So I may have jumped the gun in that first post by not explaining at all what the JET Program is, why I am going to Japan, or where I’m actually going to be.
First things first: JET stands for Japan Exchange and Teaching and it is a program run by the Japanese government that recruits native English speakers to serve as Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) in Japanese classrooms. The program started in 1987 and has grown considerably over the last 20 years–at the moment, there are about 4,500 JETs in Japan, representing 30+ countries. Not all of them are teaching English–some work to promote international relations at the level of local government while a few others act as a kind of “sports ambassador”–but ALTs do make up the vast majority of JET participants. As the largest English-speaking country in the world, America places more JETs than any other country, but there are sizable contingents from Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa as well. Some JETs teach in elementary schools, some in middle and high schools, but often, a single JET will split his/her time between multiple schools and grade levels.
So that’s what the JET Program is, and by extension, an explanation for why I am going to Japan. Of course, that’s kind of a cop out, because I didn’t just wake up one day and decide to move to Japan, and I didn’t see an add in the classified section for “JETs WANTED.” My cousin was a JET in early days of the program (mid-90s) and that’s how it ended up on my radar in the first place. But my decision to apply was motivated by a variety of factors: the desire to live in another country, previously thwarted by the goons in the Study Abroad Office at Tufts who barred me from studying overseas my junior year; my interest in pursuing some actual teaching experience before I pour years and money into an M.Ed; and, of course, a legitimate curiosity about Japan, stemming from an outstanding Japanese Lit course during that junior year stuck at Tufts.
As for where I’ll be, until a week ago, even I didn’t know the answer to that. The tripartite disaster that decimated Japan in mid-March understandably slowed the process, but last Thursday night, I learned that I’ll be living and working in Minamishimabara-shi, Nagasaki-ken. That’s South Shimabara City in the Nagasaki Prefecture on the island of Kyushu. For those unfamiliar with Japanese geography:
Prefecture map of Japan
Japan is broken up into four major islands: Honshu, the main island, has virtually all the big cities, like Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. Hokkaido is the second-biggest island by land area, but the coldest and most sparsely populated; as you can see, there are no lines on Hokkaido, because the entire island constitutes a single prefecture. Shikoku is the small, magenta island just south of Honshu. Kyushu is the gray, westernmost island of Japan; it is also the southernmost major island, excluding the chain of small islands known as the Ryukyu Islands that include Okinawa. For anyone who thinks I am crazy for going to Japan after a nuclear disaster, you can assuage those fears with the knowledge that I will be about 1,000 miles from the site of the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
This map isn’t detailed enough to show Minamishimabara, a relatively small city of around 50,000, but you can get an idea of its location based on where Nagasaki is. Nagasaki occupies an interesting place in Japanese history as, for hundreds of years, it was the only area in Japan where foreigners–gaijin–were allowed to live. For a time, many of these aliens were Christian missionaries, but when Japan closed itself off during the Tokugawa period, the missionaries were the first to go, leaving primarily Dutch merchants as the sole western presence in Japan. And, of course, Americans will recognize Nagasaki because it was the site of the second atomic bomb dropped on Japan. Incidentally, the Memorial Day which commemorates the the lives lost in the bombing is August 9th, my first week in Japan. Not sure yet what to expect, but it will definitely be an opportunity for this gaijin to show some tact, delicacy, and respect.
Anyway, I’ll post again soon with more information about Minamishimabara, but in the meantime, I have to mail my visa application.
Sayonara for now.