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 inaka (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.

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Author of this article

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. More information about his work can be found at his website,
percivalconstantine.wordpress.com. Also be sure to follow him on Facebook
(facebook.com/percivalconstantine) and Twitter (@perconstantine).

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  • http://twitter.com/TheCajunGaijin Cajun Gaijin

    JET is not a career…unless you have certifications or experience. That was really the useful information in the whole thing.

  • leslie nguyen

    Thank you for pointing out that it is not career. However, I do wonder why some have to pay rent while others do not. I mean what’s the reasoning behind that.

  • mlg4035

    As a JET Program “graduate” I cannot recommend the program more highly! I came here in 1992, worked for two years in a small town in Nagasaki, and met my wife there. Now it’s 20 years later and I’m still here in Japan. Come. Teach. Learn. Make life-long friends.

    Go 2013 JETs!

  • mlg4035

    “Being the only foreigner in a rural area means you’ll become a local celebrity.” – This was true in my case, and the following contains my experience in a rural town(population 3000), so I can’t talk about the experience living in a big city.

    I was the first foreigner to ever live and teach in my little village, and everybody knew me. That made dating a challenge, I had to go to the nearest big city in order to get away from “prying eyes”, but it’s do-able. It also gave me almost instant access to every big-wig in my town, and in nearby towns. It also got me free sushi at the local sushi-ya.

    The most valuable “skill” that got me through the hard/lonely times was a sense of humor. You HAVE to be able to laugh at the predicaments you find yourself in. And you have to be open to new things and new experiences. I literally spent my first night, sitting in my underwear at the home of strangers after taking a bath (that happened to be that family’s idea of hospitality)!

    More often that not, I just had to trust the people I was with in regard to eating food that was strange to me. Even if it looked undercooked or was raw, I ate it if they did (and never got sick). You have to be open to new experiences.

    The differences in housing arrangements, etc. are due to the fact that every locality is different. Different resources. Different local history. Different economic circumstances. All of these contribute to differences in the experiences and circumstances you will run into.

    If you’re thinking of JET and have questions, then feel free to tweet me…mlg4035

  • Perry Constantine

    That’s a really good question, Leslie. Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer, it’s just a matter of “Every Situation Is Different” (ESID). The board of education I worked for provided teacher housing (for the ALT as well as other teachers). They owned an apartment building that had units only rented to teachers. If teachers wanted to live closer to where they worked, they had the option of the teacher housing, and because it was public housing, it had a lower rent. Some teachers accepted the housing, some chose to live elsewhere (there were years when every unit was occupied and other years when I was the only one). Initially, I paid no rent but after a few years, I was told I would have to start paying rent.

    When speaking with other ALTs around the prefecture, it seemed that this kind of arrangement was more common in the rural areas, whereas in the more populated areas, there wasn’t as much in the way of teacher housing and rent was hardly ever free.

  • Rebecka

    Most English teachers wishing to seek ALT employment in Japan are well aware of JET’s exemplary reputation. How good it may be is no comfort to those who have applied to the 2013 intake and who have received nothing in the way of response. For a post graduate with a Cambridge CELTA qualification who has attended a semester at a Japanese university and who has actual experience of life in Japan, sitting and waiting and wondering is stressful and frustrating. I’d really like to see someone write an article about the best alternatives to the JET programme, if for whatever reason a potential applicant is not selected and does not wish to wait yet another year to apply again. Not all JET applicants are starry-eyed Manga-educated Japanophiles who wish to pilgrimage to the holy Otaku grail of Harajuku.
    I’ve looked into agencies such as ECC, Interac, Gaba and even AEON and NOVA, but am finding it difficult to find anecdotal evidence of employees’ experience with said companies.
    Maybe I’ll start a thread asking this exact question.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Strangelilgirl Sarah Cook

    Hi all! I have maybe a strange question, but I’m wondering if the fact that I’m already married will put any kinks in my application if the goal is that my husband will be coming to Japan with me. I’m looking into both the teaching and government positions in JET, and haven’t come across any answers to this yet. I realize they would be paying only me, and paying only for my living expenses if that is included, but is it too idealistic for me to expect that my husband can come with me as well? (I also have two cats, and I’ve already read a bunch of info on what is required far in advance in order to bring them to the country, but I suppose that means the JET program would also have to make sure I’m placed in a house where cats are allowed…). I’m hoping these attachments won’t prevent me from this opportunity; any insight you guys have would be so helpful and appreciated.

  • Perry Constantine

    Sorry about the late response, Sarah. I’ve known many JETs who came over with their spouses. Depending on the area, your spouse could find work as an English teacher as well, I’ve known a few who have done this. In far more rural areas, that may be more of a challenge, but the upside in that situation is that the JET salary will allow you to live very comfortably if you get sent to a rural area.

    The cats might be a bit more problematic. This is a case of “every situation is different” and really depends on what sort of accommodation you’re provided with. Many landlords don’t allow pets, but there are those who do.

  • Perry Constantine

    Hi Rebecka,

    There’s actually quite a bit of anecdotal evidence out there on various Japan-interest forums, including the GaijinPot ones. The problem is that it’s all anecdotal and it’s hard to get a good feel for what’s true and what’s exaggerated. I’ve heard lots of horror stories on these forums about private dispatch companies like Interac and eikaiwa schools like AEON and NOVA. But I’ve also had friends who have worked with these same companies, and while they do have complaints, nothing on the level I’ve seen from the Internet.

    But even among those who haven’t had problems with these companies, the best alternative to JET almost always seems to be a direct hire by a school and not one of the dispatch services. Some people suggest that if you need to use a dispatch service (which is not uncommon as most direct-hires will want someone already in Japan with a valid visa), use it as a stepping stone while you try to search for something else. But beware that with a dispatch company, your employer is technically the dispatch company and not the school, so even if you’re the greatest teacher they’ve ever had, the school won’t be able to provide you with a reference and the dispatch company won’t, either.

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