Old ghosts and a new dream
Jeffrey Anderson followed in the footsteps of his sister, who was teaching in Japan when she was killed in a tsunami.
Standing in front of the blackboard, Jeffrey Anderson began a class about Halloween by explaining the spooky creatures very carefully and slowly: skeleton, witch, werewolf and mummy.
The high school students looked on silently in what could have been complete incomprehension or, alternatively, absolute comprehension. It was difficult to tell.
Using sweeping hand gestures and occasionally asking his colleague to chip in with translation, “Jeff sensei” then urged the teenagers to stand up and use the new additions to their English vocabulary.
“What kind of monster are you?” they asked one another, rather hesitantly. Such scenes play out in schools across Japan every day, thanks to the thousands of people from around the world — usually young — who come here as part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching program, or JET, as it is commonly known. Most of them are seeking a work-based adventure in a foreign land.
But Anderson, who hails from the Richmond, Va., area, arrived here with a strong connection to Japan. It was in this country that his sister Taylor, also a JET teacher, died.
Taylor — who was then 24, the same age as Anderson was when he arrived here in August — had been teaching in schools in the small city of Ishinomaki on Japan’s northeastern coast for two and a half years. She loved Japan, wearing a kimono for special occasions and learning the Japanese language. Her parents and her younger siblings, Julie and Jeffrey, had visited her in Ishinomaki.
But on March 11, 2011, a devastating earthquake struck. Taylor helped shepherd her students out of the classroom and waited to hand them over to their parents. She then got on her bike and headed home instead of heading inland. She was killed in the tsunami triggered by the quake.
Now, four years on, another Anderson has arrived in Japan on the JET program.
Jeffrey Anderson is teaching in another Japanese backwater, a quiet little city where the majority of the population has grey hair. He teaches English at Takadashi Senior High School and runs an after-school communications club. There are no other foreign teachers in the immediate area, but Anderson fits right in.
“Jeffrey is like a Japanese person,” said Toshio Morimoto, the school’s vice principal.
Anderson’s parents, Andy and Jean, retain close ties to Japan and are ardently trying to help the earthquake-hit region, which remains depressed. They run the Taylor Anderson Memorial Fund to help people in the greater Ishinomaki area recover from the 2011 disaster.
Like his sister, Anderson is studying Japanese and talked at length about the computer program he is using to try to master kanji, the complicated, pictographic characters widely used in written Japanese.
Anderson’s parents are pleased that their son is doing what he loves, just as Taylor did.
“Taylor left us a legacy of love for Japan, and Jeff, Julz, Jean and I embrace it,” Andy Anderson wrote in an email.