Profile:Eddah Gichuru is the pioneer Kenyan Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) *JET participant. Her teaching post was in Shimane Prefecture.
At the time of her departure, she held an honours degree in English and linguistics from the University of Nairobi in Kenya.
*JET – Japan Exchange and Teaching
My Experience as a Kenyan JET
When I was asked to write about my experiences in Japan, I smiled inside and wondered,” what really should I talk about? There is so much!! I would need to write a book about it or something.” My experiences in Japan were nothing short of amazing. Everything; from the selection process to getting to this beautiful and clean country, to learning the language, the amazingly rich culture and to interacting with my students. It is one journey that no money can ever equate.
My name is Eddah Gichuru. I went to Japan on the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme. I was there for 5 years. I was chosen from a group of well qualified teachers to go to Japan and teach English. I had seen the advertisement on the Daily Nation and initially, it was more out of curiosity, l love travelling and if I go to Japan, then, I will have had a chance. We had to fill loads of documents and write an essay as to why you thought you should be the one to go. After short listing, we had an interview. On this day, I got to the Embassy of Japan and there are about 5 other people. I am ready but for one thing, I can’t speak Japanese. I was to learn that this was not one of the prerequisites for getting the job. As I wait to go in as the second person, this lady walks in and says, “I hear they want a hundred people.” I breathed a sigh of relief. I suddenly felt more confident. If we were about 500, it meant that in every 5 people, one had a chance. There was no way I was going to miss this chance. With this confidence, I went in for my interview. Two months later, on June 14th, a call came from the Embassy. I had been chosen to go to Japan, I was to go sign my contract and get some materials. I got there, and Mr. Wairua who then worked at the Embassy said to me,” Congratulations you were the only one picked.”
“Where were the rest of 99?” was what came to mind and I was scared for a time. And then it hit me, you are actually going to Japan!! I was so excited. And the journey for going to Japan began immediately after that. To start with, Mr. Wairua advised me to watch some videos in the Embassy about Japan. And for almost a month, I went to the Embassy and watched so many movies everyday from 9-4. Thanks to Mr. Wairua’s effort, I went to Japan more prepared than the rest of the foreigners I was to meet for the next 5 years. I was lucky, from there, the ticket, the visa was given to me and all I needed to do was go to the airport. I cannot forget to thank those who worked at the Embassy then as they organized for me to meet other people who had been to Japan before to share with me their experiences.
I landed in Tokyo in August 2006, a fine and extremely warm afternoon. It was humid but I was lucky that the bus that was to transfer us to our hotel where we were to be for 3 days for orientation was well air conditioned. After that, we moved on to our respective prefectures (provinces). We were about 1800 foreigners, the average number that goes to Japan each year to teach English. That year though, was the first time a representative from my country was joining the programme. Our main work was to teach our schools and the community around us about our culture using English.
I was sent to a small village (in Japan standards) called Ohda City in Shimane prefecture. It was as developed as any other, only there are fewer people who live there and the shops aren’t as many and grand, and the trains are fewer. My best moments began there. I found a people, amazed to meet this Kenyan girl with braids on her hair. “How do you wash it?” Is one of the questions I answered quite often? They are kind, honest and very hardworking. They were also eager to learn more about where I came from. Working there was a bit tricky at first because my students couldn’t speak good English and of course, I could barely speak Japanese besides the greetings. So, I took it upon myself to study the language seriously and luckily, Mr. Kiruri Gachie also advised me on what book was to use and actually gave me three quick Japanese classes before I left for Japan.
Whilst in Japan, I was able to learn the culture, the language and make very good friends some of whom have been here to visit. Some of the things I admired about Japan is how they take pride in themselves as Japanese. They all try to make the best out of where they are. At work, they are all responsible; no one supervises what you are doing. I remember getting there and asking what I was to do about exams expecting there to be a KCPE of a kind only to learn that I was to teach and examine what it is that I taught. They are also very clean and their country is really clean. They have taken great care of their environment. I learned a lot from the Japanese people. They are good at keeping time, they are also very good at thinking about other people first and this, I really admired. I also loved the changing seasons, something we don’t have here in Kenya.
I loved my stay there and when my family visited, they were showered with the same love and kindness that I had experienced all along. They were able to understand why I had been there for so long. Their food was a little hard to get used to as it tastes so unlike ours but once I got used to it, I was glad; so healthy and yummy. I still remember onigiri whenever I go to the supermarket here and I want something quick to eat. I also enjoyed other dishes like okonomiyaki, katsudon, karaage and curry rice. I was also able to learn karate and for a short while, I did taiko (Japanese drumming). I really enjoyed my stay there. If you ever get a chance, go for it.