Shimanchu

I’ve had an inkling of this for a while – that feeling that made me decide almost as soon as I got here that I’d be staying another year, the happiness I derive from driving up the coast (even if the road is a piece of shit) and the way I snicker to myself when I leave my house and run into at least three people I know (and have conversations with all of them). There has been this inkling since just about the moment I met my first islander and it took me until about three weekends ago to really verbalize it – I love Tanegashima.

I hadn’t thought that falling in love with a place would be so similar to falling in love with a person. You realize when you first meet them that there is a connection. Then, you spend more time together, you get to know one another and soon you find that you feel comfortable with them. And one day, you realize that you love them. This is how it happened with Tanegashima and each day since I made this discovery everything about this place and its people has become sharper, more detailed and more dear to me.

I first realized I loved Tanegashima when I had to introduce it to some other foreigners. They had come down from Kagoshima (the “big city” in Kagoshima prefecture) for the weekend and naturally I took them to all my favorite hangouts and introduced them to the people I have built relationships with. As I was doing this, I noticed a feeling of nervousness that I at first attributed to not knowing these people well, but as the weekend wore on, I saw that it was more due to the same feeling you get when you introduce a new lover to your family. It was the same conflicting desires to impress the others, while simultaneously protecting my beloved from them.

The Wednesday after that, I went to a surfing contest with Eddie, and while I didn’t actually talk to anyone, the thing I love most about Tanegashima became poignantly obvious – that is, shimanchu. Roughly translated, “shimanchu” means “islander spirit” and Tanegashima’s people are certainly filled with it. Tanegashima, like the rest of Japan, is not growing. The effects of the population decline are heightened here because it is such a small island and people are constantly leaving in search of better prospects. The few people that do stay here, and even more specifically the few people that actually move here, are of a certain breed. On the surface, the most obvious thing they have in common is that they are surfers, or fishermen, or body boarders, or divers, or all of the above. But of course, shimanchu runs deeper than this: It is in the way that no one is ever really on time, that all schedules are flexible and even meant to be changed. It’s in the way that no matter what the weather or wave conditions, every day you will see at least one person driving around with a surfboard on their car. It’s the way people smile easily and laugh even easier. And the way people are generous beyond the standards of Japanese custom and the way people seem to genuinely and warmly welcome you into their hearts and homes. For some reason, the surfing contest seemed to overflow with that energy, and even though I’d never met any of those people, nor was I a competitor, I could not help but feel included.

Recently Sam sent me a link to a veterinary school in the Caribbean. After browsing the site a little, I felt that this would be a wonderful school to attend. Not only do the academics look solid and the admissions process looks like less BS, the idea of living on an island again greatly appeals to me. When I first filled out my JET application, I opted not to specify a place I’d like to go. The idea was that fate would choose the best place for me.

It would seem that fate has chosen well.

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