25 Jan 2020
8th July 2018
JET Spotlight: Damon Mitchell
For Damon Mitchell, JET helped him to create and realise a lifelong connection with Japan, a connection he continues to nurture back in the UK as Games and Community Director of Ludorati, a board game café in Nottingham.
JETLAG caught up with him to learn how he first made it to Japan (via Slovakia) and why he recommends the film Your Name.
1. What inspired you to join the JET Programme?
Actually, I only discovered the JET Programme after travelling to Japan for a two-week holiday with a friend and deciding I needed to go back to learn more about this amazing country. Looking for a way to return to Japan for an extended time I discovered the JET Programme and the 'exchange' idea checked all the boxes for the kind of experience I wanted while still being able to give something back.
I’d already been travelling and teaching English professionally before I joined JET. In fact, I was living in Slovakia when I applied. I had to fly to London for my interview. I think that surprised the interviewers. I was told it’s the furthest an applicant had come.
2. How did you find your experiences as a JET?
I think the best phrase would be deeply fulfilling. I loved rural Shiga, where I lived for five years, and my school let me have a lot scope to try new things including original games and activities, the creation of a dedicated English room and organizing some special events. A summer night spent catching fire flies with my students and some staff volunteers was just one of the crazy things they let me arrange.
I also think it’s no exaggeration to say that my time in Japan made me a better person, thanks to the infectious kindness, consideration and patience of so many people I met there.
3. What have you been doing since finishing JET?
After so long away (almost two decades all told), it took me a bit of time to find my feet again in the UK. Luckily I found a really interesting opportunity and managed to land the rather unique position of ‘Games and Community Director’ at Ludorati Board Gaming Café in Nottingham. It’s great that I still get to teach (games, not language) and that I get to follow another of my passions as a profession. We have over 800 board games on site and, as well as being open to the public, we run a lot of tailor-made events for social groups, friends and companies wanting to have fun, team build or celebrate something. It’s lovely to see so many people having such dynamic face-to-face interaction over a game in this digitally dominated age.
4. How do you think your current role can further UK-Japan ties?
Just a few weeks ago we held a special Japanese-themed social event which was attended by some of JETAA Midlands and representatives of the Nottingham University Japanese Society. The idea was not only to play some great Japanese-themed board games, but also to give students who might want to join the JET Programme a chance to talk to the alumni. Following the success of that event I’m already beginning to plan further events with the Midlands chair. The next will probably be in September or October for the newly returned JETs.
5. What are your professional and personal Japan-related goals?
Professionally, I would love to find more ways to link my JET experience with what I do now. Organising events for Japanese companies, having a regular Japanese social group meeting at Ludorati and regular JETAA-associated events would all be lovely ways of building those links. Personally, I would love to return to Japan and live there again in the future. My wife is from Osaka and it’s quite probable that we will eventually retire there.
6. What did you learn or discover during JET that you've taken into your life and career?
Many things, but one of my favourites was the concept of musubi. Musubi means ‘a knot’ but it also means ‘a point of connection between two things or people’. JET is about building connections between Japan and the world, my current job is about bringing people together as well, but I believe musubi can go much deeper. It can be about seeing the myriad threads that already exist binding everything together, no matter what distance, and realizing that we are all have a place and are part of that interconnectivity. For me it’s about belonging and empathy, it’s an anchor in a floating world.
Musubi-no-Kami is also the Shinto god of matchmaking, love and marriage – and as I discovered my wife, Harumi, in Japan maybe it's no wonder that the idea of musubi is something I've taken to heart. I highly recommend watching the wonderful anime film Your Name (Kimi No Na Wa) which explores the idea of musubi beautifully.