It’s May, and that means one thing for the new JET Programme participants – your placement is (probably) coming!
Here is my advice: don’t panic when you get it.
That’s it. Have a nice day!
Kidding aside, I know from experience that this is one of the most stressful parts of this program (after finding out whether or not you got in, of course!) And I also know that a literal shit-ton (technical term) of you WILL NOT GET YOUR PLACEMENT REQUESTS. I seriously have no idea why they even ask us. It just gets your hopes up for no good reason. The placement selection process is long and mysterious, and no one really knows how it all works. From what we can tell though, local Boards of Education (BoE) and schools that hire directly ask for certain things such as: male/female, age, accent (JETs change every couple years so to have a Brit then a Kiwi then a Canadian then a Jamaican JET is just going to confuse the kids), Japanese level, driving/nondriving, etc. and then CLAIR divvys up the participants from there.
So you might not get what you asked for. But guess what? You still get to go to Japan! And you never know, that placement in the town you wanted might have only come with 10 vacation days, an asshole supervisor and 17 schools to rotate between with a 2 hour commute. Some of you are coming right from university and haven’t had a ‘real world adult full time job’ yet (and that’s okay). But you should know that as an adult working full time, you spend the majority of your time AT WORK. You really don’t have tons and tons of free time all week anyway, and during your vacations and weekends you can travel anywhere you like!
What I Requested
When I applied to JET, I was still living in the Caribbean. And I was sick to death of sweating every day. So I asked for all northern placements – Hokkaido, Tohoku and Aomori were the three that I asked for (all the yellow and pink parts in the map below). I was dreaming of bundling up in hoodies and drinking hot coffee all day while walking around in crunchy snow. I was picturing hopping on bullet trains to Tokyo to shop and Nigata for snowboarding.
What I Got
I got placed in southern Japan. I was placed in Naruto, Tokushima, which is on the purple island in the map above. The little bump jutting out on the northeast corner of that island is my town.
Which is like…the exact opposite of what I asked for.
THE EXACT OPPOSITE.
I got placed somewhere with no snow. It’s hot as Hades here from mid-May through the end of October (much hotter than the Caribbean, with a super conservative dress code stacked on top). There’s no train in my prefecture for me to get off my island. There’s definitely no snowboarding and for most of the year if I drink hot coffee I’ll be sweating my tits off within seconds.
When I got my placement, I was out for lunch with my mom. I opened the email on my phone with trembling fingers, and when I saw “Naruto-shi, Tokushima-ken” I looked up at my mom and let out a loud, “WHERE!?!” I had never heard of Tokushima prefecture, or Naruto City. I frantically Googled until I found some info (it took forever because my town has the same name as a famous anime character (because Japan), AND there’s another town called Naruto in another prefecture).
Wikipedia told me I was heading to a small town of 60,000 people on the eastern coastline of Shikoku Island, that was famous for whirlpools in the nearby ocean and not much else. I was shocked. I knew nothing about Shikoku at all, just that it was a collection of 4 prefectures on an island in southern Japan that were all pretty rural and no one goes there. And now that’s where I was going to live…what!?
How It Turned Out
Despite some things that I don’t love about my city – a lot of people with super non-progressive social attitudes, the temperature from May to October, inconvenient local train service and no major train service off my island, expensive buses/toll roads to the main island of Japan where everything else is, it’s kind of a blah-suburbia feel in most parts of the town – I fucking love living here. I really do.
I have an amazing BoE. We have really generous vacation days. We actually get to take our banked overtime hours off. Our supervisors are nice. And most importantly, we have an ALT room with A/C for us to work in when we’re not at our schools. My BoE owns our apartment building, which means we have super cheap rent (well under $200) and the utilities are low. I love my apartment – like really LOVE it – and I have A/C, which I didn’t have all the years in Roatan.
My schools are pretty great. I drive about 15 minutes each way to the island where my schools are. Though the kids are a bit rough around the edges, they’re usually happy to see me. Even though the English levels are incredibly low, the kids still plow through it. All the teachers at all three of my schools are very kind to me and treat me really well. They also give me a lot of snacks, which is 10/10 in my books. See that photo in the graphic at the beginning of this post? That’s an unedited iPhone photo of the absolutely gorgeous seaside park that’s right next to one of my schools. I walk there every day after work.
There’s surfing here! Not amazing, but it’s possible. There’s also scuba diving! Again, not amazing, but it’s possible. A short trip to the prefecture south of us takes you to amaaaaaaaaaaaaazing surfing and diving though!
Even though the transit situation is less-than-ideal compared to other parts of Japan, I have to admit that it’s very easy to drive 10 minutes to the bus depot, jump on a bus, and be dropped off in the middle of Osaka two hours later. Kobe is only an hour each way on the bus! And though the price is a little annoying (about $60 return to Osaka, $50 return to Kobe), it’s easy and I don’t have to deal with traffic. I frequently go to Osaka just to hang out on weekends, and my friends in different parts of Japan will often take the train in to join me.
There are also major cities 45 minutes east of us (Takamatsu, about 840,000 people) and 40 minutes south of us (Tokushima City, about 260,000 people) that have all the shopping, restaurants, activities, concerts, etc. that anyone could want. It does suck having to travel to get to them, but it’s not that far and since we don’t go everyday, it makes for a fun special occasion. I am sure I save a lot of money by not living in a major city with places to spend my money everywhere all the time.
We also have the Tokushima Awaodori airport about 20 minutes from our apartments, and the beautiful Tsukimigaoka Beach in that area as well. It’s only the beginning of May and I’ve already spent many a day at the beach!
(If you want to read more about what there is to do in Tokushima, be sure to check out my “A Tokushima Tour” post!)
So you might not get what you asked for. You might even get the opposite of what you asked for. Don’t panic!
JET is an adventure. You need to be super adaptable and flexible in this job, and the first test of that is your placement. If you are thinking of not going or you’re all bitter and grumpy because you didn’t get the area you wanted… well… honestly, I think you might have a hard time at this job. NOTHING is guaranteed on JET except the salary. By now you’ve heard of the legendary ESID (every situation is different) and it’s so true. Even within the same town and the same BoE, the ALTs will have differences with what they’re expected to do for their classes, how big of a workload they have, how far they have to drive, even different apartments, etc. If you can’t be flexible, how are you going to deal with your JTE changing your lesson two minutes before it starts after you already prepared everything? (Hint: grit your teeth, grin, and do your best. Cause this is probably gonna happen, FYI.)
Your placement might have all kinds of wonderful and amazing things that you don’t even know about yet. Wait until you get to Japan, feel it out for a few months, and see what you think then. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it or not, but once I got here and understood how great my BoE was and some of the fantastic things that my corner of Japan has, I am happy to call this town home for the next few years.
You have to give it some time. I vividly remember flying from Tokyo to my town and being picked up by my supervisor and the other ALTs. Once we all had lunch together, our supervisor drove us new ALTs to our apartments for the first time. I have such a strong memory of sitting in the back of the van, frantically trying to wedge myself into the A/C vent direction and sweating through my suit. I remember looking outside of the van at my town for the first time and wondering what I had gotten myself into. Huge green lotus root plants were out in full force beside the road, and all the roadways and sidewalks were shimmering in the heat. It didn’t look like “Japan”, it just looked like any random small town with some mini-farms thrown in. My supervisor was asking if there was any food we didn’t eat, so he could tell the schools for our school lunches, and for a short second I had the most intense thought – that I had made a huge mistake and I should have stayed in Roatan. I felt my confidence start to waver. Then I told myself, “if you hate it, it’s only a year. Give it a chance and let’s see what happens.” This was the best advice I could have given myself. Within three months I was settled in and happy as a clam.
I feel like CLAIR picked a better spot for me than I tried to pick for myself. When I saw my friends who had been placed up north posting on Facebook all winter, I realized I was actually in the best place for me. They were dealing with freezing temperatures, mountains of snow, scary winter driving conditions, drafty houses and ice-cube schools. I was much happier in my cool and breezy town, where it snowed for a grand total of three and a half minutes this year. I saw other friends dealing with horrible BoEs, who took advantage of them, broke labor laws and treated them like crap. I got really lucky with my placement, even though it wasn’t what I asked for.
So don’t panic! Get ready for a crazy ride. Come with an open mind, and I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
And if you open that email in a couple weeks, and it says “Naruto-shi, Tokushima-ken”… CONGRATS! I’m so excited to meet you 🙂 You’re gonna love it, I promise!
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