UK Midlands Chapter 2008
UK Midlands Chapter 2008
Welcome to the JET Programme!
If you’re wondering “What have I let myself in for?” then we hope that this booklet will help you feel more prepared for life in Japan. It’s been written by the UK Midlands Chapter of the JET Alumni
Association and you’ll probably have been given it at the annual pre-departure event for new JETs,
when you’ll also have an informal opportunity to ask ex-JETs anything you might want to know about their experiences on the Programme and about living in Japan.
What to take
As you know, you only have a limited luggage allowance, so you have to pack carefully. Some things that you might think you can easily get in Japan are surprisingly hard to come by, but other things that you might anticipate difficulties with are actually dead easy to get hold of. Clothes
You’ll be arriving in the middle of summer, when the temperature in most areas is over 30?C every day, so pack for a hot, humid climate – less so in the extreme north but certainly in central and
southern/western areas. You’ll need a suit for Tokyo orientation but probably not after that – though
you will need something smarter than T-shirt & jeans/shorts for school.
The winter climate in many areas is similar to the UK, but with more snow on the northern side of the country and in mountainous areas, and less rain on the southern side (Tokyo is generally fairly dry). However, apartments can get very cold – central heating is by no means guaranteed – so you’ll need
lots of warm clothes. You can post these out to Japan by surface mail as you won’t need them until November in most areas.
Clothes can also be bought quite cheaply in Japan, provided that you’re not on the large side! Average UK size is towards the top end of the scale in Japan, so shoes over men’s size 9/10 / women’s size 5/6 are hard to come by (shoe sizes are measured in cm; UK 6 is 24 or 24.5cm), as are clothes over women’s size 14 (Japanese size 11 is about equivalent to UK size 10). Bras
commonly go up to around 34C/D equivalent (but in metric), and unpadded ones are hard to find. There’s a chain called Uniqlo which is good for larger sizes without paying over the odds, and of course there’s the option of buying online, but postage costs can be high.
Take at least two or three pairs of shoes for indoor use only, but you’re unlikely to have much use for
smart outdoor shoes. Do take sportswear with you.
Omiyage / British stuff
Take a selection of small gifts for your neighbours, your tantō (supervisor), your school Principal & Vice Principal, your landlord (as if he isn’t going to get enough out of you anyway! – see later) and
anyone else on whom you want to make a good first impression! Good gifts include calendars, picture books, souvenir items, tea towels, tea, football items, anything with a Union Flag on it. Chocolate isn’t such a great idea, as it will melt, and sweets are OK but tend to be heavy.
You’ll also want a few props to use in the classroom – for example photos of family and friends,
maps, stamps, coins, postcards, flags, music, stickers, newspapers.
You’re only allowed to take into the country:
; 1 month’s supply of prescription medicines (including contraception)
; 2 months’ supply of non-prescription medicines
; 4 months’ supply of vitamins / herbal medicines
; 2 months’ supply of disposable contact lenses
Ways to get round this:
; Get regular packages sent from home
; Get a prescription from home to show to a Japanese doctor
; Yakkan Shomei (see JET Handbook) – need 3 weeks to apply
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; It’s a good idea to get a doctor’s note to accompany any medicines, just in case questions
are raised. You can try to take in a year’s supply of the pill, but get a prescription too, in case
your supply gets confiscated!
; Stimulants including amphetamines and pseudo ephedrine (which is found in Sudafed and
other decongestants) are illegal!
; Bring plenty of paracetamol/aspirin. Anything you bring in should be in unopened packets, to
avoid any awkward questions.
; The pill is available, but it’s different – you need a prescription from home.
; Japanese condoms are supposedly much smaller than the ones you get here!
; Most Japanese toothpaste doesn’t contain fluoride so you might want to take your own
; Japanese deodorant doesn’t contain antiperspirant!
; Make-up for non-Japanese skin tones is expensive and hard to come by
; Tampons are available but you might want to take a supply of your preferred brand (or get a
; Laptop – could be useful to have, and they usually come with universal power supplies so
you’ll only need a plug adapter (same as the ones for the US)
; Mobile phones – don’t bother, your UK model won’t work in Japan. Get one there instead.
They had camera phones in 2001!
; Videos – Japan uses the NTSC system, not PAL as in the UK.
; DVDs – Japan is region 2.
; Marmite & baked beans – just nowhere to be found in Japan! Bit heavy to take with you
though – maybe something for a care package from home.
; Digital camera with video
; Stain remover
; Tea – According to a Japanese website visitor, “black teas available in Japan are usually
weak with poor flavour”, so you might want to take a stash of your favourite brand.
; International driving permit (available from some post offices) – if you think you might want to
drive in Japan, then this will cover you for a year. After that you have to get a Japanese
licence. If you’re in an urban area then you probably won’t need a car but if you’re way out in
the sticks then it may be a life saver!
In general, the JET salary is ample for a single person to live on and save a fair amount of money. People in rural locations tend to save more, basically because they have less opportunity to spend money. Couples tend to find things a bit tighter financially, if they're both living off a single salary, but there are usually English teaching opportunities for someone on a spouse visa.
Your employer will probably provide you with a hanko or inkan (signature stamp – used in lieu of a
written signature) and help you to open a bank account, into which your salary will be paid.
When getting yourself set up, the first thing you should do is locate your nearest 100 yen shop – this
can save you a LOT of money! Bear in mind that a 5% “consumption tax” is added on to most
purchases at the till.
Rent is generally between about ?30,000 and ?70,000 per month, possibly a little more in a big city, and may well be subsidised, though you might get the subsidy retrospectively. It varies from one prefecture to the next. Be warned that on arrival you might also have to fork out a sizeable amount in the form of key money (a thank-you gift to the landlord for letting you move in - landlords in Japan get away with murder!) and/or a security deposit. Some JETs are lucky and don't have to pay any key money or deposit, but others have to pay both. Key money can be up to 2 months’ rent and the
security deposit can be 6 months’ rent or more(!) – but if it’s that high then the school will probably
pay part of it and may loan you the rest to pay back in instalments. The key money is not refundable; the security deposit may or may not be, even if you leave the place in pristine condition. You may not
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get paid a full month's salary until nearly two months after arrival so it's worth taking, say, ?2000 worth of yen to tide you over if you can.
Your accommodation may or may not be furnished - generally most of the basic furnishings, plus a phone line and the all-important shopping bike, are supplied by our employers, but it varies from one prefecture to the next. The phone landline in particular is very expensive if you don't get it provided; a lot of people in that situation just get mobile phones instead. You'll probably have a predecessor who has bought and/or inherited everything you need for your apartment and will be willing to pass most of it on to you, though they may want you to pay for it. Don't feel that you have to buy anything from them, but in most cases you won't be overcharged for what turns out to be a heap of junk. You are under no obligation to pay them any money until you've seen the goods, anyway. Culture & etiquette
If you don’t yet know a word of Japanese then don’t worry, you will survive! However, you’ll find life a lot easier if you can speak and read the language, so do make the most of any language-learning opportunity that comes your way. Distance-learning courses are offered through the JET Programme and you might find these helpful, but do check that any course you sign up for is at an appropriate level.
In many areas there are cultural exchange centres where volunteer teachers offer Japanese lessons for a nominal fee. As well as being a great resource for helping you to get to grips with the language, these are a good opportunity to get to know people from outside school as well.
If you want to get a qualification that shows what level of Japanese you have achieved then the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (Nihongo Nōryoku Shiken, 日本語能力試験) is globally
recognised and is THE qualification to aim for. It’s available at 4 levels, Level 4 (yonkyū) being the
easiest and Level 1 (ikkyū) being regarded as challenging even for native speakers. A post-JET job that requires a Japanese speaker will usually require you to have Level 2, though Level 3 might be sufficient for some jobs. You can only sit the exam once a year, on a Sunday in early December. You can read more about it at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_Language_Proficiency_Test.
Try this true/false quiz to see how much you know about Japanese etiquette – the answers are at
the back of this booklet, together with some additional tips.
1. When meeting someone for the first time, you should shake hands. TRUE FALSE
2. When entering a Japanese house, you should always take your shoes off. TRUE FALSE
3. It is customary to take a gift to someone’s house if you are invited for dinner. TRUE FALSE
4. When women sit on the floor, it is polite for them to sit cross-legged. TRUE FALSE
5. It’s common to push bowls of food around the table with your chopsticks. TRUE FALSE
6. It is considered rude to blow your nose at the table. TRUE FALSE
7. It is extremely rude to ask an adult their age. TRUE FALSE
8. When eating as part of a group, everyone pours their own drinks. TRUE FALSE
9. You should wear special toilet slippers to use the toilet. TRUE FALSE
10. You should always wash your body thoroughly before getting into the bath. TRUE FALSE
Bear in mind that teachers in Japan are usually VERY busy! They may not be teaching for every period on the timetable but they’ll have all sorts of additional responsibilities to deal with as well:
homeroom (i.e. dealing with their tutor group), supervising cleaning, playground duty, running clubs (some of which meet every day after school and even in the holidays) as well as planning lessons
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and marking. It’s quite usual for a Japanese teacher to work 7am to 7pm and beyond. So if you find that the whole school except you has come in in sports gear or disappeared on a trip for the day, and you knew nothing about it, there was probably no deliberate intent to exclude you – everyone was
just too busy to realise that you didn’t understand enough Japanese to know about it beforehand.
If your tantō tells you “You can go home if you want” or “If you want, please join …” then it can be risky to take these words at face value. Some Japanese teachers resent the foreign ALT breezing in at 8.30am and off home again at 4pm or even earlier, and seemingly having plenty of spare time in the meantime, especially when an ALT is paid a similar salary to a newly-qualified teacher.
You may be expected to help with the cleaning at the end of the school day (although this may not be made clear to you), and will more than likely be asked to run some form of English club after school at least once a week. It’s good to get involved in other school activities too if you can –
perhaps a sport or some other after-school club.
The staffroom isn’t the social area with easy chairs that we have in British schools; it’s a large room in which every teacher has a desk, where they work when not teaching. It’s often the one room in school that has air-conditioning. The students stay in one classroom nearly all the time (except for specialist lessons that require other facilities) and the teachers move from room to room. A lesson is almost always 50 minutes followed by a 10-minute break.
School lunches are usually provided in elementary and junior high schools but not in high schools; however, there is usually an arrangement whereby teachers can order lunchboxes which are delivered to the staffroom. You get a large box containing all sorts of mysterious goodies, and a smaller box of plain rice. The alternative is to bring your own, perhaps picked up from a konbini (24-
hour convenience store – they’re everywhere!) on your way to work, or to leave school at lunchtime
and buy something. In junior high or elementary schools you might want to join the students for lunch.
“I hate Japan – why can’t they just see common sense”
“They are all talking about me”
“They are all staring at me”
“The smallest trivial things make me so upset”
“Am I going mad?”
“I just want to go home”
Feeling this way is a normal reaction to being a foreigner in a different culture – it’s called culture
shock. You’ll go from having a fantastic time, to wishing you’d never left home. The peaks you may
not notice, because you’re enjoying yourself so much, but the troughs will sometimes leave you
reeling, wondering what hit you. Don’t worry, you’ll get through it, gradually learning to adapt to the new culture.
Watch what the locals do and learn from that. Grab opportunities to get involved, but if you need to take a bit of “me time” then do so, as long as it’s at a time when you’re not going to be letting anyone down. Take solace in sleep, exercise, travel and spending time with other gaijin. Internet forums can be source of support too. If you’re still really not coping then seek help – your tantō or your
Prefectural Advisor is usually a good place to start.
Incidentally, attitudes in populous areas tend to be less conservative than in rural ones, so you’ll probably find that your strange foreign ways attract less attention if you’re in a large conurbation than if you’re out in the sticks.
Then when you come home at the end of JET, be ready for reverse culture shock – not everyone will
understand how you feel!
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There are numerous websites offering information and support to JET participants. One extensive site that you might of interest can be found at www.tanuki.org.uk; it belongs to a member of the UK
Midlands chapter of JETAA and includes a month-by-month account of an ALT’s time in Japan from
1999 to 2001 as well as other information and links to other relevant sites. You will find that some of the info on it is out of date by now, of course, but there’s still a lot of useful stuff there.
It’s likely (though not definite) that you’ll have Internet access at school. If you want to get online at home then speak to your Japanese colleagues to find out what packages they use. Apparently getting online from your mobile is usually the way forward nowadays.
AJET is the Association for Japan Exchange and Teaching, a support and social network for current JET Programme participants. You should receive a flyer for AJET together with this booklet. JETAA
JETAA is the JET Alumni Association. We’re a means for you to maintain links with Japan and to help you adjust to life after JET, either back in the UK or wherever you end up, since there are chapters all over the world. JETAA UK has a website at www.jetaa.org.uk and JETAA International’s
site is at www.jetalumni.org. The UK Midlands Chapter has been going since 1998 and has several hundred members. We hope you’ll want to join in with our activities on your return!
Do you have any questions that this booklet could have answered but hasn’t? Or maybe you’ll experience something when you’re in Japan and think, “I wish someone had told me about this!”
If you have any suggestions for improvements to the information we’ve given you then please email
them to email@example.com, so that next year’s new JETs can benefit from your wisdom!
Answers to etiquette quiz
1. FALSE – If a Japanese person holds out their hand then by all means shake it, but they are only offering a handshake because they know that’s how foreigners do it! In Japan the custom is to bow from the waist, and not necessarily just at the first meeting. The more senior to you the person is, the deeper you should bow. It’s also customary to exchange business cards; if you know your
address (or school address) before you go then it might be worth getting a few printed in preparation. You offer your business card by holding it out flat with both hands, and take the other person’s in the
same manner. Don’t just stuff it in your pocket; read it politely and then lay it on the table where it can be seen.
2. TRUE – a Japanese person wouldn’t dream of wearing shoes inside a house under any
circumstances. Even workmen will remove their shoes on entry. There’s a small area called a genkan just inside the front door, and that’s where you take your shoes off. If you are offered slippers then it’s polite to wear them, but you should always take the slippers off too before stepping
onto tatami matting. You’ll also be expected to change into a pair of indoor shoes when you arrive at
school (though you can supply your own shoes – you don’t have to wear the regulation slippers).
3. TRUE – a small gift from your home country generally goes down well, for example a calendar depicting country villages, some British confectionary or a gift package of tea. Your tantō and other people who will be playing a large part in your life in Japan will also appreciate similar gifts when you first meet them. Gift-giving is a big thing in Japan!
4. FALSE – men sit cross-legged but women are expected to kneel with their feet crossed under them. Allowances will, however, be made for gaijin who aren’t accustomed to sitting in this manner
for extended periods!
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5. FALSE – chopsticks have an etiquette all of their own! When taking food from a shared bowl you should turn your chopsticks around and use the “wrong” end. You should never pass food from one set of chopsticks to another, as this is reminiscent of a ritual carried out at funerals. You also shouldn’t leave your chopsticks sticking up in a bowl of food; when you’re not actually using them to eat, they should be laid across the chopstick rest that will usually be provided. Oh, and if you can’t already use chopsticks then you’d better get the hang of it sharpish, otherwise
you’re going to get very hungry!
6. TRUE – public nose-blowing is frowned upon; it’s preferable to sniff incessantly until you have an opportunity to go and blow your nose in private. It’s also considered pretty disgusting to put a used handkerchief back in your pocket, and for this reason, cotton hankies are frowned upon. Slurping your noodles, on the other hand, is considered de rigeur – it’s supposed to enhance the
7. FALSE – the Japanese consider it very important to show deference according to age, so it’s perfectly acceptable to ask someone how old they are. Women over 40ish may decline to give a straight answer though!
8. FALSE – everyone pours drinks for everyone else; you should wait for someone else to fill (or refill) your glass, and keep a lookout for any empty glasses near you that may need refilling. It’s also very
rude to start your drink before the toast; there may be several speeches and it’s only after everyone
says “Kampai” (“Cheers”) that it’s OK to drink.
9. TRUE – if toilet slippers are provided then you should wear them. They can offer practical protection if it’s a squat toilet(!), and the ordinary slippers outside the door are an indication that the loo is occupied. Don’t forget to change back into your normal slippers afterwards – leaving your
toilet slippers on is akin to walking around with your skirt tucked into your knickers or your flies undone!
Also, when using a traditional-style Japanese toilet you should squat facing the “hood” end. If you’re
lucky, you will have a Western-style toilet in your accommodation, but this is by no means guaranteed. Never mind, all that squatting will do wonders for your muscle tone! You may have seen the all-singing, all-dancing Japanese loos with heated seats and built-in bidets and douches; it’s unlikely that you’ll have one of these at home but you may well encounter one in a hotel or restaurant. If you want to try out the various functions, make sure you sit well back on the seat to avoid having water squirt up your back! Another curio that you sometimes see with Japanese toilets is a little spout over the cistern, which allows you to wash your hands in the stream of water refilling the cistern after you flush. Brilliant idea!
10. TRUE – a Japanese bath is for soaking and relaxing in, not for washing in, and the whole
household will normally share the same bathwater. You sit on a little stool and wash yourself using a basin of water or a shower head (and soap of course) before getting into the bath. Do test the water
temperature before plunging in – it can be very hot!