*This post was originally published on Kagoshima AJET`s blog on November 17th.
Like most prefectural ALTs, I didn’t find out exactly where I would be placed in Kagoshima until about a month before my departure. I dreamed about all the different places I could end up—the Osumi or Satsuma peninsula, Kagoshima City, or one of the islands. But I never really imagined I would end up on an island. Then on June 27th, I received an email from the Kagoshima BoE about my exact placement.
The first time I looked up my school`s address on Google Maps and it dropped a pin in the middle of the ocean…I cried. I was banished from the mainland! Was I going to be the only ALT there? I don’t speak any Japanese…how am I going to survive? How will I travel to all of the places I want to see in Japan?
I immediately announced in the KAJET Facebook group that I was headed to the islands. Within a few hours, I was greeted by two of my sempais, warmly welcoming me to island life. I thanked the gods old and new that I wasn’t going to be alone.
The day I arrived, my predecessor and three of my English teachers warmly greeted me at the airport with a giant sign and some hugs. As we drove to my new apartment, I constantly interrupted myself in conversation because I couldn’t stop gushing about the view along the coast —the crashing turquoise waves peppered with surfers and paddle boarders, the seemingly endless stretch of bone-white sand and palm trees, the towering rock formations jutting out of the water. My predecessor stopped at a lookout so I could marvel at the beach up close. I breathed in the salty ocean air and thought, “I could get used to this.”
But the best part about living on Amami is not the gorgeous views of the endless sea or the tropical atmosphere: it’s the people.
There are six ALTs on Amami—or islanders—as we like to call ourselves. We also have six fellow islanders spread out on Kikai, Tokunoshima, and Okinoerabu. A few times a year we plan islander events because it is much more convenient for us to island hop for a weekend than it is to ship up to the mainland. If we choose to leave Amami, the overnight ferry to Kagoshima takes 11 hours, and the hour-long plane ride costs about 25,000 yen round-trip. Sometimes I have the green-eyed monster over missing out on events that happen up in Kagoshima, like the recent culture day festival. Sometimes it even feels weird to call the southern islands a part of Kagoshima prefecture when we are actually closer to Okinawa. We are our own entity.
But as islanders, we all look out for each other. On weekends, you can usually find some of us cycling to Bashayama for an afternoon at our favorite bakery and beach, spending hours at one of the island’s hidden cafés, snorkeling, running along the ferry port, singing karaoke with our Eikaiwa friends, driving down to Koniya for a random festival, or seeing who can stack up the most sushi plates at Manten.
Island life harbors a strong sense of community. Our Japanese friends who knew our predecessor’s predecessor’s predecessor have so many great stories and memories to share. One of our long-time members of Eikaiwa has been friends with the ALTs down here for almost a decade! It was so comforting to walk into a built-in family here and feel so included upon my first step off the airplane.
I’ve been living on Amami Oshima for only three and a half months now, and already I can’t imagine myself anywhere else. I love the routine I’ve created on my island, and I’ve never felt more relaxed, despite my busy job at my high school. In shimaguchi (island dialect), we have the word yui— which I’ve been told translates to connection, or bond. It’s crazy how a bunch of strangers from all over the world have created an inseparable yui on our islands. Even though I cried upon first hearing about my placement, I wouldn’t trade where I am right now for anything.