New JET Katie Kim writes from Sado Island in Niigata:
I come from a small town outside of Kansas City, MO. My hometown doesn’t have even one coffee shop, and as I’ve said in my jiko shoukai hundreds of times, we’re 10 hours from mountains and 14 from the nearest beach. You can imagine my elation at being placed on Sado Island -- a non-tropical island with mountains, beaches, rice fields, caves... and coffee shops galore.
When I first arrived, I made it a point to get to the beach for sunset as often as I could. One beach has man-made ledges leading down into the water, mimicking extremely wide stairs. Knowing nothing about the ocean, I tried to walk close to the water out of pure curiosity. One evening, I walked along the lowest “stair” which was freshly wet but not submerged. Suddenly, an old man and his dog arrived. As the dog bounded down the “stairs” for the water, the man called out sharply, “abunai yo!” ("it's dangerous!") Poor dog, I thought to myself. He just wants to enjoy the beach. There’s nothing “abunai” for a dog at the beach. And instantly, I slipped and fell onto the concrete. “Abunai to itteta!” (I told you it's dangerous!) yelled the man. Oh. Me. He was yelling at me.
In my embarrassment, I continued walking along the beach until I reached an instagram-esque wooden pier extending far out and high above the water. With no one around, I ventured a ways out to enjoy the sunset and forget my recent face-plant. Just as I sat down, I heard footsteps behind me. Turning around, I saw the same old man walking towards me. Oh, great. But to my surprise, he walked straight past me to the very edge of the pier, where he let a small basket down into the water. “Crabs,” he said in Japanese. “I’ll be back soon to collect.”
He returned just as the sun dipped behind the mountains. “Do you live in Sado?” he asked. We talked for quite some time -- me, in my broken Japanese, and him, in his hardly decipherable Sado accent -- before he suddenly said, “Wait, you’re not Japanese, are you?” My blond hair is usually the giveaway if the broken Japanese isn’t, but being mistaken for Japanese made me instantly like him 100x more. He shared his sadness about all the young people moving to the mainland, and even told me the dimensions of his house and his rent payment to prove how much more affordable it is than living in Tokyo. I assured him that I love living on Sado and find it to have everything anyone could ever need. Now, the sun sets before I finish work, but I still look for ojiichan when I visit the beach. His friendship is just one of the many unexpected treasures of Sado Island.
You can follow Katie's island adventures on her Instagram at: @happyhatlady_katie