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.