Sitting in the kitchen and cleaning the dishes while cooking rice in a pot of boiling water I realized that tonight was a night made for writing. An appropriate time to catch everyone up on where I am and where I am going.
Sitting under my kotatsu in Gifu prefecture, Japan, the winter is finally beginning to recede. Most days it is getting up in the 40s, and after three months of snow the sky has finally remembered how to rain. It was an unexpected realization to discover how much I missed the rain. Its sound, its power, the smell it leaves behind. The feeling of calm serenity during a thunder storm. I'm really glad its raining again.
Last week snow covered the ground a couple of the mornings, but even those gentle tugs of winter seem like they will give way to spring in the next week or two. Watching the storm turn into slush is satisfying in a way it can't be unless the snow has been stalking you for the past three months.
I think that ties into one of the aspects of the JET Program that is most troubling: so many people recontract out of fear. This isn't the fear of their Board of Education yelling at them, nor that the world will fall apart with their absence... they simply don't know what to do, so they sign their name on the dotted line and queue up for a second or third year. Before the recontracting period ended the prefecture (and CLAIR, a national arm of the government) sent out an email discussing what are good and bad reasons to recontract. To simplify ever so slightly, it basically came down to personal growth being the best reason to stay, and uncertainty the best reason to leave.
There is an oft repeated rule of sorts that goes something like "idiocy is to do the same thing twice and expect different results." I think that applies to staying a second year on the JET Program. Some people have a pretty good first year and generally enjoy themselves, and for the most part those people are going to have a pretty good second year. On the other hand, the people who have a miserable first year are--unless something crucial has changed--going to have a miserable year the second go around as well.
Admittedly, the flight to Japan isn't a particularly great one, particularly when sitting next to an obese passenger, but I can't honestly say that I had made my mind up so early. If I had to say what my initial thoughts were, it would probably be that I knew I loved programming, and was hesitant to expect that I'd love teaching English more.
Over the ensuing months not a lot happened to change that, and the only two situations that would have provoked serious thoughts of staying a second year would have been my girlfriend recontracting or losing the key to the compartment of my brain where coherent English is safely stored away until I return to America. So, no, it wasn't a hard decision to not stay a second year. There are a lot of factors to throw onto the scale: I like the town, but not so much the winter. I like the people at my job, but the job not so much. Its nice to get paid an adult wage, but fancy groceries can only triage wound up to a certain size.