This past weekend, Brits living in the Fukushima Prefecture were invited up to the British Hills Resort (just as it sounds) to partake in a conference with the UK Ambassador of Japan, David Warren. With only a few of us attending, the conference was of about twelve people or so, and conducted in a mock Edwardian period library. David Warren wished to discuss the aftermath of the March earthquake, and how the Embassy chose to advise UK residents who were already living in Tohoku at the time. This discussion led us to consider how Japan may feel she’s being viewed by the rest of the world – and how various generations of Japanese people view the rest of the world themselves. I managed to have a nifty chat with the Ambassador concerning my students’ disinterest in foreign travel and experience; Mr. Warren expressed worry that Japan is heading towards another possible internalisation – and that strangely, the older generations hold a worldly interest far surpassing that belonging to the youth. Mr. Warren’s wife, Mrs. Pamela Warren whom I was sat beside, said that school programmes such as JET have the opportunity to challenge that attitude. I’ve decided to throw in a few more reasons as to why we learn languages in my school lessons: what benefits we can come to own if we were to gain a wider cultural insight, curiosity and understanding. Even if it becomes just a means to further understand their own culture, at least considering Japan through different eyes would recommend a more critical style of self- reflection in my students.

Aside from that rather wonderful debate, British Hills offered a lot to entertain. Guest residences were named after various brilliant British chaps (we were staying in ‘Drake’, beside ‘Chaucer’), a few of which were legitimate Tudor buildings transported from England and rebuilt by Japanese specialist carpenters. Quite ridiculous really, but the place did quench some of my homesickness pangs. Afternoon tea was served in the Ascot Tea Room, and a nature trail along the scenic mountain tops was bordered with British breeds of trees. Being surrounded by other British folk was quite a nice break from the constant ‘Gaijin’ (alien) status my appearance inevitably carries, and at that height, our mountainous resort was punctured by a chill reminiscent of London’s winters. Feeling a bit more relaxed, refreshed, and arrogant that David Warren went away remembering my name. David Warren. A good weekend.

(David Warren.)

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Two weeks into Koriyama life = buff m8. Term hasn’t started yet, so we’ve had plenty of time to settle in: visiting hot-spring onsen resorts, dancing in city festivals, buying grill ovens, dancing to funk and jazz in Fukushima city, and getting lost (a lot.)

This week, Junior High School students have been writing and practicing speeches for the upcoming English Speech Contest, and we’ve been coaching their pronunciation, intonation and grammar. These contests are nationwide, and prefectures throughout Japan battle it out. The kids are rad good. Helping out at events like these really highlights how little gusto there is for language learning in the UK education system. Because we were recently assigned our individual specific schools, every JET has been pretty giddy about teaching their own students for the speech contests. I appear to be an odd case this year: all beginning JETs placed in Koriyama are usually assigned two Junior High Schools each, but I’ve been given six Elementary schools! Looks like my speedy email for requesting the younger kids worked out! Koriyama is a big city, so I’ll be biking or getting a designated taxi to schools all around town. We drove past one today, and it was a school built IN a shinto shrine. A SHRINE. I am working with young Japanese children in a shrine this year. Mate. Photos soon to come 😉

We’ve been getting to know the city quite a lot, with all this settling in going on. Damage from March’s earthquake is scattered all around the place. The massive city gym is still unusable, and shops and houses have been boarded up and abandoned. Stone staircases belonging to our city’s largest Buddhist temple, the Niyohoji, are all over the grounds, and graves are in pieces. One house is still sitting in the middle of a road, having slid down a hillside during the quake (please see photo below.)
Many people have moved out of Koriyama, in fear of the radiation levels – or unwillingly, as radiation has lost many suppliers and farmers their livelihoods. We find ourselves reading vegetable labels to avoid Fukushima goods, whilst wanting to support our home. It’s a strange one. I’m personally drinking the tap water, though some of my neighbours are buying theirs in; and we try to remain indoors when it rains. From day to ordinary day, these quiet threats are very easy to forget about. A few nights ago we experienced a 6.0 earthquake at 3am (didn’t sleep again ’til 5!), but I’ve yet to prepare an emergency quake kit in case we need to evacuate. Time to start taking these things a bit more seriously, maybe. Until school starts, I better get visiting the 14 shrines and temples knocking about the place.

Welcome to Tohoku Pillows! Please read the aptly-named ‘About Tohoku Pillows’ in ‘Main Pages’ to the right of the screen, there. It’ll explain what the hell this blog’s title is about, and what contents it aspires to include by this time next year. This post is all about my new home, Koriyama-shi, where I’ll be living from August the 3rd.

For at least one year, my home will be the city of Koriyama in Fukushima prefecture, Tohoku region, Honshu island, Japan. Pretty neat, eh. Koriyama city is the second largest city in the Tohoku region. It stays snowy until spring, and becomes pretty toasty over the summer months. I’ll be living in a block of apartments full of other JETs – which relieves my intense visions of evening loneliness – and will be teaching at two junior high schools a week. Apparently, Koriyama hosts quite a few buff clubs and grubs: food is to be eagerly anticipated. Neighbours include the lovely Mt. Bandai and Lake Inawashiro, which make up part of the Bandai-Asahi National Park (yes: Asahi is that tasty Japanese larger) and includes a few hot-spring/ onsen resorts. And swans. Many swans. As the city is quite a port for industry and produce, the Shinkansen bullet train zips directly to both Tokyo and Sendai from its centre.

Being in the Fukushima prefecture, ‘Kori’ is 55km from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant which still houses an unstable nuclear reactor or two. Although Koriyama is within the UK’s advised exclusion zone for foreign travel in Japan, the Japanese Government – my employers – deem it safe to live anywhere outside a 30km radius. The radiation levels in Koriyama have reportedly returned to what they were before the accident, and current JETs working in the city say that life is back to normal (though with everyone keeping an added, sturdy eye on radiation monitors). This placement offers the opportunity for 2011 Fukushima-bound JETs to witness firsthand – and be a part of – a recovery from one of Japan’s most affecting recent disasters. For this reason, I’m very happy to be living in Koriyama. Plus, they sell square watermelons.

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That’s all I can really say about living in Koriyama until I live in Koriyama, I suppose. Thanks. Steph x