As part of our partnership with the Japan Society Boston, we are sharing excerpts of interviews with JET alumni on our social media and blog. We will work our way down Japan and share interviews with participants from all 47 prefectures!
Episode 3: Iwate
Interview with Doug Sikora.
Where were you in Japan as a JET and when?
Iwate-Ken, Ofunato-shi, Sakari-cho. August 1st, 1992 – July 31st, 1994
What sparked your interest in applying for the JET program?
My Japanese Sensei at Villanova University recommended the JET Program. At the time, living and working in Japan was NOT part of my “life plan”. I was a full-time student and worked part-time as a process sever serving subpoenas and summons for the courts. I thought I’d go to law school and then maybe join the F.B.I or D.E.A. I initially enrolled in Japanese class because it fit my crazy schedule, not because I thought I’d ever visit Japan (no less live / work there). When I shared my future plans with my Japanese Sensei I’ll never forget her response. “Doug-san, if you spend a few years in Japan (on the JET Program) you’ll gain incredible international experience and appear as a much more unique applicant to law schools; the FBI or DEA.” No argument there; Sensei was a spectacular saleswoman. So I researched the JET Program and was amazed at the opportunity / adventure it offered. I applied and recall going to NYC for the 3:1 interview. One of the interviewers asked me how I felt about being stationed in a very remote, rural part of Japan where there were few foreigners and people who spoke English. I said, “Perfect.” A few weeks later, I received word I was stationed at the Ofunato Kyoiku Jimusho serving the San-Riku Area elementary and high schools.
What are some of the things your prefecture is known for? Ex. food, hotspots, etc.
Iwate-ken is most know for fishing, delicious seafood, onsen, skiing, and the beautiful coastline. Ofunato (and the other coastal towns in Iwate) are also unfortunately known as the area of Japan devastated by the tsunami in 2011. I have not been back to Ofunato since the 2011 tsunami and hope to bring my wife and children there one day.
Did you pick up any of the regional dialects? What are some of your favorite words or phrases? The local dialect is referred to as “Kessen-go,” which rolls of local’s tongues so fast it sounds more like Italian than Japanese.
Not at all. It was so hard to understand. I recall “Nasai” transformed into “Nahariase” … “Oyasumi Nahariase…” When people spoke in the local dialect it was fast and sounded like another foreign language. Standard Japanese was enough of a challenge for me.
If you were to return to live in Japan, would you choose to live in that same prefecture?
Iwate-Ken and Ofunato are pretty far removed and it would be hard to say I’d choose to live there full-time. But if I lived in Tokyo full-time, I would definitely return to Iwate-Ken for vacations to enjoy the mountains and coast.
How has your connection in relation to Japan changed since living in Japan?
My connection to Japan is stronger than ever. It feels like my second home. After living in Iwate-ken on the JET Program, I never made it to law school, the FBI, or DEA. My “life plan” changed during the JET Program to include working full-time with Japan. After JET, I attended grad school (MBA) at the University of Hawaii and upon graduation returned to live and work in Tokyo for close to six years. Since returning to the USA, I’ve been fortunate to work for a Japanese company which enables me to travel to Japan once or twice a year. This last year of COVID-19 is actually the first year in close to twenty I have not been to Japan. I miss it and hope to return soon. The JET Program most certainly altered the course of my life.
This interview is part of a partnership between the Japan Society Boston (JSB) and the United States Japan Exchange & Teaching Programme Alumni Association (USJETAA) in which JET alumni contribute short interviews about their experiences in Japan in each prefecture.