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JET Alumni Enjoy Reunion with Japanese Culture

• Many JET alumni and their friends enjoyed a reunion with Japanese culture at the 12th annual New Year’s Shinnenkai on January 17. The event was hosted by the JET Alumni Association (JETAA) of Chicago and the Consulate General of Japan at Chicago, and held at the Japan Information Center in the Consulate General’s office.

• JET is the acronym of the program called “the Japan Exchange and Teaching”, where native English speakers teach English to Japanese students or work with local institutions. It provides Japanese students opportunities to communicate with native speakers while JET participants have opportunities to experience life in Japan.
• Most JET participants stay in Japan for two years or so and return to their home countries. The New Year’s Shinnenkai is a good opportunity for them to reconnect themselves to Japan.

• After a welcoming address by Wesley Julian, JETAA Chicago President, the attendees enjoyed food and drinks including their favorite sushi. On the stage, many kinds of entertainments were presented.
• Aikido martial arts and Iaido sword technique were demonstrated by Shinjinkai, the Japanese Martial Arts of Chicago. Japanese pop culture inspired Funk/Hip Hop dance was performed by Zetto-D. All the attendees were thrilled by “True/False Japan Trivia Tournament”, “$1 Janken (Rock, Paper, Scissors) Tournament, and “Charity Raffle Drawing.”
• Mochi making, wearing kimono dresses, Japanese calligraphy, origami, and karuta (Japanese card matching game) also entertained the attendees.

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• Evan Chears was interested in going to Japan since he was child because his uncle was very much interested in Japanese martial art and culture in general. In addition, his cousin was part Japanese. In his college, his friends were interested in participating in the JET program, so he applied for it with them. Consequently, he was only one who was qualified as JET teacher.
• His dream came true, and he departed to Japan in 2011. His job was teaching English in high schools in Mito City, Ibaraki Prefecture.

• Before he was about to enter a classroom, a Japanese teacher advised him saying, “The students are very shy.” He had predicted it and prepared many masks of Japanese and American celebrities. When he pulled out the masks at a classroom and asked the students, “Who is this?” nobody said anything. The classroom was very silent. Then he started to use his skills with photography and computer graphics and made many interactive powerpoints to get the students more involved with learning English.

• Mito is famous with natto, which is fermented soy beans with a stale smell, but one of the favorite items for breakfast in Japan. Chears politely said, “I liked it more than I thought, but I’m still not in love with it.” He once encountered natto ice cream in an izakaya (tavern) and said, “It was craziest thing I’d ever tasted.”

• During a summer break, he traveled around Japan, and one of the most impressive places was Hiroshima. He said, “Seeing all kinds of devastation exhibited in the Peace Museum, you really are able to understand how severe it was during at that time, but walking around Hiroshima was now beautiful.” He also said, “It was really interesting how that area was able to recover. It would be the spirit of Japanese people which enabled them to overcome these hardships. It was really moving.”

• Chears returned to Chicago at the end of August, 2014. The most impressive event happened to him just before he left Japan. He was interviewed by the TV crew of the popular program, “Why are you here in Japan,” and they decided to follow him for weeks.
• He had a big afro hair at that time, and his friends gathered to give him a haircut. It was a similar ritual to a sumo wrestler, who was retiring from the sumo tournament. The TV crew came to shoot the hair cutting ritual and aired it.
• Chears said, “It was very emotional experience because after graduating, I moved to Japan and really became as an adult in Japan, so leaving was very difficult. But I think that they (the crew) did a very good job capturing a kind of the end of my experience in Japan.”

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• Shannon Copp participated in JET program from 2006 to 2008. She previously studied Japanese and Japanese Buddhism in college, so she was very much interested in going to Japan. She said, “Reading about Japan and living in Japan was very different. I wanted to see real life in Japan, not just in pages in a book.” She requested Shiga Prefecture where Enryakuji was located while she was applying to JET. The temple is well known for accommodating warrior monks when Kyoto was the capital of Japan.

• She taught English at a middle high school in Echigawa Cho, in Shiga, where about 350 students were excited to learn from her. She tried to make them more and more excited.
• She not only taught English, but also taught international understandings. She brought lessons about different countries to show that English was not just an Anglo-Saxon language, but spoken in many other countries. She motivated the students by telling them English was an international language and a tool for understanding about other countries, even if they wouldn’t go abroad.

• She often rode a bike and visited temples. Only a 10-minute ride from one temple brought her to another temple. She said that Ishiyama dera was her favorite place in the world.
• She also went to swimming in Biwa Lake, the biggest lake in Japan, and enjoyed having picnics.

• When she arrived at Tokyo from Chicago, she accidentally ordered Gyudon (a bowl of rice with cuts of beef) and natto as her first meal in Japan. She said, “It was a learning experience.”
• Although she had the learning experience of natto, she loved food in Japan. She could buy onigiri or croquettes at convenience stores. She said, “You wouldn’t think to go to Seven-Eleven for a lunch, but that was normal over there. I missed the food very much.”

• After returning to the U.S., she had a hard time. “It was difficult to come back because on JET, you make close friendships, ones which were so close. You come to the U.S., where everyone speaks English. It’s more difficult to go from having such very close friends to having not so close friends. So, it was very difficult to make a transition.”
• She attended a graduate school and found a job at the University of Chicago. She has worked as Assistant Director of Student Advancement at the University. She said, “I do a lot of volunteer work for the JET Alumni Association and love this event. It’s my favorite.


The attendees play Japanese card game called "karuta."


The attendees enjoy punding mochi.


The attendees practice Japanese calligraphy at JET alumni New Year's Shinnenkai.

JET alumnus Evan Chears

JET alumnus Shannon Copp