5 unusual things about being a Tokyo JET

Hi friends! So the last few weeks have been crazy – I’ve officially moved to Japan! It’s a huge change but I’m always feeling so excited and grateful to be here. Since arriving in Tokyo I’ve been attending various bits of training, getting to grips with my new job, arranging my residency and bank accounts and finding an apartment (I’ve already posted some tips for apartment hunting so check that out if you’re considering a move here). I’m an assistant language teacher (ALT) with the JET Programme and I’m based in Tokyo, working at a senior high school. I was so happy to be placed here – it was my first choice – but it’s so different to what other ALTs go through when they first arrive and as a result, a lot of the information provided by JET and other ALTs was often incorrect or irrelevant to me.

I’ve been talking with friends who are placed elsewhere in addition to existing Tokyo ALTs and I thought it might be useful for prospective applicants if I compiled a list of the 5 most unusual things about being a Tokyo ALT. This will cover anything Tokyo ALTs have to arrange themselves or the way they do the job that differs from the majority (or in some cases, all) other ALTs. We’re told every placement is different (which is true), but for Tokyo-based ALTs, the situation is so vastly different that the general advice is you should forget everything you thought you knew about the JET Programme once you’ve arrived in Japan.

I hope this post can help you decide whether (or not) to put Tokyo down as a placement preference and/or assist in you setting up your new life in Japan! As always if you have any questions, let me know in the comments or by getting in touch with me on social media.

After arrival orientation, public school Tokyo JETs spend 7-10 nights with a local family as part of a compulsory homestay.

So this was news to me about a fortnight after placements were announced because I hadn’t seen mention of a homestay anywhere. Once you’ve attended your 2-day orientation in Tokyo (usually at the Keio Plaza Hotel) and another night at a Tokyo ALT-only orientation in a different hotel, you will then spend between 7 and 10 nights with a homestay family while you set up a bank account, finalise your residency paperwork and arrange your apartment (more on that here!). This is almost totally unique to Tokyo ALTs – from what I gather, only one or two other prefectures arrange homestays and I would make the most of it. I was super nervous when I arrived at my temporary home – I snore loudly, I’m quite large and not awfully good at meeting new people! But, I stayed with a really nice family and I am so glad I did it! My host mom’s cooking was amazing, the family took me out for dinner and bowling and on day trips (and they totally didn’t have to) and I am still in touch with them now. My host mom’s sister in law recently took me to watch sumo in Ryōgoku! My homestay was only 30 minutes by metro from the orientation venue and a 10 minute walk from where I was apartment hunting, which was a huge help!

There will be no subsidised housing – you need to find your apartment and it’ll be much pricier than your friends’ accommodation.

Most ALTs inherit an apartment from their predecessor. Others are offered housing by the board of education at a reduced rent (sometimes as low as ¥7,000 or around £60 a month!). Neither of these things will happen to a public school Tokyo ALT. You are expected to find an apartment, furnish it and pay whatever the rent is (as well as initial costs such as the deposit, key money and agency fees). The JET Programme will put you in contact with two real estate agents via a company called Relo who will assist in finding an apartment and to whom you can pass on any specific requirements, so you’re not totally alone. You are expected to liaise with both and at the end of July, pick which one you’re going with based on your experience of them and the apartment choices provided. The only requirements we had were (1) near Ikebukero Station (or any other stations on the metro lines to my school), (2) no tatami (I had heard horror stories about bug infestations, damp, cleaning the stuff and cost of replacing it) and (3) under ¥150,000. We were pretty picky but felt we could afford to be because we had two salaries to contribute towards the rent!

That brings me to cost – in our experience, Tokyo was, in some ways, cheaper than rent in Bristol (and definitely in London) which I found totally bizarre, but nearly double (or sometimes triple) what other JETs were paying outside of Tokyo. If you’re by yourself, your upper rent limit really should be around ¥80,000 (i.e. a third of your salary) plus bills. In order to set up your apartment, you can expect to pay in rent and initial costs (including key money and deposit) anything from ¥300,000 to ¥500,000+. This is thousands of pounds/dollars, and so I would advise saving up months ahead of moving to Japan (even if you don’t end up in Tokyo, it’ll help with your setup costs). I have done a full blog post on apartment hunting in Tokyo and the expense of doing so please check that out – bottom line is, it’ll cost far more than you think.

You work 16 days a month, every month, the fewest number of contracted days than perhaps any other placement.

Public school Tokyo JETs only work 16 days a month, so you can look forward to a 3 day weekend, every weekend! That’s a a lie – there’s no guarantee your days off will fall on the weekend (I spoke to someone who worked Wednesday – Saturday, for example) but it does mean you might have more time off and freedom to explore than your friends in other prefectures. For example, I have Wednesdays off in addition to the weekend. The flipside of this is that you may have less holiday days than anyone you know (Tokyo ALTs only get 10 days of annual leave (“nenkyuu“) a year, and they don’t get it until 6 months into the placement) and you may have to work 16 days regardless of whether students are at school (such as over Christmas or on public holidays). A friend of mine worked on Christmas day (it’s not a big thing over here) but then had 26th December until 8th January off because his school allowed him to be flexible with when he used his nenkyuu and scheduled days. I think the 16-days-a-month thing is super, and ultimately it will mean you get more time off a year than your friends. Check with your predecessor what the school expects of you outside of your nenkyuu – my school tells us which days we have classes (and therefore when we must work) but otherwise we are asked every month which days we want to come in, and it seems we are pretty free to choose them.

50 Tokyo schools have two ALTs, so you may have a co-JET who works with you.

As far as I know, not many schools outside of Tokyo have the benefit of two ALTs working there. Of the 240 schools in the Tokyo metropolitan area that have ALTs, around 50 of them have two. I’m not sure why – it doesn’t seem to correlate with the number of students or the English level of the school – but it seems to be something unique to Tokyo. There are two JETs at my school (and two private ALTs also, so four ALTs in total!) and it has been helpful having another person to lean on from time to time if things are confusing or overwhelming. We are assigned separate classes and separate teachers so rarely does our work crossover, but there are occasions where we can share worksheets or lesson plan ideas. This also helps to accommodate the 16 working day month – we have only 12 classes each to cover which results in about 16 teaching hours a week (plus 4 hours a week in English club).

Your school may have no idea what to do with you, and this is especially true for private schools.

Tokyo never used to have JETs – there were only a handful of Tokyo placements as recently as 2015. But, since it was announced Tokyo would host the 2020 Olympics, there has been a surge in infrastructure development in and around Tokyo. This has unsurprisingly resulted in an increased desire for native English teachers at schools in the area. Now, there are a few hundred JETs based in the Tokyo area and the number will no doubt increase year on year. This is good news for prospective applicants as it means that if you give Tokyo as a placement preference, you’ll likely get it. Unfortunately this may also mean two things for new JETs: (1) you may not have a predecessor who you can ask questions of and (2) you may be the first ALT at your school and they therefore may have no idea how to use you. There are scattered reports from JETs feeling under appreciated, bored and/or useless, left desk-warming for extended periods of time or not having much to contribute in the classroom simply because the school doesn’t know the parameters of the role and how to get the most out of that ALT. I’ve certainly had entire days where, because it’s a public holiday, I’m the only person in school and have spent the day watching YouTube because I’ve exhausted all sources of work. This sounds great at first, but it’s boring and the hours drag on – I’d much rather be busy! Therefore, be prepared for this and consider different ways you could offer assistance to your school or fill the time constructively.

Getting on the JET Programme is an amazing thing. Being placed in Tokyo is a vastly different kettle of fish compared to the experiences of other people and whether it’s good will depend on you! I was thrilled, and still am, but others weren’t. I hope this was helpful in providing a little insight into the world of a Tokyo JET and what you might expect from a placement here. If you have any questions, I’d be more than happy to answer them if I can! Pop them in a comment below or get in touch using one of my contact methods.

3 thoughts on “5 unusual things about being a Tokyo JET

  1. Janel Comeau says:

    It sounds like a really interesting experience, if nothing else! I’m not sure I could live in Japan long-term (I’m allergic to fish and shellfish, and I’m a plus-sized girl who loves clothes!) but I would absolutely love to visit someday.

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    • Emma says:

      It has been amazing so far! So I don’t eat any fish or shellfish either, and I’m also plus size! You can get non-fish food no problem (though if it’s an allergy I’d keep an eye out for dashi in soups and ramen) and the food in Japan is always soooo good! On being plus sized, I’m struggling to find any clothes that will fit save one store I found yesterday called Punyus – it’s definitely more than i’m used to spending on clothes but the clothes are really ‘Tokyo’ style and seem very well made! They go up to a 6L – this is probably equivalent to around a UK 26 size. I would therefore highly recommend Punyus – there’s a store under Tokyo SkyTree and a store in Shibuya 109! We have Uniqlo, H&M and Zara but I don’t fit their stuff. I think it’ll get better with time! :)

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  2. Kathy Russo says:

    I find the work month and nenkyuu for Tokyo JET ALTs to be very interesting!! I know the CIRs are on a bit different schedule but its interesting how the ALTs are handled over most other placements!!

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