For the next few months, the newly chosen JETs count-down the last few months until their plane finally departs, while daily other job-seekers scour the forums hoping for some joy.
Through interviews with teachers, working in the two main English teaching sectors, I hope to provide some insights for those wondering what it could be like to work in Japan.
In the interest of having the best possible Japan experience, also ask yourself a question:
Why do you want to work in Japan? What do you imagine it will be like?
Belinda was told by a previous JET teacher that she would work maybe 10 classes a week, and have a lot of time for travel. Instead she found the job to be, pretty hard-core, with many more responsibilities than she imagined. Now working as
The JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme, is a government sponsored scheme that places English speaking teachers in the public school system as ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers. Current JETs, Aaron, Lauren and Sarah discussed their situations, prior expectations and gave advice during their interviews. (Aaron and Lauren’s interview were done during a local band party, so there is a little back-ground noise).
Another question is: Are you happy to be placed anywhere?
Japan is a small country, but has a lot of distant islands, some which are closer to Taiwan than Tokyo. Everywhere, even on the main island of Honshu, even within KYOTO prefecture, there is a large amount of rural.
JETs and other ALTs, who can be placed in any far-flung public school, will probably find themselves in the most remote areas however, there is a lot more support available, as well as JET business meetings and other functions that provide some semi-regular sense of connection.
“First year is kind of fun – because everything is different. Especially socially – it’s just like university all over again. ” Belinda, former JET teacher.
Not everyone teaching in Japan comes over with JET, or even works as an ALT in a school classroom. Some are hired by private companies, of which Eikaiwa, or English Conversation schools, make up a large share.
While Eikaiwa usually are in the larger towns and cities, teachers tend to work alone, or far from coworkers, and without even the online support that JETs enjoy. Eikaiwa teacher Emily discussed this concern during her interview.
What kind of person are you? Can you adjust to a different culture? Somewhere that can be difficult to find food that is familiar. Food to fit a specific diet, or even simply vegetarian?
Another wall that foreign teachers often butt up against is that of the culture-clash, where problems, to which the solution might appear perfectly obvious (and completely different) on both sides, become huge issues. Drawing on her 8 years of experience in Japanese schools, I talked with Belinda about this situation.
I’m not talking about conforming but… it makes sense in a country that’s so small, with such a large population of people of the same culture… of course it’s going to make more sense to fit in here… you can’t be as loud or individualistic as you want… knowing all those and knowing why they exist and being more respectful and fitting in and at the same time, when you see things that aren’t working and you feel that from other people in that culture that it’s not working right… I think THEN you can support or give insight or contributions yourself. So there is a place for contributions at the same time as fitting in. I reckon I’d recommend that to anyone coming to Japan. — Belinda, former JET teacher.
Ryann, working for a different Eikaiwa to Emily, described some issues that she hadn’t expected before starting her job:
Hopefully, the interviews have helped fill in some blanks for those considering working in Japan and, along with a more realistic grounding of what to expect, not diminished your desire to come here. Japan is a fantastic country to live and work in. There will be times of frustration, and moments when you double-take, but there will be many more when you are simply happy that you came.
Thank you to Belinda, Aaron, Lauren, Sarah, Emily and Ryann who contributed their time and advice.