Speech by Katrina Phiri on behalf of 2011 SA JET returnees
Minasan, konnichiwa! I trust that you’re all genki and still somehow finding the will to live after the injustice that was perpetrated against the Springboks last weekend. It’s tough, but let’s use this function as a perfectly good opportunity to distract ourselves from thinking about it. It’s good to see some familiar faces as well as many many new ones, all the while remembering the common link that we all have: JAPAN! On behalf of the 2011 JET returners, I’d like to thank His Excellency, Ozawa Toshiro as well as the Japanese embassy in South Africa for hosting this event and bringing us all together. Honto ni, arigatou gozaimasu. I hope that today will be a great opportunity to connect with current returners, alumni and members of the Japanese community living and working in South Africa. I hope that we can share with each other fond memories of our time in Nippon and continue to maintain ties with the country that many of us would now consider a second home.
My name is Katrina Phiri and I spent 3 years living and loving life in Japan. I lived in Matsuyama city in Ehime Prefecture on Shikoku island- a place that many Japanese people would consider to be the “BUNDUS” of Japan. However, considering that I’m from Benoni, it was actually a MAJOR upgrade because suddenly I had access to such wonders as telephones and for a change, I got to see vehicles that weren’t bakkies. No, I’m kidding… Benoni’s great. Please come visit. We need the tourism!
It’s funny to think how your perception of things can completely change in a few short years. I went to Japan not knowing ANYTHING about the culture, the language or the people. This is mostly because back then, we didn’t have internet in Benoni. Sorry, last one, I promise. But seriously, I’ll never forget those first 3 days at Tokyo orientation. As we rode in the bus from Narita airport to Kiyo Plaza, I remember being hit by the bright lights and towering skyscrapers of one of the world’s most populous cities. My eyes were as wide as saucers. As we navigated our way through the Tokyo jungle over the next 2 days, my brain was working over-time trying to process the strange and wondrous sights that lay in front of me. Everything seemed impossibly foreign! From the language, to the ubiquitous vending machines, to the strange game shows on TV. Now, after having lived in Japan for 3 years, all of the things that I saw in those first few days have completely ceased to be even the least bit strange.
I didn’t really believe in the whole “reverse Culture shock” thing, however, returning to SA in August was a complete shock to the system. I’m sure that many of you will agree that reverse culture shock is REAL! It has left me missing a lot of things about Japan and also appreciating, now more than ever, lots of things about South Africa. In the missing Japan category, I will miss hanami season, all the wonderful festivals and 24 hour combinis around every corner. Also, I find that I am having serious withdrawals from not being able to experience the impeccable quality of service that the Japanese are famous for. Now, I’m left asking the question: how come the person working the til at the pick ‘n pay doesn’t get off of her chair and walk around to hand me my packages and then walk me to the door and bid me farewell and thank me for my patronage?
I also miss speaking Japanese. Since being back, it has emerged that certain English words have completely disappeared from my vocabulary. This became quite clear when my boyfriend pointed out to me that the baggage handlers won’t understand what I’m talking about if I keep on calling it “nimotsu”.
In the appreciating South Africa category, I find myself being filled with incredible joy when I think of the fact that I get to skip winter for a whole year!!!! Having returned to SA in August, I completely skipped winter and now I won’t have to deal with those circulation-impeding winters that I had to endure in Japan. My first winter in Japan was spent believing that each day was possibly going to be the day I would freeze to death. By my 3rd year, I had evolved and figured out ways of maximizing warmth. Still, each winter that approached always brought with it a sense of dread that seemed to cling tightly to my soul for 3 months of the year. No more of that!
Instead we can all say hello to the warm weather, decent levels of humidity, braais and pap en vleis. And three cheers for getting to use Saffer lingo and being understood when you say things like “yoh, eish, bliksem, eina and lekker”.
I’m happy to report that each day is definitely getting easier. To my fellow returners, I hope that your adjustment is also going well. Good luck reacquainting yourselves with friends, good luck finding jobs and good luck getting hit in the face by the economy. Speaking of the job search, I’ll leave you with one tip. It doesn’t hurt to remember that when you are faced with a tough question during a job interview, as in Japan, you can buy yourself some time to think by simply uttering these short, but impactful phrases: Anooo, etoooo, eeeeeeeeeeee? Should you get offered the job and you subsequently decide that it’s not for you, you can always give a resounding, but polite “NO” by simply saying “SSSSSSSS, CHYOTTO”.
Welcome back home and good luck to you all!