokaido Hiroshige Museum of Art, Shizuoka City, Shizuoka Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Lake Kawaguchiko’s Fireworks in Winter 2018

13 January – 18 February, Saturdays and Sundays

Kawaguchiko City, Yamanashi Prefecture

Website in Japanese Only 

Yokohama Chinatown Lunar New Year

16 January – 2 February

Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Saiko Ice Festival

27 January – 12 February

Fujikawaguchiko Town, Yamanashi Prefecture

Website 

Setagaya Plum Festival

10 February – 4 March

Setagaya Ward, Tokyo Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Chiba City International Fureai Festival

11 February

Chiba City, Chiba Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Tokyo Game Music Show

24 February

Ota Ward, Tokyo Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Block 5

Geisha Experience

10 June – 24 March

Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Hida Takayama Winter Light Up

1 December – 28 February

Takayama City, Gifu Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Studio Ghibli Layout Design Exhibit

8 December – 11 March

Fukui City, Fukui Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Foodpia Kanazawa

27 January – 28 February

Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Nagoya Ramen Matsuri

2 February – 12 February

Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture

Website 

Toyama Nabe Jiman Taikai

3 February – 4 February

Nakaniikawa District, Toyama Prefecture

Website 

Echizen Ono Winter Story Festival

3 February – 4 February

Ono City, Fukui Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Nenohi Kurabiraki

11 February

Tokoname City, Aichi Prefecture

Website  

Takasu Snow Festival

17 February – 18 February

Gujo City, Gifu Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Block 6 

Kobe Illumination

11 November – 12 February

Kobe Fruit Flower Park, Hyogo City, Hyogo Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

The 67th Nagahama Bonsai Exhibition of Ume Trees with Blossoms

10 January – 11 March

Nagahama City, Shiga Prefecture

Website in Japanese Only 

Yukitouro

27 January- 3 February

Nantan City, Kyoto Prefecture

Website  

Kawanishi Machinaka Art Museum

18 February – 4 March

Kawanishi City, Hyogo Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Shurakukai

27 February

Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Block 7 

Exhibition of Buildings of Ghibli 2017

2 December – 5 February

Abeno Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture

Website in Japanese only  

Happy Dream Circus

22 December – 26 February

Naniwa Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture

Japanese
English  

Yu Noen Farm Muratake Strawberry Picking

Mid-January – Mid-June

Izumi City, Osaka Prefecture

Website  

Owase Ya Ya Matsuri 2018

1 February – 5 February

Owase City, Mie Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Onda Festival

4 February

Asuka Niimasu Shrine, Takaichi District, Nara Prefecture

Website 

Kumano Otani Festival

6 February

Shingu City, Wakayama Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Block 8 

Marugame Castle Stone Wall Light Up in Winter

29 November – 4 February

Marugame City, Kagawa Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Wan! Park Inu Exhibition

14 December – 6 February

Kochi City, Kochi Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Nanrakuen Plum Festival

27 January – 4 March

Uwajima City, Ehime Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

19th Shikoku Sake Matsuri

24 February

Miyoshi City, Tokushima Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Block 9 

Golden Island Zipangu Illumination

6 December – 8 January

Matsue City, Shimane Prefecture

Website in Japanese Only 

Kanmuriyama General Park Plum Festival

10 February – 4 March

Hikari City, Yamaguchi Prefecture

Website in Japanese Only 

Tottori City Student Exchange Painting Exhibition

13 January – 12 February

Tottori City, Tottori Prefecture

Website in Japanese Only 

Chikara-Mochi Eyo (Power Lifting)

4 February

Mimasaka City, Okayama Prefecture

Website 

Mihara Shinmeiichi

9 February – 11 February

Mihara City, Hiroshima Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Rabbit Carnival

18 February

Hiroshima City, Hiroshima Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Hinase Oyster Festival

25 February

Bizen City, Okayama Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Block 10 

Ureshino Hot Spring Matsuri

27 January – 12 February

Ureshino City, Saga Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Agano-yaki Valentine Ohoco

1 February – 14 February

Tagawa City, Fukuoka Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Doll’s Festival

15 February – 31 March

Hita City, Oita Prefecture

Website 

Goto Camellia Festival

17 February – 4 March

Goto City, Nagasaki Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Japanese Ume Apricot Festival

18 February – 18 March

Hita City, Oita Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Geniji Temple Reconnaissance Party

22 February

Bungotakada City, Oita Prefecture

Website 

Ainoura Azagochi

24 February – 26 February

Sasebo City, Nagasaki Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Block 11

Takachiho Kami Akari

1 November – 19 February

Takachiho Gorge, Nishiusuki District, Miyazaki Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Hitoyoshi Kuma Hinamatsuri

1 February – 21 March

Hitoyoshi City, Kumamoto Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

33th Shinwa no Takachiho Kenkoku Matsuri

11 February

Takachiho Town, Miyazaki Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Kagoshima Ramen Championship

16 February – 18 February

Kagoshima City, Kagoshima Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Naha Sakura Festival

21 February – 25 February

Naha City, Okinawa Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cool Japan Wonderland-What’s New at Universal Studios’ Cool Japan 2018 

Sabrina Zirakzadeh (Osaka)

It’s that time of year again: the moment that puts the “Japan” in Universal Studios Japan. While USJ’s limited-time event attractions are well-known, in 2015 the theme park decided to launch an event to fill the awkward time between its holiday illuminations and the summer extravaganzas, one with a decidedly regional spin. Every year since, Universal Cool Japan has been a major attraction, one so successful that its initial January-March run was expanded to January-June, yet the crowds are still overwhelming. Universal Cool Japan puts the spotlight on four key pieces of Japanese pop culture every year in the form of rides, 4D attractions, escape games, and more, and 2018 looks to be just as exciting as the previous three years. In fact, USJ has some special surprises in store!

The History of Universal Cool Japan

Universal Cool Japan 2018 logo In 2015, the first Universal Cool Japan event focused on four major pieces of Japanese popular culture: the Monster Hunter and Biohazard (Resident Evil in the West) video game franchises, the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, and the then-new media juggernaut of Attack on Titan. Each had a single unique attraction with some themed merchandise available, with the Attack on Titan area even having a themed food truck. Monster Hunter used a 4D adventure ride format, Evangelion received a 4D movie experience, Biohazard debuted its first puzzle-themed escape game, and Attack on Titan had — well, a let-down. While the first three attractions were popular and enjoyed by many, the walk-through, big-screen recap of key scenes from the anime coupled with a few live action set pieces and a chance for photos with life-sized statues of some of the lead characters was generally seen to be far from worth the average three hour wait time just to get tickets. Luckily, the free photos that fans could take with the giant Titans set up around the Cool Japan area had much shorter waits, and were a big enough hit that they were brought back in 2016 as well.

The second year was much the same as the first, but with the addition of a fifth attraction, the Kyary Pamyu-Pamyu XD Ride. In addition, the Attack on Titan experience was upgraded to a virtual adventure ride, which was still less popular than the other three attractions but got much better reviews. 2017 saw a major overhaul with: Attack on Titan finally giving fans a chance to fight (and get Promotional image for Monster Hunter: The Realeaten by) Titans in a virtual 4D adventure ride, new photo spots and statues going up; Monster Hunter getting an upgrade to build hype for the new Nintendo Switch games; Kyary Pamyu-Pamyu being replaced with a 4D rollercoaster for Godzilla; and Biohazard bowing out to debut an incredibly successful Detective Conan escape room, complete with minor interaction with cast members in the mystery and a new themed food truck.

However, in 2017 the numbers for Cool Japan dropped a bit compared with previous years. This may have been due to the opening of the new Minions park at USJ, but this year, Cool Japan is taking no chances and is ready to strike a chord with all new fans of Japanese pop culture!

The 2018 Attractions

Promotional Image for Detective Conan: The WorldWhile numbers may have declined overall in 2017, the attendance for the Detective Conan experience surpassed that of the Biohazard escape. Perhaps it was due to being more family-friendly, or maybe being a detective lends itself to more immersive puzzles than Raccoon City Studios. Whatever the reason, the Detective Conan escape will be back with new puzzles, new story, expanded challenges, and a full themed restaurant this year. Whether you know the story or not, this is a must-see for mystery fans and adrenaline junkies alike.

For video game fans, Monster Hunter: The Real will continue to run, but with new graphics and layouts related to the Monster Hunter World game and a Promotional image for Final Fantasy XR Ridestreamlined waiting system to combat increasing crowd congestion. In addition, this year will see Cool Japan’s first-ever Final Fantasy event, using USJ’s popular XR virtual roller coaster to immerse fans in the world of Midgar and Final Fantasy VII. This is probably the main attraction for this year’s Cool Japan event, so be sure to get advance timed tickets or be prepared for long lines to get in.

Promotional image for Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon: The Miracle 4DThe biggest change will be the fourth focus. All previous Cool Japan events catered heavily toward shounen fandoms. This year, however, Cool Japan is debuting its first shoujo attraction — and halfway through the event! Beginning on March 16th, the Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon: The Miracle 4D attraction will open, giving magical girl fans of all ages the chance to join the Sailor Senshi in their battles against evil. Having an event themed around a “girl” series, especially one premiering partway through Cool Japan, may seem risky, but USJ cut back on additional attractions to make sure this 4D event (and the other Cool Japan features) get all of the focus and skill of the park’s designers and performers to give guests the best experience possible.

So, what are you waiting for? If you’ve never been to Universal Studios Japan, now is the perfect time to go, and even if you’ve been before, this limited, revamped event is still worth checking out. Get your geek on, join other Japanophiles from around the world, and head over to Universal Cool Japan while you can!

Universal Cool Japan is held in Osaka from January 19th-June 24th, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Come On Over to Comic-Con

Chad Grover (Tokyo)

The second ever Tokyo Comic-Con took place from December 1st-3rd, 2017, at Chiba’s Makuhari Messe convention center. Japanese fans and expats alike from across the country arrived in droves to celebrate their love of Western comics, science-fiction, and fantasy series.

Stan Lee on the main stage at Tokyo Comic Con 2017

Special guest appearances included the legendary Stan Lee, creator of Marvel Comics’ X-Men and Spider-Man, who is largely credited for his role in helping bring Comic-Con to Japan in the first place. Not one to be outdone, DC Comics also arrived in full force to promote their newest film Justice League, released in Japan on November 20th last year. Both studios brought incredible exhibits for fans to gawk at as well (including the real Batman suit from The Dark Knight). The event was a rousing success, with staff proclaiming that the attendee list exceeded 50,000 people over the span of three days. While this is certainly an impressive turnout, the hall never felt overcrowded and navigation was a breeze, which was an added benefit.

To generate excitement for the latest Star Wars film, The Last Jedi,  which opened worldwide on December 15th, 2017, much of the show floor during the exhibition was dedicated to Star Wars memorabilia (including a life-size model of the famous Millennium Falcon). A wide variety of hobby shops and retailers also set up booths offering goods and merchandise that are unavailable elsewhere. Star Wars has been a global phenomenon since its inception in 1977 and Japan has always made up a significant chunk of its fandom. Creator George Lucas admitted that he was heavily inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s classic samurai films when he first penned his story, helping the film evoke familiar themes and ideas a Japanese audience could easily relate to. Fans were also encouraged to dress up as their favorite characters for the Star Wars Cosplay Showcase held on the second day of the event.

Spiderman cosplay invasion!

Cosplay remained the central focus of the show throughout the weekend. While Japan’s other major fan conventions such as Comiket or Tokyo Game Show typically feature costumed characters from Japan-made anime, manga and video games, Tokyo Comic-Con was almost entirely dominated by cosplay from Western properties. In turn, this gave the event more of an international appeal. Attendees were also treated to a cosplay fashion show and group photo sessions, where they could witness the best and brightest costumes the venue had to offer.

Guests of honor from around the world

In addition to cosplay events, several guests of honor from overseas were invited to partake in the show’s programming on the main stage. Those who were patient enough to brave the long line also had the chance to meet each celebrity and receive their autograph. Special guests included actors Karl Urban, of Lord of the Rings and Star Trek fame, and Nathan Fillion from the cult-classic television series Firefly. Mads Mikkelsen, who garnered critical acclaim for his role as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in television’s Hannibal, was also present. Mikkelsen recently landed a lead role in legendary Japanese video game designer Hideo Kojima’s upcoming title Death Stranding, giving fans another reason to be excited. Actor Michael Rooker, who played Yondu in Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, was greeted by a number of fans in attendance cosplaying as the colorful outlaw.

One slight drawback: most of the event’s programming was conducted in Japanese; in other words, if you weren’t proficient in the language, understanding what presenters were saying might have posed a challenge, dampening accessibility for foreigners somewhat. Also, compared to its Western counterparts, Tokyo Comic-Con is not as eventful a convention as the others. Most people who attend Comic-Con in San Diego, California have a variety of options for how to spend their time. Whether you enjoy a particular niche show or are looking forward to the next big summer blockbuster, you can attend a panel of your favorite celebrities to ask them funny questions, hear embarrassing stories and so on; however, this is not yet the case for Tokyo Comic-Con. A great way for the convention to address this next year would be to fly more special guests out to create panels filled with people who share a common thread, beyond autograph sessions and main stage programming.

Back to the Future’s famous Delorean on display in the exhibition room

Despite this, Tokyo Comic-Con enjoyed considerable success for a convention still in its infancy. The number of attendees increased by sixty percent over its inaugural year in 2016, and its celebrities list was similarly bolstered. Is it worth making a trip across the country to attend? Not yet — but given the show’s rapid growth in one year, there may come a time when it’s worth every penny. Tokyo Comic-Con 2018 is currently scheduled for November 30th through December 2nd. If you are a diehard fan of comics and science fiction (or just really enjoy cosplay), and are within the Greater Tokyo Area, you owe it to yourself to check out Tokyo Comic-Con when it returns at the end of the year.

Chad Grover is a 4th Year JET rockin’ the suburbs in Tokyo. He thought Star Wars: The Last Jedi was one of the best movies released in 2017. You can argue with him over this claim on his Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coconut Curry

Montana Malarkey-Kessler (Kyoto)

Ingredients: 

Vegetables
Onions, carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, broccolini, celery, mushrooms, squash, pumpkin, snow peas, cauliflower, spinach, kale, chickpeas, green peas, green beans, lentils, eggplant, etc. Anything you’ve got!

Spices/Seasonings

 

Curry powder, tumeric, coriander, cardamom, salt, pepper, chilli/sriracha, alcohol (white wine or mirin) for basic curry; garlic, ginger, lemon/lime, tamarind, fish sauce, red/yellow/green curry paste for fancier versions.

Base
Coconut milk, veggie broth/stock, water.

Protein
Chicken, tofu, fish/shellfish.

Method: 

  1. Sauté onions, carrots, peppers, garlic (all your aromatics!) and let sweat.
  2. Deglaze with alcohol, and add tomatoes and spices once water is released. Mix.
  3. Add coconut milk and chilli/sriracha. Season to taste and add other veggies (if using leafy greens, [[i]]do not[[i]] add yet).
  4. Bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce to simmer once veggies are cooked. Add a splash of alcohol and season to taste (if using leafy greens add now, serve when they have wilted to your liking).
  • For a lighter curry, cut coconut milk with broth or water (1 to 1)
  • If using protein, fry in the same pan, remove, and deglaze before Step 1, and re-add in Step 5
  • For hot & sour, use chilli & tamarind paste
  • For fancy serving, garnish with lemon or lime wedge and cilantro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back and There Again

Jack Richardson (Yamagata)

Christmas and New Year have come and gone, while many JETs have done the opposite. Here, five such people share their experience of returning to Japan after a well-deserved break back home, and what they thought of the culture the second (or higher) time around.

Georgia Latham, Yamagata Prefecture

Going home for a holiday is wonderful. You can fill your days with all the things you can’t find in Japan — pints of cider (alcoholic obviously), pubs, edible bread, actual cheese and the non-pixelated real-life versions of family and friends. Yet it is also disorientating. I found that my life in Japan seemed very far away, like I had just returned from a long holiday and now I was home for good. In some ways I found leaving a second time more difficult than the first.

So, on that note, here are some words of wisdom from an (in)experienced JET.

First, plan some things to look forward to in Japan on your return. Going from a busy holiday where I was almost never alone, to a rather chilly one-person apartment, was a culture shock in and of itself. You may need to remind yourself that the future in Japan is as bright as the places you left behind. Second, as efficient as it might seem to arrive back in Japan the day before work starts, take heed. If you are anything like me, next morning you will spend a good half an hour frantically attacking two weeks’ worth of snow on your car, wearing the (unironed) suit you think you could possibly need for an opening ceremony and racing into the staffroom 1 minute before morning meeting. There will be no food in the house so you will spend the rest of the day in a half-starved, bleary-eyed daze as you desperately try to concentrate on all the lesson planning that you haven’t done for that week and avoid eating the omiyage you bought. Which brings us me to my final message. Omiyage is a great tradition and your teachers will love you for it but my God is it heavy. Pack light on the way out or be prepared to woo some airline attendants on your way back.

Max Turner, Hokkaido Prefecture

Returning to Japan after 10 days of fish and chips, sausage sarnies with lashings of HP sauce and real, sour-sweet, cloudy cider in a beamy Essex country pub, my hungers and thirsts for British grub were well and truly satisfied. They say you are what you eat. It’s true. I landed in Narita airport, a crispy roast potato dripping in beef gravy.

It felt like an odyssey of a journey from London, and with an extra bag of Christmas goodies from family in hand, I was fearful that I was going to have to sell a kidney to afford the additional luggage I hadn’t declared when booking my domestic plane ticket. I’ve heard horror stories about the same predicament with EasyJet and Ryanair at home. You can imagine the gobsmacked look on my face when the kind human being behind the counter checked it in without me having to pay a penny to get it back to my home from home in Hokkaido. I was greeted back to Japan by grinning staff and overwhelmingly helpful people, something the British customer service industry isn’t exactly world renowned for.

Melissa Jackson, Nagano Prefecture

After living in Japan for 5 months I thought it would be easy to return after only 10 days out of  country. However there were little annoyances that suddenly got to me which either hadn’t bothered me or I hadn’t noticed before the trip. The big ones of not speaking the language and struggling as a vegetarian were obviously still there, but now hordes of elderly people seemed to be jumping the queue at the station and everyone was being particularly unhelpful in general. The cherry on top was having to pay for the pleasure of having a stick shoved up my nose during a hospital visit to determine if the flu symptoms were indeed that. I missed not just being able to make a whiny phone call to the boss for a few days recovery from the mystery virus. To be honest, once the effects of the 20 hour journey and sickness had worn off, it was a huge relief to be back in the country of extreme politeness and procedure.

Erica Horan, Tochigi Prefecture

Japan is the latest in a long-ish line of ‘homes away from home’ I’ve had over the years, and it’s definitely the furthest — twelve hours in the sky from London to Tokyo, not to mention the airport journeys on either end. Whether you’re in your first year or your fifth, it’s probably always a surprise to realise how well you’re acclimatising to this beautiful, quirky and unique country — how you already know what you want at the convenience store before you even go in, or how easily you can rattle off an arigatou gozaimasu with a quick dip of your head as you leave with the chime echoing in your head. If you’re in the inaka like me, chances are the workers at your local convenience store will already know you and greet you like an old friend. Funnily enough, that’s something I had to consciously stop myself from doing at home — after being away for a year, there were things that made me feel like I’d never left, and other things that felt almost strange. There’s ups and downs — for example, I can’t get hot food or spare tights in my local corner shop back home, but I can get Walkers Prawn Cocktail crisps and flavoured instant coffee. As overwhelming as Japan can be on your first visit — I still remember vaguely panicking in my sleep-deprived state as the convenience store cashier in Keio Plaza asked if I wanted my bento heated up or not — when you’re returning from the holidays on JET, there’s often a certain sense of familiarity and accomplishment at feeling like you’ve adopted this topsy-turvy place where they serve red wine chilled as my second home. And when I’m still in that same sleep-deprived state, every time without fail on my return, I can’t help thinking that it’s good to be back.

Timothy Nerozzi, Niigata Prefecture

It is only after leaving Japan and coming back that I have been able to articulate my feelings as an American expat effectively. This is because I have found it is near impossible to get an international perspective on life until I have not only lived in a foreign country, but also returned home and cycled back again.

Unlike some JETs, arriving here as an ALT was the first experience I had setting foot on the nation’s soil, and I still find myself stopping in the middle of a sidewalk, looking around at the neon kanji and Eastern architecture with my mouth agape. In those moments I can’t help but scream silently in my mind, “I’m in Japan!” It almost feels fake or temporary, as if I am on a short vacation and will be returning home any day now with photos of my holiday. Because of this disbelief, returning back to America made the last five months on this island feel like a fever dream or fantasy that never actually happened. It was a subconscious affirmation that I had never actually left the United States.

I returned to my same loving family, drank at the same bars, and ate at the same restaurants I’ve eaten at since I was a child. Life as an American had returned to normal. For two weeks, Japan was once again a hypothetical country somewhere on the other side of the world that had nothing to do with me. That feeling persisted all the way to the airport. Then, after just fifteen hours on a plane, my life was completely overturned once again, like an hourglass being flipped right-side up after running out. The country that felt like a fever dream returned to concrete reality, while my home country faded back into obscurity and became foggy in my mind.

This is the situation many ALTs find themselves in. We are split into two countries so removed from one another that it’s impossible to keep them both concrete in your mind.

Traveling between homes on holiday feels like traveling between dimensions, and returning to the Japan feels like rediscovering the island all over again.

Are You a Dancer?

Emily Bisset (Tokyo)

I have had an on-off love affair with dance my whole life. After renouncing ballet at the age of four when asked to wear a pink tutu, I did a bit of jazz and Irish dancing as a kid. My family lived overseas while I was young, and I continued to dance in musical theatre and school shows. However, through those awkward growing years overseas where it felt like my body was trying to become a giraffe, I lacked the confidence to pursue dance in its own right.

When I returned to New Zealand I took up dance again and realised that those five years away had set me behind. I found myself in tap class with kids half my age and ballroom, contemporary, musical theatre, and urban dance classes where I was the oldest but the least skilled. In some ways, this was hugely beneficial. I will never forget preparing for a contemporary dance exam with a class full of people who had been doing ballet since they were six years old. Nothing had fired me up so much, and I found myself practicing every night till 11 the week before, and twitching through the dance moves as I tried to sleep. It taught me what impossible things I could achieve if I put the work in.

I couldn’t comprehend what was happening at the time. I had never worked very hard at school or in my pursuit of singing or acting. Everything that I had pursued before came naturally to me. Dancing was something else entirely. I knew I could ‘feel’ the music and show it on my face, but for some reason that never connected with my body. Although I compensated for my lack of technique with practice and the performance skills I had gained from musical theatre, it was hard always feeling behind. I loved the performances but watching them afterwards was difficult as I was that kid who was always just a little behind and off balance, never as flexible or sharp as the others.

When I got to university I truly felt too far behind compared to my peers and dropped dance altogether, proclaiming myself more of dance appreciator than participator. If anybody asked me whether I danced my standard answer was: “Yes, I love dance, but I’m not a dancer.”

After an unsuccessful year pursuing a classical singing degree I questioned myself. Why had I never felt inspired to stay up all night practicing singing as I had dance? I ended up pursuing directing in media rather than singing, which certainly excited me in the same way as directing and dance had previously, but dance was still on the back burner.

Heading into my final year at university something monumental happened. On a fateful afternoon as my best friend and I sat watching random YouTube videos, something new popped up. It was Mirotic by TVXQ. I didn’t know what was happening but suddenly very attractive men were dancing beautifully on my screen and I was hooked. It was K-pop! Dancing is a requirement in K-pop, and is linked to the music, videos, and culture in a way I had never seen before.

Directing music videos in the Asian market became my dream, and as I’d had a fascination with Japanese media since seeing the works of Hayao Miyazaki at a young age, naturally I decided to apply for JET!

I knew I wanted to make the most of my opportunities in Japan and continue to develop as a dancer. The first thing I searched for was a rock’n’roll dance club. It was like a breath of fresh air and a smack in the face. I loved it! I got to dance with other expats in Japan as well as Japanese people. Communication was never an issue: dance is a universal language!

A little later I found a dance studio closer to my home. Although the process was entirely in Japanese, through the wonders of google translate I managed to get there and get signed up for unlimited beginner classes.

I started going to as many classes as I could and immediately noticed something. These classes were different to the ones I had experienced at high school. Now that I was an ‘adult’, people of all ages were in the classes. People aged 18 to 60, all beginners. I felt like an idiot. To think that I had never given dance a fighting chance, just because I felt embarrassed by how low my level was compared to those around me. If I enjoy dance, that is enough. I noticed a change in myself too. Whenever I had dance class I would be on full energy at work all day looking forward to it, and I left every class feeling happy, carefree, and inspired to keep working hard.

Dance is such an excellent form of exercise that is stimulating both physically and mentally. It is undoubtedly one of the most challenging sports out there as it brings together physical and creative fields. If you are one of those people who really cannot just go to the gym and tell yourself what to do, or if you find yourself bored when exercising, then dance could be perfect. It comes in so many varieties too! From dance-aerobics classes like Zumba to all the different styles of dance out there to try.

Realising a passion for dance at age 21 is not ideal, as that is pretty old in dance terms, and my body has definitely been letting me know that over the past few weeks. However, ice works wonders and as they say, no pain, no gain! I have nicknamed my apartment “Shoe Box Studio” due to its tiny size and the challenges that brings to dance practice. Despite space issues and a more than likely future noise complaint as to why there is so much stomping going on at midnight (don’t worry, I am 99% sure no one lives below me), dance has undoubtedly found a place to stay in my home. I like to challenge myself by uploading dance covers or pieces of choreography from home. This also helps me get out of that ‘not good enough’ mindset that I’ve had with dance for so long.

Every new skill you try to learn in life is a new ladder to climb. Sometimes pride can get in your way if you want to start at the bottom of a ladder when everybody else seems to be halfway up. But for goodness sake, if you find something that truly fires you up, never be afraid or too proud to start climbing.

Emily Bisset is a 22 year old media studies graduate. This is her first year on JET and her first time in Japan. She is a Kiwi who loves K-pop, cameras, and creating. Although she misses New Zealand she is loving life in Japan and all it has to offer. Her work can be seen on YouTube and on Vimeo.