Novelist Jayne Joso talked to Jetlag about her JET experience and how it led to a deepening fascination for Japanese culture and ultimately her third novel My Falling Down House, set in Tokyo.
What inspired you to join the JET Programme?
When I was about 12, I fell in love with a book of short stories by Angela Carter called Fireworks, which were based on her time living in Japan between 1969 and 1971. I vowed that when I was grown up I would go and live in Japan. At university, I heard about the JET Programme and it seemed I had found the perfect route to a long-held plan.
How did you find your experiences as a JET?
I was based in the mountains in Tokamachi City, Niigata Prefecture, and faced a very culturally and linguistically challenging time. Three to five metres of snow fell over the same number of months and I lived in a traditional wood and paper house.
It was a deeply culturally immersive experience and I am so very grateful for that. I was welcomed locally and experienced so many aspects of traditional culture, from tea ceremony and dressing in kimono to studying silk painting and local dance.
Over time, I was able to observe how rice is planted and harvested, how sake is made locally, and how to enjoy drinking it whilst keeping warm and cosy with my Japanese friends in winter, my feet under a kotatsu. All in all, it was, by equal measure, tough and, in all aspects, beautiful.
What have you been doing since finishing JET?
I am a writer. While in Japan I managed to fill several books with notes that are now making their way into my work.
I have just had my novel My Falling Down House published. Set in Tokyo, it’s a story of a young guy who has lost everything while also being a story of the renegotiation of his identity and a return to simpler ways of living.
It has received the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation Award for a book that helps interpret modern Japan for the English-speaking world, and was long-listed for the Rathbones Folio Prize 2017.
After JET, I returned to the UK for further study and then settled again in Japan, this time in Tokyo, constantly gathering notes and images for my work on Japan. I’m back writing in the UK again at present.
How do you think your current role can further UK-Japan ties?
My writing and research on Japan has led me to give talks at organisations such as the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation in London, which has kindly invited me back. Talks such as these allow me to engage with people in the UK and share some aspects of Japan.
Since I return to Japan frequently, I have ample opportunity to reassess my own work as well as continually add to and reconfigure my observations, impressions and questions. I hope that all of this will find its way into my future writing and talks, thereby increasing people's understanding of Japan at least by a small degree.
What are your professional and personal Japan-related goals?
My early notebooks alongside my more current thoughts now form the basis for a book of long and short stories that I’m hoping to work on soon.
Thank you for inviting me to share my story.