Japan Exchange Teaching – Culture Shock or Culture for Life?

Japan Exchange Teaching UK – 31st October 2012

Presenter: Richard Witts

Interested in working with young people? Want to experience a whole different culture? You can with JET!

Japan Exchange Teaching (JET) started in 1987 and is now one of the largest cultural exchange programmes in the world. It is delivered by the Japanese Government, therefore making it a non-profitable programme.

Richard Witts spent his time in Japan as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in a combined Elementary/Junior School encouraging students to engage in speaking English.

Aim of the exchange:

To improve foreign language teaching of English and promote internationalization in Japan. The number of foreigners in Japan is increasing with globalization, but the population of Japanese is still at a high of 98%, which means English is still a completely foreign language in most of the villages in the rural areas. JET plays a vital role in this!

Requirements for the Programme:

  • Hold a UK passport to apply. If you don’t hold a UK passport, you can apply via your own embassy
  • Under 39 years of age
  • Expect to hold a Bachelor’s degree by the time you depart for the JET programme

So why Japan? Well, why not?

  • It’s the 3rd largest economy
  • At the forefront of Technology
  • Key global player in security and climate change
  • Is the new “cultural superpower”
  • Japan is so different from UK. Great culture shock!

So what can you do on JET?

There are 2 positions you could go for. A Coordinator for International Relations or the most popular Assistant Language Teacher.

The role of a Coordinator for International Relations is to become a bridge between Japan and foreign countries and to promote internationalization in the local communities, but in order to fulfill this role you would need high levels of Japanese.

Main Duties:

  • Welcome guests from abroad
  • Speak Japanese
  • Produce and edit pamphlets in English or Japanese
  • Interpreting at locally-organized events

The role of an Assistant Language Teacher is to assist Japanese Teachers of English (JTE) in the classroom. In reality, from Richard’s experience, this role can vary. You could get very creative in class and re-inforce the JTE’s lessons or JTEs can be prescriptive in what you do in class. Either way, you will gain experience of teaching and be doing a lot of talking in the classroom.

Main duties:

  • Be communicative in English the majority of the time in and out of the classroom
  • Promote internationalization
  • Assist in the preparation of teaching materials
  • To participate in extra-curricular activities, e.g. tennis, football and baseball, as well as cultural activities including martial arts, flower arranging and tea ceremony!

Richard advised that if you coach any sports or assist, then this would be handy to put on your application.

As an ALT, Richard ran an English Club where he arranged relevant activities for the students to participate in as part of after-school clubs. Doing something similar to this will give you an opportunity to build relationships with children across the school.

School Timetable!

School starts and finishes 7.30am – 9.00pm!

Yes, it’s a long day but not for you necessarily. Lessons finish at around 3.30pm but pupils have many after-school clubs which students take an active part in. You are not expected to work those hours and the Japanese understand these are not the working 9 – 5 hours we are used to!


Lunch is served and eaten in the classroom for students and staff!

After-school cleaning

Yes, students actually clean their classroom for 10mins before they can leave. This is something quite the norm but helps to develop discipline to respect their study areas.

Average class size

30 – 40 students, depending on the size of the school and location.

How often will I teach?

ALTs will teach an average 3 classes per day. The rest of the time will be spent planning and assisting JTEs.


  • As a JET you will live on your own
  • You can live in School Teachers Housing, depending on school and area, or they will support you to find private accommodation
  • Average rent is 30,000 – 70,000 Yen (£150-350 pm)

What can the experience offer you?

Opportunity to get away and experience a new culture altogether. Immerse in this culture, go karaoke! Yes, karaoke is very popular. The Japanese hire rooms and have groups of friends having a great time with a sing along!

Being in rural areas can provide you with the opportunity to do some valuable volunteering. Richard volunteered in his spare time at a local orphanage where he arranged treasure hunts, Christmas beach parties and visits.

Being a JET is no easy work! You are responsible!

  • Need for creativity in the way you teach
  • Take community adult conversation classes (teaching adults)
  • Take an active role in promoting English-related events
  • Be polite, punctual and positive
  • Most importantly – people will base ideas of the UK on your behavior and how you conduct yourself, so always be aware of your actions

Biggest challenge?

  • Leaving everything and everyone you know
  • Culture shock
  • Possible feelings of alienation and isolation


  • Support from other JETs in the area
  • Board of education
  • 24-hour helplines
  • Orientations


  • No tax on income! 300,000 yen is around £20k a year
  • Free time – 12 – 20 days paid annual leave (Richard used the money and time to travel to places in Asia, New Zealand, Australia)
  • Richard managed to pay off his student loan!
  • Employability skills
  • Join the JET Alumni

 So are you suitable?

  • Review your reasons for going. Are they valid?
  • Do you have examples of work experience with young people, paid or voluntary? There is a requirement for teaching experience
  • Your spelling and grammar must be up to scratch
  • When making your application, ensure you submit all required documents to avoid delays

Mantra for ALTs

“Every situation is different” – Richard Witts

Please visit http://www.jet-uk.org/ for info on how to apply!


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