26 Nov 2023
28th August 2021
JET Spotlight: Angela Davies
We sat down and chatted with ambassador, lecture, interpreter, coordinator and promoter of Japan; Angela Davies. She spoke with us about her time on JET and how it led to some of the great opportunities of her career.
Where did you go on JET?
I went to Kagawa prefecture on Shikoku, so I was in Takamatsu. I was there when they were completing the big bridge there, the Seto Ohashi, which was then going to be the longest bridge in the world.
You were one of the first CIR's, right?
The government was just setting up the CIR position, and because of my history, I was asked if I would apply for it, and I applied and was accepted, and it was very exciting. The Role of CIR was very new. I don't think anybody really knew what a CIR was supposed to do at that time. The JET programme had been established a little bit earlier, but there was no network like there is now. I didn't see anybody who had gone out with me. We didn't have computers and no mobile phones in 1987, so you were very much on your own. There were some who didn't fare so well, but I did quite well because I already spoke Japanese, and I loved Kagawa very much.
It was a wonderful time for me. I loved it. I was only there for a year. It's quite amazing what happened afterwards. They chose not to renew my contract. They said, "oh, you've got a son. You've got to get back to the UK" I Would have loved to have renewed my contract. If I had known I had the opportunity, then I would have.
Going to Japan is isolating for some. What is your advice to overcome that?
It can be, especially when you're in more of a rural area. To make a phone call home costs a lot of money, so I just didn't do it.
Get to know the people you work with, get to know local people, your neighbours, and try and make friends.
Everybody said, " you can't go; you've got a son. How can you go out to Japan and leave everybody?"
I said, "I'm not leaving everybody. I'm taking my son with me" because of my son, Sam, I made friends with people around the schools. My colleagues were lovely.
Your experience of being a CIR involved a lot of going out and meeting people. Who was your favourite type of person to meet as a CIR?
Trips to see the governor were a bit nerve-racking, but he was a nice guy. The meetings with the governor were good when we had some of his foreign visitors. That was great fun, actually.
I was invited up to schools, and all sorts of societies too, to do talks about England and the way we do things. 1987 was quite a long time ago, and being in shikoku, it was very rural, so everyone was still very curious about England and trade unionism and what was going on over here. I had to swat up as there was no Google and no Wikipedia!
You mentioned that your history meant that you were recruited. What made you the right person to be a CIR?
I was one of the first to study modern Japanese. There were only 3 of us who graduated from Sheffield. We didn't have any facilities to go out to Japan. My tutors contacted my parents and said it would benefit Angela to go out to Japan. My father said "OK", and It was arranged that I would stay with a family in Tokyo. I travelled around. It was when you couldn't fly directly. So out from Manchester to Brussels on to Alaska, then down to Haneda. There was no Narita in those days. I even got a certificate to say I crossed the North Pole.
I graduated and got a job in London with a Japanese trading company and improved my Japanese. It was better after I graduated. It was very hard to find people to speak Japanese with, so I used to contact the university, find out if there were any Japanese people around. I eventually found a small Japanese company in Liverpool, and I moved and started working there until I got married.
I always stayed friendly with the people who would come and visit me from Liverpool. I don't know how words got about that I was available. It was probably after the Liverpool garden festival. I used to give cards out all the time saying, "I'm the Japanese interpreter". So I worked with the Japanese government and the gardeners there.
It's a fantastic opportunity for anybody and everybody. Going out as an ALT is a marvellous experience. If you already speak Japanese going out as a CIR is even better. I think it's a fantastic scheme for everybody to go on.
In 2007 I was asked if I wanted to be the UK Kagawa ambassador. It sounds more glamorous than it is. There are ambassadors all around the world, but I was the only foreign ambassador. All the other ambassadors were Japanese people living in Italy or New Zealand. It was quite something.
You don't get anything for it, just the kudos. When you go over, they ask you if you'll give a lecture for free or something. There's no financial gain, but I don't mind. I've been promoting Kagawa over here for years when I give talks at Japan-related events.
What was the biggest challenge that you faced?
Being on your own is quite challenging. My accommodation was out in the suburbs. I had part of the downstairs and the upstairs of a house that was in the middle of nowhere. Once I got home, that was it, it was pretty dead. I found the weekends pretty challenging. I managed to meet up with some people who were not part of the JET environment. I had met those people through the big project they were doing at the time which was opening this bridge, the Seto Ohashi bridge. There were a lot of events to celebrate the opening of the bridge and twining it with the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. I met a lot of people from the business world, and they were great fun.
How would you say your career progressed after being a CIR?
Some people interviewed me when I was out in Takamatsu, who I didn't realise were interviewing me, partly because of my involvement in the Liverpool garden festival and partly while I was there as a CIR.
Japan won first prize at the Liverpool International Garden Festival in 1984, and after JET, in 1990, I went to work out in Osaka at the Japanese Government garden, which was amazing. After the show was over, they had loads of money left over (unlike in the UK), So they set up these quangos that were for green development in urban areas. I used to set up and organise trips for landscapers and architects, and other related people to go around Europe and the UK.
They'd got to Kew gardens and the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society). They wanted to study British gardens and the British way of doing things. We went to Switzerland, Germany, all around Europe. It was then that I met this Japanese professor who was a garden designer. I was then involved at Tatton park. They had an old Japanese garden from the 1900's that they did a restoration project for. So I worked with the National Trust and the Japanese landscape professor and people I had worked with in Japan.
This professor liked me as an interpreter, and he asked me to keep working with him. I travelled all around the UK with him, and he would do lectures and workshops. I got very into Japanese gardens. I even travelled with him to Australia, where he was doing a whole lecture course for two weeks.
I've never been permanently employed since I've been in London, but I've done all of these amazing things and had all of these amazing opportunities.
Any advice for JET alumni trying to stay involved with Japanese culture?
I would say try and retain your links with your host prefecture. Try and build up your contacts whilst in Japan. If you developed an interest with something whilst you were out there, try and find a way to carry it on when you come back to the UK. Keep in touch with all the people who made your stay really good, who made you feel happy and gave you opportunities. It's so easy with FB. I had to write letters!
If you want to keep in touch with Japanese culture in a more casual way, then Join JETAA. I was involved with the Japan society Northwest for a number of years, but there are Japan societies and Japanese garden societies all over the country. If you get in touch with your local Japanese society, you can meet Japanese people who need help when they come over here. There are always mums who are glad of the help, and it's a way to keep your Japanese going.
The one things I've focused on is Japanese. I love the language so much. I've even been able to teach it. I've been so fortunate and so lucky because I've met people and networked with people who have recommended me for all sorts of things.
Contact local groups, such as WI groups or schools. If you've got some good stories about your time in Japan and a PowerPoint to go with it, it'll go down a treat. You'll get to be known on the circuit, and some people might say, "can you come and do a talk at our school?". If you can do some simple Kanji or origami schools will be so pleased for you to go. It's a way to keep it alive for yourself.