When it comes to learning Japanese people have a wide variety of reasons for starting. For some people it’s the television and media, for others it’s for cultural reasons, and I’m sure that for many people they’re not quite sure of their reason, they just wanted to start learning. Whatever your reason for learning may be, once your Japanese has progressed far enough many people end up wanting to implement Japanese into their career or even make using Japanese their entire career.
However, figuring out that initial step towards a career either using Japanese, or spent in Japan can be difficult. One of the most popular ways of taking that first step is by participating in the JET Program.
The JET Program is a Japanese government initiative that brings people from mostly English speaking countries to Japan for work. Most people are familiar with the ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) position, as it accounts for over 90% of the program. But there is another position that I’m doing called a CIR (Coordinator for International Relations). I’m coming up on a year spent on the JET Program so I wanted to talk about my experience as a JET for the readers of Jalup so you can have a bit more insight into the program, and decide if it might be a good decision for yourself.
What is a CIR?
First, I want to explain the difference between an ALT and I CIR for all of you who might not know. I didn’t even know about the position until I started looking in to the program.
An ALT is someone who is hired by a prefecture or a local school board to help students (anywhere from elementary to high school) learn English. There is an official English teacher who is Japanese, so how much you’re actually teaching versus just helping will depend on your placement.
In contrast, a CIR is contracted to either a municipal or prefectural government, and can have a very wide range of duties. I’ve heard a million different stories of what people do as CIR’s, but for the most part they all consist of some form of translating, interpreting, event planning, and or culture sharing.
You know what’s best for you, but for the readers of Jalup this is the position I recommend. As an ALT, it’s the expectation that you need to do everything in English, but as a CIR you are expected to do all of your work, and communicate with everyone in Japanese. In many cases there may not be someone there who can speak English besides you. All of your reports, emails, phone conversations, everything has to be in Japanese, so it’s a fantastic way to push your Japanese much further than you would have otherwise.
Reflections on the JET Program
Here, I want to tell you about my personal experience working for a Prefectural Government over the past year. First I’ll give a general description of what kind of work I did over the past year, and then I’ll share what I thought were the positives and negatives about my personal experience and participating in the JET Program generally.
During my time here, I have had a lot of different tasks and duties but the main part of my job centered around our 国際交流室 or International Exchange Saloon.
The purpose of the saloon is essentially to have a place where international college students, and Japanese college students can interact and make friends. In order to make that happen we went to local universities to give presentations about our facilities, and hosted many different events ranging from takoyaki parties, to going up a local mountain to see the city skyline at night, to bus tours that went to interesting places that would be harder for the students to get to by themselves. For the regular events I would do a lot of the preparation work along with my coworkers including making fliers, a calendar, figuring out how much to charge people, buying supplies, etc.
For the bus tours, I got to interpret for the Japanese guide. A majority of the places we went to included a historical place like a temple or a shrine, so I needed to do a lot of studying before we set off in order to be prepared for all the religious or historic vocabulary.
The next most common thing were the 国際交流派遣. Basically, I would go to local schools ranging from elementary to high school, along with one or more other CIRs and give a brief presentation about America, and American culture. If it was for a younger grade, I would usually prepare a game that’s popular with American children. On the rare occasion that I presented in front of an adult group they would usually ask for something specific like current events, the Revolutionary War, or what my hometown is like.
Other than that there were the random, but frequent translation or native check requests. The requests also ranged from a wide variety of topics including letters from the governor, to practices citizens should be taking during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Overall, I would say that the JET Program is a great opportunity, especially if you are a recent college graduate. If you’re thinking that you want to try being a translator or interpreter, or just want to experience what living in Japan is like, this is a great way to get your feet wet. Many of the anxieties and difficult parts of starting a new life in a foreign country are handled for you including the VISA process, procuring a plane ticket to and from Japan, finding a house, etc.
In many cases, most predecessors will leave essential items for you as well such as a bed, silverware, plates, or cups. There should also be an AJET council in your area that plans social events, and welcome parties so finding friends is also made easier by the program. In my opinion, if you are early on or just beginning your career the JET Program is the best way to get your foot in the door in Japan.
As for my job personally, one of the best things was being able to work in a Japanese office. It’s a bit nerve wracking at first, but the constant need to say and do everything in Japanese is great. If you’ve never done something like that before, your speaking ability will probably go through the roof within even a few months. You also get to practice keigo with a group of people that are very understanding when you mess up. Writing emails, participating in meetings, and giving presentations is given a new edge when done in Japanese. It really makes things fresh and exciting.
The people in my office in particular were very kind, and supportive, which made for a great work environment. I also really enjoyed all of the translation/interpretation work. I think it’s better career-wise to have a specialization, but the variety of all the work definitely made things more interesting day to day.
I don’t have many negatives about the program in general. The only aspect that I really have any issue with is how they send you the job offer.
The way it’s done is that if they accept you on the program they figure out where they want to put you based on what the contracting organization wants and your skills. It sounds pretty reasonable, but when you get the offer, all you see is the contracting organization name. So, if you were getting hired by the Saitama Prefectural Government, the name is all that appears on the offer. It would be nice to have more of a job description before having to accept. That’s my only real complaint about the program in its entirety.
As for my time here, my biggest complaint is the lack of work overall. Given the previous job description, it’s easy to see how the impact COVID-19 took away a lot of potential work from me. That certainly made things worse, but because most of my work followed the Japanese school schedule there are just some months without much to do in general. Some people may appreciate the fact that not every day is cram packed with work, but for me I much prefer to always have something to do.
On top of that, most of the work that I was doing, event planning and preparation just aren’t my favorite things. I would have much rather gone someplace where the majority of work is translating or interpreting. Going to events is great, but planning them is just not for me.
Should You Join the JET Program?
Participating in the JET Program was a great decision for me, and if you’re in the right place in your life it may be the right decision for you too! Let me know below in the comments if you have any thoughts or questions about being a JET! Or if you are currently a JET or an alumni I’d love to hear your thoughts as well!