April 2011: JET Effect Special

This month is a special JET Effect. We will be focusing on some so far unsung heroes amongst the JET Community. In fact, AJET is remarkably proud of how the whole JET Community has come together and worked hard to raise money and donate, organise fundraising events and volunteer since the March 11th Earthquake and Tsunami. In the future, we hope to hear more stories from JETs who have got involved, there are too many of you to include in one article.

As this is a special JET Effect, AJET is not going to edit in any way, the original words of those JETs involved.

Firstly, we would like to introduce Corey Ticknor, a 2nd year ALT in Tsuruoka-shi, Yamagata-ken. We asked Corey where he was at the time the Earthquake and Tsunami hit. ‘ I was at my base high school (Tsuruoka Tech) when the Big Niner hit. Luckily, our city is on the Sea of Japan coast about 150km west of Sendai. So although we certainly had a good rattle, there was no damage in our area and the power even stayed on. It took through until the end of Saturday the 12th to get in touch with all the JETs in our area and confirm everyone was alright.

We have friends in Sendai, some JETs, some other folks, and we immediately tried getting in touch with them. Once we confirmed they were all okay, we invited them to stay with us if they wanted to escape the turmoil as the city slowly got back on its feet. So over the past week, we’ve had six people from Miyagi come through at different times and stay at my apartment, which is luckily quite large. Most have now moved on to Tokyo via Niigata. But I’m just one of many English teachers in my town who have been doing their best to help out since the disaster hit. Mide Burns (JET, Ireland) gathered extra futons and blankets from her school for our guests. Johnny McDowell (JET, N Ireland) had people stay at his place and managed to get his school clubs involved for volunteering. Jeff Wilson (JET, US) helped out with communications and also housed several people over the past couple weeks. My girlfriend Virginia McClain (private instructor, US) hosted and chauffered our many guests and got all her adult eikaiwa classes involved in our relief effort. These four people were key in getting a local donation drive off the ground, along with Mark Stewart.

Mark (from NZ) settled in Tsuruoka over 15 years ago and runs his own English school. He called me with his idea to create a LIVE Supporter (Let’s Inspire Victims of the Earthquake) donation drive in our town to send supplies to the disaster zone. He has friends in Gunma who had already organized donations, vans, drivers, and permits to head into Rikuzentakata, and volunteered to pick up any donations we could put together.

We met with the Tsuruoka International Center (国際村) to get a tent and supplies. A local businessman and friend of Mark’s got us a pre-fab storage unit, and also liaised with City Hall. Then we put the word out to the Yamagata ALT list-serve and the volunteers poured in from all around the ken. Last weekend we had over 20 ALTs plus many of our great Japanese friends help out for four days straight with holding signs on the street, accepting donations, packing and sorting, playing music, and keeping spirits up. The Tsuruoka JETs came up with futons and warm tatami.

The Gunma lads swung through at night on March 21, picked up most of our donations, and delivered it to Rikuzentakata the next afternoon. We were elated to know that our work had paid off and that the gear we’d managed to gather was already in the hands of those who needed it.

We are now in touch with folks in that devastated community, and our plan is to get real-time updated lists of what is needed on a weekly basis so we can target our donations more effectively. We will continue to volunteer with the street side donation drive for the next few weekends.

In closing, let me stress again that I was merely one person in a great team of friends who all want to do as much as we can to help during this incredible disaster. I feel extremely fortunate to be part of the close community of Yamagata JETs who made the effort such a success. We feel so lucky to have come through it all unscathed that it’s pretty hard to grumble about having to wait in line for gas.

Please do what you can to support similar efforts in your community, urge your friends and families back home to donate (again! and again!) to the Red Cross or similar organizations, and let your Japanese friends and colleagues know that we care deeply for this country and will do all we can to support it. Ganba, ne!’

Next, AJET spoke to David Chalmers from Scotland. A 1st year JET based on the tiny island of Nakajima, west of Matsuyama City in Ehime. Many of you will have heard and contributed to the hugely successful AJET campaign ‘Man Up for Japan’. This campaign was in fact started by David, on a local level. Here is his story in his own words.

‘When the earthquake and tsunami hit I was having a Japanese lesson in Matsuyama and only found out about what was happening up north when the class finished and people went to check their phones. I don’t live in Matsuyama so couldn’t get home to a TV. I was only made aware of how bad things really were when messages started to come in from the UK asking if I was OK.

On the Sunday after the earthquake (March 13th) I had the idea to launch a fundraising campaign where as many JETs as possible would donate 一万円. I decided to call it ‘Man Up For Japan’ and within the week, the idea had become an official AJET campaign with around 5000 people joining the facebook group!

My message for the JET community would just be a huge thank you for getting behind this idea and supporting Japan. It really has been a fantastic success and I hope the money we all raised can be put to good use. I also hope people continue to help in any way they can as the country has a really difficult time ahead of it. I would also like to send my best wishes and good luck to those affected in the north. I hope life can get back to something like normality and you can enjoy a degree of comfort again as soon as possible.

For those back home, thank you for the messages of concern, in the first instance, that I’m OK (I’m very lucky that the Inland Sea coast of Ehime must be one of the safest parts of Japan just now) and thanks also for your messages of support for the campaign and for donating to help Japan – this country deserves it!!’

Finally, we spoke to Sandy Gibson. Sandy is a 2nd year JET in Yamagata Prefecture, originally from Ottawa, Canada. Sandy has his own story to tell, and a very original way of keeping the spirits high of those around him.

‘[When the Earthquake and Tsunami hit], I was at school milling about while other teachers were marking the entrance examinations’, a normal day perhaps for some during the exam time. However, everything changed very suddenly.

‘Since March 11th I’ve hosted refugees at my apartment, given food and supplies to Fukushima refugees, MANned up, encouraged people back home to donate, and helped Corey, Johnny, and Mark with their goods/clothing drive for people in Miyagi. However, the JETs in my prefecture were getting pretty nervous about the radiation coming from Fukushima – everyone was watching too much BBC – so I tried to lighten the mood by sending out joke e-mails and silly Facebook status updates to everyone. These joke e-mails turned into songs that I’ve listed below as part of my message to friends and families back home.

I Will Survive
“First I was afraid. I was petrified!”
Kept thinking I could never live at Fukushima’s side.
But I’ve spent over five nights
reading posts on the Google group.
I was comforted by charts.
There’s no need to fly the coup!
Radiation’s back?
Who really knows?
The coverage of the situation
Really, truly blows.
The BBC says this, while NHK says that.
But I’ll just keep a cool head
and I’ll be happy as a cat.

I’ve got supplies up to my ears.
A tank of drinking water and a six pack of beers.
Everybody’s trying to scare me with sensationalized reports
Do they think I’ll crumble?
Do they think I’ll radioactify?
Oh no, not I!

Chorus
I will survive
As long as I’m in Yamagata,
I know I’ll stay alive
I’ve got a warm place to stay
I’m a safe distance away
And I’ll survive
I will survive.

It took all the strength I had to not get down
Kept trying had to keep away that gloomy frown
I could have spent so many nights
Feeling sorry for myself
But I’ve got supplies.
So I hold my head up high.
So you see me
A lucky guy
With good friends and prayers to God
I know that I won’t die.
The real threat ain’t radiation;
It’s shortages and lack.
Well, I’ve got food, power,
and my emergency pack.

Chorus
I will survive, I will survive. Nda be!

Given the fuel shortages, I changed the lyrics of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” into…

Sweet Gasoline
When it began, I couldn’t begin to know then
Now line-ups of cars are growing long
Oh, I thought it was spring
And then it snowed half a meter
And thus inspired this silly song
Gas, from the pump, rationed out
Filling tanks someday soon
Oh, sweet gasoline
Petrol never smelled so good
And soon, it seems,
I’ll keep warm by burning wood.
And now I, I watch NHK, whooo
And it don’t seem so bad, no
There are those who need it more than me
And when I’m cold
I just put on a snowsuit
and pray for people in Miyagi
Oh, when…this is done…
I won’t let my car … idle again
Oh, sweet gasoline
Petrol never smelled so good
I have a dream
Of a hybrid engine ‘neath the hood

Ohhh, sweet gasoline, driving never seem so good

After Mark, Johnny, and Corey’s fundraising weekend, I sent this remix of “Midnight Train” by Journey out to all the JETs and ALTs in Yamagata:

Don’t stop relieving
Just some foreign folks
English-speaking gals and blokes
We started something up to show that we care
Loadin’ up a van
Headin’ to North-East Japan
We sent stuff Sendai’s way ‘cuz it’s needed there

(Musical interlude)

We’ve got no expertise
Don’t really speak Japanese
But we’ve started something we hope
Goes on and on and on and on

(Chorus)

Strangers waiting
For some food and hygiene products
Their tummies soon filled up alright
Freezing people
Living in a school gym but
Brand new blankets for tonight

Holding signs on a four-way stop
I hope nobody calls a cop
“Officer, I’m not a prostitute; I’m
Just spreadin’ love”.
Some were found, some were lost
But no matter what the cost
Relief efforts must keep on
Going on and on and on and on

(Chorus)

Strangers waiting
Up and down the eastern coast
The Red Cross searching in the night
Hopeful people
Living off of soup and rice balls
Keep on fighting the good fight

Don’t stop relievin’
Tohoku is healin’
Helping people
woahhh, woahhhh
Don’t stop relievin’
Keep on…
Helping people, woahhhh

Last but not least, someone suggested I do something set to “I’m on a boat” by the Lonely Island. It’s not going to win any Grammys but here it is:

I’m in Japan
Aw kuso!
Get your keitais ready, aftershocks are going down (shawtay, yeah)
Everybody in the place get under your desk (shawtay, yeah)
But don’t let the door close
We stayin’ here, let’s go!

[Chorus (Naoto Kan)]
I’m in Japan (I’m in Japan)
I’m in Japan (I’m in Japan)
Everybody look at me cause I’m living in Japan (living in Japan)
I’m in Japan (I’m in Japan)
I’m in Japan (I’m in Japan)
I ain’t going till I hear from the evacuation man.

[You (Naoto Kan)]
I’m in Japan mommy, daddy take a look at me
I survived an earthquake and a tsunami
Gas shortages, Combinis closing down
But that ain’t gonna turn my smile to a frown

Take a picture, Ma (Ma) I’m still at work, Dad (Dad)
We drinking soy milk, ‘cause real milk has gone bad (bad)
I walk to school now, even when it’s raining
Cuz I know that Fukushima ain’t irradiating

I’m ridin’ on a bus, talking on my cell
People think I’m rude so they’re mad as hell
But this ain’t JR, it’s as “Hijou” as it gets
I pull the gaijin card and everybody forgets

I’m in Japan and, sh*t hit the fan and
There’s janitor-clothing wearin’ P.M.
He’s the king of the show, barnum and Bailey brothers
If he can reassure me, he’ll reassure your mothers.
{Go and MAN up, that sh*t’s for REAL!!!}

F**k fear! I’m where it’s at, Yamagata (Yamagata)
F**k cars! I bike here with other sensei-kata (sensei-kata)
I check bbc.com when I gotta
Now they stopped freaking out, like they oughta

Hey ma, if you could see me now (see me now)
Got clean water and lots of chow (lots of chow)
So much cup noodle that I don’t know how (don’t know how)
I’m gonna eat it all, but anything is possible

[Naoto-Kan]
My mom keeps calling my phone
Telling me she wants me at home
But momma!! Look at me, oh (I’m still alive)
You know that I love you
And I don’t wanna make you blue
But I do not want to,
use up my nenkyuu

[Chorus]

[Naoto Kan]
Whoahhh
Sha-sha-shorty, shorty
Yeah yeah yeahhh

AJET hopes that these stories can inspire those still working hard to help in any way possible. Once again, we reiterate that the response of the JETs to this devastating situation has been truly mindblowing. We will soon have an opportunity for many of you to post your own stories on your reactions to March 11th, please keep an eye on the AJET webpage for more details. For details on volunteering, supply drives and events, please see the AJET webpage or our facebook page.

For an international event that anyone can get involved in, check out www.5toSurvive.org. A 5km run in aid of relief efforts. This event is just for fun, you don’t have to be a dedicated runner to take part.

To get in touch with the team at JET Effect for advice or more information, or to nominate a great project that deserves to be spotlighted in JET Effect, send an e-mail to and we will point you in the right direction.