Part 2: A love letter to the Communities and the People along the way (English)

I have been very fortunate to be included in many communities while living in Kochi and meet so many wonderful people along the way who have helped enriched my journey and my experience. I hope to highlight a few of those communities and friendship groups within this blog post, and how they shaped my experience while living in Japan, and what I learnt throughout the process.
Day Trip with Joey, Shiho and Maki.

Of course, one of the biggest communities I was involved in during my time living in Japan was my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Club, which you can read all about in a blog titled “BJJ in Rural Japan” (Coming Soon). 

The Sunday Market during the Meiji Era
A city or town’s identity is defined by the people and communities that make up it. A community shapes how we belong within our setting, and what we can do to grow that community. With Kochi being a very agriculture heavy landscape, and with a very low tourist and foreigner population, it creates a very local environment for the people to live in, which one of the parts I absolutely loved about it. For example, our weekly Sunday market, which is Japan’s oldest outdoor marketplace, that started in 1690. It starts from the Otemon Gate, the entrance to Kochi Castle, it winds its way for 1km along Otesuji Avenue. The market sells the regional produce of the prefecture, the local treats that we are known for, ranging from the farms in the more countryside, or even their gardens from the little elderly ladies. I tried to make a point to go down every Sunday at around 7am, to get the best deals before they sell out, to see the seasonal food, and buy some groceries for the week.
Selling the local fish
 As I walk down the very long road, it was wonderful to hear the chatter in the background. It felt very homely to hear everyone greet one another as they entered, talk about their goods, and treat each other with their produce. This feeling was heightened as they were speaking the regional dialect of the prefecture, Tosa dialect (土佐弁, Tosa-ben). As I came more often, I started talking to the stall owners more and more, and have my local stall which I visited more often. They were so kind to me, often giving me an extra ぶんたん (Buntan), or a free 土佐小夏 (Tosa Konatsu). I learnt more about their stories, and how they came to be. They were very content in staying right where they are, with a love of their surroundings, and the people. Some of the owners of the stall have been there for 35, 40 years, and still offering the produce that they grew from their house garden. This is community, and every Sunday it was a wonderful reminder of the community that I am a part of. I have two strategies when dealing with the market. Always do one walk-through before you buy anything to see all the deals and quantity of the items. Always bring a few toothpicks, so you are ready for the many free samples that are going to be presented to you.

My friend Atsushi and I picking Yuzu
On a few opportunities, I was able to contribute to the agriculture sector by helping my friend’s family Yuzu Farm and pick the yuzu trees. While participating in Yosakoi, I met a husband and wife, who I kept in contact with, and also joined their Rubik's Cube club, but that's another story entirely. They asked me if I would like to join in picking Yuzu with them for the day at the wife’s family farm. Yuzu is a very special fruit in our prefecture, as we are the largest distributor in Japan. Yuzu is a staple in Kochi's cuisine, being used in cooking, beverages and even being turned into a variety of condiments. And so, one morning, we set out at 6am to drive to the Yuzu farm, and all day we worked hard to pick as many Yuzus as we could, which was being used for the local ice cream company To take a step back and see where the farmers from the Sunday market get their produce truly allowed me to appreciate more so the effort they put in towards their community in Kochi. It was such a nice experience, and on other occasions, I invited my mate Joey to join, and that was a blast as well. 

I am always surprised how one connection can lead to another, and so many surprising and interesting adventures can be had, and it just makes you feel, wow, I am glad I decided to do that. For example, this next story. 

Taking my parents to the Organic Market
Not only did our city have a Sunday market, but we also have an Organic Market, that happens every Saturday, which I would try and visit as well. One Saturday, they decided to have a pop up outside the New Tsutaya (bookstore) to promote people to visit the new building, so I brought my toothpick and went. There were few stalls lined up selling their organic goods, and a store caught the corner of my eye which I have not seen before. There was a female duo showing off their watermelon produce and allowed for me to have a taste. It was delicious, fresh, and the first time I tried watermelon in Japan, so I exclaimed how delicious it was. They were so happy to hear that and offered me another piece. And it was there where I met Mie the watermelon farmer, and her friend Kie. We exchanged details, and we kept in touch. I can remember the first event I was invited to, I just got a message from Kie saying (In Japanese) "Meet outside Kochi station at 6pm and a woman named Mayumi will pick you up, and we are going to Eiko's house for an event".  And I was "Sure". I did not know Mayumi. I did not know Eiko. But man was it exciting.
A celebration for Kie and Eiko's Birthday
So I rode and parked my bicycle at the station, and Mayumi picked up myself, and another woman, and we proceeded to go to Eiko's house, which was located in the middle of the farmlands, and also happened to be Eiko's massage parlour. And so I arrived, and it was the first of many fun events at Eiko's home, and slowly I was integrated into their group, joining their LINE group chat. I learnt more through the happenings of this LINE chat than any other avenue living in Kochi City. It was so much fun, and then the events just kept on coming. Hanami, BBQ, birthday events, celebrations. And every event I went to, I had no idea what was going to happen. I just showed up, usually with a homemade dish or cake in hand, and just went with the flow. I found a new community to be a part of, and they took care of me like one of their own. It was always good vibes, and fun times. They were extremely sweet to me as I was leaving Japan, holding multiple farewell events, and coming to see me off at the airport, which was so difficult to say goodbye. I am so thankful that I decided to go to that pop-up Organic Market event, and I am still in disbelief what follow that. 

As mentioned above, the lack of diversity is very apparent in Kochi, and for someone who has an appreciation and love for cultural diversity, living there was a bit different. Not better. Not worse. Just different. At first, there is a feeling of being the outsider, or "not fitting in" as you walk through the mall, library, shopping arcade etc for hour and hours, and you notice that you haven't seen a foreign person all day. Coming from Sydney, Australia, where cultural diversity and a foreign population is abundant, it was an adjustment for me and my lifestyle to have a mindset towards this new norm. Although it does have its perks by being on TV maybe 8 times. And to that point of myself adjusting to living in a region with little diversity, the longer I lived there, I also understood that not only am I adjusting to this new norm, but the people of my city are adjusting to the idea of foreign people living in their city where they grew up. It became an important experience for both sides to understand what I can do to integrate myself into the society, and in turn, what we can do to accept a foreign population within my society. There are a few hiccups here and there where you obviously feel out of place or uncomfortable either by a situation, or an individual, but you accept that everyone is just adjusting to something that is foreign to them, and hope to educate. A humorous, non-offense example that happened the night before I returned to Sydney outside my apartment building went as follow. 

  • Person: 暑い (Hot). 
  • Ari: 暑い (Hot). 
  • Person: 日本語が上手! (Your Japanese is good!). 
  • Ari: ありがとうでも、同じ単語ことを言った (Thank you, but I said the same word). 

Baking Party at my apartment
In saying that, within the city we had a very strong and wonderful community of JET Programme participants of other foreign teachers living in the Kochi Prefecture who I shared the most wonderful times, created strong bonds, and wonderful friendships which I can hold onto forever. I am so grateful of the countless of dinners, board games, dinner parties, movie nights, baking parties and trips, and hope to grow the community that has been so good to me. There are a plethora of photos and videos of all the adventures we went together. I remember one trip to Ehime Prefecture very vividly, where three of my friends and I went together for the long weekend. We did the Shimanami Kaido, which was great, stayed in a Ryokan (旅館) next to the temple, which was amazing, and did some exploring around Matsuyama. We wanted to go on a ferry and visit one of the surrounding islands off Ehime, but didn't know which one to go to. So we set on Mizuki Island, as we read that it was a cat island, and we could see some cats. As we arrived, I saw there was only 2 restaurants on the island, so we set off to grab a meal before we start exploring. We couldn't find it, so I walked back to a house with people inside thinking it was the restaurant and asked if they were "瀬戸内屋" (Setouchiya). They were confused, but ecstatic to see us, so I quickly grabbed my friends, and they invited us inside for a BBQ seafood meal and some drinks.
Lunch at Mizuki Island
Turns out not many people visits this island, so they were very happy that we came, and treated us to a meal, and we were so happy to be able to meet some of the locals on the island. They gave us some tips of things to see around the island, and we were on our way, looking at the beautiful landscape. I remembered there were so many Mikan trees around, and as we were walking down the mountain to go for a swim, an elderly woman who was farming some Mikan, offered us a bag, and they were delicious. We had a quick dip, and decided to return to the home, and presented them with a bottle of Sake from seemingly the only bottle shop on the island. We think the person at the store was asleep, so we left the money at the table, and went back not without bottle of Sake. It was a very special connection, and they said to come back anytime, and we knew were just became engulfed in their community. They walked us to the ferry port, and waved us off as we left the island, and we waved knowing something special just occurred. What occurred after that encounter is an entirely interesting and wild story within itself, which will need an entirely different article. And we did not see any cats. As the JET Community is spread all over the prefecture, whenever I ride my bicycle, or go on a day trip, I am comforted to know that there is always someone to be able to hit up, crash at their apartment, or see what it's like there. And then provide that same level of hospitality in return. A community where you can share both your successes and agony within the schools, embrace each other's achievements, and have a taste of home.

Mizuki Island

Although this is only a snippet of some of the communities and different people I had the pleasure of developing relationships along the way, I am very grateful for how they were able to shape my experience in Japan. A city or town’s identity is defined by the people and communities that make up it. Throughout my time, I have been so fortunate to meet so many wonderful people, and been taken into their communities, and become a better, stronger person. This is a love letter to those people, and the communities of Kochi. 

Here are some additional videos from my collection of 10,000 for your viewing pleasure