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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Mental Health Issue And The JET Programme

On one of the discussion boards that JETs (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme wanne-be's, about-to-be's, still-am's, and has-been's such as myself (though you’ll never catch me on a discussion board of any kind), there was a chat about a young woman who was just accepted into the the programme to go to Japan… but she needed to take along her therapy pet.

First… some background.

From what I can discern, the woman applied to and was accepted into the JET Programme and would move to Japan to live and work there this summer of 2016.

However… from the time she applied and the time she was accepted and sent in her reply form, it appears as though she had a mental health issue and acquired a therapy animal in the form of a cat to help her cope.

The therapy cat was prescribed by a licensed (I assume) medical professional.

She wants (no, has) to bring her therapy cat with her to Japan.

To me, this would be like a visually-challenged individual needed a guide dog or less likely but still apt, a person needing medication to help them battle diabetes.

She had apparently posted on the discussion board that she was going to bring her therapy cat - and numerous JET participants responded that her Board of Education (her actual employer) could refuse to accept her, as the programme does not allow one to bring pets.

The woman, however says her cat is not a pet, but a therapy animal required for her mental health condition - I assume it provides soothing to help calm down anxiety.

At no point, I believe, is the participant’s mental health issue detailed - but I would assume (and this is MY opinion), that a pet such as a dog or cat can help remove anxiety and soothe depression… but I doubt would be useful to anyone UP in the bipolar cycle. As for schizophrenia or other issues - I have no idea.

Regardless of other JETs issuing her fair warning, the woman says that she had done her research and should the Board of Education refuse to allow her to bring her therapy cat, she would find her own place.

That’s a nice thought, but unless you speak Japanese and can come up with what six months worth of ‘key money” (aka reikin, (礼金, which means "gratitude money") to gift to the landlord which is equal to (let’s say) six month’s rent - which is NOT refunded upon completion of the contract… so let’s say she needs US$6,000 for key money… she still has to find a place near her employment, one that her BOE would consider appropriate and safe (they are still responsible for the AET not dying!), and one that allows pets.

IF, she was to find her own place, the Board of Education is not under any obligation to pay the key money, or to supplement the monthly rental costs.

For example… I lived in a three bedroom apartment unit with a couple of balconies, western toilet and shower and a washer/dryer… fully furnished… and paid about US$327 a month. In Toronto, I would have paid over $1,000… and nowadays, around $1,500 to $2,000 a month. Multiply three months of key money to be US$4,500… and then perhaps additional costs to furnish… and she’s going to be in some deep kitty litter.

Now… here’s the thing… if that Board of Education office has had previous AETs (assistant English teachers) or even if this woman is their first ever… they have already paid for (including key money) an apartment for her to use. They did this months ago if she’s the first, and years ago if she is the next in a long line of AETs.

The Board of Education is NOT going to be let out of that lease. And yes… they were already paying a fair amount of the actual monthly rent so as to not ‘break’ the AET.  You don’t think the rental fee for my apartment was really only $327 do you? It was over $1,000… and I lived in a very rural city. The Board of Education paid a large subsidized portion of my monthly rent over my three year stay.

Also… and this is a big one… at NO time does it appear as though the Board of Education office ever refused to allow her to bring her therapy cat.

The woman later went on to the discussion board and ranted:

This has probably already been said, but I wanted to lay this out on the table. When I first joined this group there were a lot of incoming JETs who wanted to bring their pets. I'm telling you guys now, my pet isn't even a pet. He's a THERAPY ANIMAL. A mental need and Japan turned the other cheek. I can't tell you how little support I got from not only my BOE, but my consulate as well. My situation is a bit different, but pets are just not a thing in Japan. My BOE won't even allow me to find other housing. So if you absolutely can't live without your beloved pets, do not participate in this program. Japan is pretty unrelenting and unsympathetic, and I have gone through hell in the last month trying everything I can do to make my situation work for me, and it just isn't. So I'm hoping to save other people who were determined to bring their pets with them a lot of heartache. Most of you have people who are willing and able to look after your pets in the states. I do not have that option. He either comes with me to Japan to be looked after by someone for a year, in which I either quit JET and go home (which would render bringing him there pointless) or find something else not JET related. Taking a huge gamble. So please future JETs and current JETs please please share this. DO NOT TRY TO BRING YOUR PETS. The statement in the JET FAQ is there for a reason. Thank you for letting me share my experience.

Let me provide commentary on some of things I found disconcerting within her statement.  

1) She makes reference to warning people who are contemplating bringing their pets to Japan on the JET Programme. Who the fug are you people trying to bring your pets to Japan? I had three rottweilers, a killer cat and some fish in Toronto. At no point in time was I ever contemplating bringing over anything other than three boxes of condoms (I could have more sent over), my clarinet (I used to play with the windows open - but I was good, so I don't think I was annoying the neighbors), my keyboards (I bought another keyboard for some reason... what the hell was I thinking), extra contact lenses (could have more sent over) and some summer and winter clothes (Japan didn't have clothes in my size). You find alternative living arrangements for the animals. Parents, friends, whatever… or you don’t go. This ain't your freedom-loving U.S. (I bit my lip a little as I wrote that. Have fun with Trump... or welcome to Canada.) 

2) Pets just aren’t a thing in Japan? Really? It is so a thing in Japan! Families have dogs, cats, fish, birds, insects (like rhino beetles)… but each has or doesn’t have a pet relative to their work or living arrangements. If you work 18 hours a day, you might not get a dog. Also, your apartment might not allow pets that walk or slither, but might allow fish. Might. My apartment allowed pets. I was ready to adopt a cat I found (she stayed a night and then ambled off never to return), and had lots of goldfish.

3) Her BOE (Board of Education) won’t even allow her to find alternative housing. It’s not to be a prick, but rather because they have already made a large financial investment into the place they have for her. Obviously, she didn’t know she was going to have a mental health issue and would require a therapy pet… but maybe she needs to cut the JET Programme et al some slack.

4) There are plenty of people on the JET Programme with mental health issues. I’m sure I slept with quite a few of those who had issues, too. Did the JET Programme know these people had mental health issues? Probably not. Why would anyone mention it?  

How to put this mildly? Since she just had a mental health issue (and rather than medication or learning to compartmentalize, she got a therapy cat)… would being thrust into all things unfamiliar via Japan be the best thing for her to put herself through? Also… the stress of trying to make her BOE, Consulate, JET Programme see things her way - and then getting shot down… could this not also put a lot of strain on someone who needs a therapy cat in the first place?

I don’t mean to be an a$$. I know plenty of people out there with mental health concerns… and even with meds, it’s not always easy coping with the day-to-day machinations of a society they are familiar with. Now toss in being in Japan… no friends. Language barrier. New job. Hells, even if she had her therapy cat with her it’s going to be problematic. Everyone is going to feel some level of stress and anxiety upon arriving in Japan. Everyone handles the stress differently. Some snap. Some barely blink. I coped by screwing every female I could. I did feel pretty good - so I must have coped fairly well. But I also am sure I over-compensated. Actually, while I did have my bouts of homesickness, most of my problems revolved around women.

5) If you can’t live without your beloved pet, don’t join this programme. Yes… that is a fair statement. I thought hers wasn’t a pet and was a therapy cat? The question should be asked if the JET Programme would accommodate a person with special needs - such as a wheelchair (good luck finding places with wheelchair accessibility in Japan). My friend Mike Rogers (Marketing Japan) has a kid in a wheelchair… it’s a bitch for the kid to get around, but it is manageable. Mostly. What if you were blind… would the JET Programme take a visually-challenged person, or would that person be eliminated from the selection process immediately?  It doesn’t make it right, but it is their option. This isn’t Canada and affirmative action with hiring practices that are designed to better accommodate people of different ethnic backgrounds or skin color or ‘disability’. 

6) Yes… the woman’s options are pretty simple… take the therapy cat and try and find accommodation on her own or don’t go to Japan. It really boils down to just how much she really wants to go to Japan versus how much she values her own mental health. Hells… maybe going to Japan is her lifelong ambition. Maybe she can go and find a place… maybe get some help from a current JET or CIR in her home town to find an appropriate place for her and her therapy cat? I hope so.

7) Find something not JET-related… sure… there are plenty of private schools in Japan… but again… I am unsure how many would help you find a place for yourself and your therapy cat. Work hours are brutal. But… again… because she even suggested this option… it sure sounds like she really wants to go to Japan. I admire her tenacity.  I hope she finds a way to go. 

This doesn’t solve the problem of what to do with her therapy cat… but depending on where she is being posted, there are more than a few cat cafes around Japan… where one can go in and cuddle a cat. The problem is she would be at the beck and call of when the cafes are open - and that might not mesh with when she requires therapy via the cat.

Not mentioned in the discussion is how much the therapy cat is needed by the would-be JET participant. Does she only require the cat at home to help her decompress after a stressful day? Does she require the therapy cat to be with her at all times to provide her with a level of comfort? I’m being serious here. Can you imagine if she required the cat to be with her full time at a school? She’d be popular with many, but hated amongst those with allergies. How disruptive would it be to the students looking about to see what the therapy cat is doing next?

What if she had to have it only in the teacher’s lounge in case things got too stressful? I think the teacher’s wouldn’t mind too much (unless there are allergies)… but would she have to leave a class to go and get therapy from the cat if things got too ‘stressful’?

There are many times when the AETs are required to travel to other towns, cities or prefectures for JET events. Would the would-be JET take her therapy cat with her? Who’s to say that the hotel prepared in advance would allow a cat. She would need special treatment - and that’s okay, by the way… but could she leave the cat at her place for a day or two?

What about vacations? Does therapy cat go with her or stay behind? I’m assuming she wouldn’t be allowed to bring it on vacation to “such-and-such” with the critter (pet or not) having to go into quarantine, by which time it cleared, the vacation would be over and done with.

So… for just this one would-be JET… I feel for ya. But… since this whole issue with needing a therapy cat seems pretty recent… why not ease up on the gas pedal a bit and look after yourself. Perhaps with less stress in your life the role of a therapy cat would not be required and you could just have a pet cat.

But dammit… the JET Programme isn’t the time or place to bring a pet cat. A therapy cat - sure… I wouldn’t deny you your mental health requirement… but this is Japan.

Japan isn’t really known for being hep with things.

Twenty-five years ago on a visit to my local hospital, the doctors are smoking in the place. Nurses, too.

At that same time, AIDS was not something Japan thought it had to worry about because that was something only affecting us dumb gaijin (foreigners).

Hell… even in the U.S., there are plenty of people with mental health issues who are simply tossed in jail rather than into a mental health facility. Many States don’t give a crap. I think Washington is one of them.

Canada… right here at my workplace, I know of 15 people who suffer from depression or some other mental health issue. I’m not even talking about family or girlfriends or friends. I do not have any such concerns, but being surrounded by it these past 15 years has opened up my eyes… and even then, sometimes it pisses me off because of how the behavior of others has impacted upon myself.

Yeah… it ain’t easy having mental health issues - but it ain’t no bowl of cherries dealing with people who do. Every single day.  

And I am probably one of the more enlightened ones.

So… why would Japan be ahead of the game when it comes to being aware of mental health? They aren’t. They are way behind.

The real question to be asked: Is this would-be JET being punished because she:

1) has mental health issues?
2) has a therapy cat and no one knows how to deal with it because it has never come up?

or is this all because of the money already being spent by the Board o Education?

You can bet that things are lost in the translation when her concerns were brought to the attention of the Board of Education and even the Consulate.

Hey… at least they said “No” to the therapy cat… but was it because it was a pet cat or because it’s a therapy cat? If it’s only because of the money, apartment rental, and her need to have the cat around a lot… then I could see her Board of Education not being helpful.

If it’s because they view the cat as a pet - then the right information wasn’t correctly explained.

If it’s because it’s a therapy cat… then there’s an issue. For me, this is the same as a seeing-eye dog or a wheelchair requirement. Can the JET Programme and Board of Education office discriminate based on physical or mental health concerns?


Should they discriminate? No, of course not.

The problem for this young woman, is that she may never get a proper answer as to why her Board of Education and Consulate are being obstinate. Then again… regardless of her intentions, maybe she did not explain herself properly.

What would you do if you were her and why?

I would hope someone would convince me to stay home and look after myself first and foremost. Then again… as regular readers know, I never wanted to go to Japan in the first place. I have no idea how badly this woman wants to go.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Thank-you, Vincent for the lead. 

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