Island Hopping

-Hannah Xu, Amami Island

I arrived in Japan last year, and since then I’ve had the chance to visit many of the southern islands of Kagoshima Prefecture, and I regularly teach on two of them. I currently work at three very different high schools. I live in Koniya, a small town on the southern end of Amami Oshima. When I got notified of my prefecture, and found out where it was, I prepared myself for an

Shoryudo Cavern

island placement because I thought it was more likely as a Group C arrival (in reality, only a couple of us were islanders!). So when I learned I was going to Amami, I wasn’t really surprised, but I had no impression of what life would be like here. I had to adjust my expectations, but also discovered the benefits island life can have.

One of Amami’s Beaches

For one, I’m living in a place many people dream of taking vacations to, with breathtaking beaches, unique culture, and a slower way of life. Before I came to Japan, I lived in a city where it snowed a lot, and I was a city person. I loved the freedom of being able to take public transportation, exploring on my own, and being surrounded by diversity. Life on a subtropical island closer to Okinawa than mainland Kagoshima is very different. Amami is a bit of a contradiction — it’s both inaka and not; both a part of Japan and its own place. Community is very important here. There are plenty of things to experience, and they’re very much community-based. The ALT community on the islands is also strong, because it has to be — everyone knows each other, and we’re the only English-speaking community here.

“Why do you want to come to Japan?” In my opinion, one of the most important things for a new ALT to have is the desire to experience a totally different way of life. Following “ESID,” if you look past the variables of individual situations, what you’re left with is someone leaving their home country and culture to start life in a different one. In my opinion it does take courage, because not everyone would choose to do it! Sometimes you do feel the pressure of differences in culture. But I can also see these things as evidence of how strong the sense of community is here.

View of Kikaijima from a plane

Soon after arriving, I was traveling for the first time to Kikaijima, a small island to the northeast of Amami, where I go every month for a school visit. It’s about a four hour commute one way, but on the islands, commuting is fairly common. Many students island hop for sports events, and teachers for business trips. Ferries, planes, and unpredictable weather are just a fact of life here. (Though some regulars on my flights even manage to fall asleep in the ten or so minutes from takeoff to landing!) This past summer I also had the chance to participate in an English camp on Okinoerabu island.

Honohoshi Beach

The islands are a really unique place with a lot of spirit. The students here are generally really friendly, and they really love their islands. With the views I’ve seen, I agree!