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JET Programme Voices / I found myself in Japan’s countryside

Courtesy of Nicholas Mejia

Nicholas Mejia, center, at an international exchange event in Nagasaki in March 2016

By Nicholas Mejia / Special to The Japan Newsこんにちは。ニコラス・メヒヤー (Nicholas Mejia) です。私は2014年から2017年まで、長崎県佐々町に住み、県立鹿町工業高校と北松農業高校で、3年生の英語指導に当たりました。米カリフォルニア州出身で、現在27歳です。

I first visited Japan 11 years ago on a sister city exchange program between West Covina, which is part of the Los Angeles sprawl, and Otawara, a small city in northern Tochigi Prefecture. In just 10 short days I fell in love with the country where my great grandparents were born, and which almost a decade later would become my second home. Growing up in Los Angeles, I found myself suddenly surrounded by a quiet life I had never known existed. For 10 days I stayed with my now second family: three sons, a mother, and father, with whom I keep in touch to this day. The closest convenience store to my family’s house was 10 minutes away by car. For people who prefer cities or at least suburban areas, it may sound like I had been thrown into an unfortunate predicament, but it is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. About seven years later I would move to Saza, Nagasaki Prefecture, and my love for the Japanese countryside would grow even more.

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  • Courtesy of Nicholas Mejia

    Nicholas Mejia

It was in the inaka (rural area) where I planted rice for the first time and ate food hand-grown and nurtured by my very own students. I was able to buy local ingredients from the supermarket, which I had never done before. The manager of a convenience store down the street from my apartment not only recognized me but also remembered things we had talked about and followed up the next time we saw each other. I met a store owner by chance, and the next week I was at his house enjoying dinner with his wife and children. I was able to peek behind the familiar image of Japanese politeness and obligation and catch a glimpse of what it means to truly live in Japan and not just reside there.

I have never met people so willing to help complete strangers as the Japanese are and that willingness is threefold in the countryside. Before moving back to America, I embarked on a journey to try to discover my grandfather’s roots. Armed with only my semi-conversational Japanese, I got in my Nissan March — nicknamed “Marco” — and drove over 12 hours to try to discover some sort of clue about him. I will always remember the people I bumped into who listened to my story and did everything they could to aid me in my search. Whether it was calling someone who might have recognized my grandfather’s last name, or directing me to a library that still had microfiche copies of newspapers from over a century ago, they were extremely encouraging and inspired me to keep looking even when I felt like giving up. Though I did not find out where my grandfather was born, I am certain he must be from one of the smallest towns, where the people have the biggest hearts.

In the Japanese countryside, I found myself.

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The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme is administered through the collaboration of Japan’s local and national government authorities and promotes grass-roots internationalisation at the local level. Learn more: http://www.jetprogramme.orgSpeech

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