Scooter vs Japan

I know why I’m here | January 12, 2016

Some friends came to visit me other the weekend, and one pointed out a blog post about the JET Programme while waiting for their train to arrive. The blog post, titled Why are we here?, shines a critical and rather embittered light on the JET Programme and makes several claims about why it is ineffective.

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To be perfectly clear, I do not view JET or the Japanese education system as magic and rainbows. I am also very critical of it, but for different reasons. While this author tells all foreigners to leave Japan because of these same issues, I instead only wish to highlight what pitfalls exist so that future job applicants, visitors, and policy makers can be more prepared to handle the country.

I came to Japan ultimately for two reasons. First of all, I have been emotionally and intellectually invested in Japan for half of my life. From watching anime to studying its imagery and themes, from thinking samurai are cool to researching the religious implications of their training and ideology, and from thinking about Neon Tokyo to seeing a country struggle to face issues common in the developed world, my interest in Japan has grown and evolved over this past decade and a half.

I came to Japan to continue my education and studies and to get a chance to see Japan as it lives and breathes, rather then view it through a textbook or from outdated statements. Working in Japan through the JET Programme allows me to see the country that I have spent so many years learning about and to practice the language I have struggled with for so long. It allows me a chance to continue to grow and evolve my interests.

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Only imagine those signs written in Japanese.

The second reason I’ve come to Japan is to establish a professional footing for career development. While the author in question berates foreigners and calls them all unqualified visitors who are taking jobs from trained local teachers, I instead approach this as a professional job which I hope to use to establish a brighter future for me and the family I hope to have one day.

Being an Assistant Language Teacher is the first real professional job I’ve had in my entire life. I’ve done some pretty interesting things and working in jobs that have shaped who I am now, but none have had any professional growth options. I worked for my Students’ Union in university and loved it, but it was an elected position with little direct growth. I’ve also worked in two museums and a library, a field which I keep in my back pocket and one which taught me a great many skills that I still use today. But there are few jobs in the museum world, limited growth, and significant budgetary and cultural struggles that leave the field balancing on a sword’s blade. And I have worked in a number of other positions where I have learned many things but always seemed to hit a sort of glass ceiling.

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But working as an ALT is different. There are real stakes in my job and visible goals and successes. The job matters, even if it isn’t handled as well as it could be on a national scale. And when I return to Canada, I will have a wealth of work experience and skills such that I should be able to finally establish a career, something that I struggled to do before JET. I came to Japan because it offered me professional growth that I could not find in Canada.

But coming here has given me another reason to stay. Living and working in Japan allows me to see Japan as it is on many different levels. Living in a small town with one other English-speaking foreigner is a stark contrast from my experience in Canada, and this helps me to understand that the rest of the world isn’t just North American in other places and with different looking people (see my last post for a little more on that topic). It helps me to understand the struggles and sorrows of a proud people who work hard to keep what they have. I get to see a community on the verge of dying do everything it can to make life better while they have the chance. I get to see aspects of Japan that most people simply don’t ever see.

Working in three different schools and visiting three others, I get to see a decent range of Japanese life and observe how people grow into adults. I get to see kids go through similar experiences that I and other Canadian children go through, yet failed to notice when I was in Canada. I get to see things that open my eyes to a greater world, despite being from such a multicultural country. I get to see the good and the bad, the big and the small, and I get to see and appreciate everything as it happens.

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Those are the reasons I am here. And while I implore all JET applicants and ALTs to look critically at the country and understand the troubles of this job before it destroys them, I also implore them to think about one thing. In our interviews, Consulate staff, professors, and alumni screened us to find the most flexible, most adaptable applicants for this job. When you come to Japan, you have to remain flexible. You have to learn to roll with the punches or this experience will destroy you. And you have to accept that this is a country that has to learn its own lessons in its own time. If you can’t do this, as I suspect the author of this embittered blog cannot, then this job will destroy you. If you can’t accept this job for what it is and this country for what it is, then you shouldn’t be here because it doesn’t benefit anyone.

The author does ask a valuable question, and one that I think all foreigners in Japan should think about – Why are you here? The answer may be the same or different for each of us, but it is a question that needs to be answered. I know why I am here, and someone else not knowing why they are here isn’t going to detract from my answer or my experiences.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to prepare to do battle with the frost giant that sleeps in my yard, in hopes of reclaiming my lost shed and parking space.

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Posted in JET, Living, Teaching

2 Comments »

  1. Been enjoying your journey to becoming a JET strangely backwards, because of the sequence of the pages I read, and seeing you grow (backwards) from being a confused and scared kid to a confused and trepidatious teacher. It has been a good journey. I thought I wanted to do that and took 3 years of Japanese and watched a million anime with subtitles so I could hear the real words but life had other plans for me. I am glad you took time to write about your journey so I could live vicariously through you and come to the realisation that it probably would have killed me! 🙂 Like most careers it’s a lot harder than just learning a new language in High School. My son told me yesterday He’s taking Japanese this semester but it looks like he has an awful uncaring teacher (makes me think of your Mr. C.) and found myself wishing He could have one as excited about teaching as you seem. People like you make all the difference! Ganbatte! and Thanks.

    Comment by Julia Adams Bauer — August 1, 2016 @ 9:09 pm

  2. Thanks so much for your comment. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed reading what I’ve had to say.

    I hope that your son’s less than stellar teacher doesn’t turn him off. I’ve been quite fortunate with all of my teachers, but I’ve had a few problems, and it only helped show me that I needed to take control of my future.

    Perhaps the best advice I’ve ever heard came from my first Japanese teacher. I reached out to him years ago while having some problems in school, and he told me that I should look at Japanese as a hobby first and job second.

    It’s easy to get caught up in mastery and progress, but learning a language teachers more than speaking and reading skills. My Japanese skills might be lower than others, but it’s the communication skills I have learned that get me through my days here.

    I hope you continue to find something in my insane ramblings, and I wish you and your son the best.

    Comment by Scooter C — August 2, 2016 @ 12:34 pm


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About author

Scooter is an ESL teacher and Japanese anthropologist. He hopes to document his thoughts of living in Japan, continued cultural studies, and to provide advice for others looking to hop the pond.

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