Courtesy of Emily HowardMy name is Emily Howard and I am a first-year ALT in Ine Town, Kyoto Prefecture. I was born and raised in Texas, and when I was 17, I was lucky enough to win a scholarship to study abroad in Okinawa for a summer. That experience opened a whole new world to me, impelled me to study Japanese, and ultimately led me to the JET Programme.
* * *
I was sitting at my desk on a normal weekday when one of the teachers at my middle school came up and quietly asked if I was free the following Saturday for a kimono photoshoot at a salon. Intrigued and excited to spend more time with one of my favorite colleagues, I readily agreed. Little did I know, that Saturday would become one of my most treasured memories from my time in the JET Programme.
When the protective wrapping was removed, I couldn't help but gasp. It was one of the most beautiful kimonos I had ever seen. The teacher gently explained that this was the kimono she had worn during her coming of age celebration, more than 40 years prior. Although she had intended to pass it down to her daughters, she had only sons. I couldn’t believe that she wanted me, a bumbling girl from Texas, to wear such a work of art. As the owner of the salon slowly and ceremoniously wrapped me in layer upon layer of expensive silks, I was in absolute awe of the experience. But more than the rich feel of the fabric, or the careful and elaborate manner in which the salon owner tied the obi, or even seeing myself in the mirror for the first time after an hour of dressing, I will remember my colleague’s sweet smile and dewy eyes upon seeing someone in her beloved kimono for the first time since she was a girl.
This is just one of countless examples of the boundless kindness I have been shown by the local people during the course of my year here. Before I arrived in Ine, I was incredibly worried about how I would fit in with such a rural community. However, in ways both small and large, the community has welcomed me and helped me create memories I will be able to cherish for a lifetime.