I remember my plane ride to Japan was on a Boeing 747. It was pretty packed. When we touched down at Narita, got my visa verified, I grabbed my baggage (one suitcase and a 45 liter climbing bag) and exited the baggage area. At the arrival lobby of the airport there were people from the JET program carrying flags and placards with JET Program written on it.
As I walked passed them, I recall wondering what would happened if I ignored them and went on my own. I knew where the orientation was and how to get to the hotel but I wondered what would happen if I just went by myself. Unfortunately, a Japanese lady from the program saw me and said my name aloud. WTF!?! How did she know my name? I have never seen this lady before in my life. It turns out I was the last person they were waiting for. As I got on the bus, everyone was cheering and it was not for me but it was because they can finally leave the airport!
Bus Ride and the KEIO Plaza Hotel
The people on the bus were mostly new JETs. Some were really quiet and some really loud and talkative. All kinds of people young and somewhat old. I was only 21 at the time so everyone looked a bit older than me. I remember there were a couple of prefectural advisors that seemed to be talking all the time asking questions like where are you from, how long was your flight, if I ever been to Japan before, and etc. They really seemed like they love Japan. It was a good sign and I felt very welcome just by talking and sharing a couple of laughs with them.
Before I even knew it, we arrived at the Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku. I think the ride all in all was 45 minute bus ride but I wasn’t counting. I had fun talking with the PAs but unfortunately, they were not my PAs. The PAs were for another prefecture. As I got off the bus with the others, there was a reception desk waiting for all of us at the lobby of the hotel. I waited my turn and after a few minutes, they gave me a key card and the room number. They also mentioned the name of some guy I’d be sharing the room with. I thought I had the room all to myself… Oh well.
As I entered my room on the 20+ something floor, the window curtains of my room were open and the view of the Tokyo Metropolitan building was astonishing. I was like damn that’s a nice view! Furthermore, it seemed like the other guy who was supposed to be my roomate was already there. Unfortunately, I don’t remember his name but I remember he was from Texas because of his Cowboy hat. I complimented the hat and thanked me and said “we are now cultural ambassadors for our country so I figured it’d be wise to bring and wear my hat here in Japan.” Wise move. I felt this guy will be going far with the JET program. Unfortunately, this dude from Texas was not assigned to the same prefecture to where I was going.
We talked a bit further about our backgrounds, the University we attended, what we majored in, and other small stuff. We also discussed the seminars to attend during the orientation and so on.
The TOKYO Orientation
I woke up the next day and I got myself fixed up. Showered, shaved and wore my suit. I then headed down to eat breakfast with my roomate. I’m not sure if my reaction was proper but I was somewhat irritated to see some JETs still in the pajamas eating breakfast. If this was at from College Dining Common, I wouldn’t give a damn but this is at one of the classiest hotels in Japan. I thought it was immature on their part.
After eating a nice filling breakfast, I proceeded the biggest ballroom of the hotel (See http://www.keioplaza.com/banquet/ and see the Concord Ballroom to have an idea how large the ballroom is). I arrived a bit early so there were a lot of empty seats. I don’t have the exact numbers but there were hundreds of chairs… it seemed like a thousand to the best of my estimation.
Furthermore, the ballroom was filled with chairs divided into 47 groups. Each group had a banner indicating their respective prefecture. I proceeded to my group and right before I took a seat I was greeted by my actual Prefectural Advisor. This was actually the first and only direct contact I had with her throughout my entire time in Japan. All I know was that she was from France. She asked my name, introduced herself to me, checked my name off of some list and gave me a packet. That was it. I never talked to her ever again.
Making Friends on Day One
I then took my seat next to a young lady who was already sitting. We greeted each other and chit chat and learned she was from NorCal. About a few minutes later, a tall man from Maine sat next to me. I greeted him, he greeted me and we proceeded with some small talk.
It’s funny to think of it now but little did I know at the time would these two individuals sitting besides me would be one of my few closest friends throughout my time with the JET program.
I will not mention their names to protect their privacy so I will address them by their fictional names, Katy and Daniel. Katy and Daniel as I learned from our small talk were both fresh out of college just like me. We already had something in common. In regards to age, Katy and I were both 21, while Daniel was 23. We all had interests with Japan and Daniel kept talking about how he did a study abroad at an elite university in Japan. There he met his girlfriend who he anxiously waited to see later in the day.
Katy on the other hand was quite religious. I realized that quite early in our conversation. She was cool but I thought it was awkward when she asked if I had a religion. I said I’m atheist but still looking. We both smiled and proceeded to have some small talk together. I thought it was cool she didn’t care what religion I was but why ask in the first place right? Anyway, as we talked, I learned that Katy loves the Japanese culture, anime, and the fashion trends of Japan.
In regards to what we will be doing with the JET program, we were all High School ALTs. We looked at a map which was included in our packet and shared where we will be. Daniel would be situated far up north while I would be located in the middle of the prefecture. Katy would be down south. We were all in different cities but it seemed like we got the whole prefecture covered.
Not Following the Dress Code?
As time passed, more and more JETs appeared in grand the ballroom. As they went to their designated areas, it started getting louder and louder. Everything was going well until I saw some JETs screwing around. I am not sure why this happened but that same group was wearing suits with cargo pants and sandals. I’m like wtf? Most of us were all wearing suits, slacks, and dress shoes while these arrogant punks didn’t. I also have to mention however that not all of them wore shorts but those that did clearly stuck out. They all sat at the back of the ballroom singing loudly like fools. I swear I thought they were drunk at the time regardless if it was still early in the morning. Seeing that sort of behavior lowered my first impressions of them as JETs. Later I found out that these guys were singing anime songs. The MC just looked at them and smiled while other people laughed and cheered at them. This whole orientation thing started to appear like a pep rally with low standards. WTF right?
A Strange Welcoming Speech
As the orientation started everyone was cheering as the speaker began welcoming and congratulating us. I also remember the speaker saying that out of 20,000 applicants we were the ones that made it. However, somewhere along the way, we were warned about what would happen if we were to cause trouble in Japan. I started asking myself at this point, why would I cause trouble in Japan. I’m technically a cultural ambassador for my country and city.
Well… it turns out a serious and shameful incident involved a JET somewhere in Osaka some time ago. The speaker shared that it involved alcohol and vandalism, and although it was vague you can see the speaker frown and the tone of his voice change. Furthermore, the speaker mentioned that the JET was kicked out of the country but before getting kicked out, he had to pay a large sum of fees, both for legal and other stuff related to the incident. He caused a lot of trouble for himself, CLAIR, the Japanese government, and his home country’s embassy. The speaker brought up the fact that if any JET were to cause any trouble, they will have to pay a large sum of legal fees which can amount to at least 5 million yen+ or ($50,000+ USD).
As strange as it may be, I appreciated being warned that we are not immune to the laws of Japan even as a JET participant.
An Example of a Foreigner Messing Around in Japan
When something like this is mentioned during an orientation of one of the world’s largest cultural exchange program, your start to get curious. I wonder if this video is somewhat related: (Video of foreigner causing trouble in Japan) This was the closest thing I can find that involved a foreigner in Japan being a drunk vandal. Furthermore, couple of online forums mentioned that he was in Japan as a teacher and not as a tourist. They figured he was not a tourist because he can speak a little Japanese. Again I have no proof the person in the video is a JET participant but behavior like this is unacceptable regardless if you are a JET or not, a foreigner or Japanese. We need to remember that JETs are cultural representatives and ambassadors for our respective country.
The Orientation Workshops
After the welcome speech, the actual orientation activities began. There were multiple rooms in the hotel that held all kinds of subjects we about living and working in Japan. For example, there was a whole seminar relating to how to formally introduce yourself in Japan, How to hand out your business card, how to bow, and etc. Some of the seminars were instructed by Japanese specialists while the rest of the seminars related to living and working in Japan were run by experienced JET members.
It maybe impolite to say this but most of the part about how to perform your work duties was common sense. I thought some of the orientation classes that I attended insulted my level of intelligence. For example, show up on time for work, or before you plan a work holiday tell your boss. Is common sense rare these days? It turns out some JETs don’t have common sense.
A seminar I did find a bit useful that I remember attending was on “How to Build Lesson Plans and work as a team with your JTE (Japanese Teacher of English)”. Although the topic was interesting, a majority of the examples used in the seminar was geared more towards elementary school students. I seriously don’t think you just sing and dance “‘ABCDEFG’ or ‘O’ McDonald had a Farm'” in front of a bunch 16 to 18 year old students. However, I did get some resourceful information on where to get English lessons, which can be acquired with a simple Google search.
Another workshop I found interesting was how to deal with culture shock and driving in Japan.
Each workshop was about an hour long followed with a break. We had lunch and had more workshops to go to. The orientation would end late in the afternoon for both days. On the third day the Orientation ended and were wished a lot of luck. I then rode a bus with other JETs within my group that brought me straight to the Kencho (Prefectural Office). Other JETs that would teach in farther areas would ride their buses and go to Haneda airport or to a train station and ride a plane or bullet train to their respective prefectures.
Leachers at the Orientation
Believe it or not, there were also many salespeople at the orientation looking for the opportunity close a JET on their deals. A salesperson would try to pitch me a good cellular phone deal, internet connection, and etc. I didn’t commit to anything because I didn’t understand it. I hated the fact that they kept sales pitching that I wasn’t getting the best deal available without having the chance to compare prices with local dealers in the market. The only advantage I saw that these salespeople had was the fact that there were able to make a sale in English. After some reasoning, I didn’t buy anything because I wanted to do my research first. Meaning I will be spending my first month in Japan with no phone and no internet from home. This may sound crazy but not having internet and a phone was a great way for me to get out, actually meet Japanese people, and explore Japan.
My short Conclusion of the Orientation
All in all, I believe the orientation somewhat served its purpose from a cultural point of view. The cultural workshops they had were awesome and very educational. However when it came on how to perform your duties, we were simply learning common sense.