Janet Crick - Co-Founder of the Award-winning Jamaica Culinary Tours


Q: When (how long) and where were you in Japan?

A: I was in Japan between 2002 and 2004 and lived in the city of Nobeoka, a small town in the north of Miyazaki Prefecture.

Q: How was your time in Japan?

A: My sojourn in Japan was exciting, exhilarating, rewarding, challenging, frustrating and life-impacting all in one! (smile). It was like no other experience I’d ever had, even though I had lived in other foreign countries before. The fact that the Japanese culture is so vastly different from Western and Jamaican culture is what made it so exciting and intriguing to live there. There was so much to learn, experience and absorb, and I enjoyed the many opportunities to immerse myself in Japanese culture - learning the language, ikebana and taiko drumming among other things. I found Japanese people to be warm, hospitable and friendly, going out of their way to share various aspects of their culture with me and to make me feel welcome in their country. That interaction greatly enriched my time in Japan.

Q: Tell us about the business you started.

A: In 2012, my sister and I co-founded Jamaica Culinary Tours: A Taste of History, a company offering food tours showcasing the Jamaican cuisine and culture. We recently celebrated our fifth anniversary and have won both a national and an international award for our authentic product, so we’re pretty ecstatic about that.

Q: How and why did the idea come about?

A: The idea came about primarily because of our love for travel, history and culture, and an equal passion for showcasing our own country and Jamaican culture. We’re also big foodies, so we got into the habit of including culinary tours and experiences in our itinerary whenever we visited another country. After a while, it occurred to us that Jamaica has one of the most sought after cuisines in the world, along with a fascinating history and rich culture, but yet there were very few opportunities for visitors to enjoy experiences similar to the ones that we did overseas. We saw a gap - a need for an experience that would combine all of those elements (food, history, culture) into one package for visitors to the island to enjoy. It was a good business opportunity, and also a great way to harness our interests, passions and combined career experience into the development of a product that others, even our fellow Jamaicans could enjoy and appreciate.

Q: Has your experience in Japan influenced how you operate your business?

A: Japan has an amazing approach and ethos towards customer service. It is one of the things that I talked about most when I livid there, and even since returning home, and it has certainly influenced the way I operate my business and the way I interact with my customers. Along with my sister/ business partner, we have been very deliberate about creating an “irrashaimase” type of culture in such a way that even though we may not use the actual word, every customer should feel that warm welcome from the moment they make their booking with us online, right through to the last moment of their tour. We also believe that our product should consistently represent a high standard of professionalism and excellence, which of course is very much the Japanese way of doing things. I am so happy that the feedback we get from our customers, along with the rankings we receive from review bodies and the Awards that the Company has received are all indicators that we have been successful in achieving the desired organizational culture.
I would add that on a personal level, I think that the infamous “ganbattemasu” spirit which is an integral part of the Japanese psyche, has also become an important part of my own psyche. It has helped me to cope and to keep on going with a determined spirit even when confronted with some of the difficult challenges that the business person faces.

Q: Do you often have Japanese customers?

A: I do not get many Japanese customers mainly because most of Jamaica’s tourism clientele is from North America, but of course it is such a thrill when I do meet customers who are from Japan. It’s a great chance to exchange a few words of Japanese and to chat a bit about my experience there. I also have an opportunity to return some of that warm Japanese hospitality!

Q: What are your goals (if any) for expansion?

A: Currently our tours are based in the parish of Trelawny. We want to expand in the short to medium term to the neighbouring parish of St. Ann, and for the long term we have our sight set on tours in the capital city of Kingston and a few other Parishes around the island. Truth be told, there’s lot of good food to be had and a diverse culture and interesting history all over Jamaica, so the whole island can be our playground!

Q: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in going to Japan on the JET Programme?

A: Two words – “Do it!” That’s the short version and I really do wish everybody could just do it, but on a more serious, practical note, what I always tell JET aspirants is that they have to be open-minded, flexible and tolerant to be considered as a serious candidate for the JET Programme. The selected candidates will be living in a culture completely different from their own, with unfamiliar traditions and customs, and without their familiar support structures, so a high level of tolerance, adaptability as well as respect for the host culture is essential. You’re not going to like everything about your new environment, but certainly having an open mind and a willingness to try some new, and even “strange” things will go a long way in helping you enjoy your experience.

Last but not least, it’s very important to be open to learning about the Japanese culture and to be willing to share about and promote your own culture. That is what an exchange is all about.

Q: What advice would you give to someone about to return or who has recently returned to Jamaica from Japan?

A: Prepare yourself for and don’t underestimate the “re-entry culture shock”. Even if you have come home a few times during your stay in Japan, there will be new developments, trends etc. in Jamaica that you will have to learn, and surprisingly you may even have to re-learn a few things, simply because you are no longer in the habit of behaving or thinking that way. Give yourself time to readjust and don’t expect everything, including yourself to be “back to normal” as soon as you’ve unpacked your suitcases! Recognize that you’ve grown, matured and changed somewhat while you were in Japan, and that you’re not the same person who left Jamaica in terms of personal development, perspectives, interests etc., so you will need to create a new space for yourself in your own home country that fits the new you.

Recognize also that your family and friends who did not go through the Japanese experience with you won’t necessarily be able to relate to everything that you went through in Japan, or are going through now as you readjust to Jamaica - and that’s perfectly okay. You shouldn’t try to bombard them with your Japanese experience and force them to see things through your eyes. An easier approach is to connect with fellow JET returnees, and the Alumni Association is a great place to start. Even if you’re not up to playing an active role in the Association from day 1, it’s still a good space to come and share with persons who have been through the JET experience as well as the re-adjustment process, and who can offer advice and encouragement as you re-assimilate.

Q: Would you return to live in Japan? Why or why not?

A: I would be happy to return to Japan for a short stay. I would love to participate in a programme not necessarily focused so much on the teaching of English this time, but more on cross cultural relations and exchanges among adults. Based on my experience both in Japan as well as since that time, I think that it would be great to spend some time helping with orientation and cross-cultural training programmes for Japanese persons going to live or study abroad and even for business persons who interact and negotiate with Western cultures. And of course, I would always welcome an opportunity to explore more of Japan, and soak up some of the sights that I didn’t get to the first time around!


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