Is the JET Program right for you?

Are you looking for a way to come to Japan and teach English? For over 4,000 participants every year, the JET Program serves as that doorway. Talk to a cross section of current or former Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) on JET and you’ll get a variety of different opinions: extremely positive, overly negative, and somewhere in-between. If you’re an aspiring JET, determining whether or not you should sign up can be difficult with all the differing views.

With the JET Program, it’s important to manage your expectations. If you have designs on getting sent to Tokyo or some other big city, you might want to consider a private dispatch company or an English conversation school. While there are JET assignments in some big cities, most participants are sent to smaller cities or rural areas.

Living in the inaka definitely has its pros and its cons. The cost of living in rural areas is lower than in large cities, and the JET salary goes a long way in those places (although if you plan to go out every night, it won’t seem like you’re making very much). The health insurance plan is great and there may be other benefits, like compensation for commuting expenses and housing subsidies. Your contracting organization will help you with housing, and this can vary depending on where you’re sent. Some JETs are placed in small apartments and have to pay rent, others may be given rent-free houses. You could be an hour or more away from another English speaker.

Being the only foreigner in a rural area means you’ll become a local celebrity. Depending on the kind of person you are, the attention can be great or it can be nerve-wracking, so you should consider that. I’ve known JETs who thought the massive popularity was great at first but later found it tiring. It can sometimes be difficult to go grocery shopping or out to dinner without attracting attention. But that attention has a positive aspect as well, you may have neighbors bringing you fresh fruits or vegetables, inviting you out for dinner or drinks and picking up your tab, or being interviewed by the local media.

The teaching aspect of the JET Program can also be a mixed bag, and it largely depends on the teachers you’ll be working with and the students in your classes. Some ALTs plan their lessons themselves with very little input or are even asked to teach special classes on culture or their country’s history, but others aren’t included in the planning and do little more than read from the textbook. The JET Program is not a career, however, so don’t go in with any illusions that you can go from being an ALT to teaching at an international school (not unless you have teaching certification and experience in your home country).

If you want a chance to experience a part of Japan that not many foreigners get to see, and to live comfortably while doing it, the JET Program is a great opportunity.

Author Infomation

Percival Constantine
Percival Constantine
Several years ago, Percival Constantine traded the frigid winters and skyscrapers
of Chicago for the typhoon seasons and volcanic eruptions of Kagoshima.
He is the Pulp Ark Award-nominated author of several books in the New Pulp
movement, including "The Myth Hunter" and "Love & Bullets," as well as an editor
and English teacher. Follow him on Facebook (facebook.com/percivalconstantine) and Twitter (@perconstantine).
Website: http://www.percivalconstantine.wordpress.com.
  • -5

    gaijinfo

    or being interviewed by the local media.

    Really? I can't imagine this happening. Unless by "local media" he means the elementary school newspaper at the elementary school where you're working...

  • 4

    AndrewJoseph

    On the JET Programme I was interviewed by local media newspapers a few times, had two or three radio interviews. While I was certainly not the only foreign AET in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, I was, along with my friend Matthew (a fellow AET and still one of my best friends on this planet - he directed me to this article!), quite the visible and popular one, becoming involved in whatever it was my Board of Education office wanted me too, or the local International Friendship society or whatever. It was a wonderful time in my life and I enjoyed meeting and getting to know such a large number of people that 22 years later I have been putting out a reasonably popular blog on my experiences and describing culture and news about Japan for the past 3-1/2 years. (http://wonderfulrife.blogspot.ca/) - in case anyone is curious (unabashed plug). If anything, being a part of the JET Programme matured me a great deal, as I was involved in cooking classes, dances, plays involving JET and Japanese locals throughout the prefecture (not just my hometown) - you name it, I did it and I lack all of those skills. I helped coach in various school club activities, discussed social and cultural differences and was a friend to so many people who also befriended me. I learned so much. Japan and the JET Programme - despite not realizing it at that time - were a great opportunity in my growth, and I urge anyone with a decent personality and a sense of adventure to give it a shot. I arrived not knowing a lick of the language or of the country, and with few concepts of what to expect, and was always pleasantly surprised. I wouldn't have missed the opportunity for anything.

  • -2

    dennisyeung8

    Would Andrew Joseph plesse tell if the JET Programme only considers the applicants whose mother tongue are English?

  • 1

    akumakoe

    dennis -- No; I know some applicants who are not native English speakers but raised speaking it from a young age and are fluent. It's not common, though, so it might take a lot of work.

    gaijinfo -- It happens all the time.

  • 3

    akumakoe

    Also, to add to the article -- JET is really one of the best deals you can get. From my experiences, most of the people who complain about having bad situations are young and not experienced when it comes to professional work environments. Of course, there are cases where the teacher's scenario is really bad, but... JET is generally what you make it. Compared to an eikaiwa, working as a JET ALT might be a little rough at times, but compared to what I hear of typical Japanese desk or teaching jobs, it's a breeze.

  • 1

    eaoin

    It's not uncommon at all Gaijininfo. At our Nova branch in Yamaguchi Ken we had at least 5 or 6 students who worked in TV or radio, looking to keep up their English. The JET teachers are generally selected for presenting well (credit where it's due, with some exceptions) so when the local media want to do something with an international flavour, they're an obvious choice and fairly accessible because they usually only work school hours.

  • -6

    tmarie

    Not all JETs live in the middle of no where. What is the point of this article on JT when most live in Japan and already have jobs much better than JET? A foot in the door it is - for those who make the most of it. Many however come with the notion that it is a three-five year well paid holiday - which it is. Japan needs to get rid of this over priced program. It hasn't actually done anything in terms of improving English levels or dealing with racism and international education.

  • 5

    uzneko

    You forgot to mention that many JETs look down on people who are teaching privately here and often hang out in their own little cliques

  • 3

    Stranger_in_a_Strange_Land

    Instead of paying the JET teachers to come here and teach, the Japanese government should pay Japanese teachers of English to go overseas and study for a couple years in a University in an English speaking country.

    After coming back, the teachers would all have vastly improved English skills and international experiences they could relate to their students to inspire them.

  • 0

    mw775

    Is it possible to join the program from here in Japan?

  • 2

    cubic

    uzneko

    You forgot to mention that many JETs look down on people who are teaching privately here and often hang out in their own little cliques

    English teachers looking down on other English teachers? There really is nothing to do around here.

  • 0

    kaminarioyaji

    @mw775

    Is it possible to join the program from here in Japan?

    Unfortunately not; for reasons not entirely fathomable.

  • 0

    crustpunker

    @tmarie-

    Japan needs to get rid of this over priced program. It hasn't actually done anything in terms of improving English levels or dealing with racism and international education.

    I have never worked as a JET but from reading their misson statement, we can see that the programme exists NOT for the sole intent of "improving English levels"/racism/international education. I am not a huge proponent of the JET programme anywway and i'm not sure what the real intent of it is supposed to be but I think too many people make the mistake of thinking it is supposed to be an English programme first and foremost. Can anyone perhaps explain more clearly what the misson objective of the JET thingy is?

  • -2

    as_the_crow_flies

    Can anyone perhaps explain more clearly what the misson objective of the JET thingy is?

    Basically, for a bunch of wide-eyed college leaver American kids to come over here, pump their egos making them believe they're cultural ambassadors, fill their heads with "in your village, no-one will have ever seen a gaijin", and to boot help them pay off their student loans. Then they go back to the US, as cheerleaders of Japan. The name the JET programme has put to this is "grass roots internationalisation". They're still banging on about the same stuff as if it's the late 80's, and even though there are participants from many countries, not all of them Englsih-speaking ones, that's the basic rationale and agenda. Of course, you won't find this version on the JET website, but the programme is really stuck back in the 80's when it was conceived and trade friction between the US and Japan was a major issue.

    This "it's not really about teaching English" is another old chestnut that they like to bang on about. Tell that to the Japanese teachers of English who work with the JETs and the students in their schools, who basically think they are the assistant language teacher (ALT), and probably half of them don't know if they've a got a JET ALT or a cheapo deal from a dispatch company.

    But people with a stake in the programme, i.e. amukudari, bureaucrats and JETS who like the deal, still keep playing this like a stuck record. Sad really. I totally agree that seconding Japanese teachers to overseas schools would be an effective way to bring about a bit of much needed change. But it's not going to happen, as long as the vested interests have got their fingers in the pie. In the meantime, Boards of Education who get fed up with all the bllx that goes with JET do a sweet, but generally illegal deal with cheapskate dispatch companies for their English teaching. Are they worried that they're not getting grassroots internationalisation with the package? I don't think so.

  • 3

    2020hindsights

    I have met many ex-JET program people and found that almost all of them are fluent in Japanese. There is something to be said for getting sent to the middle of nowhere in Japan. This has enabled them to get quite good jobs where bilingual skills are necessary.

  • -2

    Thunderbird2

    I had to Google JET, and this from their UK site:

    The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, an official Japanese Government scheme, sends graduates to Japan in order to promote international understanding at grass-roots level and to improve foreign language teaching in schools. Now in its 25th year, the JET Programme has placed around 50,000 participants from over 50 countries in positions throughout Japan.

    So teaching is the secondary function, the first is to 'promote international understanding'? So what about people with TEFL qualifications? Do they get overlooked for some spotty graduate on this scheme?

  • -2

    timtak

    How harsh is the work?

    If the Japanese government scrapped the 25 man yen stipulation for English teaching visas, how cheaply could they employ unemployed British graduates, or Indian, or philipine English speakers?

    English is costing Japan too much. They should open the flood gates I think.

  • -4

    Tessa

    Some of the most miserable people I know are guys who came over as bright-eyed, bushy-tailed JETs and then married their Japanese girlfriends. The phrase "living death" springs to mind. My advice to any wannabe JETs or ALTs is to come over, enjoy the party for a few years, and then go home with a whole bunch of happy memories and some really cool photos. The smart ones do that.

  • 6

    lucabrasi

    My advice to any wannabe JETs or ALTs is to come over, enjoy the party for a few years, and then go home with a whole bunch of happy memories and some really cool photos. The smart ones do that.

    Well, I guess that makes me as dumb as a rock. Too dumb to realise just how "miserable" I am. Thanks for the advice.

  • 1

    AkariYoshida

    So basically this is a great short term program but i you want to be a permanent teacher in Japan you need more

  • 0

    Thunderbird2

    I think, as far as teaching goes, they should only employ people with a passion and a desire to teach English as a foreign language. That way you get dedicated people, and not muppets who are only looking to score with Japanese women and make a name for themselves.

  • -3

    horrified

    The JET program is the best for young graduates coming over to teach. It pays well and is solid daytime work. The scum of the industry are the crew that send you out to elementary schools, pay you much less and host poor administrative environments. Watch out!

    However, after spending almost 20 years in Japan, I'd have to partially agree with the person who said, "Do your 3 year stint and go home." That is what the overwhelming majority of Japanese locals want you to do, and there is social pressure to go along with that plan.

    Stick around until you are in your late 40's and you'll start to see some stares of scorn. You'll know enough of the language and culture to know that so many locals are thinking, "Why are you still here?" (I only wish I were exaggerating.)

    That happy, 'just-off-the-plane' bubble of existence is bliss -- enjoy it, and move on.

  • 3

    Upgrayedd

    There are really only two things people need to understand about JET before applying.

    1. JET is an international exchange program first - English education program second
    2. Every situation is different

    The first point there is simple. The Japanese government created JET as an exchange program between the US and Japan because Japan wanted to improve its image in America by inviting over young college graduates to see the "real Japan". Japan would then benefit because the vast majority of participants have a good time on the program and will go home to tell people that it's okay to buy Japanese products. Even though China replaced Japan as the Asian boogyman in the late 90s, Japan still feels that it's a good investment to keep the program running.

    English education was never the main goal of JET and sadly a lot of JET participants don't get it. Usually these particular participants are the ones with education degrees and TESL type certification. In my experience on JET, these people had the worst time. They expected to be running the lessons or for the Japanese teachers to just stand aside and bow down to their native English abilities and let them introduce whatever they wanted.

    The reality is that many Japanese teachers don't really want or need foreign help and the whole ALT idea runs counter to the simple fact that the Japanese PTA (parent teacher association) wants their kids to only study English to pass college entrance exams. The entire education system in Japan is set up to pass those exams. Actual communication ability be damned. The moral of the story is the ALT usually gets underused in the classroom and has to look for other more indirect ways to practice their TESL art with the kids...

    Now that I just said all that. Keep in mind that there are about 5000 or so JETs across all of Japan. Every one of them has a different situation. Some get free housing, some get a free car, others get their commute reimbursed and even some JETs get the entire summers off. Some JETs get to work with awesome schools with awesome principals and teachers that are more flexible with what they allow the JET to do. Still other JETs work in shitty schools that are open with their feelings of not wanting an ALT and never even invite them to class. Some JETs teach 5 classes a day and others teach 0-1 class a day. Every situation is different.

    I had a good time though and so did most of the JETs I met. Overall, I absolutely recommend the program to people who are interested in experiencing a slice of Japan.

  • 2

    2020hindsights

    I think, as far as teaching goes, they should only employ people with a passion and a desire to teach English as a foreign language. That way you get dedicated people, and not muppets who are only looking to score with Japanese women and make a name for themselves.

    The JET program isn't really about teaching and the last people you need are people with a passion and a desire to teach English as a foreign language. That is because they will feel frustrated with the work which is pretty much "wheel in the native English speaker for pronunciation practice".

  • 1

    blendover

    If you are going to stay in education, I guess JET is a relatively comfortable, protected introduction to the Japanese education system and how languages get taught in Japanese schools. The problem with it is that although you can develop a critical attitude to what goes on, it is very difficult from that kind of position to develop the right kind of criticism - ie something based on well founded principles that you can act on during the 3 years and that will subsequently lead you in the right direction afterwards. Some people work very hard but get side-tracked in one way or another.

    If you are not going to stay in education, you are taking a big risk and better know what you are doing and how it is going to improve your situation.

    Most people in JET, whether they stay in education or not, just find themselves sucked into the morass and end up going backwards in their careers.

  • 4

    Azusa Suzie

    Tessa "Some of the most miserable people I know are guys who came over as bright-eyed, bushy-tailed JETs and then married their Japanese girlfriends. The phrase "living death" springs to mind. "...

    Well, the writer of this is my fiance.

    And all he is writing about is general introduction to the JET program, not about what comes after. And you do know that really varies person to person. I'm just sorry that you had to make the comment here.

    • Moderator

      Readers, please do not provide personal information about yourselves.

  • 2

    Himajin

    What is the point of this article on JT when most live in Japan and already have jobs much better than JET?

    In answer to a question last year form Cleo, I think, the mod said that only 30% of the posters here are actually in Japan. The figures may have changed, but the fact remains that a lot of people who either just like Japan, or someday want to move here, post here. It makes sense to have articles pertaining to the people who want to come someday.

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