Being a part of the JET programme doesn’t just mean teaching English. It is also about bonding with the local Japanese communities you find yourself in. Recently, my fellow JETs and I were able to do just that when my mountain town of Totsukawa-mura held its annual Ekiden Relay-Race. For those that don’t know, Totsukawa-mura is the largest village in Japan in terms of land area; it’s a whopping 672.35 km² in total. Luckily, we didn’t have to run around all 672 km!The route for the Totsukawa Ekiden was only about 37 km, separated into 8 legs of varying difficulty from 7k to 2k. Some were almost entirely through tunnels and others required trekking up constant inclines and hills. Starting from 重里 in the bottom of Totsukawa, every team eventually ended at 上野地 near the famous Totsukawa suspension bridge – Tanise Bridge.
There were many teams that participated, representing schools, neighborhoods, fire departments, and even a monastery. Those monk kids were depressingly fast.
The race’s conditions, however, depended entirely on the Totsukawa-mura village teams. For example, once the last village team finishes a leg everyone left on that leg must start their run, regardless of if their teammate has arrived or not. It wasn’t too much of a problem for some, though we JETs had a little trouble keeping up ;).
Anyways, let me introduce you to our team, the Wiley Wet Willies of Nara JET!
First up is our tremendous coach, who drove alongside each runner throughout the entire race. No rest for our Totsukawa JET – Yasuhiro Koriyama!
Coach of the Wiley Wet Willies
Next we have our first three runners! Seth, Keiko, and Debbie!
1st Runner: Seth! 2nd Runner: Keiko! 3rd Runner: Debbie!
Placement: Yoshino-cho ALT Placement: Kyoto ALT Placement: Oyodo-cho ALT
Leg Length: 6.4 km Leg Length: 4.4 km Leg Length: 5.1 km
4th Runner: Lexi! 5th Runner: Rosi! 6th Runner: Deirdre!
Placement: Totsukawa-mura Placement: Shimoichi-cho ALT Placement: Sakurai ALT
Leg Length: 2.8 km Leg Length: 2.9 km Leg Length: 2.8 km
7th Runner: Jorge! 8th Runner: Alex!
Placement: Kurotaki Placement: Tenkawa-mura
Leg Length: 7.0 km Leg Length: 6.7 km
While we did come in dead last, it didn’t matter. The whole day was just a blast. Many of the village residents and local community would cheer us on as our team ran by and it really encouraged our runners to keep going. It was quite touching (cue teardrops).
Afterwards, we were treated to soup and rice prepared and were able to relax/chat it up with some of our competitors and teammates alike. I was even able to congratulate a few of my students who competed. They got second place! I’m so proud of those boys (again…cue teardrops).
Honestly, this is what it is like to be part of the JET programme. It is pretty much an automatic pass into a community and its events and gatherings. It is an opportunity to be part of something new and add your own flare to it (that would be our constant cheer squads driving next to each of our runners while screaming, “fightooo, fightoooo, ganbabreee”).
If you choose to join the JET programme for any reason, do it for this….the cross-cultural interactions and exposure that you and the communities experience….I’ll get off my soap box now haha 🙂