The JET Programme – The Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme

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The JET Programme stands for The Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme. It is the Government’s initiative for English learning and cultural exchange across Japan’s education, sports and local communities.

Coming into the JET Programme, you have a choice of three roles. An ALT or Assistant Language Teacher, a CIR or Co-ordinator for International Relations and a SEA or Sports Exchange Advisor. People from across the globe come over to Japan to support this initiative.

If you are interested in looking at other English Teaching options, you should check out our comprehensive guide on becoming a teacher in Japan.

ALTs

As an ALT, you will act as an assistant teacher or consultant for a number of elementary, junior high or high schools. You could be working with other Japanese teachers, team teaching students. Alternatively, you may also have the opportunity to interact with students during breaks and extracurricular activities. Helping the students understand the cultural differences of your home country is also beneficial for their broader international awareness.

CIRs

As a CIR, you will have the opportunity to work with local governments and their international offices. You could be working as an English trainer in the business sector or tourism industries. Otherwise, you may help promote tourism in Japan to overseas visitors and encourage international cultural exchange. Importantly, it is the CIR’s ultimate command of Japanese that will let them work with both Japanese corporations smoothly. This will also enable them to connect with foreign entities to promote cultural exchange and understanding with Japan.

If you’re interested in our FAQs Section, you can check our Life in Japan FAQ or our dedicated Exploring Japan FAQ.

SEAs

As a SEA, you will be responsible for assisting with coaching, advice and planning of sport-related activities. You could be providing coaching and guidance to talented individuals in the local area. Another option is, you may work with local communities to plan sports activities or you could help advise school sports teams and assist with coaching. Your proficiency as a professional coach will be the key skill that you bring to assist the sporting community of Japan.

The JET Programme Experience

In this section, I have asked one of my friends Mark to comment on his experience and insight into the JET Programme, as an ALT. He has provided a detailed account of his initial motivations, the interview process and his daily life as a teacher. Additionally, he has given us some insight into his experience of the programme so far.

On the other side of Mark’s hectic schedule are his future dreams and ambitions. He is very music-focused, and you can feel his determination to succeed is almost contagious. Ultimately, I am really looking forward to attending one of his events in the not so distant future, and I encourage you all to check the links below:

He has both an event production brand:

More than Music – More than Music is a Tokyo-based production event production brand dedicated to creating amazing events to leave the audience in absolute awe and begging for more. We want to give real artists a platform where their music can be properly appreciated and a community where they feel at home.

Plus, he has his own band too:

Wild Stomp – Wild Stomp is a band that takes all their love of Funk, Soul, and Hip-Hop, sticks it in a blender, shreds it to pieces, then throws it at the wall and calls it a masterpiece. With our angular riffs, our slinky rhythms and bubblegum vocals, we’re coming for all your stages. See you out there.

Below is his inside view and perspective of the JET Programme:

How did you become interested in Japan initially?

I’ve wanted to come to Japan since I was in high school. I was hugely interested in Japanese history, particularly art and martial arts. Long story short, I wanted to come to Japan and experience living here for myself. I wanted to see it all for myself and create my own opinion instead of just reading about it second-hand. After nearly 10 years, in 2015 I finally got that opportunity.

How did you land (pun intended) a job in the JET Programme?

On JET we all go through a fairly extensive process, which includes a fairly rough interview. The interview is well known for its somewhat gruelling nature. In hindsight, it wasn’t that gruelling at all, but the lead up to it and the wait for the confirmation of my acceptance were hell on earth. The joy of being told I would be going to live and work in Japan made me insanely happy and I remember that feeling to this day.

No one knows exactly why they received the job of a JET (unless they become a part of that employment process), but we all have theories. I believe the interview has 2 main purposes.

1) Weed out all the weeaboos and anime fans.

2) See who can survive best under pressure.

One part of the interview that always sticks with me is when one of the interviewers, a short middle-aged Japanese lady with quite a serious demeanour asked me to demonstrate some jujitsu to her. I was, after all, a 1st dan black belt from the age of 18. I was quite delighted actually that she asked me to do this and I jumped right to it. Spontaneously, I decided in my head I would show her ‘Kata of Blocks no.1’, a basic sequence of blocks that all of our white belts need to know perfectly.

I showed her the Kata and she followed my instruction, fumbling once or twice to see how I would react. Afterwards, my Dad and I joked that she was probably a 5th Dan in jujitsu and a bunch of other martial arts, and she was simply toying with the young blood. The point is, that demonstration was my lesson plan and I pulled it out of the air as far as they were concerned. I believe that moment, the fact I had already lived abroad (in Italy), and that I was (I believe) quite friendly and chipper, sealed the deal for me. Not to mention I probably crushed the English test before the interview.

What does a typical day look like for you?

My typical day looks basically something like this.

Start at 8. 1 – 2 lessons in the morning. 0 – 2 lessons in the afternoon. Extra English for 1 hour after school. Sometimes I teach Japanese to the exchange student/s for an hour or two. Finish at 5. Swap those around for any combination. Some days I have 1 lesson. Other days I have 4 or 5 lessons. On some days I simply walk around the classroom. Some days I lead all the lessons. It’s a very varied and mixed bag. But my situation is unique.

After my first year, my supervisor allowed me to make the JET schedules at the beginning of every year because he’s busy and he trusts me to do a good job. Maybe he doesn’t care. I don’t really mind, I like the responsibility and he never complained about the result. Plus I am the more senior and experienced JET so the other JET never complained either.

I always make schedules that are fair and satisfy certain criteria, but I never make a schedule that is purely favourable to myself and detrimental to somebody else.

What can you tell us about your experience as a JET to date?

I am finding the experience to be fun, enlightening, and liberating. Fun in that working with my colleagues and students is often entertaining. Enlightening in that I am learning just as much as my students are. Liberating in that the job doesn’t tie me down.

Fun

To elaborate on each theme, I’ve known so many JETs who have left simply because their colleagues were assholes and going to work was more a hassle than a joy. I actually had a colleague who made our work environment into quite a harsh place and I genuinely didn’t look forward to going to work each day.

For me, it was easier to deal with because I knew they would be gone in good time. Once that happened and the situation would inevitably improve. The point is, my work environment is largely devoid of conflict, no one steps on my toes and no one goes out of their way to be an arsehole as has been the case for some.

Enlightenment

On the point of enlightening, this is very important. As JETs we are known to be top of the hierarchy of ALTs in Japan, largely for our good pay and benefits. Many of us let that go to our heads and we gain a huge undeserved ego that often earns us the reputation of being the most hateable foreigners in Japan right next to drunk foreigners in Roppongi. There was a time I was going to leave JET and make my way somewhere else. I went into the interview with quite a lot of arrogance and I got put down hard. Believe me when I say I got crushed. Conversely, I was also humbled by the experience.

In that time, I learned that JET is good but we are still only entry level, we’re not even real teachers. We are the highest rung, on the lower tier of a huge totem. If you ever see a JET acting up, I encourage you to take them down a peg.

Liberation

Finally, liberating. One problem you will always hear about from JETs is the incredible amount of free time we have during work. Most of us remedy that with Japanese study and so on, especially in the countryside. But even city JETs fall victim to the boredom of downtime.

My point is this. City JETs who are bored are wasting their time. Being in a Japanese city is an opportunity. Being in Tokyo, I like to think that I am plumbing the depths of the opportunities in front of me. That includes studying Japanese, among all my other projects. No doubt inaka (countryside/rural) JETs don’t have the same opportunities, but the do you have a similarly rich set of opportunities. Where city JETs pay higher rent, inaka JETs have more money to play with. Where inaka JETs must drive an hour+ for a conbini (Convenience Store), city JETs party and drink like kings. It all evens out. It just depends on how you play your cards.

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