We’ve all agonized over the lack of authentic ramen, mourned the loss of karaoke with nomihoudi, and scoffed at how the DC 4th of July fireworks pale in comparison to our village’s Natsu Matsuri.
Chances are you’re looking for a way to maintain your ties with the culture and the friends you made in Japan while you start your new life in DC. Below, some former JETs offer suggestions on how to stay connected with Japan, and in the “Directory” we provide some resources on cultural (and culinary!) opportunities in the area. We’ll see you at the next Sakura Matsuri!
- Anecdotal Advice for a ‘Nihon Ga Koishii Antidote’
- Creating a Connection
- Organizations for Staying Connected to Japan
- Survey Summary – Staying Connected with Japan
When arriving in your home country after finishing the JET Program, it is inevitable that one goes through periods of feeling disconnected from his/her previous Japanese life. We have all undoubtedly made personal growth and enjoyed our grass-root experiences in Japan, but continuing our simple “inaka” lifestyle in America is often an impractical goal. Instead of trying to directly transplant our JET life to DC, it is better to make use of the resources in DC.
Volunteer for Japanese-related activities
While there are many ways to get involved in the local Japanese community, the one that I have done with the most success is to help plan the annual Sakura Matsuri. It is a five-month commitment every year, but it is worth it to play ambassador of Japanese culture. For another example, there is a program offered by the Japan- America Society of Washington, DC (JASWDC) in which you can help teach interested elementary students about Japanese society. Also, there is a taiko troupe called Nendaiko that practices at Ekoji Temple in Fairfax. I often find things as simple as taiko are an effective way to satisfy your “natsukashii” urges.
Stay connected/meet people
In today’s world of social networking, it should be easy to keep in touch. However, most Japanese still prefer Mixi to Facebook and emailing is hard to keep up. Luckily, DC is a melting pot of many cultures and there are many ways for us to meet new people who share our same interests and experiences. There are many Meetups in DC that allow one to meet such people, two of which are The Washington Japanese Language Nomikai Group and The Metropolitan Japanese + English Language Community. I have found that these groups are especially helpful in maintaining your language abilities.
Experience Japanese culture in DC
There are innumerous means to reliving Japanese culture here in DC. If you tried your hand at Japanese cooking or just enjoyed the cuisine in general, DC has many culinary resources available. For your specific cooking needs, go to Maruichi in Rockville or Hana Japanese Market in the U Street Corridor. For your general Asian ingredients, simply go to one of many Korean/Chinese grocery stores such as H-Mart, Assi, Great Wall Market, etc. They’re fantastic.
If continuing to learn Japanese is a priority for you, there are classes offered by the JASWDC from beginning conversation to Japanese history – taught in Japanese! There are even Japanese calligraphy classes offered at a small studio downtown. Another, less social way is to add the TV Japan channel onto your cable TV package. There are also regular Japanese movie showings hosted by the Japan Information and Culture Center downtown.
The most important thing is to customize your experience so that you stay in-touch with what matters to you. For me it’s to volunteer-teach English to foreigners at the local library.
Recent JET returnees, especially those living outside of major cities, often have a tough time finding ways to connect to Japan if their area doesn’t have an obvious Japanese community or active JET alumni, or if their own post-JET employment work schedule means they are not easily available on evenings or weekends. However, there exist a variety of opportunities for every schedule that can be sought out or created to fit your needs in almost every community!
Volunteer and Social Opportunities
Many large cities in the US have a Japan America Society (www.us-japan.org), and your local branch will often be the first step towards hearing about Japan-related activities and public events where you can meet a local community with similar interests. Membership fees are very low (especially for students), but even if you aren’t sure you want to register, you can follow the local Facebook group or ask to join their email list to keep up with local news. Many JASP offices also look for unpaid interns, which can be a good way to stay busy if it’s taking longer than expected to find a job or if you want to network with local businesses and residents outside your normal social circles.
Public libraries are also often eager to work with community members to host or promote international activities for children or adults at their branches. Some returning JETs have worked to create Japanese language Meetups or English conversation clubs for foreign residents at their local branches, or offered to run a booth at a library event to teach a Japanese cultural activity such as origami, games, calligraphy, or other simple and low-cost activities. Did you bring back Japanese clothing or toys/games? Did you learn how to make a fun project from your elementary school students? Many branches have summer programs for children where they look for community members to teach activities, or programs on weekends to introduce children to other countries/cultures. Some successful programs I have run include Tanabata festivals, New Year’s celebrations, and art activities. If you want some ideas for what to offer, I worked with my local library to make a free PDF book of activities suitable for kids: www.tinyurl.com/asia123book.
If you find yourself missing Japan, consider a short trip to a nearby city to attend events where you can keep up with culture and film. Museums often host Asia-related exhibitions that have public lectures or film screenings and interesting speakers. Besides DC, you might take a ride to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, or New York City to attend great festivals or events, and the local JET alumni in those areas often have Facebook groups where they can suggest cheap accommodations or offer couch-surfing. JETAANY (http://jetaany.org) is a fantastic source of information with event calendars and email newsletters packed with activities that you may want to plan a trip around. Japan Society (http://www.japansociety.org) also has newsletters and Facebook pages that advertise film festivals and art events, often featuring films that won’t see wide release around the U.S.
Japan Information and Culture Center
The Japan Information and Culture Center (JICC) is a part of the Public Affairs Section of the Embassy of Japan in Washington, DC The JICC’s goal is to promote better understanding of Japan and Japanese culture by providing a wide range of information and events to the American public. The JICC provides a variety of services to residents of the Washington DC Metro Area:
- Japan-related exhibits and events
- D.C. Metro Area Events, the go-to resource to find out about all the upcoming Japan-related events in the area
- Japan Now, the Embassy of Japan’s free monthly e-newsletter
- School Program and educational resources
- Japan-related item and video loan
- Free Japan-related publications
- Inquiry Assistance on general Japan-related topics
- An extensive directory of Japanese-related organizations and businesses http://www.us.emb-japan.go.jp/JICC/dc-links.html
Japan-America Society of Washington, DC
The Japan-America Society of Washington, DC is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit, nonpartisan educational and cultural organization for individuals and corporations with an interest in Japan and US-Japan relations. Founded in 1957, the Society promotes greater understanding and networking between Americans and Japanese through its many cultural, public affairs, and educational programs. Serving the six million residents of the Nation’s Capital region, the Society also sponsors programs of national significance, including the Japan Bowl®, the Sakura Matsuri, and the Annual Dinner.
Meetup is the world’s largest network of local groups. Meetup makes it easy for anyone to organize a local group or find one of the thousands already meeting up face-to-face. More than 9,000 groups get together in local communities each day, each one with the goal of improving themselves or their communities. Meetup’s mission is to revitalize local community and help people around the world self-organize. Meetup believes that people can change their personal world, or the whole world, by organizing themselves into groups that are powerful enough to make a difference.
The DC area is one of the most active communities on meetup.com. Among the over 5,000 groups to choose from are several to help you meet others who share an interest in Japan or want to practice their language skills. Go to the JET-in-DC Directory for some Japanese language Meetup groups. Accounts at meetup.com are free, and you can search for groups matching your interests and start getting out and meeting new people.
JET Ambassadors Program
Inspired by former Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki, JET Ambassadors is a volunteer-based program that brings former JETs to DC area schools to share their experiences from Japan through interactive self-designed presentations. The program aims to educate younger generations about Japan and raise international awareness throughout the community, as well as give former JETs the chance to reconnect with their own experiences. The focus of most presentations is “life in a Japanese school”, but presenters are often given some flexibility in terms of topics.
The goal is to hold presentations in all interested schools in the DC area, including Baltimore, Annapolis and the Eastern Shore, Richmond and other points south, and even West Virginia. There are also opportunities for Saturday library visits. If you are interested, please click on the link below and answer a few quick questions:
How JETs have stayed connected to Japan . . .
- By staying in contact with friends, co-workers, and students – technology is great
- Keeping up Japanese hobbies, language, activities, etc. that were started in Japan
- Continuing involvement with the JET program
- Processing applications
- Helping at orientation events
- Joining or volunteering at JETAADC activities
- Attending Japanese-related events in the area
- Pursuing new Japanese hobbies
- Involving yourself with Japanese people here – casually or at work/school
- Reading Japanese newspapers, books, etc. and watching Japanese TV
- Visiting Japan and/or helping friends/family/co-workers who are visiting Japan with itineraries and ideas
- Volunteering for a Japan-related non-profit or working a Japan-related job
Suggestions for locally found Japanese things . . .
- HMart, Hana Market, Maruichi – for Japanese groceries
- Ekoji Temple – especially for the Obon and Tanabata festivals
- National Cherry Blossom Festival
- Spaworld in Centreville – Korean spa similar to an onsen
- Recommended restaurants: Hakuba, Tono Sushi, Izakaya Seki, Maneki Neko, Kushi, Toki Underground, Hina Sushi, Hinata Sushi, Temari Café, Satsuma, Tachibana, Kyoto Sushi
- Recommended Karaoke: Muzette, Café Muse
- JASW events (join the listserv)
- Freer and Sackler Galleries
- Check out the Japanese food scene in New York