Dear JETs coming to Gunma, Tochigi, Saitama, and Ibaraki in 2017

Hi, I’m Masaki.

You may find this letter rather odd as we’ve never met before. But I just wanted to write you to let you know that I am as excited about your new life in Japan as you probably are.

I’m a Japanese person, born and raised in Tochigi, who moved to New Zealand at the age of 17, then to the US at 19. That means I didn’t grow up speaking English. So unless Japanese is your first language (e.g. your parent(s) speaks it) or you’ve studied really hard to get to the level of fluency already, I know how nervous you might be at this point.

Don’t worry. You’ll have some bad times for sure, but you’ll have so much fun, too.

I’ve spent a total of 5+ years in NZ and the US combined, and now I’m back in Japan, living in Tatebayashi, Gunma which is adjacent to both my hometown Ashikaga and second hometown Sano, Tochigi. And looking back over the years, I am 100% grateful for the experiences and opportunities that I was given while abroad. And that is despite all the minor racist incidents I encountered, from microaggressions to being thrown a coleslaw at while walking down the street.

Racism, ethnocentrism, disablism, sexism, classism, cissexism, and heterosexism are quite prevalent in Japan, especially under the current Abe administration, and not so many people are even aware of those problems. So you may be surprised to hear something extremely bigoted from someone who seems to mean no harm whatsoever.

That, however, is not meant to scare you or make you more nervous than you already are. I just want you to be prepared when you’re here and someone says or does something appallingly discriminatory by Western standards.

Another thing I want you to know is that there are very good people here as well, and that there are phone numbers that you can call when you need support, like this one.

And if you’re going to be located somewhere in Gunma, Tochigi, Saitama, or Ibaraki (I’m sure you all by now know where you will be going), you can visit me at FAT CATS Bar & Grill.

It’s a bar & grill that my mother and I opened in 2014 in Tatebayashi, Gunma (close to Sano, Ashikaga, Ota, Koga, Hanyu, and Oyama) with the intent to create a safe and welcoming space for all people regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, disability, sexuality, gender, occupation, socioeconomic status, body size, level of education, etc. etc. Our menu book is bilingual and my mom and I speak English. So if you ever feel down or need someone to talk to, or just wanna relax in a non-judgmental environment where you don’t have to speak Japanese, come visit us! 🙂

Its location is 4-1-8 Honcho, Tatebayashi GUNMA and you can browse our entire menu here. Also go to this page to know more about what experience you can expect at FAT CATS. Oh, and our Facebook is here.

I hope you have a wonderful time in Japan, and hopefully my bar can help that happen.

Masaki C.

P.S. Spend the remaining days before your flight with people you love. You’ll miss them much more than you expect.