By Fernando Rojas (Fukui-ken, 2008-10) for JQ magazine. A resident of Teaneck, New Jersey, Fernando was JHS ALT in Fukui prefecture, home of the echizen-gani, a city named Obama, the Fukuisaurus, and nuclear power plants. While in Japan, he picked up shuji (Japanese calligraphy) as his hobby and continues to practice today. He is currently a fellowships associate for the Social Science Research Council’s Abe Fellowship Program in Brooklyn and co-representative for the JETAA New Jersey subchapter.
Hailing from Tome City in Miyagi Prefecture, Saiko Goto was a recent JUSTE Program participant at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Informally called the “Reverse JET Program,” the Japan–U.S. Training and Exchange Program for Language Teachers allows Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs) from all over Japan to take courses in ESL teaching at U.S. universities.
Goto received her teaching license from Gunma Prefecture Women’s University, where she majored in English. She currently teaches at Sakuma Junior High School and has taught English for eight years. Before returning to Japan in January, Goto spoke with JQ about JUSTE and the ongoing impact of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami on her school.
How are teachers selected to participate in the JUSTE program?
Teachers are selected according to their prefectures. In some prefectures, teachers have to apply for the program. In other prefectures, teachers are picked by the board of education. In my case, I was recommended by my principal to the Tome City Board of Education and selected by the Miyagi Prefecture Board of Education.
Have you found the JUSTE program beneficial? In what ways has the program helped you?
Being on JUSTE has been very beneficial. I have met and talked with many people from different countries, as well as learned a lot from them through English. I have also thought more about my teaching and the importance of learning English. The program has also helped me to create more effective activities. I made many activities with other JUSTE members and we will use them in my classes.
Would you recommend the program to other JTEs in Japan?
Definitely. By participating in the program, you can have many chances for meeting people and learn a lot. I visited a former ALT during the winter vacation and experienced life in Arkansas with her and her family. I also became friends with other JUSTE participants. We will share our list of activities with each other online and keep in touch.
Your city, Tome, is located near Minamisanriku, a town that was heavily damaged by the tsunami. What sort of damage did your town and school experience?
Tome is located west of Minamisanriku. We were not hit by the tsunami because Tome is separated from the coast by mountains. Even though the tsunami didn’t hit us, our town suffered damage. We still had downed houses, traffic signals that stopped working, and broken roads. A week after the disaster, trucks brought water and food to gyms and other emergency evacuation centers. My school had no electricity, no water, and no food for a week.
When did teachers go back to work?
Teachers went back to school a couple of days after the earthquake. Classes were cancelled and teachers started to check on students by visiting their homes and evacuation centers. Because there was no gas for cars, most teachers couldn’t drive to school. Some teachers walked, others rode their bikes to school for long distances. Some teachers started carpooling together.
Did your school receive students from towns on the coast? How did the students adjust?
Students from Minamisanriku arrived at Sakuma JHS in April. My school received five to six students per grade. Some students were okay, but others didn’t fit in and wanted to go back home. They often looked lonely or sad. Eventually, some students went back even though they had lost their homes.
When did things start to feel “normal”?
The start of school was delayed until the third week of April. We didn’t get school lunch for the first two weeks. When lunch started three weeks later, we had only bread and milk. Normal lunch didn’t start until the end of May. Although things were back to normal by then, the san-nensei school trip to Tokyo was delayed until September because the Shinkansen didn’t work.
Things were slower for my friend in Minamisanriku. Before I came here, my friend took me to where his house was. I was shocked by how big and horrible the tsunami was. People lost everything. They lost friends, family, memories, books, and photographs. Although we had different situations, Minamisanriku and Tome are in the same prefecture. How could this be? I was very confused and felt totemo fukuzatsu. I can’t express my feelings with words.
In Minamisanriku, the local government wanted to keep the shiyakusho (city hall) as a memorial for the tsunami, but people who lost family there disagreed. Finally, the building was demolished recently. It reminded us of sad stories and memories of people who escaped to city hall during the tsunami. Many places have been demolished and some are preserved as a symbol of disaster. You can see some places that were damaged with Google Street View.
What do you think is needed now?
The problems are different each day but the government should realize what people need and their problems. We still have a housing problem. There is no place to build. Some areas are restricted to live in. People who lost their homes want to go back. We are still worried about people from Minamisanriku, such as fishermen. They are in Tome now, living in houses built by the government, but they have no jobs. They walk around all day. Some go to pachinko parlors. They really need jobs.
Would you like to give us a personal message?
I appreciate the many people and countries that helped and donated to Japan. Now, Japan is recovering, but it’s still not enough. It will take a lot of time. I’d like many people to remember that Japan, especially Tohoku, still has many problems concerning this. If you have a chance, search the Internet for Tohoku and see what’s going on. Don’t forget us.
For JQ‘s January 2012 interview with JUSTE Program participant Kazumoto Takechi, click here.