It’s January, and as usual the beginning of the year makes me think about the things I have done and have not done the years prior. In short, it’s the time for reflection, nostalgia, regrets, hopes, and resolutions.
It is also, in Japan, the time of another State of Emergency. Staying inside my tiny apartment 90% of the time is making me feel reflective — and since the beginning of January was the deadline for JET Program hopefuls, I’ve decided to write up some pros and cons of being in this program.
- The program is backed by the Japanese government and your country’s government / consulate
This makes the program relatively safe because the government support is generally better than, say, a private company’s resources. Also, JETs who encounter problems can ask the help and support of CLAIR or the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations, a Japanese government-affiliated group that handles and supports international activities or affairs of local governments.
- The flight from your country to your placement is covered
This was one of the reasons I had been eyeing the JET Program when I was looking for teaching abroad opportunities. Flights can be very pricey, so it’s really helpful that the program covers the flight from your country to Japan. Remember, though, that the logistics differs from country to country.
For example, there are no direct flights from my home city to Japan. The Filipino JETs in my batch had to meet up at either Manila or Cebu (for those who got their visas in Cebu) for the flight to Japan.
We landed in Haneda Airport, and those who were assigned outside Tokyo had their flight or shinkansen tickets covered by their employer, the Board of Education for that particular place.
- Your hotel stay and orientation costs are covered
Now I’m not really sure if it’s the ministry of education in Japan or the individual school or BoE that covers this, but rest assured that you will not be paying for the orientation when you first arrive.
All JETs, from different parts of the world, were housed in Keio Plaza Hotel. We stayed there for a few days for orientation. In the morning, we had seminars, and in the evening, we PARTEYED! Just kidding. Well, at least, I didn’t anyway. I can’t vouch for everyone on the program, but my evenings were pretty tame. I did go out with some new friends, but we stayed relatively close to the area, just exploring the neighborhood and its shops.
It was very exciting. It was my first time outside the Philippines and my first time in Japan. And, as someone who has grown up watching anime and Jdramas, walking around Shinjuku and seeing its bright lights and signs was exhilarating. My mind kept saying, “I’m finally here!” over and over.
- The short hotel stay cost for private Tokyo JETs is covered by your school
Based on what I’ve heard from other Tokyo JETs, public school JETs in Tokyo did a homestay before they were able to find / live in an apartment. It was mandatory, as a cultural experience.
Private school JETs, on the other hand, were placed in various hotels. There were some JETs placed with other JETs in one hotel. In my case, though, I didn’t know of any other JET in the hotel I stayed at for almost two weeks.
It was a nice experience, though. I didn’t have to worry about the accommodation costs (other stuff like food was from my own pocket of course, unlike in Keio), and the hotel was located in Nishi-Shinjuku.
It was a relatively busy area, close to popular tourist spots. The downside was that I didn’t have a lot of money with me, so I refrained from going out too much. It was hot as hell anyway since my batch came during summer, so I spent most of my days enjoying the hotel’s free and fast wi-fi.
- Higher salary compared to dispatch companies and language schools
The JET Program offers a higher salary compared to private dispatch companies. Understandably. This is a very competitive program, after all. You can find more information about the salary system here. In your first year, you will get 3.36 million yen in a year.
Coming from the Philippines, this is especially high for me. From other countries, though, this might not seem like much. Obviously, this is the amount before taxes, insurance, pension, etc. Some people breeze through their salary in the blink of an eye, but if you’re mindful about how you spend, you can save a substantial amount.
- Teaching license and experience is not required but is looked on favorably
If you look at the requirements of the program, they’re not actually very strict about who can apply. Most people on the program apply to be ALTs or Assistant Language Teachers, but a teaching certification / teaching experience is not actually a requirement.
But because the program is competitive, you’ll need an edge, and teaching experience and a license will give you just that. It’s a job application like any other, so you have to put your best foot forward.
In my case, I had a teaching license and experience, but so did most of the applicants in my home country. I had to distinguish myself from the pack by highlighting my experience teaching / tutoring Japanese students and studying in a somewhat multicultural school.
I can’t say those were the reasons I got in, but I’m sure they helped.
- Japanese proficiency certificate is not required but will give you an advantage over others
Just like the aforementioned teaching experience and certification, proof of Japanese language proficiency is not actually required — but of course you’ll get higher points if you’ve passed the JLPT, are taking Japanese lessons, or have studied / worked in Japan prior to applying for the JET Program.
In my case, I only had “taking Japanese lessons” ticked off my personal checklist. It wasn’t even face to face. It was online and free! But I studied hard and showed off some skills when they asked me to introduce myself in Japanese during the interview. I was caught off guard actually, and then the adrenaline kicked in and I just blurted the Japanese I had studied and memorized previously.
I do recommend getting some legit Japanese lessons, if you have the time and money. There are also so many resources on YouTube, Duolingo, and other websites for beginners.
Now onto the cons. Living in Japan is a dream come true for many people, but being on the JET Program is a job — and jobs are not always fun. It’s good to keep your expectations realistic.
- You can’t exactly choose your placement
In the application form, you’ll be asked for three placement preferences, but these are not a priority in where you’ll be working. The priority will be the school’s preferences.
I’m highlighting this as a con since some applicants are dead-set on working and living in a specific city. All I’m saying is don’t get your hopes up. As far as I know, if you get your placement and then decline your position on the program because you don’t like where you’re going, you’ll no longer be considered for JET if you decide to apply again in the future.
If you scour the threads on reddit for some tips on how to get a Tokyo placement, you will get disappointed because most current and former JETs will tell you the same thing. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with writing Tokyo as one of your preferences. You could get lucky! But if you don’t end up getting Tokyo, that’s okay! There are many beautiful places in Japan, and you might just find a new favorite city.
You might be saying, “Easy for you to say, you’re in Tokyo!” Yeah, well, I didn’t write Tokyo down as a preference because I really wanted to be placed in either Osaka or Kyoto. I had a different image of Tokyo in mind. Now that I’m here though, I realized that Tokyo has many faces, and some of them I really enjoy.
So, it might be the same for your placement, even if it’s not Tokyo or a big city. You might find that being part of an island community is more your vibe.
- Not every JET will have a subsidized apartment
During our pre-departure orientation back in the Philippines, one the speakers, a current JET in Gifu, talked about his 3LDK apartment that cost him less than ten thousand yen. I can’t remember if it was four thousand or six thousand, but I turned to one Tokyo JET and the look on our faces said, “The audacity –!”
Some JETs will be placed in the countryside or inaka. Others will be placed in big cities. And others still on islands that require a ferry ride to the mainland.
Most of the time, those who live in the countryside will live in subsidized teacher housing provided by the BoE. So, while you might not be living the big city life, you could be saving fifty thousand yen in rent. And you can use that to travel during summer break!
This was a huge con to me, though, since I didn’t have a lot of money when I stepped foot in Japan. I was very conscious of my expenses, so I got a really cheap apartment, less than 50K, but it’s small, just enough for one person to live in without going crazy.
- The program is only up to 5 years, with contract renewals every year
I heard somewhere that American JETs can apply to the JET Program again after a few years, but I could be wrong. What I do know, for Filipino JETs, is that we only get 5 years — and not even that long if our school / BoE doesn’t offer us a contract for the 4th and 5th years.
So, if you’re from a country that’s only allowed 5 years on the JET Program, keep in mind that you will have to start all over again if you want to stay longer in Japan. By this I mean, you’ll have to go on a job hunt and submit paperwork and do interview again.
Now, for some people, this is OK, but if you’re someone who is tired of going back to square one, this program might not be for you — because while this is a job, it’s not a permanent / regular position. You’re not a regular employee with benefits and bonuses every year.
I’m not discouraging anyone, though, because this can be a good thing depending on your goals.
- There are many rural area placements
Since this is a government program, many JETs will be placed in the countryside to help and support the English education system in the far-flung areas.
If you’ve always liked living in rural places and can drive, great! But if you’re Japanese is just so-so, you don’t do well being the only foreigner in town, you’re not used to crickets and cicadas serenading you from noon to night, and you recharge by hanging out with friends at a bar, then you might want to rethink this program.
- It’s very competitive with only several slots open every year AND it’s a very long application and waiting process
I don’t know how many times I’ve written competitive in this post, but it really is, and because the waiting time is long, your other plans will be put on hold.
Applications generally open in October. Deadline is in January. If you pass the initial stage, you get invited for a demo and interview around end of January to the start of February. Then, you learn whether you passed that stage in the middle and end of March. Then, you still have to submit paperwork and other stuff before you get your placement and before your flight in late July or early August. (Some ALTs are flown into Japan in April though).
That’s almost a year. And if you didn’t get accepted, you’ll have to wait until end of January (for the first stage) or mid-March (for the second stage) for the news.
- The application process differs from country to country
Although there’s a main or general JET Programme website for guidelines and FAQs, the application process will depend on your country or state, so you need to check the guidelines on a different website. Some places will require exams and more paperwork, so you’ll have to do your own research — which is probably why you’re reading this post right now! Good job!
So that’s that. If I remember more pros and cons, I’ll add them to the list. For now, I hope these items can help you decide how the JET Program fits into your goals and whether or not it’s a worthwhile experience for you.