I lived in a small town called Hamaoka in Shizuoka Prefecture from 1998 to 2001. As an Assistant Language Teacher on the JET Programme, I was employed to teach English communication at the local high school.
One of my enduring impressions from there is of the countryside itself. Hamaoka’s quiet hills and unhurried, pastoral way of life reminded me of the New England town where I was born and raised. Hamaoka, too, was lovely in all seasons. I have vivid memories of witnessing transitions from spring to summer, fall and then winter. I marveled at the rich hues of the different blooms that graced our area throughout the year.
Little details of life in Hamaoka struck an unexpected chord in me. Biking home from school in the early evenings I often passed a roadside stand where the local farmers sold brilliant red cherry tomatoes and delicate flowers. I never failed to slip a hundred yen coin or two in the unattended lockbox and pick up something for dinner or a bouquet to brighten up my apartment. The farmers and residents of our community were proud of their local produce and knew that they were blessed with something special. This was similar to the region in which I grew up, where drives down narrow back country roads led to roadside stands offering sweet corn, ripe tomatoes and other seasonal delights.
Although Japan is noted for its cramped spaces and lack of privacy I found frequent opportunities to sit in peaceful solitude surrounded by scenes of arresting beauty. Whether it was at the top of a hill by a shrine overlooking the ocean or biking along the shore with a light summer breeze at my back, I could gather my thoughts and draw energy from nature.
Finding rapport with my coworkers and acquaintances from town was not difficult but it did take time and trust. Just as New Englanders are known for their deliberate slowness in forming friendships, the people I met in Hamaoka were thoughtful and kind but they approached our interactions with a degree of reserve that was familiar to me. Towards my third and final year there I began to feel like I was home, much more a part of the community than I had been as a first-year JET.
Nearly six years later the memories are still strong and the effects of having lived there are still rippling through my life back in the United States. Although I left Hamaoka after completing the JET Programme, Hamaoka is still with me.
Rosemary de Fremery
Hamaoka, Shizuoka Prefecture