From Jamaica to Japan in the Peak of a Global Pandemic

No matter the global climate, the incessant craving for adventure is still an active desire in the human mind. This was the case for Kimberly Morris, a lawyer from Kingston, Jamaica whom I had the great pleasure of interviewing.

Even with the effects of the pandemic rippling globally, severely impacting travel regulations and all aspects of life as we know it, Ms Morris could not shake the calling and still deemed it an opportune time to set out on her journey to far East Asia. In the Q&A below she details some of her experiences thus far!

Q: What was your travel experience like and how did you feel prior to and during the move?

A: My travel around experience was a rollercoaster of emotions, everything came in stages.

The first stage was telling my family and close friends that I got the job and would be moving. I made sure to explain the reasons for why I wanted to move first and although it hurt them for me to leave they were very supportive of my decision which I’m truly grateful for.

Then when I was resigning from my job, it was so emotional for me which I really didn’t think it would be. The fact that I would be travelling across the world became very real in that moment and it’s a crazy feeling to know that from high school up to this point my main focus was to be here – doing this job and I was leaving all of it behind to do something different.

Then there was the process of slowly telling my friends and family which ranged from people making me feel crazy to persons supporting my decision 110% and no matter how much people make it seem like “Oh, I’m not bothered by the opinion of others” having someone you care for think you’re making a terrible mistake does make you feel like you have to go in a corner and pray/meditate/debate/draw a pro and cons list about what you’re doing.

The journey during Corona was another issue from cancelled flights, rerouting, extremely long layovers, Google map conundrums and taking more than 35hours was such a draining process. Luckily I travelled with 3 Jamaicans (Petula, Ravi and especially Shannakay) who made the journey not seem as daunting and now I have some funny stories to tell from the flight to arriving at the airport.

Q: What was it like navigating the culture? Tell us about some things that stick out and are really different in comparison to back home.

A: Currently navigating the culture, especially when I haven’t seen all that there is to see has been fairly easy. We were told beforehand of the norms here and I did some research on my own which prepared me for most things, (God bless the internet).

The main difference I’ve seen between Japan and Jamaica was that Japan is really orderly and the quality customer service. OHMYGOSH! I haven’t been to one place where I’ve had poor customer service.

Everything is also very calm and relaxed, I’ve yet to hear one person blow their car horn or have road rage. However, in a year’s time I think I’ll have more to add when I’ve been able to explore a bit more.

However, with all of that said, on the flip side, Japan still doesn’t have the vibrancy that Jamaica has, I think in the chaos and how expressive people are adds to the flair and allure of our country – people speaking their mind and being expressive at all times – there is a warmth and familiarity to it that I do miss.

Q: In what ways have you experienced cultural immersion?

A: This is a funny one. Because of the pandemic the idea of immersion hasn’t truly taken place. I’ve gone to training sessions with 98% English speakers and then gone to school physically a few times and other than that working from home, going to the grocery store, home store and walks through my community is the only other time I encounter Japanese people.

Most interactions stay at hi and bye and the concept of social distancing really does hinder the natural connection of meeting and getting to know someone. So until this pandemic is under control I don’t think i’ll truly understand the concept of immersion.

Q: In what ways has the pandemic both liberated you as well as have you feeling restricted?

A: I think the main way the pandemic has restricted me is really my freedom of movement. I came here to explore new cultures, terrain, meet new people and travel Asia – so that has completely halted.

But as corny as it sounds it has liberated my mind. I’ve spent a majority of my life just working – whether it was as a student or an employee and having that take up the majority of your headspace – to have the forced time to say “Hey! What do you want out of life? What is it that you want? What do you need? What are your priorities?”

With less interruptions your thought process becomes clear to truly answer these questions for yourself – it’s really been quite a freeing experience.

Q: Have you experienced homesickness?  If yes, to which degree has it?

A: Homesickness hasn’t really hit just yet. I miss my family and friends physically being with me and in the same time zone but I think with technology, video calling, WhatsApp and all other social media platforms it makes the pill a little bit easier to swallow. Also, because the pandemic has forced persons to stay away from individuals who aren’t living in the same household I think not seeing my friends gather and say “we miss you, wish you were here” and seeing all the fun they were having and wanting to be there hasn’t really hit.

With family I’ve been away from members of my family for varying periods of time and I think experiencing that at different times in my life has prepared me to handle my emotions better – focusing on the good of what’s happening while being away instead of the pain of not being able to just be next to the people you love.

But I’m sure if you ask me again in a couple of months there is a strong possibility I will be in shambles but right now I’m in a good space.

We hope this Q&A still shows that exploration and the journey is still possible despite all that is happening in our world today. This may be your perfect chance to reset and start a new career and new life in Asia.

Interested in teaching English in Japan? Learn more about the INTERAC and JET programmes.


Winter by Dania Kelly

I have heard so many stories about the harshness of Japanese winter and coming from Jamaica where we have nice sunshine, blue skies and beaches all year round I had no winter experience to compare it with. Nevertheless, I think seasons can teach us so much. Growing up I read a lot of Robert Frost poems and how he used seasons to symbolise different stages in human life and I can finally say “a girl can relate!”

When you think of winter, uncomfortable temperatures come to mind, wearing layers upon layers of clothing, the daytime lasting for a few hours, in Japan it’s extremely dark by 5:30pm, the trees and plants which have shed their leaves in autumn to prepare for the cold are now struggling to stay alive, the beautiful singing of birds are now few and in between and all around, you sense solitude. Japan already feels lonely so just picture your very environment screaming loneliness! This very description is why my winter experience was such an eye opener. Don’t get me wrong I would much rather have spring all the time – even in my life I wish all things were happy, blossoming and colorful all year – but just the very nature of the winter season and not wanting to go outside or do any activities forces you to reflect in solitude.

My first Japanese winter experience symbolises introspection and clarification. As much as I want to be wearing maxi dress, sandals, sunglasses and crop tops, I have a true appreciation for the season and like nature’s response to the changes I took the opportunity to allow the elements to batter me. I struggled like the trees but stayed anchored by my goals, dreams and belief in God because amidst the harshness and deadness that the season gives, it also marks the end of all the season cycles, which means that a fresh and new season is fast approaching and change is inevitable.


Heso Matsuri – Unique Summer Festival in Gunma

The sun, the beach, a straw hat and an ice-cool coconut jelly are some of my Caribbean summertime must-haves. However, all that changed to something a little more eventful when I came to Japan. As with everything else, the Japanese have a special twist on how they choose to celebrate the birth of every season and summer is no exception. In many cities and towns, there are a wide variety of events held by the local people. From the early onset of Spring, locals begin their preparation of vibrant costumes with very elaborate designs. They bring out portable golden “mikoshi” shrines and even coordinate dance routines for performances in their town’s festivals and ceremonies.

However, for many of us JET program participants, July tends to be a bit more emotional as most of our non-recontracting friends start to prepare for their move back home. We try to cherish as much of the time we have left together. This summer, I went to Gunma for that very reason. Two of my closest friends were heading back to their respective home countries and we decided to have a final hoorah. With original plans falling through, we settled on checking out an event nearby. Now, I’ve been to many festivals in Niigata, my residing prefecture, but nothing would’ve prepared me for what I was about to experience at the Shibukawa festival.

Twitter: MondoMascots

The Shibukawa Heso Matsuri also known as Belly Button Festival, is a local festival of Shibukawa City, which sits in the approximate center of the Japanese archipelago. This is where the navel idea came from. It was initially launched in 1984 as an attempt to revitalize the more modest town. While we were there, we saw patrons volunteer to get their bellies painted and participated in the street dance and chants.

Twitter: MondoMascots

As we made our way down the streets lined with vendors excited for the day’s sales, the aroma of freshly fried yakisoba and takoyaki dishes wafted through the air and laid sweet flavours on our palates. Almost as if in tuned to the effects of the essence surrounding us, vendors shouted invitations for us to visit their stalls to appease our appetites. We were met with cheerful greetings from excited patrons, both Japanese and foreigners alike, which warmed our hearts. Slowly, we passed through the crowd, headed to the paint stall to partake in the festivities.

The most notable difference between the designs of the locals and foreigners was that Japanese participants selected traditional art more often, pulling on Kabuki theatre mask inspirations but foreigners opted for characters from popular games, mascots, and anime. This year was especially unique as it was the first year for women being able to paint their stomachs. This reflects the societal growth of Japan as they are aspiring for gender equality. Those like myself who opted not to get our stomachs painted, got complimentary shirts instead. Then, finally with an adorable handsy summer waist kimono and a neon dome-shaped hat, the look was completed and we were ready for the road.

The crowd comprised of a good balance of the old and young showing a promised future of the continued tradition. Many spectators enjoyed watching us participate and cheered us on, and we, in turn truly enjoyed the welcomed immersion. We danced for 3 hours in the rain, chanting ”yoi-yoi, heso matsuri!” with the locals and sweating until our designs started to fade. In all, it was a fun experience and one of my most cherished memories with my friends in Japan.