Scooter vs Japan

Acceptance! | May 21, 2015

Artist’s rendition

While I waited on my placement notification, I was going to write about something. I was thinking maybe hobbies, or communication with the outside work, or even how much I hate cosplay. But I got my placement notification today, so screw that.

So I will be moving to Hokkaido, to the small town of Kamikawa-cho. This town, from my cursory search while waiting my my doctor’s appointment, is location into roughly centre of Japan’s Canada-Hoth analogue. I’m very excited to finally have some of my placement details (my contract and job locale are still to come), and I wanted to share some of the thoughts going through my mind in the roughly 3 hours since use popcicles started getting our placements.

The bad

I’d requested on my application for return to Kansai, the area I’d been to twice before. Comfort and familiarity aside, I know of English language supports in the region and felt like I could easily pick up where I left off. I also know people and social groups, be they professors, former exchange students in Canada, or friends I’d met at Gaidai, in the area. So that I won’t be returning to Kansai (at least any time soon) does kind of suck.

Additionally, I’ve always been a bit of an urban liver. Going from a lively and large city of over 1 million people to a boring barely city of 26 000 with no economy and nothing to do was a bit of a shock already. With Kamikawa, from my quick search this afternoon, it looks like I’ll be living in an even smaller 4000 person town that is largely isolated from the rest of Hokkaido and Japan. Some 2 hours and 10 000 yen away from Sapporo (the prefecture’s capital), it’s certainly going to be an adjustment. And even though there are JETs from Alberta who will also be in Hokkaido, it looks like we’re all pretty spread apart. So no dirty white people parties.

Of course, being this rural is going to have some challenges. Health reasons aside (like allergies), rural living may present some challenges to my rather unique set of hobbies and interests. Being so far from Sapporo means no more regular trips to Yellow Submarine for tabletop games or the video game and nerd shops my former proximity to Osaka allowed. I may or may not have access to computer parts in the same selection and capacity I had in both Hirakata-shi and Osaka. It’s likely that there is no climbing gym near the small town. It’s definitely going to be small town living, something I have not been terribly good at doing.

The good

Let’s start with those JETs. In a hilarious and almost ironic turn of events, a number of the JETs from around Alberta that I’ve been speaking with and hoping to meet are also going to Hokkaido. So not only will I know the JETs around me, but we all come from largely the same place. These are people that I share a language and dialect with, people I may have gone to school with or lived near. Not only are we all Canadian, not only are we all from Alberta, but that we share regional knowledge and experiences is really cool. And beyond simple comfort, this means that we could share notes and conversations about how to teach and promote Canadian culture. Having so many people around me with shared experiences is really cool. Plus they aren’t American. 😛

Now, if nothing else, I’m both flexible and resilient. While it’s a total bummer that I won’t be returning to Kansai, this does afford me a great opportunity to broaden my knowledge about Japan. I understand that Hokkaido has a really fascinating local culture and many festivals, something that I didn’t get to experience when I was at Gaidai (the festivals part, anyways). I’m also a half hour from a famous onsen, something else I didn’t get to experience before. Being in Hokkaido is going to be a really wonderful experience and one that will be very different from my time at Gaidai. And the town also boasts to have the most delicious ramen in all of Japan, so that’s pretty cool too.

There also seems to be a rather interesting series of Canadian connections in Kamikawa-cho. The Wikipedia article for the town mentions that it is the sister city of Rocky Mountain House, which isn’t terrible far from where I live. The region also has something of a beef industry, thanks to Black Angus cattle imports in the 80’s, and the nearby Sounkyu Gorge onsen is modeled after Whistler, BC.

And for as much as I may be uncomfortable in a small town, there are going to be a lot of perks too. At just over 1000 sq. kilometres, the town is 1/6 the size of Hirakata-shi with a vastly smaller population. I walked EVERYWHERE in Hirakata-shi, so knowing that nothing will be far away will be quite charming. And having such a small population base, I understand that I will have quite the warm reception. I understand (if Wikipedia is to be trusted for even a second) that the Rotary club in the town is quite welcoming and has a number of Canadian members in the past. It’s also not unthinkable that I will get to know many of the families in the town and be welcomed into their homes, an activities that happens in cities but is far more overwhelming and uncommon. So I may feel like I have a family, and may have those wonderful and heart-filled JET experiences that all ALTs hear about.

Lastly, while I really, REALLY wanted to go back to Kansai, I did spend quite a bit of time during my application deciding if I wanted to request Hokkaido. Though lower on my list of places I’d love to visit and ultimately not in my placement requests, it is a place that I’ve been wanting to visit. Not knowing many specific places in Japan, Hokkaido was somewhere that did rank quite high on my expected travel plans. And despite my distaste for snow, I don’t expect I will have to cripple my wrists again trying to cool off with a fan during the 7+ months of brutal humid spring and summer (I will, however, have to find a tauntaun to sleep in).

So with the bad (or rather less desirable) comes the good. I am quite happy to be placed in Hokkaido, even if it wasn’t in my top picks. There will be challenges, but there is a lot to enjoy about it too. Although with 4000 people around me, I suppose I’ll have to not be so much of a dirty barbarian since literally everyone will be able to recognize me.

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About author

Scooter is an ESL teacher and Japanese anthropologist. He hopes to document his thoughts of living in Japan, continued cultural studies, and to provide advice for others looking to hop the pond.

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