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JET Programme Voices / Multicultural symbiosis

Courtesy of Amy Lin

Amy Lin, front center, on top of Mt. Senjogatake with friends in 2016

By Amy Lin / Special to The Japan News My name is Amy Lin. I was born and raised in Taiwan, and I immigrated to the United States in 2005. I came to Japan as an Assistant Language Teacher on the JET Programme and was placed in Yokkaichi City, Mie Prefecture, in July 2013. I have been living there for the past five years and just finished my time on the JET Programme in July 2018.

I still remember when I was informed of my placement by email from the JET Programme office back home. When notified I would be going to Mie Prefecture, I had many questions. Where is Mie? What is Yokkaichi, a market? (The city’s name can be read that way.) Yokkaichi is known for Yokkaichi asthma? Why did JET do this to me? Will I die there?

Of course I didn’t. Instead, I fell in love.

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  • Courtesy of Amy Lin

    Amy Lin

Yokkaichi is the most populous city in Mie Prefecture. Its location is perfect: convenient for shopping, hiking, rock climbing, or relaxing by the beach. I fell in love with the Suzuka mountain range right away and expanded my horizons to hike in many prefectures with many Japanese friends.

Soon after my arrival, I joined several local groups. I only learned the hiragana writing system before coming to Japan, so I had to do my self-introduction in the simplest Japanese. I was caught off-guard when asked for a detailed self-introduction.

I found myself in this situation repeatedly, so my Japanese friends and colleagues helped. They would typically tell people my name, and immediately explain that I was Taiwanese but moved to America at a young age, and I do in fact speak English fluently.

It was difficult for some people to accept not only that America is my country of citizenship but that I am in fact an American. After all these years of acculturation in California, it was hard when people tried to tell me otherwise.

However, I eventually found my comrades. I was transferred to a local junior high school where roughly 30 percent of the students have roots in other countries. Not until then did I know that Mie Prefecture has one of the biggest JSL (Japanese as a second language) populations in K-12 education in Japan. Even many in Mie are unaware of this fact.

I felt at home at this school. Many of the students are called by one name at school, and another name at home. They speak one language at school, and another at home. This is common in California, but not too many Japanese friends had experience with this dynamic.

I shared my identity crisis with my students, and many of them understood. In this school, it is everyone’s responsibility to support their friends and classmates. The entire school curriculum is focused on diversity and JSL. The students are proud to be part of such a diverse community. Even for me, the ALT, this was important.

Of course, throughout this time I made and kept many close friendships with Japanese people. This five-year experience was a reconciliation journey for me. I took things for granted when I was in California, but my friends here in Yokkaichi helped me to reexamine who I really am.

My definition of being Taiwanese-American has evolved, and I know that will continue. The same goes for my students and neighbors in Mie. I call this city home because it is where I grew as an international person.Speech

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