Application:

The application is a tedious part of the JET process because it takes so long and requires the immediate cooperation of several outside sources. You must get all the transcripts, reference letters, medical forms, and other info completed as early as possible. It is highly suggested to apply in Sept or Oct, Mid-November being the latest, and there's almost no point in December. My application was rejected in early December of 1998 since they already had more than enough applications. There's always exceptions, but remember they start looking at them when they receive the first one, so get in early.

JET is looking for people who are smart enough to not say or even imply they simply want to come to Japan to learn Japanese while working at a semi-easy job, while making good money. You must constantly say what you can contribute to the program, things you plan to do, lesson plans you have in mind, etc. Don't say things like "it will look good on a resume", or "I'm really into anime". You'll get axed.

Put down wherever you want to get placed but keep in mind there is no guarantee you will get there. Don't bother putting down big cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and others. They usually have enough foreigners living there they don't need many JETs. There are JETs that get placed there, but on average it's not many. If you have a specific small town, just have reasons why. Don't say "I have an old college buddy living there and I want to party with him". Don't even imply you know anyone in the area, or have your heart set on it. When they ask say something like you have heard the country side is beautiful there, or you once met someone from there and they said the town is beautiful. Even then it may not work out. In April or May the schools send CLAIR a description of what they want from a JET, they might not want an American Male or might prefer a British Female, or Australian or any other combination. Their preferences take priority over your placement requests. Many schools don't care, but some do. If their request matches your request, you got it. I didn't get mine, but I am happy with my placement.

For work history, they are either looking for someone fresh out of college, or a decent work history. If you took a year off to take care of a child or a sick parent, that's no big deal. Just explain why there is a gap. If you took a year off to 'find yourself' because society was getting too 'real' then you'd better come up with something better.

If you are married and your spouse is not applying, they will definitely ask about that. I would state something to the effect that your spouse has a good job, you have no kids, and this is an amazing opportunity you can't pass up. He or she is fine with it and plans to come visit a few times. Also state that you aren't planning to go for only one year. NEVER SAY THAT. It's going to sound strange from a married person, but just don't say it. Getting a new JET is a bit of a task for the whole system and things go smoother when JETs renew.

For the medical history self assessment, they don't verify every single person's medical history. Don't blatantly lie, but don't offer more than you need to.

The statement of purpose is really hard because you have to fit this perfect statement in two pages. Mine was about how I enjoyed teaching Japanese college students when I studied in Japan in 1998 and how they really got excited about learning English. I also used it to explain why I failed one class in the study abroad program, food poisoning. Basically say why you would be a good candidate and what you have to offer. Don't mention anything about what JET will do for your future. If you do, at least don't hover on it. It's good to show JET will fit into your life, but you can't make it sound like you need JET for a good job or something.

It really helps if you have a two or three year history of Japanese related interests or activities. If you have nothing it will look like you want to live in another country for a few years then come back and get a real job. I had been to Japan on my own to study in Tokyo and was the webmaster for the Japan-America society, and was active in the Japanese community. So I definitely had a few things in my favor and since it went back a few years it was clear I wasn't just doing things at the last minute to look good.

I managed to send my 3rd application off in mid October. I had applied twice before with no luck. The 3rd time was a charm and I had good references. One was the Executive Director of the Japan-America society, the other was a high ranking executive at Bellsouth whom I had worked for diligently in the past. Plus I helped her teach a class to employees about our product.

The application is the first chance for JET to weed out people who aren't smart enough to cover the fact they just want to come to Japan to learn Japanese while working at an easy job and getting paid a lot. It's obvious once you get here there is little actual teaching involved and you are more or less here as a token foreigner. Enjoy it while you can. It is possible to make a difference with the kids, but it's not easy. You have to constantly put out a %110 effort and always be super happy and eager to talk English and listen to people try their broken English on you. But the kids are cool. I would honestly say I spend about 10-15 hours a week actually working. Sometimes it's even as low as 5 hours a week, not a day, a week.

Remember the application process is a big game. you just have to know how to play it.

 

For more help go to the links at the bottom of the page and read other JET's stories. This page is only the experience of one single JET.

Interview:

I would say this is the toughest part of the whole application process. The written application is difficult and tedious, but most of it is clearly laid out as what needs to be done and how to do it. The interview, however, is vague and unclear as to what will happen. Furthermore, you can't even ask other people how it will be because it varies year to year, and city to city. There are some general principles they follow and I will try to address them here.

The goal of the interview in a nutshell is to push you to the breaking point and see how you snap. Do you get pissed off and yell at them? [Not a good idea]. Are you cool and say "sorry I wasn't prepared for this, but I would plan ahead". Or do you go with the flow and laugh at yourself and do whatever they ask? The other goals of the interview are to make sure you annunciate when you talk, can dress and act professionally when needed, and don't have tattoos all over your face or unusual piercings. But those are secondary.

 

There is no way to fully prepare for the JET interview. My best advice is as follows: 

1a) Be amiable. Personality is a big issue. Friendly and outgoing is as important as anything else in the process. (MightyAtom - BigDaikon.com 1/5/03)

1) Be professional but not stuffy uptight conservative. They want someone who will be able to be impromptu and laugh at themselves.

2) When they gang up on you and try to break you, go as far as you can then say something along the lines of "I'm sorry I can't answer this, I wasn't able to prepare, however I can assure you I will prepare in advance for all my lessons". That will usually stop them and you can move on. They stumped me with two things, first the difference in "Have not been" and "Had not been". No matter what I said they said "wakarimasen". So I had to break at some point. The other part was I had to explain how to play soccer. Easy enough but then they kept saying "I don't understand, I am a 8 year old Japanese boy". So again I folded gracefully.

3) Know about major world events ESPECIALLY anything Japan related. Did the Prime Minister of Japan visit North Korea? Did the US sink a Japan sub by accident? Is our President in a scandal?

4) Know something about another non-you or non-Japanese culture. For instance, I am a white male, one of the three people in my interview was a black professor. He asked me, since it was February, who I would teach the class about regarding African American authors. Well all I read is technical books and Japanese language books, and then maybe, and I mean maybe an occasional new age type of book. So I knew not one single black author. BUT, I was able to implement the diversion technique.....

5) If they ask you something you absolutely have no idea about or can't answer for any reason, try the diversion technique. Politicians use it when they are asked something they don't want to answer. Mention the importance of the question asked, and then say "what I'd really like to address is such and such". For instance when they asked me what African American author I would teach them about I quickly stated "well to be honest I read mostly technical books so I am not terribly familiar with black authors, but I could teach them about Harriet Tubman or MLK or Muhammad Ali, or Rosa Parks". So I admitted I knew nothing of which they spoke, and then quickly showed I did know a little about the subject in other areas.

6) Before the interview there will be a check in desk. At this time try to get the names of the interviewers. This may not work as the person behind the desk may not know, or it may be a group interview. If you can get their names practice them over and over, write them down, say them out loud. Then when they introduce themselves, repeat their names loudly (confidently, not yelling) and use them a few times during the interview. Remembering people's names right off the bat is a great first impression.

7) While at the check in desk, see if they will tell you which room you will be in. I advise getting there about 2 interviews before yours to acclimate yourself to the environment. This will also allow you to catch a person coming out of that room and get a few last minute pointers. It's amazing how much you remember right after it's over. I was able to learn a few questions in advance and also that they wanted me to teach them a game of Volleyball. I was more familiar with soccer so I dropped the hint early on I liked soccer, sure enough when volleyball time came around they said "teach us how to play volleyball, oh you said you liked soccer, ok soccer then". I was also able to predict and state two questions in advance. She told me they go from this question to the next so when I finished one I said "you might also be wondering about blah blah blah". They were and they were impressed.

8) Thank them at the end and state something to the effect that you feel you weren't able to properly portray yourself, and hope they understand this. They know that already, but you stating it looks good.

9) I wouldn't bother sending thank you notes as the decisions are pretty much made well before the notes would arrive.

10) Don't be late under any circumstances. It doesn't matter why, they don't care. Punctuality is major in Japan. If the interviews are at a hotel, get a room for the night. I left 2 hours early for a 35 minute drive and got there 3 minutes before my interview. Prepare a few questions NOT about how much money or time off you get. Ask the ex-JET about his/her most memorable time or what he/she remembers as most fun or does he stay in touch with other JETs. Ask the Professional something that relates to him, maybe he is a teacher of Japanese culture at a local college. Ask the Consulate representative some technical like typical class size or something.

At NO point in the interview should you make any reference to anything that implies you want to go to Japan for any reason other than to teach little kids English. Don't say you want to be near Tokyo, don't even say the word TOKYO. Don't say you know someone somewhere. Don't say you want to ONLY be in a  big city, say you'll be happy with any placement city or country. Try to act as flexible as possible, try to act as selfLESS as possible.

The good news is if you interview in a smaller city or at least not the big west coast or Chicago, D.C., NY consulates, you have a better chance. After my interview I talked to an interviewer and he said all they do here is write either "good" or "bad" on the application and send it on. Whereas at the bigger locations that can only accept a certain number you get a ranking score based on the interviews of the other people. I think close to %95 of the people that interviewed at my location made it in.

The absolute best thing you can do is get your name out there in the Japanese community well in advance. Like maybe a year or so before the application time. Join any Japan America/Canada/England group in your area and attend all the events. Visit the Embassy and ask for info on anything, maybe even ask to speak with the person in charge of is. Ask a few simple questions about it, preferably in the Spring or Summer. This will get your name out there and they will recognize it later. I was fortunate enough to be a webmaster for the Japan/America group in my city so I had my name all over the place in a good way. Not everyone can have this luck.

The Waiting:

I waited so much I nearly forgot I applied. I sent off the application in mid October and received the "we got it" postcard in mid November. Then I got the interview letter in mid February and the interview was in early March. Then the first letter of semi-congrats in mid May and then a final "actually in" letter in early June. Then my school and predecessor contacted me in late June. Don't check the mailbox everyday, once you stop doing that the letters will come. Just relax and begin mentally preparing everything to move across the globe for a few years.

The Acceptance/Denial:

I was actually put on a 'short list' for a while. Which I think means they really like your application they just need to make sure they can find somewhere to place you. It was frustrating, but I'm in. If you don't get in and can afford to apply again then do it. It looks good to reapply. This time try to visit Japan or add a new Japanese hobby or club. Maybe try to get different references and start the application much earlier. Don't get pissed and give up, reapply it's an awesome opportunity.

Packing & Prep:

This was a tough part since I am no good at packing. Once you are sure you are going and you have your schools address or the address where you will live I would highly suggest sending the non-immediately-essential stuff via Sea mail. I sent several books, cold weather clothes, shoes, a backpack, and other stuff over about 2 weeks before I left and it made it here right at 5 weeks. I can take up to 3 months, but that's rare. I have shipped a few things and they were all right at five weeks. Plus it's cheap, but there are restrictions on the box size and weight. I shipped a big heavy box that I could barely lift and it was only $50 USD. Be careful what you pack, they will search all big boxes. I had some stuff vacuum sealed and they opened it and went through it and didn't vacuum seal it back so it didn't really fit. When I got the box i t was bulging open and had Customs tape all over it.

Bring about two weeks worth of nice clothes, a dress suit, and some casual clothes with you. I had two huge bags I could barely carry and they weren't near the weight limit. Also bring some small gifts from your hometown with you. You will need those right up front. Don't give them all out right away, wait a bit and see who is helpful to you. Definitely give your Principal and VP and supervisor some small gifts pretty close to the first time you meet.

If at all possible get a laptop computer at home and bring it. I had to buy one here but it would have been super great to have a DVD player for those first few days of boredom. I had to watch The Waterboy, The Professional, Anne of Green Gables, and Shawshank Redemption over and over again until I am now completely sick of them. In most towns and cities ISDN or YahooBB or ADSL is super fast and super cheap, so if you have a modem get it hooked up right away, since it might take a few weeks. I pay about $25 and have 12 Mbps YahooBB. For comparison 1.5 Mbps Cable or ADSL in the states was about $50 or more, this is two times as fast for half the price.

The most important part of preparing.......When your predecessor asks if you want to buy their stuff, be very careful. Get pictures, get them to say everything is in fine working order, then check around for prices. make sure they don't sell you stuff that the school paid for. My predecessor sold me the phone line for 65,000Y and I checked a few places and it seemed fair, only to get here and find out the phone line prices are dropping since everyone is using wireless. On top of that he sold me some heaters and a CD player that don't work. He said everything worked fine. Plus he didn't depreciate the costs from when he paid his predecessor. When we agreed on the final price he told the school and the school paid him right then, then when I got there they gave me the contract on my first day when I was all JET-lagged and I signed it only to realize after the fact I was ripped off, and now pay $200 a month to the school for 12 months. JIPPED !!

What I would suggest is getting in touch with the school (if they do it the same way) and telling them you agree to pay the amount as long the stuff is in good working order when you get there. If it is not then the contract is no good. I wouldn't pay more than 20,000 to 35,000 for the phone line. They are plummeting since keitais are so popular. The only reason I have a land phone is so I can get online. Whoever is my successor (maybe 2004 or 2006) will be super lucky, if I stay three years, I'm just going to give all my stuff to the next guy. I've had my use out of it, maybe I'll ask for about 20,000 total for a little going home money, but I had to pay over 180,000 ($1400 or so USD). Plus the apartment is all pimped out with cool stuff.

There are tons of second hand stores in my area I will be able to buy chairs and rugs and lamps for yens on the hyaku (pennies on the dollar). Make sure you don't get jipped, it really sucks having no money when you first get here.

[Afterthought]

Bring a few extra pairs of nice slip in sandals or flip flops. try to find some dressy black ones for ceremonies. I actually wear sandals with my nice suit for ceremonies. Bring some of those LL Bean type duck boots that are waterproof about 4 or 6 inches up. Buy extras of your deodorant, toothpaste, hair gel, etc. Box them up and address them before you leave and about a month before you need them have them sent over. Luckily I am running out of everything 3 weeks before I go back to the US.

Your First Days:

Tokyo Orientation was a little strange. We were all jet-lagged and getting shuffled around and as soon as we walk in the hotel we were pushed through this room where about 10 people handed us huge packets of info. Then we found our rooms and crashed for a few hours. Your body clock is all outta whack (unless you come from Australia, same time zone) and all you want to do is sleep and explore Tokyo, but you have to get dressed up and sit through some cool classes and some stupid ones.

I'd go ahead and join AJET and sign up for some of the Special Interest Groups they have. It's pretty cool.

They want you to wear a suit the entire time, but I found no need. I wore one the first day and then just the shirt and tie, and then a golf type shirt, and then something else.

You can have your bags shipped directly from Narita to your Host Institution. DO THIS. Pack the basics in your carry on and take that to Tokyo. Then have your two big heavy bags shipped straight to where you are going. Mine were waiting on me. When I dropped them off at the airport in the US, that was the last time I ever lifted them, after that they were shipped or carried for me for free. They were heavy too.

I hope to do one of the seminars this year (2004) in Tokyo. If I'm there and you say you saw my site, then I will buy you a beer that night.

(This offer applies only to the first 10 or so  people who approach me, and of those the females take priority).

The Job:

Basically I work from 8:30 am to 4:15 pm M-F, although Tuesdays and Fridays I take a 25 minute train ride to two different schools. the bad party is I have to be at the station at 7:30 am for the train, but the good news is I usually leave the school at three and get back around 4 or so.

For the most part I have a great experience, most JETs do, but you only hear about the ones that have a bad experience. There will be good ones and bad ones in anything you do, JET is no different.

Some people must prepare their own lessons, others have an outline given to them before class, yet others are given nothing and told nothing. Some have a base school that they never leave, others might have a base school and a few traveling schools, still others may be based at the BoE and rotate between 2 or 4 schools staying at each for 2 weeks to a month. I have a base school and go to two separate schools one day a week each. I am reimbursed for my travel expenses.

I am not considered a teacher at my school, my duties are clearly those of an assistant teacher. Other ALTs around me are treated as actual teachers and have classes by themselves. I'd like more time in the class room for the teaching experience, since after this I'm considering some job in education.

[afterthought]

In my second year I have had very few classes. Sometimes two per week, sometimes none. Most people have 3-4 a day. I've use it to my advantage and written a book on Japanese Verbs and read several novels, but it can get annoying. Be prepared for 6 classes a day or no classes.

Daily Life:

During the week I wake up around 7-7:30 and get to school by 8:30. I may walk or ride my bike or take a bus. After school I will usually go to the train station to buy groceries or get dinner or meet friends. Sometimes it feels like a regular job and other times there is a summer camp feeling. On weekends I try to travel or just relax. I'm about 2 hours from Tokyo by Shinkansen and try to get down there once every few months. Other people get down there more often because they don't have to pay rent. My rent is JPY 40,000 (less than $400). The shink ride to Tokyo is JPY 8,600 each way. The local train is only JPY 4,600 but it's an excruciating 5+ hours in upright bench seats.

The Life:

It can be really great, or average, or lousy. Mine is between great and average. I have enough time off to travel and explore Japan and SE Asia, but often don't have money since I am one of a few JETs in my town that have to pay rent. Most don't though. Some JETs in my area have nearly $1500 a month left over to travel and live it up. I usually run out of money and have to dig into my fast-fading savings.

We get together on weekends and go on trips, or have dinner at night. Every Sunday we get together and watch movies and hang out. One recent weekend we found a super ski package and took the shinkansen up to Morioka for a weekend of skiing.

All in all it's a great life, and most of the non-JET foreigners are jealous of us. There is some bad feelings between us sometimes, but that's usually because they are jealous. The worst thing I complain about is lack of things to do. As I understand it now, I think I have no classes on Mondays, but I still have to go and sit in the teacher's room. Some ALTs don't have to go or can leave early.

What to Expect:

We are not so much teachers, as Cultural Ambassadors. People always stare at me and want to speak English with me. I usually oblige them. People will ask you to do strange impromptu things in front of students, and I always try to go along. The tough part of this job is you always have to be "on" and ready to help someone while smiling and acting happy. I guess we are entertainers quite often.

I try to entertain the students in class and walk a fine line between being a teacher and one of the students. I will help the students sometimes because I know the way the schools here work. They are allowed to get help from other students in almost every situation, even tests sometimes.

What NOT to Expect:

Don't expect a complete free ride. It's close, but there are obligations involved. I didn't say there is work involved, because there barely is. Most of it is showing up on time and being here, even if you have nothing to do.

Don't expect to find problems, suggest changes, and have them implemented in your lifetime. The school system has been chugging along pretty much the exact same way for decades, and it takes an awful lot for Japanese people to change it, much less some foreigner on a 3 year contract. Remember any change you make will have to be continued by them well after you are gone.

Understand coming in that the Japanese school system is completely different from the US, as well as other countries. The most import thing for the students is to pass the various tests along the way. The test to get into a good High School and then into a good college and so on. The actual assignments and homework and or activities, may or may not be done or remembered and often the teachers won't care if they do it either.

Comments:

Are you already a JET and you completely disagree with my thoughts? Want to comment on them? Don't bother, these are merely my thoughts. We all know ESID so if you have some ideas set up your own web page and post them there. It would be great to have several idea sites even if they contradict each other. That shows how much variety there is.

I apologize if you found this site via BigDaikon.com. BD is about 10% helpful information, and 90% whiny know-it-all JETs who think they have all the answers about everything. Take everything you read there with a grain of salt, for that matter take everything I say with a grain as well. When/if you get here you will fully understand what is meant by ESID. It is a great job, not the best job you'll ever have, but a great job. Like any job it has ups and downs.

I wrote this out mainly because I was only given positive information about the JET program. No one had anything bad to say, everyone loved it and there were no bad things to be concerned with. So I get here and find the opposite true. I do like my job, and my teachers love me, I do a great job, but I wish I was better prepared for some of the downsides. This site merely presents bad information for you to be aware of. Don't let it worry you, but don't come here expecting a free ride. I'm not angry and bitter at the world, I merely want everyone to know both sides of the story.

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