The Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET) program is one of the most popular ways for people that want to experience Japan to visit the islands. The program offers visitors a chance to travel to Japan, receive a reasonable salary and other benefits such as health insurance, money for flights and often housing allowance. However, getting on the JET program can be a little tricky at first.
First, you have to choose what sort of JET you would like to be. The main types are the Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) who work in classrooms usually alongside a Japanese-speaking teacher; the Sports Exchange Advisors (SEA) who are there to promote a specific sport; and the Coordinators for International Relations (CIR) who are usually proficient Japanese speakers and mostly act as a coordinator between the government and the program. Unless you have certificates proving your sporting process or excellent Japanese (at least N2), you will almost certainly want to apply for the ALT position.
Thankfully, filling out the application form is straightforward; however you will be required to provide some evidence that you are able to do the job in question. What this evidence will be varies by country so make sure to carefully look at your own country’s form. In many European countries, you have to write a short essay, which is about teaching for the ALT, sporting achievement for the SEA, or Japanese current affairs for the CIR.
One of the tough decisions is deciding whether to express an interest in one of the bigger cities. This is, of course, a double-edged sword. On the one hand, if you can show that you realize Japan is more than the ‘big three’ of Osaka, Tokyo, and Kyoto (possibly Hiroshima and Nagoya may be in there too), you will make your chance of being accepted higher but it may mean that you have to compromise on something else. For example, I ended up in Ishikawa, which was great for skiing and onsens, but not so good for amenities and convenience.
Once you have filled out the form, you will be required to attach documentation. You will need a copy of your passport (typically the information and the signature page); proof that you have graduated or will graduate, which may also consist of a transcript of the courses that you took and the grades you obtained; references, which must be either academic (a university lecturer etc.) or professional (a previous boss or colleague); and a report of medical conditions. It is also a good idea to attach any certificates, such as Japanese language or teaching qualifications, to the form.
The JET Programme Interview
After you get through the first round of selection, the next step is an interview. Although everyone’s experience is different, there are a few things that are worth remembering.
First, the JET Program probably won’t mind about your educational background. When I interviewed, there seemed to be an effort on their part to make sure that the JETs were representative of a variety of backgrounds, as my group included everything from a politics majors to photography majors.
Secondly, you will want to emphasize any international/cultural experience that you have. Even if you haven’t traveled overseas, you can still talk about experiences within your own country such as experiences working together with immigrants at school or university or even areas of your country that have unique cultures like Gaelic culture in Britain.
Finally, you will also want to show the interviewers that you know something about real Japanese culture. Any experience that goes beyond the common clichés will help here. It is fine to talk about anime for example, but make sure that you mention that you are fascinated by the difference between the reality of Japanese and the colorful image in Japanese popular entertainment.
The JET Programme Itself
Once you are accepted, the process becomes a lot easier. The program is officially renewed every year, however for obvious reasons of expense, most participants are encouraged to recontract at least once and your salary rises slightly if you do. In addition, you can add an extra two years onto that for a total of five if the school and yourself are particularly well-suited. Of course, five years is usually the maximum as after you have been employed at the same place for more than five years, special laws making it harder to fire you come into effect.
For the most part, for people that want to get in the JET program, the main thing to remember is that the stated goal of the JET program (according of their site) is only half about education, whereas the other hand is to “promote international exchange at the local level by fostering ties between Japanese citizens and JET Program participants from around the world.” Therefore, it is most important to be the type of person that can promote the type of exchange that the program requires. If you can do that, there is no reason why you can’t experience the JET Program as either an ALT, SEA or CIR.