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My JET Program Experience - A Year of Tomfoolery and Fun

Updated: Jun 12, 2020



Every July, JET Program inductees from all around the world make their way to Japan. It is estimated that over 15,000 people apply for positions as either an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher), CIR (Coordinator of International Relations), or SEA (Sports Education Advisors), but only about about less than 10% ever make it into the program, making it one of the most exclusive "clubs" to get into.

As a former JET Alumni myself (Hokkaido, 2013-2014), many wanna-be, present, and JET alumni tend to ask me a lot of questions. In the few public events that I have spoken to about life in Japan, these are the most common questions I got about JET.

Please note that this post is about MY experience. Not everyone's experience on JET is the same. After all, as the JETs say, ESID (Every Situation Is Different).

Note that as people ask me questions about my time in "Hokkaido Hoosegow", I'll be updating this article.

 

Question: How did you first learn about JET?

I learned about JET through my mother's cousin. She was stationed in Ishinomaki-shi, Miyagi-ken (near Sendai) during the mid-late 2000s and told me about all her adventures in the Tohoku area.

 

Question: Why did you apply to JET in the first place?

I applied mainly to improve my Japanese and for the sense of adventure. I also wanted to see how life was REALLY like in Japan. While I may have studied abroad in Osaka for 7 months, I wanted to see what Japanese life was like outside Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka/Kyoto, and Hiroshima (the cities that I went to during my various study abroad adventures while at UNT).

 

Question: What was the application process like?

Very straightforward and the majority of it was online. At that time I was studying abroad at Kansai Gaidai, so I needed my folks's help picking up some documents from UNT (transcripts, letters of recommendations, etc). But all in all, the application was very simple and straightforward.

 

Question: Why did you apply as an ALT? Could you have been a CIR?

That's a question I really can't answer now. I probably did have the capacity to do it (and I know I got the skills now to do it), but in order for me to be at least have a sort of guarantee for me to get to Japan, it would be prudent for me to apply as an ALT. Besides, the ALT position required no Japanese, but a willingness to learn it. I could use that as a means to get my Japanese better.

Perhaps I should have tried to become a CIR, and I probably would have become one. But that is all the past, so there is no use in playing "shoulda, coulda, woulda" game.

 

Question: Any tips for the application?

A few.

1) When it comes to your placement requests, try to prefectures and areas that no one really wants to go to or really even thinks about.

To increase your chances, these are some of the prefectures I would recommend include the following....

- Hokkaido

- Most of Kyushu, except for Fukuoka City

- Kochi

- Ehime

- Wakayama

- Hyogo (Kobe might be a possibility too, but don't bank on it too much)

- Fukui

- Toyama

- Shiga

- Niigata

- Ishikawa

- Akita

- Aomori

- Miyagi

- Fukushima

- Gunma

- Nagano

- Shimane

- Tottori

- Okinawa

With these prefectures, you will increase your chances to at least getting an interview. I would not try and bank on going to any major city in the Kanto area, especially Tokyo. You will not get Tokyo. Don't even try. Osaka too. Kyoto as well. If you get Hiroshima-shi or Nagasaki-shi, and you are American, best of luck to you.

As for my placement, Hokkaido, I would recommend you to go.... if you aren't on the Eastern side. Nemuro and Kushiro are ok placements though (If anyone is going to Kushiro, hit me up for more information). But if you get stuck in a village or town east of Obihiro, you will be isolated. Western Hokkaido and Sapporo is where everything is at. If you get sent to the Otaru, Hakodate, Hidaka, Tomakomai, or Sapporo areas, GO. They are major areas with easy access to Sapporo and New Chitose Airport. And with the new Shinkansen coming to Sapporo in the next few years, traversing to other parts of Japan will become much more easier.

Anywhere in Ainu country (the Hidaka Peninsula) is also really interesting. The Ainu natives are interesting and kind folks, but they are a little hard to find. Don't be afraid to talk with them and take the time to learn about their facisinating, yet moribund culture and language.

I have no opinions on Wakkanai, Asahikawa, Kitami, or anywhere in the northern part of the island. Never been there.

East Hokkaido... RUN. Just run.

2) If you are trying to get into JET to get your Japanese better, I would not put that on your statement letter when applying. You probably will not get in. So you're gonna have to lie. Sorry, there is no getting around this. Embellish about becoming a great English teacher or cultural ambassador.

3) If you are an otaku or weeaboo, I'm sorry, but your chances of getting into JET are better than you marrying your waifu. Nonexistant. Most people that are in JET do or did have an anime/manga interest while younger or maybe even now, but I have yet to have met a JET that wears kitty ears and an Attack on Titan shirt at the same time.

 

Question: What was my interview like?

My interview was at the Japanese Consulate General in Houston, Texas. I remember that it was pouring rain that February morning. Fortunately for me, my hotel was only 3 blocks and my hotel had a chauffeur that took me to the consulate.

The interview was very straightforward, but I stuck to my game plan. Just embellished me "becoming a great cultural ambassador" and "willing to get my own Japanese better". The interviewer team, one American woman (heavily pregnant at that time), one American man, and a Japanese woman, all seemed to take a liking to me.

The highlight of the interview for me was when the gentleman asked me where I wanted to go if I was accepted. I planned out a very memorable phrase that was even highlighted at the JET Orientation Party in Houston in 2013.

"I want to be the only American in a 50 mile area"

There was a long pause when I said that, and the man smiled back replied,

"Son, you got BALLS. Really big balls."

To which I replied, "All I got in this world is my "balls" and my word, and I won't break 'em for anyone". (Tony Montana - Scarface)

He started laughing, as did the American woman (I think the joke went over the Japanese interviewer's head)

 

Question: How'd you find out you got in?

It was about 5 weeks after I did the interview. I woke up that morning and because I was working late nights, I was exceptionally tired. But I had a special bell on my iPhone for the consulate/embassy, and sure enough, it went off and my heart dropped into my stomach.

Sure enough, I was offered a spot. I couldn't stop crying because all of my hard work in school, the countless hours I spent studying Japan and it's culture, and my personal ambition of living in Japan for at least a year finally came to fruition.

 

Question: At your school, was it very competitive to get into JET?

UNT's Japanese program is up and coming (last time I heard, they are in the process of creating a BA in Japanese), and with that, a lot of wannabe JETs were in my graduating class. Out of the 30 that I know applied, only 2 made it, myself and some other girl whose name I don't remember at the moment (1 other girl also made it, but dropped out due to personal issues before the departure in July). I can only imagine that at larger schools, like at Michigan, Ohio State, Texas, Oregon, or any major state school with Japanese, I'm sure the competition is fierce.

But in all seriousness, don't even worry about "competition". If you do, it will only wear yourself out thinking about it. The only person you can really defeat.... is yourself. By having a second-rate application package, acting like a fool during the interview, or doing something colossally stupid will not help your case.

On another note though, I still can't remember why, but I was considered to be a long-shot by my UNT classmates for getting in. Probably because I wasn't the typical Japanese learner. At that time, I was heavily involved in sports and a heavy jock. Compared to the other more studious candidates (whom most where weeaboos), I guess I could look like a long-shot. But hey, I got in. And I always tend to perform better when being considered as an underdog anyway.

 

Question: When did you find out about your location?

About two months later in June. I got an email from CLAIR that I would be shipped out to East Hokkaido to a little fishing village called.... Akkeshi-mura (Village of Akkeshi).


Originally, I was excited to learn that my request to go very rural was honored. Even though East Hokkaido wasn't exactly what I had in mind, even so, being able to learn about Ainu culture and perhaps getting to enjoy some winter sports excited me.

Then, I started to look at their information on Wikipedia... and my heart sort of sank. It was isolated by a long distance from Sapporo. 5 hours by the super-rapid Oozora, 11 hours by local train. But at the same time, I thought that it was going to be an interesting year there. If it turned into something longer, so be it.

 

Question: Did your predecessor ever reach out to you?

Not really. He talked to me at most twice, but I never really spoke to him or even met the guy in person. I learned as much about my placement through my "grand-predecessor", Doug. From what he told me, I was in for a fun year or two.

My personal advice to all incoming or wannabe JETs, when it comes to your predecessor, if he/she makes you feel uncomfortable or something seems off, it might be wise to seek another sort of mentor too. Most JET prefectures have a Facebook group, where a lot of ex-JETs are a part of. If at all possible, see if you can find your "grand-pred".

One caveat though. You need to understand that situations change constantly in the Japanese education system. Most native Japanese people rotate positions every 3-5 years, so he warned me ahead of time that his former boss might not be my current boss... and that actually turned out to be the case.

 

Question: Did other JETs in your area reach out to you before your arrival?

Some did. Not exactly the kind of people I'd be friends with back in America, but still, we're all in this together in the East.

 

Question: Did you ever have any sort of doubts before leaving for Akkeshi?

No different from everybody else did. Of course, I was worried how I was going to be perceived by the locals, especially since I was going to the deep countryside.

Another worry I had was Akkeshi's close proximity to Russia. Back then, the Obama Administration were getting rather cold toward Moscow, and I was wondering what I ought to do if I saw a Russian... and a drunk one too.

I think probably the biggest worry that I had would be me being away from my family and friends. If anything were to happen to my family back in Texas, I would be totally unable to provide help. Nonetheless, I still chose to go.

 

Question: What was the training in Tokyo like?

To be totally honest, I slept and drank through most of it. And even if I did remember most of it, I am in the camp that agree that most of the stuff you learn during training is absolutely useless anyway. All I really remember about training is that we stayed at a nice hotel in Shinj