Transition Japan: Your Town & JET Placement

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.

A main road leading to my town.
A main road leading to my town.
A delicious French bakery about 10 minutes from my apartment.
A delicious French bakery about 10 minutes from my apartment.
My town's newly-built community center.
My town’s newly-built community center.
Family_mart
Newly-opened Family Mart convenience store.
Post office
Post office
Local izakaya (pub)
Local izakaya (pub)
The biggest supermarket, Plant 3, in my town.
The biggest supermarket, Plant 3, in my town.

Transition Japan: Your Apartment

This is the first in a series of posts about life in Japan and life as a member of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET). Please write any questions you would like me to address in the comments section below.

The outside of my apartment building.
The outside of my apartment building.

If accepted into the JET Program, your Contracting Organization (CO) or Board of Education (BOE) will determine your housing situation. Rent, size and money deposits will be different for every JET. More often than not, you will live in the same apartment as your predecessor. Homes are usually located near your main workplace, close enough so that most JETs I knew could walk or ride their bicycle to work. Apartments in Japan are often called “1K,” “1DK,” or “1LDK” based on the number of rooms.  A “1DK,” which most single JETs seem to live in, means you will have a kitchen and separate bedroom.  If you are married and/or have a family, your CO will likely organize a larger apartment for you and your loved one(s) to live in. You are technically obliged to live in your apartment for at least one year, so it is unwise to say you want to find your own housing, especially given how stringent some Japanese renting companies can be when it comes to dealing with non-Japanese people. However, if after one year you really want to move to another place, definitely talk in advance with your CO to make arrangements. This situation isn’t ideal — and it’s not guaranteed your CO will help you move to another place — but it’s worth expressing your opinion if you feel like a move is necessary for your well-being.

My BOE helped cover some of the cost of my apartment and I did not have to pay any key deposit money. As a result of the subsidy, I paid 20,000 yen per month (about $200/month). Electricity and water were not included, so total costs were around 30,000 yen per month ($300/month). Given my JET salary, I considered this a good deal. As you can see from the photos, my apartment was fairly narrow, but it suited my needs just fine for two years. Other JETs in the neighboring town lived in spacious houses and paid no rent, so it really depends case by case. I lived about 15 minutes by bicycle to my base school (i.e., the school I visited most often among my five). I also lived in the same apartment building as two other ALTs who worked at my town’s other junior high school and high school, in addition to a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR). This made my situation feel much more comfortable, especially at first when I was just starting out and noticed that my Japanese neighbors never spoke to me. Although you are not 100 percent guaranteed to live in the same apartment as other JETs, it is likely you will be fairly close to other JETs, especially if they live in the same town as you.

The entrance (and kitchen) to my apartment.
The entrance (and kitchen) to my apartment.

My BOE supplied me with basic furnishings (refrigerator, rice cooker, washing machine) and I bought all other major necessities from my predecessor, including a bed, bike and couch. You will likely not have a dryer in your apartment per Japanese tradition, so you will have to hang your clothes outside to dry when the weather allows it and/or visit a coin laundry to dry your clothes. If you need something that isn’t in your new home, check 100 yen stores first before looking at other more expensive stores or online (this is a trick I learned from my neighbor, Jenson, who helped me transition into my new home).

The bicycle parking area outside of my apartment building.
The bicycle parking area outside of my apartment building.
Basil growing on the "balcony" of my apartment.
Basil growing on the “balcony” of my apartment.
Rainy day view from my "balcony."
Rainy day view from my “balcony.”

I hope this answers your basic questions about apartment life. Again, please post any comments or questions below.