29 May 2016

Japan Update: I'm Moving to 熊本県 - Kumamoto!

View from Kumamoto Castle Keep Tower / 熊本市風景
Photo by 663highland, CC BY 2.5 
Since my last Japan-related post, with bated breath I waited to hear of my location placement with the JET Program, and huzzah! It's been a little over a week and I've learned I'm going to Kumamoto Prefecture! 

Kumamoto Prefecture is located on Japan's southern-most island of Kyūshū, and it is is going to be my home for at least one year, but I'm hoping to have a good enough experience that I can stay longer (JET participants can work anywhere from one to five years in the program, depending on performance and contract renewals). 

I'm coming into the JET program with very little knowledge of Japan--despite taking some edX courses to learn more of the history and culture, I still only know a smidgen of information, so as soon as I learned my placement, the Googling began. 

Map of Japan with highlight 
Kumamoto prefecture
Actually, it started out like this, before the Googling happened. My brain went, "Kumamoto, Kumamoto -- why do I feel like I've heard of Kumamoto before?" 

Kumamoto was in the news in April, and it's because of the devastating earthquakes that hit the area. Kumamoto is still in the process of recovery and the Kumamoto JET blog posted this enouraging letter to the incoming JETs to address this, which you can read here

Anyway, for about five seconds I felt a twinge of worry when I realized I'd be heading to an area still recovering from a major disaster, but I got over it immediately, and this was before I even found the Kumamoto JET website. 

It's because no matter what, Kumamoto has a history and culture older than these earthquakes, and there are so many wonderful things it has to offer -- and these things of course popped up in my Google search and dwarfed the news on the earthquakes. As the KumaJET website states, 
"there are some things about Kumamoto that will never change. We are still a prefecture full of delicious food, beautiful sights, and amazing people"
which every article and video I've found online about Kumamoto confirms. I can't wait to experience this for myself at the end of July. 

As I continued researching, I was super excited to learn about Kumamon! I knew from quite a few years ago that Japan's prefectures had their own mascots, and in 2013 I remembered reading the Jezebel article "Japanese Mascots Set World Record; Also Haunt Our Dreams" and this video particularly:


Back in 2013, I didn't know who the mascots were, but that fabulous black bear in the front caught my eye, and honestly, I thought he was definitely boogeying down a lot more than the other mascots and was my favorite by far. Turns out, this is Kumamon, the mascot for Kumamoto Prefecture! 

Omote-Sando of Izumi Shrine and Kumamon
by そらみみ, CC BY 4.0
KISMET! 

At this point, when it comes to placement, my only knowledge that's certain is my prefecture. Since my placement was listed as "Kumamoto-ken, Kumamoto-ken," ("ken" meaning prefecture), I won't know my exact location within Kumamoto for a while (but soon, I hope!). It's likely that I'll be working with high schools, but also specialty schools, according to my initial placement email. However, until the prefectural board contacts me with more information, none of this is 100% confirmed, so I have to sit tight and be content with what I've got thus far. It's great news all around, to be sure! 

In the meantime, let me leave you with Kumamoto-shi's "Happy" (Pharrell Williams) video, because it makes me smile -- and, yes, to be cheesy, I'm totally happy that I was chosen to go to Kumamoto!


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