How to Get Accepted into the JET Program(me) and Teach in Japan

Chureito Pagoda in Front of Mt. Fuji (Japan)

Ok, you’ve decided to pick up your life and move to Japan, huh? Or, maybe you’ve been looking at teaching programs abroad, and the JET Program was recommended to you? Then, you’re in the best place you can be if you’re starting your application for this great teaching program! It’s an amazing government-sponsored teaching program with not only great experiences, but also great benefits and opportunities, too.

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Five years ago during a particularly cold September in Virginia, I, too, decided to take the plunge and start my JET Program application. Between preparing for graduation, finishing up an internship and a fellowship, applying for jobs and applying for JET, boy was I stressed out! But, in the end, I got the amazing opportunity to teach junior high school students in rural western Japan, and I don’t regret my four years on the program and teaching English at all.

So, here’s the thing. I loved my experience on the JET Program so much that I want all you prospective JETs to have an amazing opportunity by acing the application process and interview, too! I’ll be sharing information about the full process on how to apply, my experiences applying, tips and advice as someone who not only got accepted to the JET Program, but also as someone who was highly involved while on the Program, too! Plus, you can also get my TLDR JET Program(me) Checklist to print out and look at as you apply, go through the interview, and finally get to Japan.

Teaching English in Japan

What is the JET Program?

The Japan Exchange and Teaching Program(me), or JET Program(me), is a multi-national government-sponsored placement program that promotes international exchange between Japan and participating countries, and seeks to enhance Japan’s English language education. Since 1987, the program has evolved with the Japanese English education system to supply more and more participants every year. Similar to other government-sponsored teaching programs such as EPIK (South Korea), the JET Program accepts foreign nationals from over 70 English-speaking countries around the world to promote cultural exchange and strengthen international relations.

Participants of the program are placed in one of Japan’s 47 prefectures as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT), a Coordinator of International Relations (CIR) or a Sports Exchange Advisor (SEA). ALTs are placed in the public school system under local Board of Educations (usually middle school to high school) or in local city halls (usually elementary school) where they work with a Japanese Teacher of English (JTE) to team-teach English lessons to the students. CIRs are placed in local government offices to promote the prefecture or city’s sister relations with other countries, translate and interpret, and even promote English education within the greater community. Although it’s a rare position, SEAs are actual sports professionals who are placed in local governments and the public school system to coach sports teams and assist with sports training in schools.

I was a prefectural ALT on the JET Program from 2016 to 2020 in Fukui Prefecture, and I taught middle school and elementary school children of all different English levels. It’s an amazing teaching and exchange program, especially for those who are interested in Japan and love teaching or mentoring children. In this guide, we will focus on the ALT and CIR positions.

How Do You Apply?

Applying to the JET Program is both an online and paper application process. You start your application through the JET Program’s online application portal that is specific to each participating country. After submitting your materials online, you’ll also need to submit the paper version of your application to the consulate or embassy with a JET Program office in your area or closest to you before the application deadline. 

That was the summary, but how do you actually apply?

Eligibility

The first step in applying to the JET Program is finding out if you meet the eligibility requirements to apply. Although they may differ slightly based on what country you’re applying from, here are the general requirements to successfully apply to the Program.

  1. Be interested in Japan and willing to learn more through international exchange with the local community prior to and after arriving in Japan.
  2. Be willing and able to adapt to living and working in Japan for the full duration of the contract (1 year).
  3. Have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, or have one before you arrive in Japan.
  4. Be both mentally and physically healthy.
  5. Be a citizen (not permanent resident) of the country of which you are applying from. Applicants who have dual citizenship with Japan must renounce their Japanese citizenship if accepted. 
  6. Have excellent English language skills and/or be a native English speaker.
  7. Want to support and maintain relations with Japan during and after finishing the JET Program.
  8. Not have declined the JET Program after receiving a placement notification in the previous year.
  9. Not have lived in Japan for six or more years in total since 2010.

Other than the hard requirements above, there are a few more additional soft requirements that will make you a successful applicant.

If you are applying for the ALT position, you should:

  1. Be interested in teaching English in Japan, especially English as a foreign language.
  2. Be interested in working with children.
  3. Have some sort of qualifications or experience working as a teacher or working with children (i.e., volunteering, mentoring, etc.).

If you are applying for the CIR position, you should be high-intermediate to advanced in Japanese (equivalent to the JLPT N2 or N1, although applicants with N3 or no certification or at all have been accepted in the past).

How to Get Accepted into the JET Program(me) and Teach in Japan

Benefits & Salary

One of the most important points about any new job that you apply for is the benefits! Is the salary enough? Do you get health insurance? Are there chances for professional development? The good news is that the JET Program actually has really good benefits. It’s a government-sponsored position, so you get really great benefits and job protection that other private-company teaching positions usually don’t have. Some of the benefits, like the amount of vacation days, vary based on the placement (Board of Education, city hall, etc.)–because ESID (“Every Situation is Different,” something you’re going to hear often), but the base benefits for each position and placement are pretty much the same.  

There’s a pretty good salary. You’ll be paid more than any other ALT/teaching program or dispatch company in Japan, and you may even have a higher salary than some of your coworkers! 1st year JETs receive ¥3,360,000 a year or about $36,000 USD. Starting from the second year, JET’s receive yearly raises of up to $200 USD on average.

You”ll be insured. Participants on the JET Program are not only registered into the Japanese National Health Insurance and Employment Insurance systems, but are also given JET Accident Insurance, which can be used overseas, such as if you’re traveling or visiting home. 

A lot of vacation time.  JETs get 12 to 20 vacation days, 5 to 10 sicks days, and replacement days (daikyu、だいきゅう), which are days given back to you for working on a weekend/holiday or overtime. Also, if you’re super lucky, your placement might support study leave (kenshu, けんしゅう),  or days where you don’t have to go into work, but instead stay home and study Japanese or go out and explore Japan as part of the “cultural exchange” aspect of the Program.

Tax exemption! If you’re American, you are exempt from paying Japanese residence taxes for two years (and those taxes are expensive!). If you’re not American, you won’t be able to take advantage of this benefit, but you can expect to pay about 10万 or 1,000 USD for your first year. 

Multiple support networks. One of the things I personally enjoyed as a JET Program participant coming straight out of university is the sheer amount of support you get before you leave for Japan, when you’re in Japan, and when you ultimately decide to leave the program. When you move to Japan, you’ll be moving with on average, 20 or so other new JET participants from your area or departure group. Even when you reach your placement, there’s going to be groups that you can get involved in right away such as AJET (the Association for Japan Exchange and Teaching) or even your own prefecture’s JET association (by the way, the Fukui JET Association is awesome). These groups connect you to amazing opportunities to make friends with other participants, make friendships in your local Japanese community, and even give back through volunteering.

Opportunities for professional development. On top of all of the seminars you’ll have to go to while on the JET Program (CIRs and ALTs often have multiple different seminars a year), there are two grants available for participants (the TEFL Certification Grant and the JLPT Grant), an online Japanese language course, and a Translation and Interpretation Seminar for advanced Japanese speakers/learners. You can also join leadership positions in your prefecture’s JET association, in AJET, and even by agreeing to lead workshops in all those seminars. And, here’s a tip, a lot of JETs who leave the Program always wonder how to market the experience they had? Get involved! Yes, exploring Japan while you’re on the JET Program is important, but also taking advantage of all those professional development opportunities will help you have a well-rounded experience and help you for the future. 

The last three benefits are a little obvious, but you’ll be getting the chance to meet people and make friends from all over the world, you’ll gain the ability to learn and experience a different culture and style of living, and you’ll learn so much about yourself! I definitely think just the act of moving abroad, living and working in a different culture and getting involved in my small Fukui community really helped me to mature as a young adult and gain so much strength in myself.

Application Timeline

It’s often said that applying for the JET Program is a long waiting game. The process takes almost a year, and it’s a lot of waiting in limbo before hitting a huge fast-forward once you get in. Applications for the JET Program are open from early September to late November on each participating country’s online portal. Once you’ve submitted all the application materials online and by mail, you will be invited for an interview in February, and you will hear results of your interview by April. If you are accepted, you’ll need to start getting ready for orientations with your embassy before departing for Japan in late July (Group A) or early August (Group B).

Deadlines can vary depending on application year. Be sure to check your country’s JET Program website for exact application dates and deadlines. 

Early September: Applications open on the online portal.
Late November: The application portal is closed, and all applications must be submitted.
December to January: Notifications for whether you passed the first stage and interview invitations are released.
February to March: Interviews are held at participating embassies and consulates.
Late March to April: Interview results are announced, and notifications of acceptance are released. Additionally, early departure participants depart for Japan during this time.
May to July: Health certificates and reply forms (acceptance of acceptance) are due. Accepted participants will also receive their prefecture placements.
June to July: Pre-departure orientations through the embassy or consulate you interviewed at with other participants from your area.
July to August: Two-day orientation in Tokyo. You will meet the other participants that will go to your prefecture, and if you are not placed in Tokyo, you will depart from there with your prefecture-group. There may also be a separate orientation when you arrive in your prefecture, and this is when you will be introduced to your school or office.

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Writing an Essay for the JET Program(me)

How Do I Write a Good Statement of Purpose (SOP)?

Not to stress you out, but the Statement of Purpose (SOP) is one of the most important pieces of your application material. It’s a way for the JET Program to learn about you, how you can be beneficial to the Program and how the Program will be beneficial to you. It’s also a way to show your English proficiency and your ability to follow directions.

The SOP is a two-page, double-spaced, Times New Roman in 12pt font-statement where you write about these four main things:

  1. Why you wish to go to Japan and participate in the JET Program, and why you are interested in the position that you are applying for. 
  2. What effect you hope to have on the Japanese community and internationally as a result of your participation in the JET Program.
  3. What applicable experiences, professional skills, relevant interests and personal qualities you have, and how you feel these will be useful to you as an ALT or CIR.
  4. What you hope to gain, both personally and professionally, from your JET experience if you are selected, and how participation will assist you in your future goals. 

The four points above are the key points to your essay statement. Remember the writing technique where you break your essay into different paragraph blocks and expand for each point through examples? Well, that method is going to be your best friend here. Even if you’ve planned on joining the JET Program all your life, use the SOP to start out fresh and really understand your motivations for wanting to apply. If you haven’t been planning this out for forever, then why not start with the trusty spider chart. Start with the why, move onto the what and then finally the how–with examples!

Why do you want to go to Japan? Anime? Sushi? Samurai culture? You want to become a Kintsugi master (the art of filling cracks with gold)? The reason you became interested in Japan is important, but find a way to connect your passion to how you can contribute to your community once you move to Japan. For example, if you are an anime nerd, don’t spend most of the SOP talking about how much you love anime. Instead, connect your passion to the position by saying that you want to use anime to connect with your students, or plan fun lessons, or even start an anime club in your community that doubles as a language exchange group.

Being a 90s baby, I grew up watching Japanese animation without realizing it was Japanese anime. Instead, I became interested in Japan through music–Utada Hikaru’s music to be exact. In my SOP, I of course talked about why I became interested in Japan, but I expanded on how that changed what I wanted to do in the future, and how I became interested in learning about different cultures, not just Japan. 

What are your goals for the position? What do you want to do that will be meaningful and beneficial to the Program and job? Remember, the JET Program’s main goals are to promote English education in Japan and foster cultural exchange. Outline exactly what you want to do and be as clear as possible. Do you have a particular hobby that you want to share with you students in English club so that they can learn English while having fun? Show that you have put some thought into the position by having an idea of what you want to do and how

Even more important is to show examples from your own professional and personal experiences. If you’re applying to the ALT position, include examples about how you’ve taught in a classroom, or volunteered to tutor children, or even how you mentored your peers (not just children!). If you’re applying as a CIR, talk about how you’ve had experience translating and interpreting, or how you were the head of the Japanese Student Association and organized cultural exchange events for your school. These are great examples to emphasize that you have experiences teaching others and promoting cultural exchange. 

I made sure to include my experience interning with various places like the Embassy of Japan and how I helped teach Japanese culture in their school program, and how I volunteered to mentor and tutor children every month. I used tangible experiences to show that I was qualified for the ALT position even though I didn’t study to be a teacher and didn’t have any professional teaching experience. 

If you tried to think about the what, why and hows, but you still don’t know why Japan and why the JET Program, then do more research! Research about Japan, the position you want, the JET Program itself. There’s so many teaching programs that will send you to Japan, but what made you apply to the JET Program specifically?

Tip

Don’t forget to e-sign and hit submit when you’re all done with your application on the online portal. After submission, print your full application from the online portal and mail it (with your name, ID number and time stamp) to the JET Program office in your area. The application you mail must be identical to the application you submitted online.

Acing the JET Program Interview

When you apply, the process for both the ALT and CIR positions is generally the same, but the difference is in the interview. Once you get the invitation for an interview in early January, you’ll have at least a month to start prepping before the actual day in February.

The interview will be held at the Japanese embassy or consulate in your area, or the area closest to you. It’s usually about 25 minutes long, and you will be interviewed by a three-person panel made up of a Japanese diplomat, a former JET participant, and a professional Japanese educator. In my case, however, I was interviewed by two Japanese diplomats and a former JET participant.

Before you go to the interview, don’t forget to bring your interview voucher, your signed release form, and a photo ID. Don’t forget to be professional and friendly to everyone at the interview location, even other applicants, because the interview for any job actually starts in the waiting room. Lastly, be sure to get there early. “Early” in Japanese culture is 10 minutes before the scheduled time.

The Questions
The interview questions will largely be based on what you wrote in your Statement of Purpose and on your application. So, be authentic on those documents!

If you’ve applied to the ALT position, the interview will be all in English (unless you’ve indicated on your application that you can speak Japanese). They’ll ask general questions and questions about situations specific to the ALT position. If you’ve applied to the CIR position, your interview will be in both English and Japanese. Many applicants to the CIR position had the first half of their interview in English and were asked general questions about living abroad, and then they had a Japanese portion to their interview where they were asked to read Japanese articles aloud and answer questions about them.

Below are some interview questions that you might be asked during your interview.

General
・Why JET?
・What interests you about Japanese culture?
・How will you handle culture shock?
・Why did you select the placement locations you did?
・Would you be okay with a rural placement?
・Describe a time you resolved a conflict between two people.
・Japan is a very conservative country. If you were told to wear a skirt or serve tea every day would you do it?
・How will you share Japanese culture with your home country when you return?

For ALTs
・Why do you want to teach English in Japan?
・Which book, sport or celebrity would you show your students, and why?
・How do you see yourself benefiting the program and the program benefiting you if you were hired for the ALT position?
・Give us an outline of a lesson plan about [your country].

For CIRs
・Why do you want to be a CIR?
・You have been out of classes for a few years. How do you maintain your Japanese?
・Please give a presentation about [your] culture in Japanese for 2 minutes.
・If you were not chosen as a CIR, but short listed as an ALT, what would you do?

Three questions that I personally received during my interview in 2016 were:
・What would you do if your students asked you about Donald Trump and the U.S. election?
・What would you do if you were told with short-notice about a work event that you had to go to, but you had already made plans for that day?
・Could you sing for us? (And, I did.)

In addition to the interview questions I was asked, I also had a short Japanese test because I indicated on my application that I had Japanese ability. I was asked general conversation questions in Japanese, and asked to read an article in Japanese and tell the interviewers about it. I wasn’t as confident in Japanese as I am now, so I don’t remember it going as well as I would’ve liked, but that’s why I didn’t apply for the CIR position. 😅

To prepare yourself for your interview, scan over the questions above, reread your statement of purpose and application, and really make sure you know your motivations for applying and what you want to contribute to the JET Program. You can also check out longer lists of previous questions for ALTs and CIRs.

Dress Your Best
Remember, this is a job interview for a government employee position. In Japan, civil servants (government employees) and teachers are one of the most respected professions–along with being paid by tax-payer dollars, so they come with a lot of responsibilities and expectations. 

Bottom-line, dress to impress as you would any other traditionally conservative job. Men and women should wear typically neutral suits or dresses, shirts, ties, and footwear. When I attended my interview in 2016, I wore a black H&M suit jacket, black Macy’s slacks, a button-up J-Crew white dress shirt, and a pair of black Payless pumps (with black flats in my bag for those uneven D.C. streets). You’ll eventually need a good suit or dress clothes once you are accepted into the JET Program anyway. 

Tip

Take advantage of holiday sales to elevate your wardrobe for your future job without breaking the bank. As the saying goes, dress for the job you want, not the job you’re in.

Ask Questions
You know when you finally get through the interview and they ask you, “Do you have any questions.” Don’t say “no.” Instead, come to the interview with questions—at least three—that you have prepared just for the JET position. Having questions at the end of an interview for any job or position shows that you’ve done your research on the company and the job, and that you’re eager to learn more. That means that there’s a little bit of an art to asking those questions. You don’t want to ask questions that are easily found on the JET Program website. Ask questions that expand on what you can find in the FAQs online or that request personal anecdotes and opinions from your interviewers. Here are some great questions that you can try:

What advice do you have for being successful as a/n [ALT/CIR] in the first few months at my placement? You can ask this to the former JET participant who will be on the interview panel.
What did you find most challenging while you were on the JET Program? You can ask this to the former JET participant.
How do you suggest I get to know my Japanese coworkers, especially if they don’t speak English? You can ask this to all the interviewers (Japanese diplomats, the former participant and the education professional).
What are ways you got involved in your local community while on JET? Again, you can ask this to the former JET. Basically, anything JET experience-related, ask the former JETs.
What are some good ways to get involved in the community?
What are some ways to connect with students?
What is something you weren’t prepared for when you first started on JET?

Or, throw them a complete curveball! I know that every situation is different, but if I were to be placed at a school/office that has an English club [ALTs]/a community English exchange class [CIRs], do you think that I can get creative and teach the students how to dance [or insert another interesting hobby] using English? It’s a long one, but you can ask this to everyone on the interview panel. 

This question is one of the things I wished I did before I left JET–teaching students how to dance Salsa, but I didn’t have an English club at the junior high schools I worked at. However, I did teach Salsa in my local community.

Don’t Be Nervous
Take a deep breath and don’t be nervous! Go into the interview with a positive attitude and confidence (at least fake it) so that you can show your best self and ace the interview.

For even more information about the interview, check out Tofugu’s interview guide, too.

Acceptance Email from the JET Program(me)

Getting Into the JET Program

On an average day in March or early April, you’ll check your email and finally see the news you’ve been waiting for: the interview results. In the email, you’ll be notified of one of the three possible statuses: shortlist, alternate, or not selected. 

If you get an email saying you’ve been selected as “a shortlist candidate,” congratulations, you got in! Shortlist sounds a little unclear because you end up thinking, “wait, another list?” But, “shortlist” is the JET Program’s unique way of saying that you’ve been selected. Once you get that email, you’ll need to send your acceptance of your shortlist status to your consulate or embassy so that they can get you ready to fly off to Japan in the next four months. You won’t get your placement information right then and there. That comes in the next three months (unless you’re an early departure candidate), so take the time to celebrate and start getting all your paperwork and essentials in order. 

If you get an email that says you’ve been selected as an alternate, then that means that you have been wait-listed. You’ll have to wait and see if a spot opens up (a shortlist candidate decides not to accept, paperwork falls through for them, etc.), and if a spot does not open for you in that application year, then it sadly means that you’ll need to reapply for the next application season. Some alternates get the exciting news that they’ve been selected waaaay after the shortlist candidates fly off to Japan—like in September or October, so don’t lose hope! You can choose to wait for a spot as an alternate, move onto other things, or just apply in the next application season, but don’t forget to notify your consulate or embassy of your decision. 

Lastly, if you got the unfortunate news that you were not selected, then there are some options for you. Although you won’t be able to go to Japan on the JET Program this time, you can choose to apply in the next application season or go to Japan and be an ALT through a private ALT-dispatch company. Either way, reply to the email professionally by thanking them for their time and leave a good impression until the very end. If you want to learn about alternatives to the JET Program, keep reading! I outline below some companies that you can check out.

How to Get Accepted in the JET Program(me) and Teach in Japan

Choosing Your Placement Preferences
When you first start your application, you’ll be asked what kind of placement you’d like: urban, semi-urban (suburban), or rural. Although most JET placements fall within the rural and suburban categories, some JETs are placed in the big cities. 

However, when choosing what kind of placement you’d like or feel the most comfortable with, consider important factors such as proximity to others, to semi-large or large cities for important medical needs, and any other things that you can find in a city but not really in the countryside. Regardless, you won’t know your placement until May or June. 

What if you get accepted, but you didn’t get the placement you wanted? You can accept the placement and request a transfer later on if you decide to stay for another year, but transfers are rare and not guaranteed. Or, you can reject the placement, but that means that you’re also rejecting your acceptance of your shortlist status and effectively bowing out of the JET Program. Here’s a little secret, once you get there, you’ll probably fall in love with your new home. I definitely didn’t choose Fukui Prefecture when I applied, but it turned out to be the perfect placement for me. If you happen to be placed there, then you’re in luck because I think it’s one of the best prefectures to work in for the JET Program. 

Working on the JET Program

As an ALT
As a shortlisted soon-to-be ALT, once you get your placement information, you’ll find out if you’re a prefectural ALT or a city ALT. 

As a prefectural ALT, you will most likely teach at either one or more junior high schools or high schools through the Board of Education. Typically, this means that you will have a base school, or a school that you are primarily employed at and will have most of your classes at. Also, your base school will typically decide your schedule (how many classes you’ll have, when you will visit your other schools, etc.) and handle all of your important paperwork, help you get started in Japan, and handle all other teaching-related matters. As a prefectural ALT, you’ll work with JTEs (Japanese Teachers of English) to plan lessons or activities and teach classes. 

Although every situation is different, an unfortunate possible downside is that you will be underutilized at your school, also known as the dreaded tape recorder. If you end up being underutilized (or over-utilized) at your school, talk to your fellow JETs and your Prefectural Advisor about your situation for advice.

As a city ALT, you will most likely teach at elementary schools and usually have near-total control of the lessons and class. Although the Japanese English curriculum has recently changed to require English be taught from elementary school, many homeroom teachers still don’t know English or don’t speak it well, so ALTs who teach at elementary schools really do best when they can speak at least some Japanese and can command a classroom.  

When I was a prefectural ALT on the JET Program, I taught primarily at two junior high schools and visited elementary schools in the area. I had a great experience teaching as an ALT and was pretty utilized in the classes I taught (roughly 16-18 a week). I also had the chance to plan and teach my own lessons and activities while others in my area were either the ALTs who had to stand in the corner and read or were so busy that they were averaging 20+ classes a week, so every situation really is different.

As a CIR
If you’re shortlisted as a CIR, you’ll most likely be working in your placement’s city hall, the local government’s international division, the local board of education, or other international exchange organizations. 

Although the majority of the work as a CIR involves general translation and interpretation, handling sister-city or exchange programs, and welcoming foreign visitors, CIRs can have a wide variety of work. Among the CIRs that I know, many do PR and tourism promotion for their placements, teach conversational classes at the local community center, work at the city museum or library, or even act as interpreters for medical and legal matters within their placement’s foreign community.

Being Black/ a POC on the JET Program

Moving to a homogeneous country like Japan—heck, moving to Asia—is already culture shock enough if you’re not someone of Asian descent, but moving abroad as a visible Black person or Person of Color is probably down-right nerve-wracking. If the JET Program will be your first time going to a different country, there are some things that you should be prepared for.

The biggest thing I noticed when I first moved to Japan to study abroad in 2015 was the staring. There was so much staring. You can tell yourself it’s because you’re beautiful all you want, but eventually you just want to walk down the street without feeling all eyes on you. Luckily, I’ve found in the past two years or so that the number of people staring at me on a daily basis has gone down considerably. Either I got used to it and ignore it well, or people just don’t care to stare as much? I’m going to be optimistic and say people don’t stare as much.

Next, people (coworkers, students, random grandpas on the street) will ask you about your background. Where are you from? America? Canada? Jamaica? If you get into the JET Program as an ALT, this is a great lesson to teach! Use your students’ curiosity to show diversity and other cultures. Even as a CIR, you can push for more diversity in your city’s cultural exchanges. Just you being you is all the push you need! When I was an ALT, I used my English boards, lessons in class and even discussions with my students at lunch to promote diversity and talk about the difficult things that are happening to POCs around the world. Your students will be excited to learn about you, so don’t be afraid to share who you are!

You’ll also probably experience some kind of racism, prejudice or microaggression while in Japan, whether it’s from your fellow JETs or from Japanese people. It’s an unfortunate yet inevitable reality, especially when there are so many big movements and racial inequality issues being shown on international news. To combat this, find your people! Find people who you feel the most comfortable with within your community. There’s also so many great POC and expat groups on Facebook to help you find people with similar backgrounds to you. Reach out to them and commiserate.

Japanese people are going to want to touch your hair. My first day on the job, the local Yakult (yogurt) grandma who came to our school every day casually walked by my desk and put her hand in my curly hair. Yes, without asking. I was very surprised. But, I used it as a teaching moment because she hadn’t ever seen curly hair that wasn’t a perm. My students were also super curious about my hair and always had so many questions, so I was able to create great connections with them by sharing simple things about me like my curly hair.

Another thing is, if you have to commute to work using public transportation, you might notice that the seats next to you are empty. This is known as the “gaijin seat,” and it’s a phenomenon commonly talked about in the expat community. At first, you may feel bad that no one wants to sit next to you, but when you’re on a packed bus or train in Japanese summer heat, and that seat to your right and your left are empty, you’re going to feel grateful.

If you want to know more about the Black experience in Japan, there’s amazing resources and support groups for the POC expat community such as Black Women in Japan (BWIJ), Black Men in Japan (BMIJ), and many other JET and Non-JET expat support groups.

What are the English Teaching Alternatives to the JET Program(me)?

You didn’t get in—now what? If you open your email to find that you didn’t get shortlisted or were selected as an alternate, then there are many other great alternatives. I’m going to be honest and say that the benefits of the alternatives are probably not going to be as good as the JET Program, but they will get you to Japan and into a career teaching English abroad. In the ALT or English teacher community in Japan, the biggest and most well known English education  companies are Interac, Aeon, Gaba and NOVA.

Interac is an ALT dispatch company that sends teachers to both rural areas and cities in Japan to teach in the Japanese school system. Although the application requirements are very similar to JET (native English speaker, bachelor’s degree, etc.), Interac prefers prospective applications to have driver’s licenses and requires applicants to be under the age of 60.

Unlike Interac and the JET Program, Aeon, Gaba and NOVA are private eikaiwa companies, or companies that hire English teachers to teach English conversation classes outside of the Japanese school system. When working for private eikaiwas and other English conversation companies, there usually isn’t an ALT type of system. Instead, English speakers are essentially private tutors who work on a class-based schedule and have total control of their lessons when catering them to each student. The biggest difference between ALT-dispatch companies or programs and private tutor companies is that with private tutoring/classes, you don’t have to be a native English speaker. You will just need to have a strong command of English, at least a bachelor’s degree, and the ability to obtain the Specialist in Humanities visa (JET and Interac sponsor Instructor visas).

These alternatives all hire year-round, so check out their respective websites to apply.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do you need to know or speak Japanese?
You do not need to know or speak Japanese to be accepted into the JET Program as an ALT; however, if you are applying to the CIR position, then of course you do! While knowing or being able to speak Japanese is a plus for those aspiring to be ALTs, not knowing Japanese isn’t going to be held against you.

2. Do you need to be interested in Japan to apply?
Yes, you need to show some level of interest in Japan to be successful in applying to the JET Program. As it says in the name, the JET Program, or Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, is heavily focused on cultural exchange with Japan. If you have no interest in Japan or Japanese culture, then it’ll probably be hard to answer any questions about “Why Japan?” or even “Why the JET Program?”. If you don’t know much about Japan, do your research and get interested!

3. I’ve never been to Japan before. Is that a problem?
No, it’s not a problem if you’ve never been to Japan before. Many JETs who get accepted into the JET Program have either never been to Japan or have never been outside of their home country.

4. Do you need a teaching degree or certificate (i.e., TEFL, TESL, TESOL)?
No, you do not need a teaching degree or certificate to successfully get accepted into the JET Program; however, you should be able to show some kind of experience mentoring or teaching others through volunteers, extra-curriculars, or some other life experience—especially if you’re applying to the ALT position. If you do have a teaching degree or certificate, put it on your application! Having a degree or certificate will help strengthen your application.

I personally used i-to-i to get my TEFL certificate while I was on the JET Program, but there are many great online programs you can go through to get certified.

5. I’m married and/or have children. Can they come with me?
To be honest, I don’t have any experience with this, but the official JET Program website does answer this question. Check out their FAQ page here, and scroll down to “3. Participants with a Family.” I can say that it’s been done before, so don’t get discouraged! There’s also a great YouTube video of a current JET Program participant whose family moved with them to Japan.

6. Is there an age limit for the JET Program?
There is no age limit explicitly outlined by the JET Program, but most JET participants are between the ages of 22 and 30 (the average age being 27) because the Program usually promotes itself to soon-to-be university graduates. There are many JETs who are over the age of 30, though, so don’t let your age stop you!

Manekineko at Gotoku-ji Temple in Tokyo, Japan

Final Tips

Be Yourself
There’s thousands of people applying to the JET Program from all over the world and competition is very high, but it’s important to be yourself when applying for and working on the Program. During the application process and the actual in-person interview, make sure the person on the SOP matches the person in the interview. If you’re an anime nerd or otaku, it’s OK! But, how can you meld your interests in Japanese anime culture with your other qualities that make you a great candidate?

Research, Proofread and Practice!
Before you even begin the application, do your research! You’re already onto a great start if you’re reading this, but there are so many other amazing written and video resources about the JET Program that you can use to help you brainstorm for your application. Once you’ve done the research and started working on your application, you need to proofread! Ask your friends, family, teachers and mentors to read over your materials for you. Be vocal about how you want to be a part of the JET Program and reach out to others (don’t forget, you’ll also need to do this for those two required recommendations). After you’ve submitted your application and you’ve received an interview, remember to practice—in front of the mirror, in front of other people, and even on camera! Get advice from others and watch your videos or recording to see how you can improve. After all, this is a job interview.

Don’t Stress
Please don’t stress yourself out while you’re applying and when you’re waiting for your results. There’s a ton of waiting time between applying for the JET Program and getting any news back (almost a year from start to finish). After you’ve submitted your application, keep bettering yourself professionally and focus on this to make you a great candidate for not only the JET Program, but for also jobs that you’re interested in. When I first applied, I read all the forums and websites for JET Program hopefuls and everyone is always worried about the same small things, but when I actually got into the program and began working, I realized that all that worrying over simple things (I forgot to end the last sentence on my SOP with punctuation, is that going to hurt my chances?!) was unnecessary. While it’s a great teaching program with amazing benefits, the JET Program is not the end-all-be-all. There’s so many other ways to teach abroad and live in Japan, so don’t give up!

Save, Save, Save
During the application and interview phase, you’ll have to pay for application materials like your university transcripts, transportation to and accommodations for the interview, and anything else that will help you prepare. Once you get accepted into the JET Program, you’ll realize that start-up costs are very high, like $3,000 USD+ high. That sounds like a large amount of money because it is! Moving abroad isn’t cheap, and although the JET Program will pay for your flight to Japan and accommodations during the two-day Tokyo orientation, you’ll need to pay for key money (separate from deposit), rent, furniture, utilities, transportation (bike, car, etc.), and any other costs that are typical to moving to a new place from scratch.

In summary, the JET Program is an amazing teaching program for new graduates, those in their mid-careers and even those who have retired a little early. There’s endless opportunities for cultural exchange and travel, and Japan is a great place to live. If you are interested in applying for the JET Program, be sure to check your country’s JET Program website for details specific to your country. For U.S.-residents interested in applying, you can start applying directly on the U.S. JET Program website in early September.

Also, there are many great forum boards for participants and applicants to the JET Program such as Reddit’s JET Program board, I Think I’m Lost and CIR Homepage. I even looked through these boards when I applied years ago. Good Luck!

If you have any tips about applying to the JET Program that I haven’t covered, any questions I haven’t answered or just want to share your experience applying and/or as a JET participant, feel free to comment below!

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4 thoughts on “How to Get Accepted into the JET Program(me) and Teach in Japan”

  1. Great post!

    You have left sooo many details. It is great to hear that the JET program hasn’t changed massively! I was a CIR up until 2008, and it was easily the best decision I made in my adult life. (Although just a heads up, if you come from the UK, the interviews are completely in Japanese. The only time I spoke English was to ask questions of the ex-JETs.)

    I love that you mentioned that most people end up loving their placement, even if it wasn’t a city/area they originally chose. 😀

  2. Natasha, this is an incredibly thorough resource you’ve compiled for us on JET, thank you so much! Sharing your post with a couple college-aged family members who are very interested in Japanese culture (& who have me as the perpetual study/live abroad cheerleader, ha!)

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