Jim Gannon (Imabari-shi, Ehime, 1992-1994)
Where were you in Japan as a JET and when?
I was an ALT in the port town of Imabari, in Ehime Prefecture, from 1992 to 1994. This entailed rotating among 11 junior high schools in the mountains and islands around Imabari. The island schools in particular were tiny, with maybe 20 to 30 students each. They were remote, so I had to commute by ferry or via a high speed boat that navigated around the Seto Inland Sea’s whirlpools. Then, after two years as a JET, I talked my way into Ehime University as postgraduate “research student” and spent a third year there studying economics and working on my Japanese.
What sparked your interest in applying for the JET program?
Luck and a lack of other job prospects. As a senior in college, I was fascinated with Africa and wanted to work on development issues. I spent much of my free time looking for job openings in Africa. While I was doing this, a friend told me about this new program which was little known at the time and which would pay me to live in another country. That was the JET Program, which was then in its fifth year. I took her advice and submitted an application, although I was not very serious about it. At the time embarrassingly ignorant about Japan and even had trouble even finding it on a map.
In the end, I had to choose between a possible job in Africa and participating in the JET Program. My heart was with Africa, but the decision ultimately came down to plane tickets. I would have to purchase my plane ticket to Africa on my own, but I had only $230 in my bank account and at that time an Africa ticket cost close to $2,000. Meanwhile, the Japanese government was offering to pay for my plane fare to come to Japan…and they were flying new JETs over in business class still in the early ‘90s. So, I decided to go to Japan for one year, until I could earn enough money to get to Africa. I ended up falling in love with the country and making a career out of US-Japan relations….but it took me more than 20 years to finally make it to Africa.
What are some of the things your prefecture is known for?
The Seto Inland Sea near Imabari has incredible fish like tai (sea bream)—tai-meshi is a local specialty—and my town was also known for its yaki-suzume or grilled sparrow. But the most important thing is that the best mikans in the world are grown in the hills around Ehime. Everybody’s father or sister seemed to have a mikan farm, and in harvest season you couldn’t go a day without being given a bag of citrus. I even
Did you pick up any of the regional dialects? What are some of your favorite words or phrases?
Ehime natives speak Iyo-ben, which is relatively close to the Hiroshima dialect. I didn’t know Japanese when I arrived, so some of the first Japanese I learned was Iyo-ben, and it took me a while to learn the difference between standard Japanese and our dialect. I recall picking up a phone in an office—I think I was in Tokyo by then—and my co-workers almost fell out their chairs in laughter when I replied something like, “shindoi jaken kaete kowai” (shindoi dakara kaete shimau I’m tired so I’m going home). They weren’t sure what it even meant but they knew that you didn’t speak that way in a professional setting.
Do you have a specific memory or event that stands out from your time on JET?
Hundreds of memories, including some I won’t repeat without a few drinks in me. The excitement and kindness of my students left a deep impression on me. On my last day in one classroom—and I had a lot of “last days” since I taught in 11 schools—one boy insisted on tearing a metal button off of his school uniform to give me as a keepsake to remember him. I scolded him, but was secretly touched and never forgot him.
What are you doing now, and does it have any connection to Japan? How did your experience in Japan change your life?