Island Life, JET Life

Amami Oshima, You`re on to Something…

It’s been weeks since I’ve updated! I have been busy playing Amami Tour Guide. My boyfriend was here for a week, and then the day after he left I had some mainland friends stay with me at AirBnBecca (yep, that’s what I call my central island apartment.) This week, I’ve been catching up on sleep, falling into the rabbit hole that is Murakami’s 1Q84, getting back to hula and yoga class, and finally introducing myself to my new ichinensei students.

Materiya Falls in Yamato Village, Amami
The Heart Rock at Bira Beach. Only seen when the tide is just right :)
An off the beaten path lunch destination, and Corey’s first pork curry!
Terrible quality picture of Amami no Kurousagi– Amami’s rarest and most indigenous creature!
My handwritten sign for Corey was overshadowed by this tour group…RUDE.

In other news, I entirely revamped my introductory lesson for my new students. In September, my presentation was 90% All About Becca and 10% America. Ooooops. So I changed my presentation for the new school year to be All About New England, the tiniest region of America where people from the west coast often forget that Rhode Island is even a state. And probably Vermont too.

So I talked so much about New England this week that I made myself homesick, but at the same time, I am feeling so in love with Amami and its natural beauty. Sharing my island home with many people for the first time over the past couple weeks has really opened my heart to this place. I always knew Amami was beautiful, but seeing the way others react to the backdrop of towering green mountains and sparkling, turquoise sea caused me to fall in love with Amami all over again.

This view is across the street from my apartment complex!

So now I think it`s time to share this post that I wrote about Amami Oshima back on Sunday, February 28th.

Today feels like Spring! I am currently sitting outside on my balcony as I write. My outdoor space is pretty dingy, and despite living on a tropical island, my fourth floor apartment faces a cluster of rusted roofs, and instead of hearing the beautiful song of tropical birds every day, I hear the ugly caws of plump, black crows, and the dense mountain backdrop is so high that I never see the rising sun in all it`s glory…but whatever. I’m still outside and I can hear kids shouting excitedly in Japanese and spring is in the air today.

My students had tests this week, so that meant I spent a lot of time at my desk finding random tasks to occupy myself. But on Friday afternoon, my school received visitors from Tokyo University and a SoftBank school on Amami that hosts students from Vietnam and Cambodia for a couple years so they can learn Japanese and maybe eventually come back to Japan on a work visa. Pretty neat.

I listened to a Cambodian student and a Vietnamese student give presentations to my students in Japanese. Since they are not native speakers, they talked slowly and simply so I was able to understand part of their speeches. A first for me! They talked about their home countries, their hobbies, and how learning Japanese is muzukashi (difficult).

Then three of my students got up and gave a presentation in English on what makes Amami Island unique. A little backstory: I`ve been volunteering as tribute (I mean ALT) every Wednesday after school since September to assist my students as they make English presentations for an elective class that highlights Amami`s uniqueness, food, dialect, places to visit, culture, and history. I think the Amami dialect group is interesting because Amami Ben is classified as an endangered language by UNESCO. Amami language is only spoken by the elderly community now. But we have a local radio station that broadcasts soley in Amami Ben to help preserve the language.


Then the students from Tokyo University got up and gave presentations in terribly fast Japanese and I couldn`t understand anything other than one of the girls talking about her part time job at Starbucks. Everyone in the audience thought it was so cool that she worked at Starbucks and got free drinks while she was working. I wished I had the chance to tell her that I was eaten alive the one summer I worked at Starbucks during college because working the bar at the busiest store in my region was too fast paced for me.

After about an hour of presentations, the students broke up into small groups and got to know each other, share phrases from their own languages, and then play some Japanese-style team building games, like a giant game of Janken (he Japanese version of rock paper scissors.)

This was a great opportunity for my students to be exposed to different cultures, and really interesting for me to be there as the English teacher because no one talked in English except for my students giving the presentation. I also thought this was a good chance for other people to learn about Amami.

I feel that Amami is on the cusp of something big. Of course I hadn’t heard of it before I was placed here, but Amami is making a lot of efforts towards making it more accessible to the rest of Japan, and the world, for that matter.

Two summers ago, Vanilla Airlines opened up a route between Tokyo and Amami, so now islanders can travel to and from Tokyo once a day for cheap, but it also means many people can now travel to Amami for cheap as well!  Before that, I am told the only other option to Tokyo was the ever-expensive Japan Airlines (JAL.) I also heard at the presentation on Friday that Peach Airlines may come to Amami and open up a budget route to Osaka, thus bringing more tourism to Amami through the Kansai region.

Amami is also trying to register itself as a World Heritage Site. There are tons of promotional signs all over the island that say “We hope Amami and Ryukyu will be registered in the World Natural Heritage.” There are so many natural, hidden wonders here. It is the most beautiful place I have ever been to. Just yesterday Dina and I drove around the island on a rainy Saturday and were in awe of the way the lush forest just closes in on us. The island flowers are some of the brightest colors I have ever seen before in my life. And what I love about them is that they aren’t in your face everywhere like cherry blossoms (not that I don’t love my sakuras though.) Sometimes you have to look closely before they pop out at you.

The elective course I helped teach was designed by a JTE who was born and raised on Amami, and my school’s economics teacher who is interested in studying Amami`s population decline, as well as Amami’s candidacy for being a Natural Heritage Site. Unfortunately the students were not as interested in the topic as us, but in theory, I saw it as a fantastic opportunity for them to discover more about their home and learn how to talk about it in another language. The culture, places to visit, unique, and food groups even had the chance to present their research several times in front of a large audience. Once for the Cambodian and Vietnamese students, another time for the entire student body, and then for a group of professors visiting from Kagoshima University, including a visiting professor from the UK who specializes in the study of small islands.

I only know as much as someone who can barely understand the simplest of  Japanese conversations, but I feel like Amami is on the edge of something fantastic. I feel sad knowing that I can count on one hand how many months I have left here, but I am just grateful to be apart of this wondrous culture and community right now. Who knows, maybe Miyazaki will use Amami as a setting for one of his movies. If he can do it for Yakushima, he can do it for us!

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