On the Soma coast / Photo: ehnmark

In light of the current events in Japan, Turner Wright reflects from South Korea on how things could have been very different for him.

[Editor’s note: This post was originally published at Turner’s blog here. Turner spent a year working in Japan recently.]

Now that rescue efforts are underway, some people who were trapped on rooftops and the hills in Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima Prefectures have been able to get access to food, water, and Internet. As a result, new eyewitness videos have been pouring into YouTube and the media.

I had a rather disturbing moment of clarity today as I waited for my students to gather for the first class of the day. The media had been mentioning names of small Japanese fishing villages I’ve never heard of, and some areas I had (most notably Sendai). But one stood out to me: Soma. I didn’t realize why until this afternoon.

I had wanted to work in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture.

Photo by author

When I left Japan in 2008, I felt like I was making the right decision, having been weighed down by the 9-5 job and no longer seeing the country as something to be explored and studied. I had grown tired. Even after volunteering in Thailand, I had no strong desire to return. That is, until, I came back from New Zealand in the summer of 2009 and found myself hungry for sushi and cash.

It seemed like a natural choice. My Japanese was basic but functional and, more to the point, I knew how things worked. I was confident I could get a job. But where?

Kyushu was out. I had already spent a year in Kagoshima, and was convinced I’d fall into the habit of partying hard with sake and ramen every night in Fukuoka if I based myself there. Western Honshu, Chugoku, wasn’t really an option for me either. Hiroshima was the first Japanese city I had seen, and although I had enjoyed my time there, I wanted the unfamiliar.

Tokyo was never a consideration: too big, too flashy, too comfortable. I wanted someplace rural, in the inaka, yet still accessible by train. Someplace on the coast where I could try barefoot running on the sand. Someplace with onsen (hot springs) plentiful and fresh fish. But where to find such a place? Gaijinpot Jobs was where I started:

Full time ALT
Company: Maki English School
Location: Soma-shi, fukushima-ken, Fukushima
Job Category: Teaching / Education
Work Type: Full Time / Experienced (Non-Manager)
Salary: ¥230,000 ~ ¥260,000/Month
Negotiable
Free accommodation + Car
Requirements:
English: Native level
Japanese: Basic level
CELTA TESOL
Description
Global Spot M is a private and locally owned school located on the Fukushima coast, approximately an hour south of Sendai. Currently we employ four native speaking English teachers at our school and have an opening available for an easy going, experienced, professional and passionate teacher. This teacher must enjoy teaching elementary and junior high school students. Driver’s license essential.
We are offering the teacher a 12 month contract ; with a maximum of 30 teaching hours per week. The offered salary is 230,000 to 260,000 per month, depending on experience. Working hours: 8:00 to 17:00. Working days:
Monday to Friday Accommodation: free rent ( utilities not included ) Free use of the company car ( insurance, tax, inspection and upkeep of the car shall be paid by the company )
Paid holidays: 10 days a year + seasonal school holidays Person with a work visa preferred ; Overseas and domestic applicants are encouraged to apply. Please submit your cover letter, resume and photo.

I remember applying.

I remember a response from one of their foreign teachers, Nicole.

The students were sons and daughters of fisherman. It was the only eikaiwa (English conversation school) in Japan I had heard of that let teachers work in jeans and casual shirts. You can imagine the appeal that would hold to someone who wore a business suit five days a week as he worked at AEON. I was psyched after my phone interview, thinking I’d get the job, enjoy waking up to the sun rise over the Pacific for one or two years, make my “fortune”, then see where to go from there.

Fortunately (and I cannot stress that word enough) they turned me down.

I don’t know why. I was flexible with my start date, I had experience teaching and living in Japan. In the end, I think they wanted a couple to come and live in the same house rather than recruit two separate teachers.

I can’t stop thinking about that decision. What might have been.

Left: Coast near Soma Sept. 5, 2010, Right: Same location after earthquake and tsunami / Photo courtesy of German Aerospace Center

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