Of course, it's not just for those going on the JET Programme... but seeing as how I don't talk about how to find a place to stay or how to get a work visa, it really is about the JET participants. That's what I was, and it's what I know.
So... congratulations on being accepted into the JET Programme. Now what?
I went to Japan in 1990-93. That was the fourth through sixth year of existence for the JET Programme. I didn't know that at the time, and truly, I only found that out on Thursday of this past week.
While peaking at 6, 273 participants in 2002, the programme had 4,360 participants in 2012. So... if you got accepted, it still quite an accomplishment. You are hopefully the best of the best.
While I was in Japan, there were still a lot of things JET needed to improve upon, but it also did a lot of things right, and perhaps they did it better then than now in some instances.
There was no Internet when I left for Japan and thus no plethora of blogs and forums to peer into for advice. There were zero books on the JET experience at that time—and even if there were, I am sure I never sought one out.
I did prefer to walk into the situation without anyone coloring my view - and I try to do that here in this blog.
But... there are a few things that I wish I knew beforehand... and as such... I'm going to give a few bits of advice that you don't need to listen to because really... it's your time in Japan and therefore your choice on how you experience it.
I actually went to Japan with zero knowledge. I knew nothing of the language. Had only eaten Japanese food for the first time three days before leaving. I didn't know how to cook, clean, wash clothes, iron, shop for food or even how to live on my own. I was also a stone-cold virgin and thus had, excluding a few dates, zero experience with women.
And yet... not only did I survive Japan, I grew while I was there. I enjoyed myself immensely... then again... I had no preconceived notions.
All I knew is that there used to be samurai and ninja in Japan, and that geisha might still be around (I saw one once - only once) but I didn't know what role they played or still might play in Japanese society. I hated the anime (cartoons) and manga (comic books) even though I do like western cartoons and comic books and probably know more them than any human being has a right to know.
I also knew about Godzilla and Gamara monster movies. I did judo as a kid and could maybe count to 10 in Japanese... but if you asked me to do so before I left I would not know how.
I knew nothing of Japan's culture... whether there was a Prime Minister or a President or a Queen. I did drive a Mazda, and my dad a Toyota... but that's it. I knew nothing.
So... my first bit of advice to you is:
- do not have your opinion colored by others. Go... have fun. Your experience will differ from everyone else on the programme's. Stop reading books on the subject, but do pick up some information via good blogs like my own. Just know that your experience will vary.
- bring condoms.The average Japanese condom will not fit the average westerner. See that photo up above... I blew a couple up... one Japanese, and one not Japanese. And yes, that is the only time my lips have ever touched a condom... which is something I never actually thought about until now. Ugh. I practicing safe balloon sex.
- bring more condoms than you think you will need. After five months, I had to ask my mother to ship five or six more boxes of condoms over. It was easier the second and third time I asked... and after a while she would just add a box of condoms to the cartons of stuff she would send over every couple of months (comic books, recordings of TV, music, a T-shirt, pasta, etc.)
- money. Bring along about ¥50,000 yen (US/Cdn $500) with you for that first month of living. That first pay check is a long ways a way... and you may want to buy things like food, do a bit of sight-seeing... surviving. Things in Japan are expensive even though you are getting a fair wage and are living in subsidized rented housing. Your board of education pays for some of the rent - you will pay the rest.
- Clothing... the Japanese are generally smaller in stature than the average foreigner not named Sarah... as such, getting an XL shirt or shoes larger than a Size 8 are difficult. I have a size 10-1/2 foot size, which equals 30 cm. The Japanese use centimeters for shoe sizes... but rarely offer a shoe larger than a 26. Bring two pair of runners and dress shoes, or have them sent over as required. If you can get slip-ons rather than laces you will thank me as you will have to constantly remove your shoes wherever you go. That also means you will need socks without holes in them, darn it all.
- Voltage is different in Japan. Make sure you go out and get an electrical converter if you are bringing an electric shaver... Japan is 100v and the U.S./Canada is 110volts. The outlets are the same two-prong outlets... and do not have the safer three-pronged variety. I didn't need a power converter for anything, I used a small battery-powered radio as an alarm clock and used a hand-razor for shaving.
- That's pretty much it. There were a few more items for the women, but guys don't have it as rough as the women do.
My best line was: "You are very pretty. Do you wanna - ?" and then I would comically raise my eyebrows a few times. It worked often enough for me to reuse that line. Warning. This line only worked in Japan and did not work in Canada... though it did work with both Japanese and foreign women on the JET Programme.
Now... despite getting away with such a bullcrap line, the Japanese women would prefer it if you could also take an interest in their culture and language, and even then, there is no guarantee that their parents want you dating their daughter.
I slept with about 30 women while there in three years... Not a bad number taking into account that I was slowed down with a girlfriend for the first year and a fiance the third year... so, it can be done. I'm okay-looking, so I feel that I got by on personality (always smiling and complimentary without being a fawning douchebag) and possessed enough Japanese language skills to be confused with a slow six-year-old Japanese child.
Trust me... making the effort to speak Japanese intrigued the women who didn't mind getting closer to help me with my language skills as I helped with theirs. In a noisy bar, you also have to get closer together to hear one another speak. Once body contact is made and that exchange of body heat happens, it's not long before you can leave with her and head back to your place.
I know... I sound like such a prick, but sometimes... it really was just that easy. It sure as hell wasn't easy in Toronto—hence the whole virgin thing for nearly 26 years.
When I arrived in Japan, I got a girlfriend my second day in. An American girl.When that petered out, I had achieved a fair bit of knowledge in social customs... but still lacked the language skills... so... I hung out at a local bar and drank... and after giving a few English lessons to men and women, and they offering some Japanese language skills, after a while they got bored... and just women would approach to chat me up.
In my small city of 50,000 people, everyone knew when I had a girlfriend and when I didn't. When I didn't—and I still don't know how everyone knew—I could be picked up by a Japanese woman who spoke a modicum of English combined with my modicum of Japanese.
Yes... I was approached by hordes of Japanese women who fought for the right to screw my brains out.
But... this did not happen to everyone on the JET Programme. Yes, I know men who dated Japanese women, and even a few who slept with about five women or so... but no one was getting more bang for his buck than me and my newly discovered insatiable yen for sex.
Just note that your experience in Japan will most assuredly differ from mine, which is both a good thing and in some ways, not such a good thing. Sexual interludes aside, I had a fantastic time in Japan with an excellent set of Board Of Education (BOE) bosses and co-workers, pretty nice students, except for one school out of the seven I visited (I visited one school for four days a week), got to spend every Friday at the BOE offices writing letters and studying whatever it was I thought I should study, was taken out by the BOE for tours around town, had lots of friends—Japanese and foreigners—pretty much did what was expected of me while still being able to feel as though I was doing whatever it was I wanted to do. Dream job.
But not everyone gets that experience.
I could grow my hair and be told I looked cool - other AETs were told to go and get a hair cut if it looked a little shaggy. I could do no wrong, while others could apparently do very little right.
I was too stupid to know about all of the omiyage (presents) one is supposed to bring back for my co-workers and bosses, and I'll only mention here that you can if you want to.. but you aren't Japanese, so don't worry about it. It's a lot of money to buy stuff for everyone whenever you travel around Japan, and while I enjoyed spending my money, but I enjoyed spending my money on me.
And on the women.
So... back on to the women. If you want to date Japanese women, note that they want a relationship, though depending on your situation, there are women who would just like the sex.
I'm unsure if this is as relevant now as back when I was there (probably less so), but I was only the second assistant English teacher in my city from a foreign country (Canada). My predecessor was from the U.K., but was a female... therefore... I (along with Matthew who lived in my city and taught in the more rural areas) were the first male AETs the city had seen.
We were, in many instances the first foreign men to walk the streets in their city. We were nice, good-looking guys and very funny. I'll only speak for myself here, but that is why I made out like a bandit.
All those Ohtawara-shi women wanted to try out a foreigner as a sex toy. That's true internationalization. They believed the hype that we are better-endowed than the Japanese guys, but that's not a 100% truth as there are always people bigger and smaller than you, and anyhow... who gives a crap.
That's the real part of the Exchange in the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching Programme. The exchange of bodily fluids.
So yes... it was easy for me to get laid. These women were just interested in sex. Not marriage. They knew I was there for a good time, not a long time. Though I leave it up to you regarding the phrase 'long time'. They wanted to try out a foreigner... and I would like to think I did a good enough job at it that I was always in demand.
But... when I wanted a relationship... that was more difficult.
While I really, really like sex, I prefer to have some sort of kinship with the woman I am schtupping. There's nothing wrong with caring about someone... you can still fug and make love... but that only happens with someone you care about.
For a relationship, well... it's like any relationship anywhere. You need to be able to communicate effectively, and until that happens, you ain't getting a serious relationship. Just sex. Hopefully you can handle that.
My buddies Jeff and Matthew each married a Japanese woman. Beautiful, charming, intelligent and headstrong are their female counterpart. They would have to be do get involved with a gaijin (foreigner) guy.
Me? I was engaged to a Japanese woman... and despite my best efforts and our love for one another, the influence her dad had on her was too strong. I was always going to be the second-best man in her life. And I don't like being anyone's second best. I don't mind being a second option, however.
I'm just saying that sometimes it works out... and sometimes it doesn't. It's too bad. I am good at sex. LOL!
Guys... don't be a dick. Treat everyone with respect. Don't use women for sex or for money. Have sex, but don't use them for sex. That means: don't be a player.
I knew a guy on JET in my prefecture who arrived in 1992, who would borrow money from women, use them, abuse them... and then after selling all his furniture in his apartment scrammed off the JET Programme back to the US. It wasn't his furniture to sell. It was his Board of Education's. He also never paid back those women who were scammed by him.
Don't sleep with your students. Even if you teach at a university. You wouldn't do it back home, you don't do it in Japan. However, if you are teaching a night school class of adults... all's fair.
We were told, when we arrived in Japan, that we were ambassadors of our respective country. That is still true today. Don't fug it up for the rest of the participants on the Programme. No stealing. No growing your own drugs. Don't buy drugs. Don't do drugs with others. You just never know who is watching. And trust me... you are a GOD—a Gaijin On Display. You won't be able to take a crap without everyone knowing. Fortunately for me, I didn't care if everyone knew when I was taking a crap.
While it implies a lack or privacy, it also implies that people want to know about you.
If I was riding my bicycle around the city while wearing a T-shirt that was ripped, you can be sure that the next day I would have a couple of T-shirts folded neatly in my mail box. No name from the presenter... and because bigger than most Japanese, those shirts would never fit me, and I would give them away to students or to whomever my female guest of the evening was.
Anyhow... go to Japan and have fun. Drink and womanize because that's what men do in Japan - both the foreigner and the Japanese. But remember... moderation.
Oh... and enjoy doing the teaching thing... but please note that you are not a real teacher - unless you are, then at least note that you are not a real Japanese teacher in a Japanese school system. You are an assistant English teacher. They key word is "assistant". You may be used properly in your own opinion or you may not. It depends on one's expectations, I suppose.
I had none and so I was always pleasantly surprised.