Do you wanna build a snowman? 雪だるま作ろうよ

I have just started my fifth year living and teaching in Japan, which means that I am officially a unicorn! Unicorns are the “spirit animal” of fifth year JET Programme participants. Each year has their own animal representative which is shown in the picture below. You can even get t-shirts online! Fifth year JETs are called unicorns because to other JETs, it sometimes seems like we don’t exist. Most of us don’t attend events anymore. Some of us have settled down with long term partners or children, others are more involved in the community or our hobbies. We have seen and done pretty much everything at least once. This is our everyday life, comfortable and familiar.

When I was a first year JET there was a really cool third year JET in our office. I wanted to hang out with him more, but he never came to events, and never invited us to his. I thought he was ‘too cool’ for us. Now, I get it. I don’t want to be an elusive mystical being distancing myself from the community, but at the same time, it is very tempting. I have said goodbye to four generations of friends now. At the end of my first year I said goodbye to my seniors. At the end of the second year, I said goodbye to my closest friends, those who had arrived at the same time as me, and that I had shared every step of the journey with so far. That was a hard year, but I was determined to make new allies and continue the adventure. At the end of the third year, I started having to say goodbye to friends who had arrived after me. This year I said goodbye to friends who didn’t even know the ALTs with whom I spent my first two years. It’s a really strange and confusing situation when you start talking about people that lived here and were a huge part of your life, but who no one knows anymore.    

I shared these feelings with two of my close Japanese friends over drinks the other night. “I don’t know if I want to make friends with the new ALTs this year. All the people I felt close to this year left, so I know I should make new friends. It is really awesome being able to meet and become friends with people from all over the world. I love it, really. But, I am only here for one more year, and I’m kind of tired of saying goodbye, you know?” I sighed taking another sip of my oolong tea, only the hard stuff for me. They were very sympathetic. “You don’t have to make new friends, you have us,” one of them replied. I smiled as I felt the pressure melt away. I am so lucky to have such great friends! Cheesy but great! With them behind me, I feel like I can put myself out there one more time.

I’ve decided that I am not going to be a unicorn. I will attend events, lunches, karaoke nights, festivals, beach days and perhaps even organize a few things myself. I want to make the most of my last year on the program. I propose a new spirit animal for the fifth year ALTs. I want to be a regular horse.


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