Leaving on a JET plane (JET飛行機で旅立つ)

There are many appropriate ironies in me listening to John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane“. In less than six short months I will reluctantly be saying a sad farewell to Toyama, my home for more than four years. On this cold wintry January day of 2013, as I peer out of the frosted window of my humble apartment in the quiet fishing town of Namerikawa, I gaze in awe, as I do every morning, at the sheer magnificence of the snow covered Tateyama. Today, however, a pained smile registers on my face.“The end is near,” I sigh.

The end

Most stories start with a beginning but I will begin mine from the end.

It was November 26th, 2012- the last day of the Toyama Teaching Skills Development Seminar. I nervously stepped onto the podium to give my Prefectural Advisor’s (PA) speech, which I had wished I had practiced to perfection. I scanned the crowd, gave an acknowledging nod to familiar faces and then began.

Verbatim, I said: I am from a small developing country and never in million years did I ever dream of living in Japan. Being an ALT in Toyama, and being your PA, has forever changed the way I see the world and the way I see myself. Working alongside so many amazing ALTs from so many different countries, incredible JTEs and everyone at the Toyama Board of Education have enriched me in ways I could have only hoped for. Every single one of these interactions has reinvigorated me, has allowed me to redefine myself, to re-imagine the possibilities that exist for me, and for that, I am externally thankful.

Then, it happened. In front of my seniors, peers and friends, my vision became blurred. The faces I had just smiled at, disappeared. There I was, standing in front of 250 people with tears meandering down my tanned face, crying because I knew this was the beginning of the end.

Like an avalanche, viciously destroying everything in its path, I felt stripped- cold and feeble. The room spun. I felt sickeningly dizzy. The place I have called home, the strangers who became my family and the mountain that has greeted me every morning would soon be selfishly taken away, leaving me with nothing more than my lingering memories.

I cried because I love Toyama. I cried because I love my life here. I cried because this is my home.

The journey

My first day in Namerikawa could have easily been a chapter ripped out of “A Series of Unfortunate Events”. I seemed to have embarrassingly committed every cultural faux pas imaginable- I forgot to bow to my female principal, instead extending my left hand (not right!); I butchered the Japanese language during my self introduction much to the amusement of my new co-workers; I politely refused the tea given to me, only because I had drunk an entire bottle of water earlier (It was a scorchingly hot day.) and the most cringe worthy, calling my JTEs’ son kowai (scary) instead of kawaii (cute). I was mortified! Luckily, jet lag coupled with a grueling first day made it all seem like a dream.

The weeks that followed felt surreal. Toyama was not the Japan I had romanticized about- there were no towering skyscrapers and ubiquitous high speed trains but instead rice fields and children merrily riding on bicycles; no geishas playing the shamisen but obachans(old ladies) whispering a curious hello; no fast paced, busy life but instead the quiet whistle of the night’s wind.

What I got was not what I had expected. Toyama was the antithesis of everything I had envisioned. With each passing day, my fantasy slowly crumbled into a more amazing reality. It felt like a renaissance, being reborn and delving open-heartedly into a new and exciting world.

The beginning

Japan was never in my life’s trajectory. I believe that there is a simple explanation to why I am here- fate.

I grew up in a small village in the beautiful Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago and I had always dreamed of discovering the world. When I was a little boy, I would play with my toys under the barely standing iron-wrought bed in my family’s then tiny two bedroom apartment and imagine myself trekking throughout the world on the most extraordinary adventures. Back then, the world was full of infinite possibilities.

Somewhere between puberty and the sobering realities of adulthood, those dreams that once ignited me, that set me aflame, had somehow dimmed into a barely visible spark. I lived in the numbingly repetitive routine of my present. Then one day, when I was a post graduate student in Barbados, I serendipitously stumbled across an article by a former JET, Richard Burns, who had said: “teaching in my town’s Junior High Schools was the best job I’ve ever had. The only downside, I think, is that I may never have another job I’ll love even half as much.” Richard Burn’s story had moved me and I too wanted to create my own. I applied and four and half years later, here I am, sharing my story.

The reason

I’ve often been asked, “Why did I stay in the JET Programme for so long?” The reasons are numerous- the laughter of my students echoing in the corridor, trying new sweets with my co-workers and realizing we don’t like it, sipping on umeshu (plum wine) under soft pink canopies of cherry blossom trees, karaoking with my Japanese family, leisurely biking alongside Namerikawa’s sometimes seemingly endless coastline, lying on the ground and simply staring at Toyama’s perfect evening sky. They are all little things but they have come to define my experience.

I once read that “Storytelling in itself is a way to fight the apathy in this world.” Each person who has come on the JET Programme and those who will come will have a different yet important story to tell. Every year I make the same wish. I would gently close my eyes, clasp my hands, pray to God and make an almost child-like wish. This year was no different. After celebrating the New Year with strangers at the infamous Shibuya Crossing, I made the pilgrimage, just after midnight, to the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku. I patiently waited with thousands of people just to have a few seconds so I could take a coin and cast it into the shrine. As the seconds turned into minutes and minutes morphed into hours, in a quiet reverence I finally made it. I held the coined tightly, silently made my wish and eagerly tossed the coin. The wish I made was simple- to be happy- and the reason why I have stayed here for as long as I have is because I am happy.


Farewell enkai (banquet) in Namerikawa with my friends.

Farewell enkai (banquet) in Namerikawa with my friends.

Jenson recommends: Being thankful for the places you been and the  people who have met because they will forever leave an eternal imprint on who you are. =)

– Jenson Deokiesingh

*Written January 2013



皮肉にもジョン・デンバーの“Leaving on a Jet Plane”を聴きながら、この記事を書いています。4年以上暮らした富山にあと6ヶ月足らずで別れを告げなければなりません。2013年1月、ある冬の寒い日、静かな漁師町、滑川にあるアパートの曇った窓からいつもの朝と同じように雪の立山を畏敬の念をもって眺めました。しかし今日は「もう終わりが近づいているのだな」と悲しく微笑み、溜息をつきました。















思春期から真面目な成年期の間のどこかで、私に火を付けた夢への情熱はどういう訳か、かろうじて見える火のように小さなものになってしまい、つまらない繰り返しの毎日を過ごしました。そしてバルバドスで大学院生だったある日、元JET(Japan Exchange Teaching Programme)参加者のリチャード・バーンズさんが書いた記事を偶然に見かけました。「私が住んでいた町の中学校で英語を教えるということは今までの仕事の中で一番でした。唯一の欠点といえば、もう二度とこんなに好ましい仕事を見つけられないことだと思います。」バーンズさんの記事を読んで感動し、私も自分の第二の町を作りたくなったのです。JETプログラムに申し込み、あれから4年半が経ちました。





– ジェンソン デオキシン

This entry was posted in Japan, Life, Toyama and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Leaving on a JET plane (JET飛行機で旅立つ)

  1. Carla Gaskin says:

    soooo moving and well written Jenson. I am wishing you a safe flight in advance. On to your next adventure and all the best!!!

  2. I was just in Toyama last month with friends visiting our Aikido Sensei and it really is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been. Your story was beautifully told and I Thank for sharing your experience!

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