ProfileJohn Opondo is the first Kenyan *JET Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) to work in Mie Prefecture.
At the time of his departure to Japan, he had just graduated from the United States International University (USIU) with a degree in International Business Administration and a minor in Marketing.
*JET – Japan Exchange and Teaching
A Glimpse of my Experience in Japan
When growing up as a primary school student and even during my teenage years, my peers and I dreamt about life beyond the borders of our beloved country. Many, probably including some of the readers of this short article did the same; America and the UK being on the top of many people’s priority list. This was the same for many of my peers in the Eastlands part of Nairobi, where I grew up.
As a 3rd grade student in Lenana, I got the opportunity to study with a Japanese student originally from Nara Prefecture, Japan. I began developing an interest in Japanese language and also the country itself. By the time I was graduating from high school, I was no longer singing the same tune as my peers did. All I was interested in was studying Japanese and of course visiting Japan if opportunity came by. I joined a language school in town and graduated after a year and a half after which I worked part-time as a Japanese speaking tour guide which helped me improve my language ability quite a bit. Through the help and support of many, I got the privilege of making several visits to Japan and spending a total of 8 years of my life in the Asian country.
During my stay, I got the chance to do several jobs both in the private and public sector. I once volunteered at a nursing home in a small town known as Hachinohe, located in Aomori Prefecture, North Japan. All I did then was to spend time with senior citizens of the country who were unable to take care of themselves due to old age, some of whom just needed a place to socialize with others since their children and grand children had moved to larger cities to look for jobs. Some of the people at the home had never met an African before and my days there were full of interesting, sometimes weird experiences. I remember an old lady who always tried to rub dirt of my skin not knowing that that dark brown was my original skin color. At first I was offended only to realize that it was actually out of being curiosity and naivety. I was in Hachinohe during winter and despite the clear skies and the Sun coming out every morning, every other day was terribly cold. It sometimes got to -2 degrees. Back home, clear skies and a bright Sun meant warmth and comfort but this was not the case in Hachinohe.
As a university student in USIU, I got an opportunity to spend about 9 months as an exchange student in Kansai Gaidai University (Kansai Gaikokugo Daigaku) which is located in Osaka, Japan. I was young and excited about life in Japan. I was amazed at the fact that almost every week new job advertizing magazines would be published and everyone would have free access to them. High school students would work and earn about 700yen (2012/09/09 currently approx. 650kes) an hour yet in Kenya, even university graduates fail to get jobs after investing years in education. I decided to do anything and everything that came my way in order to make the best of my time as a student in Japan. From English language tutoring to cultural entertainment, pizza delivery to Japanese TV comedy the list is endless.
Pizza delivery from 8pm to 5am four times a week at Shinsaibashi in Osaka was one of the best part time job experiences that I ever had. It was extremely tiring, stressful but at the same time very educational especially as far as Japanese hard work culture is concerned. I would get a call from a customer who would place his/her order and give me an address expecting me to deliver the Pizza in less than 15 minutes. It was a small Pizza store and the person who got the order had to do practically everything, from the actual preparation of the Pizza to the delivery on a bicycle. During winter, a few minutes in front of the almost 500 degree oven was bearable but it was extremely unpleasant during the terribly hot summer day. I could not read the Kanji characters on my map and lost direction severally ending up delivering cold Pizza’s to customers. I cannot remember the number of instances that customers yelled at me because I delivered them cold Pizzas or sometimes even delivered to the wrong address in the middle of the night. It took a while before I got used to it but with time I made lots of regular customers who would have no one rather than I deliver their pizzas for them. It was here that I made friends with people from all walks of life and brushed up on my Kansai Japanese dialect.
Later after graduating from Kansai Gaidai and also my local university USIU, I got an opportunity through the Japanese Embassy to participate in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET) as a Coordinator for International Relations in Mie Prefecture. Here I did a lot of Japanese-English translation and interpretation, played a part in teaching the Mie population about intercultural communication and multicultural coexistence as well as hosting a weekly radio program know as Info Mie which was a program that mainly gave local news and information to foreigners in a language that they could understand well.
After two years at Mie, I decided to try the private sector. I moved to Tokyo and got a job in a travel agency. Here I experienced Japan’s real working culture. In Mie, I was used to an 8am to 5pm schedule but now, 8am to 11pm was the norm. It was difficult to balance between my professional and private life. I had just gotten married and God had blessed my wife and I with a son. Sometimes I would end up burning the midnight oil with my colleagues at work. My schedule only allowed me to see my loved ones while they were deep asleep. I feared that one day my son would not recognize me as his dad since I was never at home. I was what you call an “absentee father”. At times I even thought I had chosen the wrong profession but looking back, I do not regret a bit. The perseverance taught me a lot and opened doors to more opportunities.
I am now back home working in the tourism industry, an industry that I have always enjoyed working in ever since my days as a tour guide. I have lots of experiences beyond what can be shared on paper and I do hope that through the sharing of my experiences, many will be encouraged to pursue their individual dreams.