Teaching English in Japan – JET Programme experiences.

Without a doubt, the JET programme is one of the most popular methods for foriegners to go and work in Japan. It’s easy to see why, with attractive incentives and the promise of working in Japan, without even knowing the language very well. The JET Programme really does making starting your life in Japan a breeze. That’s why, we decided to interview some past JET Programme participants to share in their experiences on the exchange.

We’d like to extend our appreciation to our guests who so kindly volunteered to allow us to interview them for this article.  

Interview with Analiese and Hayden O'Niel from New Zealand

Firstly: What made you decide to go on the JET Programme?

Hayden: I studied Japanese at high school and I remember we were recommended to read this book by someone from Wellington, who had studied Japanese in university and had gone on to do the JET Programme near Osaka. He definitely over embellished it, but it did seem like he had a great time over there. I think from that time on, I had always wanted to go on and do the JET Programme as well. 

Analiese: For me, I had heard the term JET program floating around a bit, but I really came across it at university, there was a lot of promotion for it, especially since I studied Japanese at Victoria University. I went to a Q/A session featuring people who had gone on the Jet Programme and I knew that I wanted to do the JET Programme from there. 

Could you tell us about the application process? How long did it all take from when you submitted your application, to the day you got accepted?

Hayden: From receiving the application online to finishing it, it did take a while, having to write up a bit. It took about a week or 2 doing bits and pieces here and there. Once the application is done and submitted, it takes a couple months until you hear back about the interview. There was one interview around January, it was about half an hour and then it was about 3 months from there until we heard back about the interview. It’s kind of a long process, but it’s pretty easy.

Did you have a choice of what city or region you’d be working in or did they just throw you into the city?

Hayden: On the application, there’s a section for 3 places applicants would like to work, but we didn’t end up in any the places we wrote.

Analise: Yeah, they do say you aren’t necessarily going to get the places you want, but they consider it. However, we ended up in Tokyo, and we really enjoyed it.

Thinking back to your first day in Japan, what was going through your head?

Analiese: It was very exciting, everyone was buzzing. The Japanese Embassy in New Zealand had put all the people doing the JET Programme (the ‘JETs’) on the same flight. My first thought when I arrived, because it was opposite season from New Zealand, was about how warm it was. We had just gone from winter in New Zealand to Summer in Japan. I was also wondering about what the hotel we were going to stay at would be like. For the first few nights us JET’s stayed in a nice hotel for training. 

Was Public Transport in Tokyo as hectic as YouTube makes it out to be, or was it pretty relaxed?

Hayden: It’s really a mixed bag you know, it all depends on whereabouts in Tokyo you are and where you’re going. For example, going out of the main Tokyo area, it was pretty vacant, you could easily get a seat on the way there, but on the way back into the city it gets more squished.

Analiese: I’m not great at finding my way around. The advice I’d give is to allow yourself as to repeat the route as much as possible before you start work, so that it becomes routine. There are also plenty of station attendants, as well as google maps to help you.

Hayden: Despite how busy it can be at a times, it’s amazing how often the trains come and how close stations are to each other. Coming back to New Zealand, it takes so much longer to get somewhere via public transport.

What was your accommodation situation like?

Hayden: As a couple, we were able to combine our wages and find a 40 square metre apartment. Those who went by themselves, usually had a lot smaller apartment; not much over 20 square metres. It also depends on where your school is. If you’re out of the city, you’re probably going to be able to get a larger house for about the same rent.

Analiese: Yes, usually, the further you are away from Tokyo, the larger and cheaper accommodation gets. Also, since we were in Tokyo, we were responsible for finding our own place and furnishing it, but those who lived in more rural places had certain, fully furnished accommodation and could just move in.

Tell us about the school environment when you eventually got to teaching.

Analiese: We found that we had very different experiences, I was working at a public school and Hayden was at a private school. I was usually the only native English teacher, there was another native English teacher who came occasionally, but that was it. There were large classes; 40 students in each class. I was in charge of the 8 classes of first-year senior high school students (16 years old). I also occasionally taught 2nd and 3rd year students. There was a lot of waiting around at work during the summer, but when term started, I taught a lot. Building rapport with the teachers was very important and it helped in the classroom.

Hayden: My school was a bit different, it was a private school. My school had only just started receiving JETs 2 years before me and I found that there wasn’t a lot of work for me to do at my school. This was because there were already 6 other native English teachers. I found myself more as a helping hand, I did a lot of marking and admin.

Did you have a good relationship with the students, or did you find that the Japanese were quite shy and not willing to talk with you out of class?

Analiese: I found there were a lot of students, so it was impossible to learn everybody’s names. However, I did get to know a few students; the most talkative or naughty students. That being said, I did find Japanese students were a lot more respectful to teachers than students are in New Zealand. There were a handful of students who did come to my desk and talk, they were usually the more extroverted students. I do find that Japanese students are really good at writing and reading, but are very shy when it comes to speaking because they fear the possibility of being wrong.

Hayden: I usually spent time in the office, and the students weren’t allowed in the offices, so I didn’t really get to interact with the students outside of class.

What about the other teachers at the school? Similar sort of attitude towards you? Did they want to talk with you, or did they leave you be?

Analiese: The English teachers had more confidence communicating as they could speak English, though when I asked for help, all teachers happily helped me out.

Hayden: In my school I got put in the part-time teacher’s room, alongside some of the other English teachers who were quite friendly and wanted to talk. However, I found that most Japanese teachers were a little hesitant to come up and chat, perhaps they were worried about the language difference.

Was there any particular cultural differences you noticed?

Hayden: I suppose, there were lots of small things, like people don’t blow their noses, they just sniff all day and it gets annoying.

Analiese: One thing was gargling water. Apparently, there is a there is a theory that if you gargle water, you won’t get sick, so teachers often gargled water. Another thing is Japanese people don’t really say what they think, they imply it and you’re supposed to pick up on that. However, I think if you get to know people, it is easier to pick up on what they really mean.

Hayden: Yes, I have an example of Japanese people being indirect. At my school there was had a toy bear; it was the rubbish bear. The bear would be passed around and when it was on your desk, you had to take the rubbish out. When it was my turn, I noticed that the rubbish wasn’t quite full enough so I didn’t put it out. When I came back later, the bear had been moved from the back of my desk, right to the front, as if to say; TAKE THE RUBBISH OUT.

Analiese: One last thing, Japanese people are very particular when it comes to the cleanliness of their house. They think their house has to be absolutely spotless if visitors are coming around. Because of this, they usually socialise at cafes and restaurants etcetera, so don’t be offended if they don’t invite you to their house.

Last question, do you see yourself returning to Japan in the near future, to live, work or travel?

Analiese: Yes! We really liked Hiroshima, it has beautiful scenery and is less busy than Tokyo, so we’d like to go back and possibly live in that area.

That’s all for today. If you have any further questions about teaching English in Japan, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with us, we can get in contact with several current and previous English teachers in Japan, and they would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have for them.

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