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To Be a JET
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So, you've decided that you want to apply for the JET Program? That's great! Now it's time to look at the application process.

Most people apply for the Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) position, but there are actually two other positions available: the Coordinator of International Relations (CIR) and Sports Exchange Advisor (SEA).


(If you're interested, you can download
the 2005-2006 application here.)

Components to the application:

1) General questions
Questions about your background, any teaching certification, college education, marital status, international experience, and placement request etc. Do some research on Japan before you request a placement. Sometimes JETs are assigned exactly where they wanted to be and sometimes they get the exact opposite. There is always a high demand for the big cities so keep that in mind when making your choice.

2) Employment history
Self explanatory.

3) Japanese language and culture-related studies
Any courses or self-study of Japan, its culture and language

4) Special recognitions
List any extracurricular activities, honors/awards or scholarships you have received.

Other required documentation (to be sent with your application):

1) Self-assessment medical form
Basically a brief medical history

2) Statement of Purpose
The dreaded essay!! Your chance to single yourself out from the herd to the selection committee and tell them why you want to go on the JET Program.

3) Reference forms
Two letters of recommendation.

4) Transcripts of all university/college courses
Official transcripts only.

5) Verification of graduation
If you haven't graduated yet, you have to provide proof that you will by the time the program starts.

6) Self-addressed stamped confirmation card
Fill it out and stamp it. They send it back to you when they receive your application.

The application is due the first week of December. Get your application booklet early and make it an ongoing project for you; don't rush to get it done in one weekend. Take your time with the essay and make it good.


So, you were given an interview?
Great job! Don't get cocky!

There seem to be conflicting reports regarding the percentage of applicants who make it to the interview and percentage who actually go to Japan. Some people will tell you that if you're accepted for an interview, you have a 75% or 90% chance of actually "getting in" to the program. The percentage of cuts is highly regional and these "odds" can't always be relied on.

The Email: JETs who are granted interviews nowadays are sent a congratulatory email, which I don't think is a terrific idea considering the importance of the email and the aggression of most spam filters. MAKE SURE you check your junk email periodically. It would be a great tragedy if you were deprived of this experience because of an overactive email filter. Included in the email are instructions to sign up for an interview date/time online. Set up your preferred time slot as early as you can; time slots fill up quickly once the emails have been sent out.

Prepare for your interview: Research current events in Japan. Politics, history, culture, top news. Who's who in the government. Dress appropriately. If you were given an interview that means you came across well on paper, the actual interview is to give you a chance to come across well in person; during the interview maintain professionalism, but also stay warm and friendly. The interviewers' want to know more about you and will angle their questions to find out the following:

  • Why you want to go to Japan

  • Your knowledge of and level of interest in Japanese culture

  • Getting to know more about your personal interests or your background

  • If you know what you put on your application, inside and out
  • Your ability to improvise and think on your feet

  • Your level of Japanese speaking/reading ability (if you indicated you have some on your application they will make you speak and/or read some Japanese)

The Interview: Most people are interviewed by three people. The ambiance of the interview is always intimidating. The three interviewers are behind a long table with glasses of water, reams of paper and each will have a copy of your completed application with essay. Reports from JET applicants vary radically as to the demeanor of the interviewers. Some JETs have said that their interviewers were like a war crimes tribunal; other interviewers are very cordial and friendly. My advice: go in expecting a trial so that you aren’t surprised if you get one. My own interview was along the lines of the trial.

My interview: I was invited in about fifteen minutes early because the applicant before me didn't show up or was late. There were three interviewers: an older (40+) female Japanese scholar, a mid-twenties, Asian former JET, and a grumpy old man. I never found out what the grumpy man's job was.

My interview lasted about a half an hour. Like I said, it was a trial. They peppered me with questions about my college activities, especially about the conversation tutoring for ESL. They asked me a few basic questions in Japanese. Then they got mean.

It began with an innocent question about my placement request. The former JET said offhandedly as he looked at my application that I requested to live in a large city in Kyoto, which wasn't true; I had requested to be placed in a large town or smaller city. The grumpy old guy chimed in and said, "No! I have it right here. You want to live in a large city." I said that I didn't believe that I had written that and they skipped over that and went on into the next issue. (After I left I figured out that they were trying to trip me up by getting me to admit that I had written something on my application that I didn't. I.e. They wanted to see if I really knew my application or not. Later I heard from several other JETs that their interviewers tried to trip them up, too.)

The next issue was also related to my placement; I wanted to live Kansai and they asked why. I told them that there was a lot of culture in the cities and the festivals in that region and I would really enjoy seeing all of them. They asked me if I have any friends there and I told them that I have an acquaintance in Osaka; her name is Yuko. At this point they became borderline hostile and accused me of trying to get into JET just to be closer to my "Japanese girlfriend". They were very persistent in following this line of questioning even though I denied personal involvement with her. I was completely bewildered and offended.

After that died down a bit, we talked more about my interest in Japan and then they had me role-play a teaching scenario where I was the teacher and they were the students, and I was giving my self-introduction to a new class. The Japanese woman seemed very interested while the former JET and the grumpy old man played the roles of two extremely rude, inattentive students. It was a chore, but they stopped the demonstration after a few minutes. After that they told me when I would expect to hear from them and I was shown the door.

By far, the worst interview I ever had, I left chuckling to myself that there was no way I got the job. I was making some non-JET plans for post-graduation until I received my acceptance letter on April 1st. I was in shock, but very, very happy.

The JET interviews have three main segments:
1) Questions about your teaching / international experience
2) Questions about you personally or how you would react in certain situations
3) Some kind of teaching / role-playing demonstration

For some reason, not everyone is given a role-playing demonstration. Some people will say that if you're not given a scenario to play out that it's a dead giveaway that you've already been cut. This is not true, as there are some former JETs that I know who weren't asked to role-play.

Some random components of interviews that may or may not be given include short written grammar tests, on-the-fly spelling quizzes, or being asked detailed questions about current events or political figures in Japan.

Here is a list of questions JET applicants have been asked during interviews:


  • Why do you think you are a good candidate for our program?
  • How would you contribute to international understanding?
  • What kind of special talents or abilities would you bring to the program or your students?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • What makes you different from the other applicants?
  • Why did you choose this particular city/prefecture?

Personal Motivations

  • (If you are applying with another JET applicant) What would I do if he/she got in and you didn't?
  • Why are you interested in Japan?
  • Why did you decide to go to Japan?
  • (If you were previously unsuccessful in a JET program application) Why do you think you were unsuccessful?
  • Why don't you teach English in Mexico/Taiwan/etc. instead?

Culture Shock

  • What kind of negative experiences do you anticipate encountering and how would you deal with them?
  • (If you are a vegetarian) How would you handle a situation in which you were served meat?
  • How do you handle conflicts with your friends?
  • Many Japanese are prejudiced against people of other Asian ethnicities. How does this make you feel? How would you handle this if it became an issue with a student or fellow teacher?
  • If you were at a work-sponsored drinking party and a fellow teacher tried to grope you, how would you handle it? What if it was the principal?
  • (If you are female) What would you do if you were expected to serve tea to the men during the morning meetings?
  • (If you are American) What would you say if a student asked you why America bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

    Education Issues

  • What sort of teaching experience do you have?
  • Tell us about your experiences in teaching.
  • In what ways do you expect education in Japan will be different from education in your home country?
  • How will you present your home country to the Japanese people that you meet?
  • (If you were a teacher in your home country) What sorts of projects or assignments did you give your students?
  • Suppose there is an important event at one of your schools on a weekend that you had pre-arranged plans. Your principal asks if you could cancel your plans and come to the event. What would you do?
  • Tell us three things you would like to tell your future students and other ALTs about your home country.
  • If you could bring only three things to show Japanese students to represent your home country, what would they be and why would you bring them?
  • Paint us three pictures: three distinctly Western things that you could describe to students without having a common language.

Classroom Management

  • There is a loud, obnoxious boy in your class who isn't doing the assignment you have given. What do you do?
  • You are teaching a lesson and Japanese team teacher makes an English grammar mistake. What do you do?
  • What will you say if a student asks you about drug use?
  • What would you say if a student asks you when you lost your virginity?
  • Would you ever strike a student? What if the teacher you are teaching with struck a student in front of you? What would you do?
  • What would you do if you are teaching a class and there is one student in the back room sleeping? Reading comics? Talking on a cell phone?
  • What would you do if a student spit or cursed at you?
  • What would you do if you were in the right classroom when the bell rang, but your team teacher is not there?

General Knowledge Base

  • What do you know about Japan?
  • Who is the governor of your home state (or province)?
  • Who is the president and vice-president of your home country?
  • Who is the prime minister of Japan?
  • Name five famous places in Japan.
  • What are the important issues facing our world today?
  • What are some current important events in Japan?
  • What holiday is your favorite and why?
  • What research have you done on Japanese culture since you have applied to the JET program?
  • Name five famous authors of your home country.
  • Name the major islands (cities) of Japan.
  • Name three famous Japanese people.
  • What do you know about the political system in Japan?
  • What do you know about Japan's current financial crisis?
  • What is the name of the current governing party?
  • Do you have anything that you would like to ask us? (You should always ask a couple questions.)

Role-playing scenarios

  • Explain to your new Japanese students what Halloween / New Year's / Thanksgiving / Boxing Day is like in your home country.
  • Introduce yourself to your new class.

No matter what happens, always appear relaxed and confident. A part of the interview is seeing how you react to stress.

If you are a former JET applicant email me
your interview story and I'll post it here! If you have
any other interview questions to add, let me know!


If you got a letter that says that you were selected as an alternate, do not lose all hope. This means that you are on a "waiting list". If your number gets called up, and there's a fairly good chance that it will, you will go with the other successful JET applicants in July. If you get an acceptance letter, congratulations!! You made it!! Now your real work begins!

After a few weeks or so (maybe longer), you will receive some paperwork telling you where you have been placed. Do as much research as you can about your placement before you get there. Soon after you get this letter, you should be contacted by your predecessor (your predecessor is the current JET whose place you will be taking in the fall). He/she will tell you what kind of schools you will teach at and what your new apartment will be like. He/she will also sell you the items in the apartment. Most JETs are honest about this, but I have heard a few stories about new JETs getting ripped off; paying too much for shabby stuff or only a few items. Ask your predecessor to take some photos of the apartment and the things he/she is selling you and email them or upload them to a website. If you still have qualms about your new apartment, contact your new supervisor or offer to send a payment once you get to Japan. Sometimes JETs will pay their predecessor before they go to Japan, some after, and sometimes they split the payment: half before, half after arrival. Work out an arrangement that you are both comfortable with.


For the plane ride, you will probably be allotted only one carry on and two suitcase check-ins. This is not a lot of space, so choose what you bring with you wisely.

Stuff to Bring: When you arrive in Japan you will need several categories of things immediately:

  • Clothing
    • Business attire. When you arrive, you need to have a couple suits or formal wear for the Tokyo orientation and the prefectural orientation.
    • Casual summer clothes. When you arrive in Japan it will be hot. Really, really hot. Light, breathable clothing is best.
    • Clothes for the office. Your school might have you start going to your office right away, despite the fact that school won't be in session for five more weeks. Think khakis and a collar shirt. For ladies, skirts and blouses. Nothing too fancy or nice (I wore a shirt and tie for a while) or your school or office might ask you to "dress down" like mine did. Your schools probably won't have air conditioning so make sure your clothes are comfortable and breathable.
    • Miscellaneous. Swimming trunks, waterproof poncho, and make sure your socks have no holes in them, as you will be taking your shoes off quite a bit.

  • Money: You're going to need some money when you arrive. Make sure you exchange some into Japanese yen before you go. I usually recommend you take about $1500 US in travelers' checks and cash. Some JETs say they only use a few hundred dollars before they get paid, others spend the entire amount. Keep in mind that this money is on top of whatever you plan on sending/giving your predecessor for the things in your apartment.
  • Toiletries: You'll need the necessities like toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, razors and such. After you explore your new town a bit, you can probably discover where you can find similar products you'll be satisfied with.

  • Omiyage (gifts): Before you go, shop around for some gifts for the people who will be helping you out. A list of people to shop for might include: your supervisor, your head JTEs, your JTEs, other people at your office. Buy something region-specific, which can't be purchased in Japan. Ask your predecessor for advice. The nicer gifts go to the people at the top, then work your way down.
  • Digital Camera. Buy a nice, small digital camera before you go. Photo opportunities are everywhere!
  • A guidebook. Go out and buy the most current Lonely Planet Japan.

Stuff to Ship: You can't possibly bring everything to last you a whole year in two suitcases; you'll have to ship a few large boxes. Here are a few of the main things you'll need to ship:

  • Winter clothes. New JETs shouldn't stress out about this as much as they do. Ship your winter clothes by sea mail a week or so before you depart for Japan. You'll be in your new apartment a couple weeks before they arrive. Keep in mind that winters in most of Japan are very, very cold and there is usually no insulation in the apartments, schools, etc.
  • Toiletries. You might find a lot of Western products in local stores, but among the items you probably won't find are toothpaste with fluoride and good deodorant. Have these items shipped to you. Condoms are generally not made as well in Japan. If you plan on using them, have them shipped to you or really hunt around for Western-made brands.
  • Makeup. In Japan, it is mostly made for asian skin tones so if you have a favorite shade, brand, or whatever, plan on getting some shipped to you.
  • Books. Books are heavy and expensive to ship. Ship them if you must; make sure you get the book rate. Two great options for readers include book exchanges with JETs in your region, or You might need some help from a native to understand the site, but Amazon offers a lot of English books with internal-Japan shipping prices.
  • Entertainment. CDs, DVDs, video games, computer games etc. Keep in mind that DVD players and game systems manufactured in Japan will not play DVDs or games from your home country. Several workarounds include playing DVDs through a PC or buying a region-free dvd player and a game system from back home.
  • Student rewards. If you are teaching elementary school or junior high, then small, cheap rewards from home will go over very well as a prize for a game of Jeopardy or bingo. Pennies and stickers never lose their appeal.
  • Photos of family and friends. Your students, new friends and co-workers are going to know what the folks back home look like. Take one or two small photo albums with you or have them shipped.
  • Home videos. Every Christmas I would play a home video from a past family Christmas to my new classes and they loved it. If you have any home videos from holidays like Halloween, New Years', Christmas or any festival or holiday type day, ship it. It makes a great, fun, easy lesson that your students will enjoy.

Stuff to Buy in Japan: There are some things that JETs try to ship or bring to Japan every year that they don't think they'll be able to find in Japan.

  • A computer. I strongly advise you purchase a desktop system in Japan. Don't try and ship one from your home country or buy a laptop before you go. The voltage difference (while slight) is enough to fry rechargeable batteries, CD/DVD ROM drives, or even hard drives over time. And seriously, you aren't going to be taking your laptop with you all around town. You can buy a 1 gigabyte flash drive that can fit in your pocket or even your wallet for $60 US. Transport any files between work and home that way. Gateway and Dell are both in Japan and you can get a good deal on a computer and have tech support if something goes awry.
  • Foreign foods. I remember a JET who carried three boxes of Pop Tarts from home in his luggage. The Foreign Buyers' Club is a great option for anyone who wants Western foods in Japan delivered right to your door.

If you'd like to look at the pre-departure handbook for for Southern California JETs you can download it here!

If any of you former JETs have anything to add to this page to make it more informative or user-friendly for incoming JETs, please email me
and let me know! I hope this page has helped new JETs get ready for the experience of a lifetime and if you have any other questions about JET that aren't answered on my website, go ahead and email them to me and I'll get back to you.



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