That fin-shaped building that marks a part of the famous Yokohama skyline is the Yokohama Pacifico, one of Japan's premier conference centers, and the venue of the Conference for Returning JETs. The aim of the conference is to provide support, guidance, and networking opportunities for members of the JET Programme who are not renewing their contracts. Tomorrow I'll write a post about some of the contents of the conference, but for now I'd just like to share a few thoughts about the experience, because it was rather interesting.
First off, I think it was a very well-planned, well-run, and useful event. Let me state that flat out. That said, I did have some negative, and perhaps peculiar thoughts. Just a warning - not all of these are directly related to the conference itself.
So I set off Monday morning to Yokohama. I had decided to stay one station away from the venue by subway, and wound up choosing to patron the アッパホテル (APA Hotel), because I've stayed at several of their hotels at other locations and have always been generally satisfied. On my way to the hotel, which was at 馬車道 off of the みなとみらい線, I noted that although the area was very nice - many shops and restaurants, something was out of place. It came to me later. Lawson's has won the turf war at 馬車道. There are at least 4 Lawson's convenience stores within two blocks in any direction of the hotel I stayed at. From one Lawson's store, you need not walk more than 2 or 3 minutes to reach another one. I only saw one non-Lawon's conbini near the station. A little freaky.
On my way in to Pacifico (Shin-Yokohama, Yokohama, Bashamichi), I saw hardly any foreigners, no less anyone identifiable as a JET. I started to get a little nervous, until I was right outside the Pacifico, and BAM - hundreds of us!
Two things that struck me during the conference:
After all of the presentations, there was Q&A time to ask the visiting professionals whatever we wanted. There were some intelligent questions, but there were many asked by young JETs that embarrassed me. They sounded like they came from people used to being guided and coddled through everything - like those stupid questions you might hear in a high school or university classroom from someone who wanted a good participation grade but couldn't think of anything useful to contribute. You know, like "Um, isn't the answer the same if you multiply by .1 instead of dividing by 10?" Yes. The end.
There were some JETs who have grown too used to the system by which they were taught. The girl sitting next to me in one of the lectures (and many others I saw) was fiercely scribbling notes that she would never, could never hope to need. I swear she copied the slide about the stages of reverse cultures shock and even drew the little "W-curve." I wanted to tell her this wouldn't be on the test.
Second, I noticed an amusing dietary stereotype go right out the window. At lunch time on Day 2, many JETs headed downstairs to the Queen's Court food court, which consisted of a McDonalds, Subway, KFC, and a sit-down place called American House, which had stuff like burgers and hot dogs. I am not kidding - 98% of the foreign crowd lined up at Subway. I saw one guy get KFC, and a group of 3 guys go into American House. The McDonald's queue was all Japanese people. And they imagine us as the burger-eaters.
As for the actual useful information...more on that tomorrow.