Back in 2010, my life was stuck in a rut. Having spent many years at university to obtain a doctorate (PhD) in Philosophy, I had subsequently discovered that the Australasian philosophy job market was a tough nut to crack. Years of tutoring (or being a teaching assistant, as it is known in North America) at university level had brought me no closer to my goal of becoming a full-time lecturer. There were simply too few positions, too much competition, and too high a level of requirements for positions for the goal to be achievable.
What other options did I have? For many years, my cousin, who has been living in Japan for over a decade, had been encouraging me to visit this country. Around the same time, my mother fortuitously happened to see an advertisement for an informational seminar about the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. I attended the seminar and decided to apply for a position as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) on the program.
The application process for the JET Programme is notoriously long, and there were certainly moments when not going through with the application was a tempting option. However, I pushed on and was ultimately rewarded with an interview. There was another length wait, until I heard back with the good news that I had been offered a position on the program. The process still wasn’t over, though, and I had another lengthy wait to discover which city and prefecture I was to be placed in.
With regard to placement preference, my knowledge of Japanese geography at the time could have been written in large font on the head of a pin. Accordingly, I simply wrote down the names of three major cities that I had heard of – Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Since my stint on JET, the program has begun to place ALTs in Tokyo, in the lead up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but in my time, it was a well-known fact (to everyone but me, apparently) that ALTs weren’t needed in major urban areas.
The most significant aspect of my decision to apply to the JET Programme is that I knew next to nothing about Japan at the time. I think this was the single biggest factor in my having such a positive experience in this country. I had no prior expectations, so I fell in love with the Land of the Rising Sun in a completely natural way.
Another relevant factor in my experience of Japan was my age. I was very much the elder statesman compared to some of the fresh college graduates among my JET colleagues, so my perspective of the experience was always going to be different from theirs.
Finally, I think that I was incredibly fortunate to be placed in Nara City. Even the Japanese consulate staff member exclaimed that I’d “hit the jackpot” when she informed me about my placement. Nara was just the right city for me. It’s neither too urban nor too rural, it’s peaceful without being completely sleepy, it’s traditional while still having all of the modern amenities one could wish for and it is conveniently related in distance from the other major cities in the Kansai area.
stuck in a rut (idiom) – living or working in a situation that never changes
a tough nut to crack (idiom) – a person or thing that is difficult to deal with; a place or opportunity to which it is difficult to gain entry
fortuitious (adj.) – happening by chance, especially in a lucky or convenient way
elder statesman (n) – an experienced and respected member of a group
hit the jackpot (idiom) – to win the most important prize in a competition
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