Living in rural Japan as a JET ALT: An Interview with Justin Temporal

As you are probably well aware, the JET programme, a Japanese government-run initiative, offers foreigners the chance to live and work in Japanese schools or local municipal offices. Last month we featured an article by one of our Japan correspondents, Yasmin McGarva, who interviewed a CIR participant about her experiences in a local government office.

As a follow-up to that, I had the privilege of talking to Justin Temporal, current Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) on the JET programme. We talked about his experience in rural Oita Prefecture, Kyushu, living with the pandemic, and his daily life. The ALT role is the most common of the roles offered on the JET programme. In our discussion, Justin offered practical advice on general day-to-day life in Japan and talked about his experience with the JET application process.

Justin with his trusty camera

What was your role on the JET programme?

I’m an Assistant Language Teacher on the JET Programme working at Elementary and Junior High Schools.

Was the JET application process difficult?

The application process itself wasn’t all too difficult. Just writing the Statement of Purpose to get your foot in the door is probably the most difficult thing. For those that don’t know, the Statement of Purpose is an essay you have to write as part of the application.

How did you combat homesickness?

Staying in contact with family via LINE and Facebook has really helped out. Scheduling times to talk to friends back home helps as well. It might sound a bit strange but it really helps to just stay in the moment and enjoy the experience for what it is.

How did you participate in the local community?

Pre-COVID I would happily accept invitations to go to events from teachers and others I’d met. I have also joined an Aikido group that has been an amazing experience. allowing me to meet people I otherwise wouldn’t have from within the English teaching community.

Rural Kyushu, where Justin works

What was the best part of your job and life in Japan?

It’s going to sound corny but I love getting to interact with the locals and my students. My Japanese before coming here was less than mediocre at best, so it’s been fun to do a bit of language exchange here and there with students and teachers. In the complete opposite direction, Japan is like the Mecca for the used camera community. So I’ve been able to delve into my hobby of photography moreso whilst being here.

How was the pay?

The pay was quite competitive for the job in comparison to other companies. It’s definitely liveable and depending on how frugal you are, you can settle some debts or save for future travels.

 Is a high level of Japanese language ability needed?

Japanese language ability is definitely not required. I would say it helps a lot in some situations, but you can get by without it. Having some conversational Japanese helps a lot in building relationships across the board and makes the experience a lot richer. It’s definitely worth putting some effort in to learn at least some of the language while you’re here.

Eating like a local at a street kiosk

What do you do in your spare time?

Where possible, before COVID, I tried to travel around my prefecture and around Japan in my spare time. Otherwise, my weekends as of late have been filled with playing with cameras, which is my hobby.

Is there any advice you’d give to those looking to join the JET programme?

Definitely give it a shot. The adage that comes with JET has always been that ‘Every Situation is Different’ [ESID]. I definitely think it’s also what you make of it. For the application process the Statement of Purpose really has to shine, so be honest but not self-deprecating. If and when you do get here, having broad expectations rather than specific ones can make the experience much better. I guess if time permits stay for at least two years too!

Thank you Justin for your time.

Applications for the JET programme open around November/December. So check the official JET website for more information.

A good place to meet other like-minded people and ask questions about the JET programme is the JET programme subreddit so if you have any burning questions, we definitely recommend asking them there.

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