Jun 11

Posted by: Doug Tassin (Fukushima-Ken ALT, 2007-2010 & Krewe of Japan Podcast Co-Host)

This week on the Krewe of Japan Podcast

JET Program acceptance letters have gone out & short-listers are on the edge of their seats waiting to find out their placements. Nigel, Jennifer, & Doug talk about the months-long emotional roller coaster of preparing to relocate to a new country (for JET or any program). Departing JETAA Mid-South President Megan DeVille stops by to talk about her pre-departure JET experiences, from interviews to arriving at a tiny regional airport in Aomori Prefecture. She also talks about life after JET and how to keep Japan in your life despite returning to your home country.

The Krewe of Japan Podcast is a weekly episodic podcast sponsored by the Japan Society of New Orleans. Check them out every Friday afternoon around noon CST on Apple, Google, Spotify, Amazon, and Stitcher.  Want to share your experiences with the Krewe? Or perhaps you have ideas for episodes, feedback, comments, or questions? Let the Krewe know by e-mail at kreweofjapanpodcast@gmail.com or on social media (Twitter: @kreweofjapan, Instagram: @kreweofjapanpodcast, Facebook: Krewe of Japan Podcast Page, & the Krewe of Japan Youtube Channel). Until next time, enjoy!

Oct 5

Good Doc, Bad Doc

Nathaniel Simmons (Nara-ken, 2007-2009) is currently a communication professor at Western Governors University and lives in Columbus, OH, USA. He teaches a variety of intercultural, interpersonal, and health communication courses. He has researched and published several scholarly articles regarding privacy management between foreign English teachers and Japanese co-workers in Japan and is currently working on turning his research into a book.

What makes a good or bad medical professional?

From school medical checks to hospital visits, the average ALT has several medical encounters throughout their year(s) in Japan.  Intrigued by my own experiences within the Japanese medical world, I interviewed 49 foreign English teachers in Japan about their healthcare experiences, and here’s what they said (in a much more condensed format):

Bad providers violate patients’ cultural expectations 

ALTs perceived providers that “violated,” and/or did not perform culturally expected practices as “bad” providers.  In other words, if a Japanese medical profession didn’t act as expected, the ALT perceived the experience and the medical provider as negative, or “bad.”  As an example, one English teacher characterized the difference between a “good” and “bad” doctor.  The following is an excerpt that distinguished between two physicians this English teacher encountered while seeking treatment for bronchitis.

“I walk into his [the doctor’s] office and he’s like, ‘Yeah, you’re not healthy I can hear you from outside.  This isn’t just a cold is it?’ ‘No.’  Just from hearing me cough he knew that I wasn’t well.  He says to me, ‘You either have bronchitis or pneumonia.  We’re going to take an x-ray and blood tests to find out.’  Difference in doctor right there! One of them [the bad one] just hands out a diagnosis and is like I think you might need antibiotics and the other [the good one] is like I want to do a blood test and do an x-ray to make sure you need the antibiotics and if they’re the right kind.  So that doctor, the good doctor, figures out all the information I needed.  The bad doctor, is like, ‘I’m going to give you medicine now.  Goodbye.  Give me ¥600.’”

This ALT’s experience with an array of Japanese medical professionals within Japan allowed the ALT to construct a comparison and contrast of “good” and “bad” doctors.  According to this ALT, good doctors either knew quickly what was wrong with a patient or took immediate action to determine what was causing the patient illness or discomfort as well as how to alleviate it.  The “good” doctor sought to understand the patient’s perspective and the illness versus simply handing out an antibiotic which may not treat the illness for a fee.

Throughout interviews with ALTs, “bad” providers were described as:

  • Ignited fear within the patient(s) by thinking out-loud and muttering possible diagnoses.
  • Provided no verbal or nonverbal cues, especially on invasive exams like pap smears.
  • Did not provide an “appropriate/adequate” diagnosis.

Good providers attend to the patients’ cultural expectations

ALTs believed that “good” providers should attend to their cultural expectations (i.e., all of those standards and norms for practice in one’s home culture).  In other words, “good doctors” should behave and act like one might expect in their home country.  For instance, when discussing a positive time with a doctor, one English teacher said:

People here don’t always smile when they meet you and things like that.  As a westerner you think, ‘Oh you don’t like me,’ but no it’s just because Japanese don’t smile.  When he [the doctor] first met me, he smiled at me, he introduced himself [in English], and so far it’s all been working out.”

Overall, “good” providers were described in interviews as:

  • “Very nice and understanding.”
  • “Similar to what I’d experience back home.”
  • Had “appropriate” body language.
  • Exceeded expectations on providing medical education, understanding, and comprehension to patients.

What next?

This study raises the importance of intercultural health communication training.  More programs need it.  English teachers are placed throughout Japan by numerous organizations and boards of education and are expected to live well.  However, that “living well” can be complicated when foreigners expect intercultural interactions to progress flawlessly and as according to their own culture.  Some ALTs even chose to not re-contract due to their health care experiences in Japan (and not necessarily because they are in poor health).  Scholars argue about “who should adapt to whom,” but that doesn’t really help us in the day-to-day life of a foreigner navigating a medical system (in Japan).

Here are some suggestions, what others do you have?

  1. Expect difference.
  2. Do your homework.
    1. Research the Japanese medical system.
      1. What similarities, if any, exist between Japan and your home country?
      2. What differences, if any, exist between Japan and your home country?
    2. Google Japanese words for common symptoms and your current prescriptions.
    3. Ask questions to a friend, other English teachers, and co-workers (if you feel comfortable).
      1. What should I expect when I go to the doctor/dentist/hospital?
      2. What surprised you about the Japanese medical world? (to other foreigners).
      3. What over the counter medicine do you find works best for _____?
  3. Laughter helps.
  4. Remember that Japanese medical professionals are trained professionals.
  5. Insert your tips here ______________!

This blog post is an adaptation of the scholarly article:

Simmons, N. (2016). (De-)legitimizing medical professional discourses: Evaluations from foreign English teachers in Japan. Language & Intercultural Communication, 16(2), 1-18. doi:10.1080/14708477.2015.1113984

Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14708477.2015.1113984?journalCode=rmli20 


Sep 4

By Jon Dao(Toyama-ken, 2009-12) for his podcast Discussions with Dao. Jon works as a speech coach and personal trainer.

The third appearance by former Toyama JET Randy Higashi. Unlike most of the other returnees I know, Randy actually went back to Japan for another two year stint. In this episode, we spend a lot of the discussion comparing the two experiences. Be sure to follow Randy on Instagram and check out the Takkomachi Facebook Page!

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Why go back again? (1:20)

Which stay in Japan was better– the first or second? (8:36)

 How does it feel to come back a second time? (10:10)

How can you tell going back to work in Japan is a good decision or not? (12:57)

Did you see unrealistic expectations and fandom of Japan from ALTs? (16:46)

The Japanese Office Culture (19:40)

Fan Question (24:40

Don’t Leave Your Cleaning/Packing Up Til the End (30:30)

Omiyage Again (38:02)


Aug 22

By Jon Dao(Toyama-ken, 2009-12) for his podcast Discussions with Dao. Jon works as a speech coach andpersonal trainer.



Fresh off the plane (okay maybe more like a few weeks) from a 5 year stint in the JET Programme, here’s graphic designer Patrick Finn! Be sure to follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

The “Best Thing” being back (1:20)

Using Credit Cards Over There (4:10)

Music/Concerts in Japan (8:38)

Japan Apologists (15:20)

Why do the JET Program? (17:10)

What kept you going for 5 years? (20:10)

Is JET “worth it” for personal and professional development? (26:41)

“Just living alone and kind of having to start fresh, I could throw away any ties I had to people, right? Okay, I can finally be me. No one expects anything of me because they don’t know me. So I don’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations. Be 100% me and build my reputation around that.”

Traveling “Outside” (31:17)

Silence on the Struggle (33:07)

 Get the Pension Refund (37:40)

Fan Question (40:32)


“If you find yourself doing things that you could’ve been doing where you came from, You shouldn’t be there. You’re making a mistake. You’re not making the most of your time, and you’re wasting someone else’s opportunity.”

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Jan 16

Nathaniel Simmons (Nara-ken, 2007-2009) is currently a communication professor at Western Governors University and lives in Columbus, OH, USA. He teaches a variety of intercultural, interpersonal, and health communication courses. He has researched and published several scholarly articles regarding privacy management between foreign English teachers and Japanese co-workers in Japan and is currently working on turning his research into a book.

What is private in Japan?

If I tell my co-workers I have hemorrhoids, diarrhea, or need to go to the OBGYN will they tell everyone else?

These may not be questions JETs think about when they first go to Japan. It also may not be something JETs consider when they are ill and trying to gain medical care or just discussing information (i.e., relationship status) about themselves with their co-workers.

The reality is Japanese cultural conceptions of privacy might be different than many JETs’ expectations. Depending upon how individualist or collectivist your home country is will influence how privacy is interpreted, expected, and maintained. The concept of “what is private” or “privacy” differs cross-culturally, as do the ways in which privacy values are expressed.

Japan is no exception.

Japan has been largely classified as a collectivistic culture. As you know from your own experiences in Japan, the group matters more than the individual. In other words, in Japan the “we” wants and goals come before the “I” or “me” wants and goals. For collectivists, the very notion of privacy might be viewed as selfish due to an individual’s wants and goals taking precedent over the group’s desires.

Ever notice that privacy is in katakana, the Japanese syllabary used for foreign words? Puraibashi, or プライバシー, is taken directly from the English word for “privacy.” Since traditional Japanese language has no word for privacy, a unique cultural conception of privacy emerged. For example, the idea that one has “the right to be left alone” might signal a lack of cooperativeness with the group and an inability to work well with others. Additionally, controlling one’s privacy information might be perceived as an excess of mistrust. Even Japanese scholars have commented that gaijin might perceive the group interdependence of Japanese people as “suffocating.”

Japanese language use two distinct, yet interrelated meanings of Japanese privacy: shakai ( 社会), or “public,” and seken (世間), or “world/society.” Such terms stress the importance of relationships, interdependence, and group harmony. Shakai contributes to negative aspects of crimes being withheld from the media in order to protect victims and their families. If one was to “break shakai” it would involve speaking publically about private matters which might harm another’s reputation. Seken emphasizes human relations and allows Japanese people the ability to “understand” or at least “explain” what went wrong in a given situation. To the foreign eye, this might look intrusive, or like “gossip,” as one tries to understand one’s home life or culture to explain a tragic event.

As JETs operate on differing values of privacy, this might result in individuals feeling “violated” or “exposed.” Perceived privacy violations can lead to relationship withdrawal, isolation, and negative assumptions/stereotypes about one’s co-worker or Japan in general. Throughout my research, gaijin English teachers reported feeling that their co-workers invaded/violated their privacy expectations. In other words, if they told someone something, it was then told to someone else, who then told someone else…etc. You get the point. In my research, gaijin felt victimized when people knew things about them that they didn’t disclose (i.e., So and so sensei told me you went to the doctor and are on X medication), even if it was something positive (i.e., I heard your dental checkup went well!). My participants felt like “celebrities” because “everyone (i.e., Japanese people)” in their communities knew “everything” about them.

Critics of my participants’ stories have said “Well, they should know it will be different from their home country.” It is easy to say “expect things to be different.” To what extent should this responsibility be shared? No recruiting organizations discuss privacy in their trainings. Perhaps privacy is something so engrained in one’s culture that it is perceived to be “common sense?” Perhaps that “common sense” is where the most difficulties exist when what one “commonly” thinks doesn’t work.

Regardless, this is a collective issue that requires further dialogue and research to better understand how to cultivate meaningful relationships. Several of my participants chose to cut their contracts short or to not renew because of their interpersonal privacy experiences.

That’s costly – it costs financially and personally.

This blog post is an adaptation of the scholarly article: Simmons, N. (2012). The tales of gaijin: Health privacy perspectives of foreign English teachers in Japan. Kaleidoscope: A Graduate Journal of Qualitative Communication Research, 11, 17-38. Retrieved from http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/kaleidoscope/vol11/iss1/3/

Aug 14

Nathaniel Simmons (Nara-ken, 2007-2009) is currently is currently a communication faculty member at Western Governors University and lives in Columbus, OH, USA.  He teaches a variety of intercultural, interpersonal, and health communication courses. He has researched and published several scholarly articles regarding privacy management between foreign English teachers and Japanese co-workers in Japan.

“Something of and in Japan, [is that] it doesn’t matter about who you are. Your health is never private.  They [Japanese] don’t see health as a privacy thing.  So you know, if you want to keep it private, don’t talk to anyone about it.” – Alice

After having my own interesting health experiences in Japan, I remained curious as to what other ALTs experienced.  Therefore, I went back to Japan and interviewed 10 ALTs (5 women and 5 men) about their medical encounters.  I quickly learned that it wasn’t “just me.”  I heard a lot of strong comments such as Alice’s.  In fact, everyone managed their medical privacy to some extent.  I share one story below:

“There were no barriers. Every person in the village, every school, you know everyone in the Board of Education, the whole school knew that I broke my leg and what days I was going to the hospital, and medication I’ve been given.  There’s no quiet, patient confidentiality.”

Meet “Jamie.”

An ALT in rural Japan like most of the ALTs employed by ALT organizations.  She loved her job, teachers, and students.  She worked hard and was enthusiastic about English education.

After breaking her leg, everyone knew.  But how?  She explained:

“It starts off with the supervisor who tells the Board of Education, they then informed the schools, and well, the schools tell the teachers, and the students ask, they tell the students, the students tell the parents, the parents go to the restaurant down the road and tell them, and the whole village knows.”

For Jamie, living in rural Japan meant that she wasn’t able to obtain her desired privacy levels.  Suddenly, she was not just the “foreigner,” but the “foreigner with the broken leg.”  She was the talk of the town.  Even her prescribed medication wasn’t a secret.  At the same time, Jamie was a “good sport.”  She laughed about the spectacle of her situation.  However, this somewhat uncomfortable experience influenced later health encounters.

After having appendicitis, Jamie didn’t want to go to the hospital as her doctor suggested.  She told her Board of Education (BOE) that she just needed to go home and “sleep it off.”  However, her tale doesn’t end there.

“I got a phone call from my Board of Education! [The] Doctor called the hospital when I didn’t turn up.  So, the doctor then called the Board of Education and told them everything, what he thought, and that I needed to go to the hospital.  The Board of Education called me and I said “No, I just want to sleep,” and they are like, “It’s too late. Your supervisor is coming to your house to pick you up, to take you to the hospital.”

Although somewhat comical to Jamie, she saw this as a privacy violation.  After-all, this isn’t a situation Jamie would have experienced in her home country.  People now knew information she didn’t want them to know.  She attempted to not have her school involved, but things didn’t go the way she planned.  In reality, the doctor’s decision potentially saved her life, but, at the same time, Jamie perceived her privacy to be violated.

This sentiment was echoed throughout stories of ALTs’ health experiences.  Someone told someone, who told someone else…and before they knew it, everyone knew information about them and, yet, they didn’t know much about anyone else.

How did ALTs manage their privacy in this study?

Withdrawing from workplace relationships (i.e., not talking to co-workers), lying, intentionally or through omission, and relying on the help of a non-workplace related friend (i.e., another ALT, Japanese friend, etc.) were the three most common strategies shared.  For example, if an ALT was on medication that they didn’t want their co-workers to know about, they might say it was an “allergy” pill.  If any ALT felt their privacy was violated, they stopped talking to co-workers…sometimes about everything.

Questions for you:

  • To what extent was privacy a concern for you?  Why/why not?
  • How did you protect your secrets?  (It doesn’t just have to be health!)
  • What do you recommend to current ALTs regarding their private health information?  Future ALTs?  Do you agree with Alice?

This blog post is an adaptation of the scholarly article: Simmons, N. (2012). The tales of gaijin: Health privacy perspectives of foreign English teachers in Japan. Kaleidoscope: A Graduate Journal of Qualitative Communication Research, 11, 17-38. Retrieved from http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/kaleidoscope/vol11/iss1/3/

Feb 10

Hot springs tips and hints: Not just for first-timers!

Posted by Audrey Akcasu (Omura, Nagasaki ALT, 2010-2014); Former editor-in-chief of Nagazasshi, Nagasaki’s premier English speaker-oriented events and culture magazine; Current writer and translator for RocketNews24, a Japan-based site dedicate to bringing fun and quirky news from Asia to English speakers. 

This probably comes as a refresher for many of you, but this infographic is helpful for newbies to the Japanese hot springs scene, but also contains some fun information that even seasoned veterans (and Japanese people) may not know. Plus, the drawings are really nice! A larger version of the infographic is available on TripAdvisor and you can read about this in more elaborate detail on RocketNews24. Happy bathing!

onsenThe infographic was released by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Hokkaido District Transport Bureau in collaboration with BathClin.

Dec 1


Writer Graham Shelby (Fukushima 1994-97) recently teamed up with The Butcher’s Apron Radio Show to produce this full-on audio story (music, sound EFX, the whole thing) about a distinctly JET experience.

Asakawa JPG

“The Asakawa Christmas Party” tells the true story of a complicated Christmas party Graham and a few other American JETs attended at a Japanese elementary school. It was complicated because…

a.) it took place on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.


b.) the teachers asked them to teach “a traditional American Christmas dance.”  (FYI – there aren’t any).

How’d it turn out?  Doozo. 

The story was produced as part of Selfridge and Co’s Reasons to Believe series of original Christmas tales.  Graham has a few more Japan stories here.


Jul 14

Community Involvement on JET: Don’t Be Afraid to Start From Scratch

By Jayme Tsutsuse (Kyoto-fu 2013-2014), organizer for Cross-Cultural Kansai, seeking work opportunities in NYC starting August 2014!

Cross-Cultural Kansai's Summertime Picnic at the Kamogawa river in Kyoto. Celebrating global identities with delicious food, beautiful weather, and amazing friends.

Cross-Cultural Kansai’s Summertime Picnic at the Kamogawa river in Kyoto, celebrating global identities with delicious food, beautiful weather, and amazing friends.

At the JET Program Tokyo Orientation last summer, we were all told to get involved in our communities as much as possible. It seemed like good advice, so I jotted it down in my list of goals, expecting this promise to somehow become less vague once I settled in.

I’m not sure how I envisioned it would happen. Obviously there wouldn’t be a community, gathered with open arms, ready welcoming me in when I arrived. Fair enough. But really, what were we supposed to do?

A friend suggested that I check out Meetup.com, and I was surprised to see how popular it was in Kansai (not nearly as expansive as New York or London, but still!). Every weekend, I’d join events in Osaka or Kyoto, and I never failed to fall deep into conversations with new friends about our backgrounds, where we came from, how it affects who we are today and where we want to go in the future. I loved listening to their stories. And the more I came across these stories, the more I thought about how great it would be to create a space for them, a community premised on sharing these parts of ourselves.

For the complete story, click here.

Jun 30

Let’s Talk Japan, Episode 23 – 2014 Embassy of Japan JET Program Pre-Departure Orientation


Let’s Talk Japan is a monthly, interview format podcast covering a wide range of Japan-related topics. Host Nick Harling (Mie-ken, 2001-03) lived in Japan from 2001 until 2005, including two great years as a JET Program participant in Mie-Ken. He practices law in Washington, D.C., and lives with his wife who patiently listens to him talk about Japan . . . a lot.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to a pre-departure orientation for new JET Program participants, organized by the JET Program Office at the Embassy of Japan.

The orientation covered a wide range of topics, and I am very grateful to the Japanese Embassy for allowing me to record the event and use the audio on the podcast. The presenters were all JET Program alumni, who shared their first-hand experiences and advice with the new JETs on a wide range of topics.

In this episode, I have included three particularly useful presentations; including: (1) Things To Do Before You Leave; (2) Life in Japan; and (3) Life as an Assistant Language Teacher. These are just a few of the topics covered at the orientation, and I hope to share more of them with you in a future episode.  If you know of someone considering the JET Program or moving to Japan, there’s a lot of useful information in this episode.


Nicksmall dot

If you have not already done so, be sure to follow the podcast on Twitter @letstalkjapan and leave a positive rating/review in iTunes.

Jun 30

Life in Japan: Technology

On Saturday, I spoke at a Q&A Panel for NEJETAA on technology in Japan. For an informal debriefing, I did aite, but I finished feeling like I could’ve done better.

I thought I’d do a recap here and add the stuff I forgot to mention originally. This info should be helpful for anyone who’s going to stay in Japan, not just JETs, so let me know in the comments what you think.

My street cred is living in the mountainside of Japan from 2009-12, so it’s very possible some of this is a teeny-tad outdated. Read More

Jun 20

AJET Chair Kay Makishi (front row, left) at the Spring 2014 AJET Opinion Exchange Meeting in Tokyo, June 2014. (Courtesy of CLAIR)

AJET Chair Kay Makishi (front row, left) at the Spring AJET Opinion Exchange Meeting in Tokyo, June 2014. (Courtesy of AJET)


By Eden Law (Fukushima-ken, 2010-11) for JQ magazine. Eden lived and worked in the core city of Iwaki on JET, and is JETAA New South Wales‘s webmaster, meaning he is the voice on all the online and social media for the Sydney-based chapter like Twitter, Instagram (both @jetaansw) and Facebook.

At the start of this year, dramatic changes took place as CLAIR (the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations) formally announced changes to its relationship with AJET (the Association for Japan Exchange and Teaching), with the full details made public by the latter on their Facebook page on a post dated January 27. The immediate outcome of this decision means that AJET’s participation and input at CLAIR-organised events such as the Tokyo Orientation and After JET conferences will be discontinued.

While AJET has had a low profile in the collective consciousness of many on the programme, these changes will inevitably impact all JET participants, most immediately in how conferences will be held and run, and how AJET will continue to represent and assist the needs of the JET community. Historically, the volunteer organisation has existed from the start of the JET Programme and is run by JETs to benefit and support participants in Japan. Now, it faces the biggest challenge of its 27-year history.

For those who may not have heard of or know about AJET, its constitution describes it as a volunteer organisation whose purpose is to foster a successful working relationship between JET Programme sponsors and participants, as well as to promote and support the JET community. In turn, it presents itself as a representative of the same community. Founded in 1987 right from the start of the JET Programme itself, AJET’s early work was very much focused on providing a support network for the first participants.

Kay Makishi (Fukuoka-ken CIR, 2011-14), 2014’s outgoing AJET chair who completed her one-year term on the AJET council, sums up her focus on the JET community: “I wanted to see more energy spent on starting projects like our Professional Development Conference Calls…[and] collaborating more with JETAA so JETs have more support finding jobs post-JET,” she explained.

Read More

Apr 18

CLAIR Magazine “JET Plaza” Series: Christopher Chong (Chiba)

Each month, current and former JET participants are featured in the “JET Plaza” section of the CLAIR Forum magazine. The March 2014 edition includes an article by current JET participant Christopher Chong. Posted by Celine Castex (Chiba-ken, 2006-11), currently programme coordinator at CLAIR Tokyo.


Originally from London, U.K., Christopher Chong (Chiba-ken, Sosa-shi, 2011-present) holds a master’s degree in Music Composition and Composition for TV/Film from Royal College of Music. He came to Japan for the first time to study illustration in a manga school. He applied to the JET Programme after realizing that all his areas of interest revolved around Japan. Christopher currently works as an ALT in rural Chiba and is actively involved in his community, as an AJET leader and a tourism ambassador as well.

International Power Ranger

Christopher Chong

“Being a JET has shown me that I have so much more to offer than I realised, and in ways I had never even imagined”


Jan… Ken… Pon! “I knew it! You’re not Japanese!” the child exclaimed. I’d been exposed. Despite the bright red spandex uniform and custom made Power Ranger helmet, my style of playing ‘Rock Paper Scissors’ had given away the fact that I am, indeed, a foreigner in Japan. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with a costume or without, I am an international Power Ranger. And I call myself, ‘ALT’.

Volunteering at the town festival to dress up as my city mascot, a kind of ‘Super Sentai,’ was a fantastic experience. It wasn’t a working day and I wasn’t in a classroom, but I was doing what JETs do best, making myself present. Every minute of every day is another chance to interact with people. I wasn’t studying, and I wasn’t teaching. I was part of cultural exchange, and that can happen in any place, at any time.

Even after a great English class, it’s the next 10 minutes that are really special. Quickly I am surrounded by 30 bag-grabbing, iPad-tapping, glasses-snatching children. For only 10 minutes I have the chance to answer questions about my recent trip to France, let children strum my electric guitar or even award stickers to the winners of the iPad English quiz game I have created for my students to play. The time is short, but precious.

It wasn’t always this way. When I first began my work as an ALT, I had expected that returning to school as a teacher would make me feel powerful and important. Instead, I felt awkward, nervous and I often worried that I was getting in the way. I would hide in the western style toilet stall and think to myself, ‘I’m too different. Nobody likes me. I’m not supposed to be here.’

I was wrong. One day, even though I was scared, I tried to eat lunch with students, and then everything changed! Students that had never spoken to me during class talked about games, asked me about England, and even made me laugh! That day, I learned a lesson about my job that would later define every aspect of my life in Japan. No matter how great or small, every encounter is precious. I realised that I must make it easier for students to approach me. So, I greeted students at the school entrance, I stood in the corridor between classes, I cleaned classrooms with students and before I knew it, I was no longer worried that I didn’t belong. Read More

Apr 10

Life As a JET: Thoughts From a First Year

Jeremy Tan is a 2013 Kochi-shi, Kochi-ken CIR, and with the imminent announcement of 2014’s new batch, he reflects on his observation of what the JET Programme is like, and what it’s for. Originally published for JETAA NSW, the article was published in two parts, but it is published in its entirety here.

It has been almost 9 months since I departed from Sydney, Australia. Many memories and the like have been made since then. Please read these paragraphs, if you have time. I hope they can help you.

I remember the months leading up to the departure as a whirlwind of meeting people, preparing for departure and being really excited that I was about to start a new Journey in Japan. I have been to Japan before on exchange during my university years however this time, it’s for work. And it was very different from what you would have experienced before. Receiving the placement letter, was a long wait. The system does provide for some contracting organizations to send their letters to JET applicants at an earlier time, however the smaller/local contracting organizations tend to take their time in sending their documents. At first I thought it was just a matter of problem in the communication line, the slowness of the mail system etc. Or perhaps the fact that they have at least 10,000 people applying each year for the program. It’s actually Japanese people being polite and making sure everyone knows who you are before you come.

Having to submit my letter of resignation to my current workplace, and listening to many regrets from colleagues and friends alike was heart-wrenching. However they cheered me on, for something that I had a dream for; Japan. The whirlwind definitely can be extremely stressful or adrenaline pumping. I think I experienced the latter. So much adrenaline, but yet all you need is yourself. They picked you, they believe in you.

Meeting new JET applicants. Packing my suitcases, bags and boxes. Having to submit my end of lease papers. Closing my bills. (Even now I have to deal with outstanding bills that don’t want to let go of me). Organizing bank accounts, important documents and overseas credit cards. These all came in quite a wave, especially since I have been living as an independent, without my family overseas since I was 17. I felt like I had to pack almost 10 years of my life into a few boxes and send it over to Japan. Now I live each day as if it was my only life. Your life will be what you make it each day.

I think around this time, April, is when most of us JETs were finally hearing about our placements and trying to find out about our contracting organizations. So, perhaps our year really actually started around this time. Having to write down so many experiences into a single article can seem quite daunting. Believe me it has been an undertaking with many memories. And that is the most important thing – making memories.

Australia, my country, Sydney, my city. Discussions on Facebook, forums and many other social networks, all JETs trying to keep networking and keep in contact. It’s surprising how, when we arrived, the journey together in orientation is a short one. We make friends from our original application embassies. Then we make friends in our local area, city, town and prefecture. The program is amazing in how it develops you, to further strengthen your identity. You meet so many people, especially the Japanese that you work with. They all have special peculiarities, personalities. Their personalities, and most importantly, what makes them Japanese. Another important thing, the people. They’re important.

As young JETs we generally romanticize the features of Japan. Without a doubt, the MOFA sells Japan as a whole. It’s their job. However this program is not exactly that. It’s about the people and kids you live with. The program wants to change lives. They first changed your life. They gave you the opportunity to come on the program. So now, all you have to do is make a difference to the lives of those you will meet. Don’t worry if you’re no super-worker, ace-teacher or not perfect in any way. They just want you to be the perfect friend to Japan. When you make a difference to one child or one colleague or one person’s life in Japan, pat yourself on the back and grab a beer. Especially if you are in Kochi.

I have fears of what I can say in this article, but some things should be said. If I had been asked for just a few words could I tell the JET applicants what they should be prepared for? I’ll try. Don’t come here for the English. Unless you have power that can change the world, you will hurt yourself. The resilience needed to change an estimated 123,000,000 people’s worth of education, is more than Mount Fuji (it’s been made a UNESCO heritage site, as of 2013, more things to look forward to). They ask of you, yourself, and your identity, to assume a persona from another country for the children and people of Japan. Rural Japan, where you will be most likely be sent does not really have much exposure to the outside world. They have, over years, tried to improve their English ability. It’s hard for them, just like how the Japanese language is equally difficult to learn. So don’t expect them to change quickly or easily. They will need pushing and pulling as long as their history, which is vast and long. You’re a part of that big process.

So? What does it mean? Give up on JET? Well, if you really want to be a hardboiled teacher of English, it’s going to be different from the way you were trained. Japan’s government and current society realizes that. It’s a stoic country still stuck in their old ways. Japan likes its traditions. Sometimes too much and it can be hard to move on. But that’s Japan’s specialty; without that, you won’t get Kyoto, Kamakura, and all the old Japanese temples, clothes and things that we now respect as part of Japan. It develops and becomes the culture, because it is their culture. So it will take time for them to develop their English.

Then why all these requirements? It is a program, and it is run by the government. They don’t want to just hire and give money to young people. They want to show that they are being responsible. That’s what the degrees are for. Of course, our generation is now slowly changing our perception of what a degree means. But the truth is that, you won’t take on a degree unless you’re serious, have enough logic, won’t get yourself into massive criminal complications or make a mess of yourself. That’s sort of why they want your degree – you committed to something and completed it. Another part of what being on the JET program is about. Complete it and you will find the experience the best thing in your life. Just like all of us.

This is not research, just the thoughts of what I have experienced over the months. Writing this to tell you about Japan, somehow helps. It really shows that in agreeing to Japan, you’re actually saying, “Yes! I want to be someone that can be myself, learn about the people and I want to make friends.” You see, if the is one thing people mistake when coming here, it is the work aspect. I don’t want to belittle the program. I am on it. But it’s not really work, so to say/speak. It’s like a buffer program, so that, should you wish to stay on in Japan or even return home, you know how to act, survive and persevere in a Japanese workplace, community and lifestyle.

Now, I think when the program was first conceived, they wanted to generate work. They wanted participants to feel like they could come together with the people of Japan. That’s what I feel. I think what they found out is that, by teaching, you get to know families, the kids, the parents, the teachers and ultimately the community. This is the main reason for your teaching role in Japan. As above, they want people to help the children to realize, there is a world out there. People from other countries. You can teach, just remember, stay true to yourself.

It was particularly hard for myself, as I can be quite a perfectionist. Somehow being here has really transformed into a realist. As I write this, I am sitting down in an office with people screaming over the air, phones ringing around me, kids coming in asking for things and some teachers just sleeping. It’s an interesting place. Japan really is. However, I don’t think I can say I was when I came.

Finally, I want to say, consider yourself the luckiest people alive. It’s an honor to be on a program designed by a country that ultimately wants to help its people to become internationalized. There are troubles that our previous “senpais” or predecessors have caused. They lay scars and marks into this lovely country. Please don’t become one. Really Japan, its people and your contracting organization do not ask much of you. A little
quote to ease the life, “When you can be trusted with little, you can then be trusted with much.” The JET program is actually entrusting you with much straight away. They only ask of you to follow some simple rules.
Don’t get yourself into trouble or engender trouble for your family or friends. All the bad stories can actually be avoided if the people in questions just thought carefully, asked for advice and looked for help before making their decision. Hey, you’re reading this, I think you’re not so stupid.

Internationalization, being global, grassroots. Those are words, if you studied English, some of them don’t actually make sense. A lot of the text is hard to really grasp. It’s Japan’s way of saying what they can only actually express through their feelings and through having you come on the program. Japan might not do it the best way, if you’re a perfectionist like me. But they get the job done. Over the 27 years (Funny, the program is exactly as old as I am) the program has survived, many of those that experienced it (over 57,000 people) have become people that can explain to others around them, what Japan is really all about. So be excited that you’re going to make new friends and have fun with them, the way they do in Japan.

Apr 9

Re: Cultural Identity

Via AJET Chair Kay Makishi. Posted by blogger and podcaster Jon Dao (Toyama-ken, 2009-12)

[Kay’s Note: This is a really good article that adds more to the dialogue concerning how we determine identity– written by a Fukuoka JET. Check it out!]


For many of us who work in the high school system, I’m sure you had a tearful, reflective experience at your recent graduation ceremony. At my school in the tiny suburb of Jojima, I watched each newly-minted adult stand up when their name was called in a moment of recognition, and then they were folded back into the crowd. It made me think about the class as a unit, about how they grew and learned together and how now they were shedding their safe identities as students of this school. I also couldn’t help thinking how each of them had probably never left this town for more than a week. It was likely that they had never even left Fukuoka at all. Giving all this up was a turning point in their lives, and they would all think back and recognize the significance someday in the future. Read More

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