All the Details: A New Ibaraki JET

In the past few days, I’ve found out pretty much EVERYTHING. It all happened in quick succession. Out of the blue, my predecessor contacted me one evening via Facebook; two days later I received an email from an Ibaraki CIR giving me information on my future schools and apartment; the following morning my official contract arrived via mail all the way from Japan; and then one day later, the postal service finally delivered my JET General Information Handbook and my copy of Japanese for JET’s!

Aside from the long hours spent at my catering job, these last few days have seriously been All Things Japan. Now that I have specific names to plug in, Google has been adequately scoured, and I am, for the moment, satisfied.

So let me reintroduce myself, now that I know all my JET details.

Hi. My name is Karen, and I will be teaching English in Yuki-shi, a small agricultural and industrial town of 51,000 people on the very edge of Ibaraki Prefecture. I will be splitting my time between 5 senior high schools, one of which seems to be located in neighboring Chikusei.

ibarakimap

Where do I start? Yuki, Ibaraki,  doesn’t really seem like a glamorous place.  It’s no Kyoto. I’ve been fairly warned by my predecessor not to expect too much, either. And I’m freaking out a bit, because to be honest, I don’t think my predecessor liked Yuki all that much! I’m challenging myself to find the beauty in this new city of mine, though.

My new city is at least famous for something — a silk-weaving technique, used to make kimono, that has been passed down through generations for over 1000 years! It’s a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, in fact. So that’s pretty cool.

Also, there seems to be quite a few little shrines and temples tucked away in neighborhood backstreets, so I am excited to walk around and find them. And out of all places, Yuki features not one, but TWO French restaurants: there’s a wonderful patisserie named Artisan and a crepe-and-coffee kind of place called Cafe la Famille. So I’m extremely grateful for the ability to have a taste of France whenever I’m feeling a little homesick.

And then, if I’m desperate, and if all else fails, Yuki is a little less than two hours from Tokyo by train if I need some bright city lights, and it’s also less than two hours by train from Nikko, Tochigi if I need some nature and culture in my life.

In other good news, my apartment is apparently centrally located in Yuki so I can easily walk or bike to the train station AND to three of my schools. For the 20-minute commute to my Friday school (and for future road trips), I’m planning on buying my predecessor’s car.

But I have to stop daydreaming about my future town for a bit, and focus on the here-and-now. With only 3 weeks left at home, and only 4 weeks left till departure, I still have a lot left to do! Also, I REALLY have to start studying Hiragana and Katakana — my goal is to have memorized both syllabaries and a few basic phrases before leaving, and (confession!) I haven’t really started. Oops.

A Realization

As a knowledge-hungry individual starving for more information on my placement, I have given up googling “Ibaraki Prefecture” in hopes that new information will appear, and I have turned to scouring the blogs of current and past JETs.

Recently, I stumbled upon a sentence that kind of shocked me into thinking a little differently. A blogger wrote something along the lines of, “Most people want to be placed near one of the Big Three cities: Tokyo, Kyoto, or  Osaka.” Honestly, I had never really considered proximity to those cities. Of course, returning to Kyoto and spending time in Tokyo at some point during this year-long adventure appealed to me, but I wasn’t imagining popping into either city every weekend! Since Ibaraki Prefecture is only an hour or two train ride away from Tokyo, I suppose my prefectural placement is enviable in some ways.

I’m not really “most people,” though. The prefectures that I hoped to get placed in were Toyama, Yamagata, and Nagano, because they are mountainous and scenic places. (Granted, I suppose you could use those two adjectives to describe most of Japan). Picturesque towns and rolling hills interest me more than bright lights and cityscapes, although there is beauty to be found in both. Luckily, Ibaraki seems to be the best of both worlds: despite seemingly being a pretty flat prefecture, it isn’t too far away from my three prefectural preferences, and it’s close enough to Tokyo so that I can visit whenever I want. Plus, if any of my friends actually decide to visit me halfway across the world, they won’t have to spend extra money flying from Tokyo to a far-away prefecture like Hokkaido or Okinawa.

Ibaraki, I’m warming up to you.