Teach English in Japan with the JET Exchange Programme
A Generous Invitation to Get to Know Japan
Learn the language of Basho and Banana Yoshimoto. Make friends from all over the world. Read the newest manga and play the latest video games before your friends back home. Climb Mt. Fuji. Live and work in Japan for up to three years courtesy of the JET Programme, www.jetprogramme.org.
Every year more than 5,000 participants from 24 participating countries, mostly from English-speaking North America but including other language speakers from Europe and Asia, accept a generous invitation from the Japanese government to work in public schools and cultural liaison offices across the country as part of the internationalization efforts of one of the oldest and most modernized societies in the world.
Some JETs work at the same school throughout the length of their one-year contract; others visit a different school every week. Some have every school vacation off; others are expected to come into work regardless. Some JETs end up in cities like Tokyo, Sapporo, or Hiroshima; others end up in farming or fishing hamlets scattered deep in the inaka, the countryside.
During the application process you can ask to be placed in a particular city or prefecture. You can request to teach in one of the three levels of public school or to specialize in sports. Or you may opt out of teaching altogether and, if your Japanese language skills are up to the task, work as a coordinator in international relations. Most JETs find that CLAIR (Council of Local Authorities on International Relations, www.clair.or.jp/e/clairinfo/clair.html, which administers the JET Program) tries to place them where they have requested.
Qualifications and Application (see an important update to Jet Programme age qualifications for more).
Application forms are available in September from the closest Japanese consulate or embassy. Deadlines are in December. The application procedure is time-consuming and exacting, so start early, and follow the steps to the letter. More than one application has been rejected for missing a single, seemingly redundant document.
Minimum qualifications are a bachelor’s degree and an interest in living and working in Japan. Many JET participants also have teaching experience, certification, or some Japanese ability. However, plenty of new JETs lack these qualifications. Anyone interested in participating should apply
Late in the winter, successful applicants are invited to a short interview. This formal procedure involves a variety of questions that have less to do with qualifications than with cultural sensitivity and a general awareness of world events. “What should Japan do about the economic crisis?” “How would you explain the differences between your country and Japan to a non-native speaker?” There are no set answers. Enthusiasm is the most important quality, and it should not be too hard to muster, given the prospect of being well paid to live abroad for a year.
While there are many personality types on JET, an ideal type can be perhaps be summed up in Japanese as “Genki,” which translates roughly as happy or healthy. To the common greeting in Japan, “Ogenki desu ka?” (Are you well?), the answer would be “Hai” (Yes), regardless of circumstance.
Japanese schools and public life stress performance and appearance. Your quiet meal at a community picnic might suddenly be disrupted by an earnest request for a speech on how you like Japan so far. Or a co-worker might ask you for an on-the-spot English lesson. In practice, the “normal” distinction between personal and private life in Japan is so blurred as to be almost nonexistent. However put-upon you may feel at times, you can be sure that your Japanese teaching partner, who serves as a surrogate parent figure to students, is expected to do even more. Remember, you chose to come to a country with the longest work week in the world.
Interviews are followed by the second hardest stage in the whole process, the wait. Lucky prospective participants will be contacted in the spring. Alternates may be called in July or August, after the program’s July start date to fill last-minute vacancies. Generally, however, you should know your fate by the beginning of summer.
What to Expect
Your flight will be met in Tokyo by a cadre of volunteers. Buses will take you to your hotel, where you will be well fed and given still more orientation lectures on Japan and being a JET. This treatment continues for several days, right up until the time you are delivered into the arms of your host institution’s representative.
Often, the nature of the placement will come down to your relationship with the Japanese teacher who is your partner in the classroom. Many JETs feel that their role is that of a living tape recorder, repeating endlessly the scripted dialogues from a textbook. At the other extreme, the Japanese teacher may drop the whole lesson in your lap, sometimes at a moment’s notice.
One hopes for a host institution that makes an effort to involve the JET in local events, while still respecting the need for a private life. As part of your role in “internationalization,” you will be on the job every time you go into public. This includes an evening at the neighborhood bistro and going to the store for a box of condoms.
The most consistent complaint amongst JETs is the boredom that comes from being under-utilized in the classroom. The lucky JET can use this time to prepare for lessons, study language, or whatever. Others must work in smoke-filled offices, even if there is nothing to do, and may also be expected to work on school holidays.
Some JETs also find their free time more than amply filled for them by a host institution eager for them to be active in the community. Evening classes, visits to other schools, festivals, etc.--all keep the JET too busy to be homesick.
Throughout the year CLAIR provides opportunities for job training, cultural education, language learning, etc. Seminars are often held in Sapporo, Tokyo, Kobe, and other places high on the list of visitors to Japan. The host institution pays for travel expenses and the mandatory conferences. Everything else is open to negotiation. Between national and regional conferences, parties, and special interest groups, there is plenty of opportunity to socialize with other participants and to pursue interests related to Japan. Special language courses designed specifically for JET participants are just one of the programs offered by CLAIR.
Many communities offer classes at the local culture center and sports arena. Martial arts, tea ceremonies, origami, and calligraphy classes are held everywhere and provide a great opportunity to meet your neighbors and learn Japanese in a relaxed context.
There is plenty to do and see in Japan, although the costs of travel in-country may eat up your high JET salary. Hokkaido to the north is a great place to hike in the mountains and ski or snowboard in winter. The semi-tropical Yaeyama islands in the south, including Okinawa, are a nice break from winter in the north. Most JETs seem to find the time to travel out of Japan, usually at Christmas, Golden Week in spring, or over the summer. At the right time of year, the beaches and jungle trails of Thailand are as populated with JETs as a mandatory CLAIR conference. Korea, a short flight away; is another possibility. Japan is a great jumping off point to explore Asia, and your JET salary will provide you with the means to travel to the most expensive countries.
For some people, teaching and traveling become a way of life. For others, it’s a one-time adventure before chasing other dreams back home. Either way, the JET Program provides wonderful access to a fascinating part of the world, professional recognition that may help you in your new life, and a support network in your move half way around the world.
Important Jet Programme Update
JET Programme Age Limit Raised to 40
There have been some recent changes to the Jet Programme, most notably in the eligibility requirements, which are worth knowing about.
The JET Programme is a nonprofit, government-sponsored initiative to place young native English speakers as assistant language teachers (ALTs), sports exchange advisers (SEAs), and coordinators for international relations (CIRs) in the Japanese countryside. As of 2012, there are 4,360 participants in the program from 40 countries.
The maximum age for applicants has recently been raised from 35 to 40 and may be raised further in the future. Applications must be made through the Japanese embassy in your home country. Average starting salary is ¥300,000 a month after tax. The program provides opportunities for travel, cultural immersion, and language study as part of the job.
Although minimum contract conditions apply to all JETs, such as the minimum 20 days of vacation per contract year, actual work conditions vary widely. Every ALT is assigned to one or more Japanese Teachers of English (JTE) who is the primary teacher for that class. For some ALTs, this means their job involves little more than modeling dialogues from the textbook; for others, especially those who stay on for more than one year and show interest and aptitude, the JTE may allow the ALT the freedom to design and teach his or her own classes. For people considering a career in education, your time on JET may be considered as teaching experience by boards of education in your home country or abroad.
Minimum qualifications include a 4-year bachelor’s degree from an accredited university, a maximum age of 40, and native or native-like command of English. Prior teaching experience is highly regarded, as is demonstrable knowledge of your home country, especially as it may be of interest to Japanese young people. An ongoing interest in Japan is also a plus.
For more information, visit the JET Programme website: www.jetprogramme.org.
You may also find the following sites helpful:
Jetset Japan (www.jetsetjapan.com) is a website that caters to mostly in-service JETs.
Bruce Feiler’s Learning to Bow is a very readable narrative account of an ALT’s experience on the JET Programme.
AARON PAULSON writes from Hokkaido, Japan.