By Eliot Honda (Ehime-ken, 2009-2012) for JQ magazine. Born and raised in Honolulu, Eliot was an ALT placed in Uwajima City of Ehime Prefecture. Prior to JET, Eliot worked as a freelance video editor mainly in the commercial and corporate world in San Francisco. Following JET, he returned to Honolulu and joined his mother in real estate. He currently has made a JET Introduction video, and has a YouTube series in the works called Sister City Ties, showing the beauty of the friendship between Honolulu and Uwajima.
My father always preached that “everything happens for a reason.” My being placed in Uwajima was no exception. Uwajima, as I would come to find out, had strong ties to my home of Hawaii. King Kalakaua of Hawaii and Date Munenari of Uwajima had met in 1881, becoming Japan’s first contact with a head of state. Uwajima and Hawaii would meet again in 2001 when the Ehime Maru, a high school fishing vessel, would be struck by a U.S. submarine. Nine lives would be tragically lost, including four high school students.
News of the tragedy spread quickly through Hawaii, causing the people to do everything they could to help the Uwajima families. Whole those families could have shown hate and anger toward the people of Hawaii, they instead embraced the people of the Aloha State with open arms. Through this tragedy, a friendship between Honolulu and Uwajima was born, giving way to the creation of a sister city relationship. To help strengthen the ties between the two cities, the mayor of Uwajima requested ALTs who were born in Hawaii. I found myself to be one of the lucky few chosen to represent Hawaii there as my time on the JET Program began.
I came to Uwajima with all these grand ideas of using video in my lessons. A month into my first year as an Uwajima ALT, I came to the realization that utilizing video in the classroom or in school for that matter would be an impossible task. If finding students willing to speak English in front of the class was difficult, finding students to speak English in front of a camera would be like moving the Hawaiian Islands with a fish hook. (I think only Hawaii people will get that reference.)
Feeling a bit defeated, I sat in my apartment and contemplated how I could put everything I’d learned in the multimedia world to good use. As fate would have, it I was asked by one of the Ehime Maru family members to join the Ehime Maru memorial service, and create a documentary not about the tragedy, but about the friendship between Honolulu and Uwajima. The documentary was for the schools in Ehime, and upon completion, DVDs were given to a large number of schools. This single video became the start of several videos for both the sister city exchange and the promotion of Uwajima.
It wasn’t until my final year on JET that the idea of a JET introduction video came to mind. I had seen an introduction to JET in San Francisco, but nothing that really explained just what one might experience on JET. With my year coming to a close, I wanted to create a set of videos that would not only explain what to expect as an ALT, but also what to expect as an Uwajima ALT. I had truly come to love this city, and I wanted to show off some of its beauty and history. So through experience and research, I crafted a series of YouTube videos about the life of an ALT and the life of an Uwajima ALT.
The response I received was incredible. Many JET alumni commented on how they had wished they had something like this when they were on JET. It made me feel extremely happy to know that I was able to help promote both Uwajima and the JET Program. I had received an email about doing a new video, one that was a more general overview of what the JET Program is, rather than focus solely on one city. Having returned to Hawaii and starting a new job, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to put one together, but the idea of a new project—and one that would help promote JET—was something I couldn’t turn down.
So I sat down and re-watched all four Uwajima ALT videos, re-read portions of the JET handbook, re-watched interviews I had done with ALTs based in Ehime, and just gathered information on how I could better the video, and what the difference between the Uwajima video and a general video would be. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a whole lot of difference between my experience and many other JETs. With that in mind, I started working on a new script, and followed that up with creating new graphics, a new opener, and gathering photos. Once that was done, I went to work shooting the introduction and recording the voiceover. I had a green screen, lights, a camera, and a set of mics so I was set to do this all on my own.
Having spoken to PAs and RAs, I had found that one of the biggest things that first year JETs mis-plan for is money. So I really wanted to stress the importance of preparing enough funds prior to coming on JET. I also wanted to stress the idea of the “cultural ambassador”; it’s funny how you can be told that you are under a magnifying glass a hundred times, but it’s not until you get there and see just how serious it is that you realize what everyone was warning you about.
There are just so many things to keep in mind, and to prepare yourself for. I know that I wouldn’t have made it through my first year had it not been for the prep work that was done by the San Francisco consulate. They prepared me for everything, they made me aware of exactly what I was there for, and what to expect from my day to day life. To be honest, because of the San Francisco consulate I had no real surprises (other than just how hot and cold it gets in Japan). I really wanted to do what I could to help, or at least attempt to help, new JETs.
This is such an incredible program and I wish that everyone could have the same incredible experiences that I have had.
Visit Eliot’s YouTube channel here.