This is the second article in a series about life as a member of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET) and about life in Japan in general. My goal is to “demystify” Japan and encourage anyone with an interest in teaching abroad to consider JET. Read my first post, Transition Japan: Your Apartment, here.
When I applied to the JET Program, I could preference three types of locations on my application: city, suburbs or country. After nulling over the decision for a few weeks and talking with former JETs, I decided, with relative ease, to select city as my first choice. As I knew zero Japanese at that time, I thought life in a city would be more familiar and relaxing. I also noted in my application that ideally, I would like to live in an area with a shinkansen line, as I had hoped to research high-speed rail during my time in Japan.
After nearly a half year of waiting, I finally received a long awaited e-mail one day at work with the subject line “JET Program Placement.” I took a deep breath, opened the e-mail and read that I would be living in Namerikawa-shi, a country /suburb(ish) town of about 30,000 people in Toyama-ken with no high-speed rail line (though one is currently being built).
“Where?” I gulped as I read the e-mail and quickly Googled Toyama, hoping to find a map or some sort of English material about the area. As I stared at Toyama on a map, I noticed that my town was located a few steps away from the sea and miles away from anywhere I knew in Japan. “It’s going to be an interesting year,” I thought.
I tell this story because although it is worth stating your preferences in your application, you are definitely not guaranteed any of these requests — in fact, more often than not, JETs are placed in parts of Japan that they have never heard of. I knew nothing about Toyama before I left and still sometimes have to explain to Japanese people where the prefecture is located. Unless you have an extremely specific (i.e., medical) reason for needing to be close to a major city, it’s very likely you’ll be placed in a less-populous part of Japan.
Life in the countryside has its challenges, but I ended up (generally) loving life in my small town. I felt as if I really contributed to a community and learned much more about Japanese culture than I would have had I been living in a major city. Now, I feel connected to a part of Japan that few Americans have ever called home. Below are some pictures of my town to give you a sense of what it looked like, and to show that my life wasn’t really that different from life in a small American town. There weren’t many places to go shopping or hang out late at night, and everyone in my town seemed to be married or above the age of 80, but I lived close to several supermarkets, the post office, bank and my work. In general, my town was pretty convenient and easy to get around, minus the days with heavy snowfall. In part two, I’ll show more pictures focusing on nature.