Tuesday, November 01, 2005

West Michigan Connections in Japan

I was at a JET party the other day, and I met a couple who lived in Shiga Prefecture. We exchanged the usual information. I asked them where they were from. The girl was from Michigan. “Hey, no kidding. I’m from Michigan as well.” I was always excited to meet another Michigander. She ended up being from a different part of the state, but the guy’s parents were from Grand Rapids. “Wow, small world,” I exclaimed.

“No, not really,” the girl answered flatly. “There are all sorts of people from Michigan in Shiga Prefecture. It’s not unusual to run into someone from Michigan at all.”

Shiga Prefecture is the sister state to Michigan. Most of the JETs from Michigan end up getting sent there. I recalled that four years ago when I flew out of Detroit, most of the other JETs leaving from Michigan were headed towards Shiga.

Most, but not all. I ended up in Oita Prefecture. I hardly ever ran into someone else from Michigan. And the few I did meet where mostly from the east part of the State.

And suddenly I began to wonder what things would have been like if I had been sent to Shiga Prefecture like most of the rest of the Michigan JETs. What would it have been like to spend 3 years constantly running into people from close to my home? Would it have made me more homesick or less? It would have been nice to have that connection to home. And it certainly would have made it easier to stay in touch with people after I left Japan.

On the other hand, I would have felt less unique. And the experience would have been less diverse. As with all things in life, I think the other road would not necessarily have been better or worse, simply different.

Four years ago when we flew out of Detroit, I met a lot of cool people at the Detroit orientation. Most of them got sent to Shiga. I didn’t even bother trying to keep in touch. As we move through life there are so many old friends to keep track of, I can’t be bothered to try and keep in touch with people I just met for a weekend.

But I did have lunch with a few of them at the Tokyo Orientation, and it turns out that 3 of them lived right next to me. They all knew each other from the public schools. I didn’t know any of them because I had been sent to the Christian schools all my life, but they had grown up just a couple blocks over from me. (Well, we don’t have blocks in the suburbs, but just a couple streets down.) I remember saying to them, “Isn’t this amazing? We spent our whole lives just a few streets down from each other, and then finally meet here in Tokyo.” I threw them some names of people I knew from my Church Youth group, and we had fun matching up mutual friends.

But once the Tokyo orientation was over and I said good-bye to the Michigan group, that was the last of those types of encounters.

But there have been a few coincidences. One of the other JETs in Oita had attended Hope College. He wasn’t from West Michigan, or part of the traditional Dutch Reformed circles, but he had heard about Hope College through a friend and ended up going there. I tried to match up a few of my friends from High School who had gone to Hope, but he didn’t know any of them. In the end, because I didn’t know much about Hope, and he didn’t know much about Calvin, there wasn’t too much for us to talk about besides the famous Hope/Calvin basketball games, which we both agreed were kind of stupid anyway. Still, it was pretty amazing to meet someone from Hope all the way out in Oita.

As for the Japanese, many of them go on trips to America, but very few people make it to Michigan. Hawaii and California seem to be very popular destinations. I haven’t spent a lot of time in either Hawaii or California, but I’m guessing they must be swarming with Japanese tourists. Can anyone who’s lived there back this up?

In the countryside of Oita I did meet a Japanese woman who, in her youth, had done a home stay in Zeeland Michigan. She was quite a bit older than me, so we didn’t have any mutual friends, but I was amazed to find someone who had actually visited Zeeland. She had such a good time in Zeeland she didn’t want to return to Japan, and her parents had to come out and get her to force her to return to Japan and get married.

One more coincidence: although she’s no longer at this school, when I came to Gifu last year one of the Japanese teachers at my school had been an exchange student at a school just outside of Grand Rapids. (The name escapes me at the moment; it was right in the Grandville area). Her host mother had also been a student at Calvin College.

Since she was the same age as me, I thought I could definitely find some mutual friends. I was pretty sure at least one or two people from her graduating class must have ended up at Calvin, but she brought her high school year book, and I couldn’t recognize anyone.
Still, I thought that was a pretty amazing coincidence. When I went home last Christmas, I got her some stuff from the Calvin bookstore.

Link of the Day
Interesting article last week in the Japan Times: Girls in need of direction get it from the comics

1 comment:

Dozer said...

Nice reference to Zeeland! I have been trying to keep up with you and I finally do and you mention Zeeland, how cool is that? Yeah, Zeeland is a really nice place, small quiet, dutch. But how long will that last? Holland used to be that way too.