Name: Anthony Russo
Occupation: Public Servant
Tell us about a place you like in Japan
One place that I would not hesitate to visit again is Yakushima, an island about 100km south of Kagoshima in Kyushu. It is well-known for its forests of ancient yakusugi cedar trees and is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. I took the ferry to Yakushima during Golden Week one year and joined throngs of hikers to see Jōmon Sugi (a cedar tree said to be over 5,000 years old), and enjoyed the breathtaking view from atop Taiko-iwa Rock. It was a gruelling ten hour trek made worse by a lack of water that I had forgotten to pack - I was relying on the ubiquitous Japanese vending machine to supply me some, but alas, the only time I ever really needed a quick drink in Japan, I couldn't find any! But I was extremely lucky the time I went, for the weather was glorious with azure skies all around, and this is despite the purported adage that it rains 35 days a month on Yakushima!
What did you do when you lived in Japan
I spent about a year and a half on the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET) in the montane countryside town of Takachiho in Miyazaki Prefecture in Kyushu. My working week saw me teaching English in the only public high school in town to students aged from 15-18 years old. On and off the job, I participated in school events, extracurricular activities, local festivals, JET gatherings, and undertook lots of travel. Moving to Japan to teach happened to be my first full-time job, my first time living out of home, and the first time that I bought a car!
What interests you about Japan
A lot of my interest in Japan developed during my time living in Japan. Prior to visiting, I was fascinated primarily by the language. Once in Japan, I realised how interrelated the language is with the culture, and discovered that learning more about one furthered my knowledge of the other. I particularly enjoyed travelling to different regions and sampling the local specialty dishes: everything from chestnut-flavoured ice cream to chicken namban to sanuki udon. Post-Japan, I am always keen to watch the latest Japanese movies and dramas, I still practice the language when I can find the time, and I enjoy learning the secret ingredients of authentic Japanese dishes from my Japanese wife whilst simultaneously expanding my vocabulary.
How is life in Japan different to life in Australia
Life in the town I lived in is extremely different to life back in Australia. I lived in a remote country town during my time in Japan, and was surrounded by soaring mountains, verdant valleys and flowing rivers and gorges. I grew up in suburbia in Australia and had never lived amongst such natural beauty, so the idyllic landscape I was exposed to in and around my host town of Takachiho was a welcome change of scenery. I participated in many local festivals and events that were a window to deeper cultural knowledge and meaningful friendships, the experiences and people of which I still hold dear to this day. Back in the daily grind of a typical nine-to-five office job in the heart of Sydney certainly has its conveniences and career opportunities that I did without in Takachiho, but I still nostalgically reminisce about the simpler moments that came from a quieter, slower-paced setting.
How do you imagine your future in relation to Japan
My wife is Japanese and so I know my future will be filled with many more trips to Japan to visit her family and friends! I still keep in touch with close friends I made during my stint on JET and hope to visit them again someday. I travelled extensively during my stay in Japan but soon realised that, the longer I remained in Japan, the more there was that I wanted to see and do! So there are still many places that I would like to cross off my list. And with the soaring house prices in Sydney at the moment, my wife and I might just consider a change of country!
How does Japan influence your life at present
The fact that I have a Japanese wife engenders a profound Japanese influence on my life. I am very grateful for the continuing connection and relations with Japan through my wife and getting to know her family and her culture better. And it goes without saying that, here at home in Australia, our staple is koshihikari rice, our drink of choice is genmaicha tea, and our method of communication is our own unique hybrid of English interspersed with Japanese!
Tell us something memorable about your time in Japan.
One of the most memorable and somewhat bizarre experiences of my time in Japan, if not my life, was the hostel a friend and I stayed at on Rebun Island. The hostel is on an island located about 50 kilometres northwest off the coast of Hokkaido. From the moment you disembark to the moment you set sail again, the people at Momo-iwaso Youth Hostel implement a wonderfully warm yet strict regime of six o'clock starts in the morning by way of music blaring out of speakers, compulsory song and dance meetings lasting two hours every night, and greetings that would leave you either with a sore throat, in tears, or begging for more. Words do little justice to describe the experience, and all I can do is to implore the reader to make the time and effort to visit if the chance ever arises, or at least conduct a cursory Internet search to investigate it. Leaving the hostel will leave you feeling that a part of your family has been left behind, but nonetheless grateful for having met such people.
Edited: January 2015