Are the teach English in Japan programs legitimate?
November 9, 2006 7:18 AM   Subscribe

Are the teach English in Japan programs legitimate?

A friend of mine has a college age son considering the JET programme.

Has anyone heard anything positive or negative about it? Any caveats he should know about?

Is there a different program you'd recommend?
posted by fellion to Education (25 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Most of the programs are legit. I would be worried about one you saw on Craigslist. But the Japanese embassy has a list of certified operators they have cleared to do business in the US. My best friend did JET, he loves it and is now in Japan with a job as an actuary in Kobe.
posted by parmanparman at 7:25 AM on November 9, 2006

The only complaint I've heard about JET is that you may end up in a more rural location and be the only Western English teacher there (not always a bad thing).
posted by dripdripdrop at 7:28 AM on November 9, 2006

JET is definitely legit. It is run by the Japanese government.
posted by dcjd at 7:29 AM on November 9, 2006

My cousin spent two years in Kumamoto City as a JET, and she loved it. The pay was great, the job was fun and easy, and there was plenty of vacation time. She traveled to Korea, China, and several other countries while she was there. As far as I know, JET is one of the best, if not the best program out there for teaching English in Japan.

As for the rural aspect, Kumamoto is a city of 600,000, and she had many english-speaking friends.
posted by god hates math at 7:31 AM on November 9, 2006

JET is actually probably the most legit, highest paying and most respected careers for English teachers in Japan.
posted by dead_ at 7:54 AM on November 9, 2006

I did JET for three years, just coming back from Kobe this August. It's completely legit, run by the Japanese government, and has been running since the mid-eighties. It's quite different from most of the other programs in that you will be teaching in one (or several) government schools, and generally have great hours and benefits (subsidised accommodation, full health etc.)

Downside is it's completely up to chance where you will be placed. I was lucky and wound up less than an hour from a major city, but I knew a girl who was the only foreigner on an island an hour from one of the smaller of the four main islands. Last ferry back to the island from the mainland was 7pm. Four buses a day around the perimeter of the Island. She said it was very, very tough. That said though, I met another island JET who was in a similar situation and they absolutely loved it. You can also wind up teaching anything from preschool all the way up to senior high-school. The mantra of JET is "ESID, Every Situation Is Different" and it's so true.

My years on JET were amazing and I don't regret any of it, and would recommend the program without hesitation. Japan is an incredible country and, imho, everyone should try and spend a little time there.
posted by Mil at 8:18 AM on November 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

My brother went to Tokyo (Kokubunji, actually) about a month ago through the Nova program, and his experience so far has been great. Nova allows you to list your 3 top location choices, and they do their best to honor what you pick. He also has 2 roomates that are also in the program, which is nice in that he has some people to hang out with. Nova also helped organize his flights and airport transportation, so he arrived in Tokyo along with some other people in the program and was able to get right to his new apartment without any trouble.

My cousin did a year in Japan through the JET program about a year ago, and ended up on an island off the coast of Okinawa. Very isolated. She had a room in someone's house, and was really the only Westerner around while she was there. She had a great time, but she was kind of looking for the "quiet year on a beautiful island" experience, which your friend's son may or may not be. She didn't have any choice about where she was sent.

Anyways, the programs are definitely legit. I'd suggest he check out Nova.
posted by rachelv at 9:06 AM on November 9, 2006

I have met about a dozen people who went on the JET program. Every single one of them loved it. Almost half of them decided to extend their stay and most of them cite it has the best thing they ever did.
posted by annaramma at 9:09 AM on November 9, 2006

JET is legit and very popular. Here are a few other resources for teaching English in Japan.
posted by srah at 9:12 AM on November 9, 2006

I had a friend who did JET and got a lot out of it. But his placement, in a relatively small town, made simple tasks, such as going to the ATM to get money, or obtaining groceries, an all-day affair.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 9:15 AM on November 9, 2006

JET is actually probably the most legit, highest paying and most respected careers for English teachers in Japan.

Not true. You can make much, much more money in Tokyo teaching in businesses and private schools than on JET, all perfectly legit. Much more. Plus you get to live in a city with actual interesting things to do not some isolated little village out in the country where everyone will treat you like a freak. Or even worse would be to be sent to one of the hundreds of smaller cities in Japan, where you'd get the worst of both worlds - no movies, music, restaurant, art, culture and also no nature, trees, shops, like-minded people etc. I felt sorry for those JET people the most.
posted by dydecker at 9:38 AM on November 9, 2006

And even if you get sent to Tokyo or Osaka on JET, you'll have to put up with living in the worst part of town in the worst accomodation many many miles from anywhere.

It's a bit like dropping a needle on the map and having to live there for a year. Chance are it won't be very good.

Do some research, go to Japan, find a job and they'll give you a visa. Thousands of Americans do it.
posted by dydecker at 9:45 AM on November 9, 2006

JET typically offers teaching assistant positions which are great for young people who'd like to spend a year in Japan, maybe not so appealing if you actually want to teach. Note the age limit of 40. JET is a government program.

Nova, on the other hand, is the largest of the English-teaching schools, a huge business in Japan and many have had unpleasant experieces there. (Aeon and Geos are others, there's many more.) More info at gaijinpot.
posted by Rash at 9:54 AM on November 9, 2006

To dydecker:
What companies pay more? I have to be partial to JET because one of my old professors was one of the interviewers, so all I heard every day was how great it was. I'm about to put an application in for JET, and hearing that you can make more from other places (which I had always heard was a rumor from my prof.) makes me wonder what else is out there! Give us your advice!
posted by phaedrus441 at 10:39 AM on November 9, 2006

If you don't want to teach junior high or other school age kids, than JET may not be for you. I'd avoid the big teaching chains like AEON, GEOS, etc, which are okay but can be very bureaucratic and tend to treat their teachers like replaceable cogs. But many of the small, locally based conversation schools can be great if you want to teach adults, and you can then have a lot more choice about where you end up.
JET generally pays better, though as someone pointed out, if you do a bunch of freelancing you can do better if you have the connections.
JET does have nice additional benefits like sending you to conferences around the country and having *much* more holiday time than you'll get from private companies.

Finally, being in a rural place isn't necessarily a drawback. I lived in a town of 5000, and it meant much closer connections with local Japanese, much better language skills, and a range of experiences that, while different from what you'd have in one of the big cities, were no less profound.
posted by slipperynirvana at 11:19 AM on November 9, 2006

This is the key: "though as someone pointed out, if you do a bunch of freelancing you can do better if you have the connections." If you live in a little town, you can't find the extra work because there's no English schools (I think JET even have clauses that you're not allowed to take on extra work? Not sure).

Places like Tokyo or Osaka/Kyoto have thousands of English schools. So while the JET paypacket may look better on paper (300,000 a month with subsidized rent), if you want to earn money teaching, in the cities you can get gigs at companies, little private schools and private students that'll pay generally 4-5000 or even 8-10000 yen if you're lucky. Do two hours a morning of that, and that 200,000 extra a month.

The difference on JET is you spend no money because you're out in the sticks and there's nothing to do, you eat high school food and your rent is probably 3000 yen.

It's entirely possible to learn Japanese in a big city. After all, hardly anyone even there speaks English!
posted by dydecker at 11:44 AM on November 9, 2006

My Sister and her Boyfriend (Mefi's own RobertFrost) are there now, teaching english, the boyfriend on the JET program and my sister independently. They are blogging about the experience, and seem to be enjoying themselves immensely.
posted by jrb223 at 11:48 AM on November 9, 2006

Can you tell I'm not a country person? :)

I once went into a convience store in this little town in the mountains in Japan and the kid behind the counter looked at my friend (who looks very normal, wearing a T-shirt and jeans) and his mouth dropped open and she said: "You are the coolest guy I have ever seen." Smalltown Japan is...very strange.
posted by dydecker at 11:53 AM on November 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

JET is legit. Here's a guy who's in the program and if this is something you want to do, it is probably worth looking at his, uh, memoirs.
posted by ilsa at 2:10 PM on November 9, 2006

Beware, though. In ten years in Korea, I've heard nothing but horror stories about the equivalent government-sponsored program here, the acronym for which escapes me at the moment.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:50 PM on November 9, 2006

Nthing that the JET program is legit.
posted by misozaki at 5:11 PM on November 9, 2006

If he's looking to spend a few years teaching English in Japan, there are only two reasons for him not to pick the JET program over others:
a) He hates kids.
b) He'd go stir crazy if he lived out in the country.

JET has a few huge advantages because it's sponsored by the Japanese government, which wants returners from the JET program to spread good PR about Japan when they return to their home countries. On JET, he is far less likely to be jerked around by his employer as far as pay and benefits are concerned; in the vast majority of cases, you can look over your contract a few months before you start the job. I've also been told that JET looks better on paper (and not just by JET/Japanese government employees). JET subsidizes a lot of expenses, too, and he will probably be sheltered from some of the more unpleasant aspects of life as a foreigner in Japan (language difficulties, housing discrimination, etc.) because someone else will be taking care of a lot of the paperwork. On the other hand, if he ends up in a very large city, he may get the worst of the worst housing, like somebody else said. Also, if he has a lousy boss, he may have trouble having his contractual benefits (such as vacation days) honored.

The private eikaiwa (English conversation) schools don't pay for airfare. I don't know about housing, but I think some people end up with roommates. If he wants to teach only adults, he could do that at an eikaiwa school, and he would probably be able to live in a large city. The main problem about eikaiwa schools I have heard about are the many, many complaints about illegal working conditions - things like unpaid overtime, or being given part-time hours so the company doesn't have to provide benefits. If he takes the eikaiwa route, I would suggest very careful research, and a little spare cash. (On the bright side, if he works at an eikaiwa school and decides to take another job, I've heard it's relatively easy to do in a large city, once you have a Japanese visa.)

He could also try applying for individual jobs at private schools, if he's graduating with EFL teaching qualifications. IMO, that's risky business if he speaks no Japanese and has no connections in Japan.

Otherwise, the pitfalls of both JET and the main private eikaiwa schools (AEON, NOVA, GEOS, and others I'm probably forgetting) are much the same. The quality of one's coworkers and living situation is a crapshoot in any case. I'm pretty sure you're not allowed to make money giving English lessons on the side in either job, although people do it all the time.

Hopefully I haven't made it sound too grim. In the best cases (like mine!), it's a lot of fun and a great opportunity. But it's important to avoid (or at least prepare for) the pitfalls that can lead to becoming one of those bitter types who hang around together and spend all their time in Japan complaining about Japan.
posted by Drop Daedalus at 5:26 PM on November 9, 2006

Gaijin Smash is the blog of a dude who went to Japan unde the JET program. Talks about how crazy some of his kids were (and his co-teachers), as well as how sweet some of them were.
posted by antifuse at 12:31 AM on November 10, 2006

Does he have a degree? One of the preconditions for getting a sponsored English-teaching visa is a three-year degree (in anything), and according to Wikipedia you need one for JET as well. It's easier to get a working holiday visa, but only some countries' nationals are eligible for those (people from the US aren't).

There's nothing to stop him using one of the big companies to sponsor his entry to Japan then looking for another job when he's there. The big companies all really suck in various ways, but it's still possible to have a great time over there working for one.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 1:48 AM on November 10, 2006

I'm currently in Japan, and though I initially came over with a job from NOVA (the biggest English conversation company in the country), my best friends came here on JET.

The JET Programme is indeed legitimate, as others have said. It's pretty much random where you'll be placed, though the people I know did get the general region they requested. The best placement I know of, as far as working conditions go, is Kobe, so I'd recommend putting that on the application. No promises on actually getting it (two JETs I know - twins - requested that they be placed in the same prefecture, and it ended up that one is now on Shikoku and the other is in Shiga-ken), but it could happen. They do pay for your flight to Japan, and when you leave the program to go home, they'll pay for that as well. Some JETs I know also have part or all of their rent subsidized.

As far as working conditions go, it varies. One friend worked at all six Junior High Schools in her city, spending about two months at each one. She complained a lot that it was hard to get to know the kids and the other teachers before she had to leave. Another friend lived waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay out in rural Hyogo-ken (her town didn't even have a convenience store or a train station), but she seemed to have a good teaching situation. But she quit after a year and now lives in Osaka city.

On JET you're not supposed to have any other jobs, but almost everyone I know has some sort of private tutoring job under the table. And it's true that those can be pretty high paying - the minimum I've heard is 5000yen (about $50) an hour.

Oh, one other thing with JET - there can be a LOT of downtime. There are days where you might not have any classes on the schedule, so you just sit at your desk in the teacher's room all day, looking busy. And if you wind up in a High School, you have to come in to work during the summer break, when there are no students.

As far as the Eikaiwa go, it seems like ECC might be the best one to work for. This is just hearsay, though, and I'm sure it has problems of its own, just as they all do.

NOVA has its ups and downs - I loved the people I worked with, hated the administration and the schedule. None of the eikaiwas provide you with a flight to Japan, though NOVA (and probably others) sends somebody to meet you at the airport and get you to your apartment safely. The rent comes out of your paycheck each month, though the company pays for utilities, up to a certain amount. With NOVA you can request a single apartment, or one with roommates. And they're pretty good about placing you where you want to be, though you won't find out about it until two weeks before you leave for Japan.

Once again, you're not supposed to hold down any other jobs while you're with NOVA, but everyone has something extra. Which comes in handy, because if you're sick and can't work, you don't get paid for that day.

Neither the JET Programme nor any of the big eikaiwa require any knowledge of Japan - culture or language - and some of them seem to feel that the less you know, the better it is.

As far as trying to get a job with a small, private school, DON'T. Not from outside Japan, at least. There are some amazingly sketchy places looking English teachers. I work at a really good school now, but between when I left NOVA and this job, I was working at a kindergarten where I got paid in an envelope of cash every month, which had yakuza-ties, and the owner was a sexual harrassing drug dealer.
posted by emmling at 11:32 AM on November 11, 2006

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