When it comes to teaching English in Japan, the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) program is renowned as the best to join for multiple reasons. Alongside the decent salary, JET comes with a lot of benefits, such as paid flights, housing subsidies and grants, and assists you in setting up your life in Japan, including visas, health insurance, bank accounts, residence registration. You will also have the most immersive Japanese experience yet!
The Jet Program: what is it, considerations and how to successfully apply
What is the JET program?
Developed and coordinated by the Japanese government and local authorities, the JET program aims to promote grass-roots international exchange at a local level. With now over 75,000 participants from 77 countries, it helps bring people from around the world to Japan to participate in internationalization initiatives and foreign language education across Japan.
As a JET participant, you can be placed in any part of Japan, from large cities to rural villages, so the specific work can vary depending on the local governmental authority.
The JET program offers three roles: assistant language teachers (ALTs) who teach English in public schools alongside Japanese teachers; sports exchange advisors (SEAs) who promote international exchange through sports; and coordinators for international relations (CIRs) who work to enhance communication between the government and local community within the program.
How to apply for JET
Depending on the country you are applying in and the role you are applying for, the specific application process and the documents you need to submit, will vary. Generally, participants are required to have a Bachelor’s degree or higher (in any subject) and have native or fluent English language abilities.
Typically, you will need to submit an application form and documents including a passport copy, degree certificate and transcript, references, medical conditions report, and certifications related to the specific role you are applying for (Japanese language or teaching qualifications).
Alongside the application, you will submit a statement of purpose – an essay that provides evidence that you are suitable for the role. This will be about teaching for ALTs, sporting achievements for SEAs, or Japanese current affairs for CIRs. This is your chance to show JET what makes you an ideal candidate for the program. You need to show interest in Japan deeper than its stereotypical characteristics, motivation to participate in international exchange activities and determination to study the Japanese language. You should reflect on past experiences living or travelling abroad, challenges and difficulties you have faced and overcame, specific experiences related to the role in question, and finally your plans and ideas about how you will make a great ALT, CIR or SEA.
Finally, you will have to indicate your placement preference. Whilst this is your only chance of directing where you may end up living in Japan, choosing the most famous cities (Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto) in Japan may narrow your chances of getting on the program. You need to show that your interest in Japan is greater than purely sightseeing. It is also unlikely that you will get your preference, but you might be placed relatively nearby. For example, I was placed in Sasebo in Nagasaki prefecture, which was 2 hours by train to Fukuoka (my preference).
Only 50% of applicants receive an interview for the JET program, but just 40% of those interviewed will get a place on JET, so it is important to give a good interview! Like any usual interview, first impressions count. Make sure you turn up on time, are very smartly dressed, and come well-prepared. You are normally interviewed by a member of the Consulate or Embassy, a professional Japanese educator, and a former JET participant.
The JET program can be a demanding and difficult time, so it is important that applicants are mentally, emotionally, and physically prepared. The interview provides JET a chance to assess who you are and if they should choose you to participate in the program. If you are selected, you will be representing your country and its culture, but also the Japanese government as a civil servant. This is your chance to show them that you are capable of this!
Top tips for the interview:
- Be prepared
Make sure you know your application and statement of purpose thoroughly. What do you know about Japan and your own country? What are the reasons why you want to live and work in Japan? What makes you as a person a good candidate to be a cultural ambassador and teacher in Japan? Make sure you can answer these questions.
- Anticipate personal questions
JET has a strong duty of care to their participants and the Japanese citizens whom you will be working with. Thus, they may ask about your medical, educational and criminal history, so they can assess whether you are fit to deal with potential difficulties that can arise from living and working abroad. It is important not to lie or downplay any difficult personal experiences, so that JET doesn’t place you in a situation that could potentially worsen existing problems.
- Talk about your difficulties and how you overcame them
JET looks for resilient and adaptable people, due to the nature of moving abroad and working in a new country, so talk about how you can deal with difficult situations.
- Talk about your involvement in clubs, groups, or the local community and what you want to do when you get to Japan
JET want participants who will immerse themselves within the community they are placed. If you have volunteered before or participated in sports or arts groups, talk about your experience and what you are keen to get involved in once you arrive in Japan. I personally joined the Sasebo Community Orchestra when I arrived in Japan and thoroughly enjoyed my time!
- Ask questions
JET look for curious and inquisitive individuals who have really thought about the program and what they are looking to get out of it. These may be questions aimed at JET alumni to ask more about their personal experience, or more general. Just make sure that they reveal your willingness to learn.
Participant Selection process: the application timeline
The JET program is a competitive process that lasts many months. This means if you want to go to Japan through this program, you will need to apply at least 9 months before you fly out, so just be aware of this. The process can vary by country regarding timings and procedures. For reference, I personally applied in the U.K. in 2020 for an ALT role with a 2021 start. My timeline may have differed due to COVID-19, so interviews, placement information, and departure were delayed for me.
What you should consider before applying for the JET program
- Placement in Japan
When you accept the position as a JET participant, you will not yet know your placement. You must be prepared to be placed anywhere in Japan. Although you can indicate a preference for where you are placed, once your placement is allocated, you cannot change it. As the aim of the program is to promote internationalization, many JETs are placed in smaller localities across Japan, so be prepared not to be living in a big city. If you are reserved about where you want to live in Japan, maybe the JET program is not for you.
- Commitment of 1 year
You must be prepared to commit to JET for at least one year, wherever you get placed. Whilst it is a contract which is possible to break in extenuating circumstances, it is ill-advised to do so for the sake of the local people whom you would be letting down.
- Daily life as a JET
Whilst living in Japan is a wonderful and different experience to what you may be used to back home, remember that you are working. You need to be prepared for the possibility that life becomes a little mundane or lonely at times, especially if your placement is rural.
- Application timeline
The timeline from when you apply to when you depart for Japan is around 9 months. If you want to go to Japan sooner, you may want to consider other options.
- Reason for coming to Japan
The reason you want to live and work in Japan is a very important factor in being selected for the JET program. If you purely want to come to Japan to sightsee or eat sushi, JET may not be for you.
The JET program was a wonderful experience for me and taught me a lot. Good luck with your applications!