The city of Ina

Nagano’s hidden gem: The city of Ina

For my first assignment for my new job as a National Relief Teacher  (traveling English substitute teacher) I was sent to the city of Ina in Nagano prefecture.  Ina itself is a small town…don’t know why they call it a city when its more like a village… But contrary to it’s size, it has an amazing amount of nature and scenery.

The beauty of Ina


There are many bridges in the town with beautiful rivers flowing underneath.  Wherever you look, you are surrounded by tall mountains and with just a short drive, you can drive up and have an amazing view over the town.

During my stay, I taught at six elementary schools.  Five of the schools were in beautiful areas outside of the main part of town and one was so far up a mountain and isolated that it became my favorite school.

Ina school

Large mountain landscapes, forests as far as the eye can see and flowers and sakura trees surrounding the school.

My favorite school was about a 40min drive from my house and the drive consisted of going through winding roads with both sides covered with rice fields.  The school has less than a 100 students and only one classroom for both 5th and 6th students.  For the 5th grade class there were 11 students and for the 6th grade there were only 6.  It was very enjoyable and it allowed myself to get closer with my students and create more game filled classes making it more fun for everyone.

The school ground is surrounded by cherry trees in the spring, it is literally pink as far as the eye can see.  Unfortunately for me, the cherry blossoms season had just finished and I was not able to see anything more than pictures.

The great monkey Yakuza

monkey gangster2

The school also had a pack of wild monkeys that came down and raided their vegetable patch during the warmer months!  How cool is that?! Like a monkey gang! No…a monkey Yakuza!  I really wanted to see them (my obsession with Japanese maybe out of hand…) But again, unfortunately, because of the season, the monkeys were in hibernation or something and don’t come down from the mountains.  But I was happy just knowing that I went to a monkey yakuza school.


Ina city also has two famous dishes: Roman a form of yakisoba and ….insects!  I had the pleasure to eat both of them.  Click on the links above to be taken to a more in depth review with delicious pictures.

Sooo good! Rivals even Osaka's own!

Sooo good! Rivals even Osaka’s own!

There was also a very delicious Kushikatsu 串カツ restaurant in Ina city called “Shiro Hige” (white beard), which was named after a famous character from the anime “One Piece.”  Shiro Hige served a cheap all you can drink and some of the best deep friend food I have ever had!  You could get a wide variety of different deep fried dishes from almost every meat and vegetable you can think of.  All the dishes were relatively affordable and the portions were not too bad for Japanese standards.  The staff were also really funny and friendly.  But no English menu, so if you have no Japanese speaking or writing abilities it may be a bit hard.

Here is their website:


The healing area of Zero Jiba

There isn’t a whole like to see in Ina city.  However, one famous sightseeing sport in Ina has to be Zero Jiba(ゼロ磁場  ぜろじば).   This area is said to have the ability to cure any ailments you may have due it’s “zero” magnetic field.  It was feature on many Japanese TV shows and gets many visitors daily.  Even monks track up the mountain to get water from the springs.  Click the link above to read more about the spot and my misadventure getting lost in the mountains.

There were also some great temples in the city, one which was so secluded when I entered all I could hear was a few birds chirping and my own footsteps echoing in the surrounding forest.  So relaxing.

On the way to one of my schools I also saw a strange looking temple which appeared to be in the yard of someones house.  Upon further inspection I found out that the owner of the residence made the temple and the outer walls which had glass with wooden carvings in-cased in them!  It was probably one of the most impressive things I have ever seen in Japan that wassn’t listed in any tour book or asking for $4 entrance fees.  I also tried to go and talk with the man for an interview but no one was home.  Yet the gate to the entrance of the house was still open and people were allowed to walk in and enter the temple and look around.

Although Ina is beautiful it is also fairly close to other areas of Nagano.  Therefore, I ended up spending my first couple weekends going to Matsumoto prefecture and going to see Matsumoto castle,  Kamikochi and Zenkouji temple.

Final Thoughts

Over all in just 4 weekends I saw a lot of Nagano and made a lot of friends through my job and visiting the local bars and sightseeing areas.  In such a short time I was able to see a lot, not to mention some rare opportunities that I’m very lucky and grateful for.  I don’t get why, but I seem to just be on the Japanese gods good side and feel blessed in this country.  I hope you all can have such great experiences too.  Please leave a comment below and tell me some of your great adventures!

At Odori in Chuodai Iwaki.

4 Weeks In: Moving and Impressions (Part 2)

Yes, I am a chameleon. No, I cannot change colours.

How much should we change?

Moving around so much when I was younger taught me a lot of things.

See? Life keeps moving. We need to move with it.

See? Life keeps moving. We need to move with it.

I was fortunate enough to have the presence of mind to understand that the first move to New Brunswick was a chance for me to try on another personality. All the through from kindergarten to grade 4, the proceeding summer being when we moved, I had been a bit of a more introverted kid. I enjoyed playing sports and running around, but it was always hard for me to make friends. I wasn’t a complete loner, but it would have been nice to have more friends around to do things with. Moving so far away from everything I knew provided me with the opportunity to change, so I decided that I would adapt to a new mentality and a new reality. That was my first experience with fluidity, with being able to exist in any place at any time, on my own terms. Over the years it’s become more apparent to me how important that skill is. And make no mistake, adaptability is a skill. It’s not the sort of thing that people often find natural; any sort of natural ability to adapt isn’t innate, and the people who might find adapting something that comes easy to them only think that way because they’ve never noticed how their lives have helped to condition them towards it.

Moving so much while I was growing up was my own conditioning, though I had to realize that for myself. In New Brunswick I became much more outgoing, joining the basketball and soccer teams at my school, actively going out of my way to introduce myself to my classmates, and generally just trying to experience more of the world around me. That’s not to say that I didn’t maintain some of my own inherent introverted characteristics–I had always loved reading and it was while I was living in the Maritimes of Canada that books became a sort of salvation from the frustration of my prepubescent life, but the point is I learned how to initiate and involve myself with the people and places around me. That seems to be the trick to being fluid, you have to become like water: “you never step in the same river twice” sort of idea–you have to be able to soak into your surroundings, accept that reality, and then rock it; that is to say, you need to be able to exist within a new reality on your own terms. That sort of adaptability can be very precarious though; it’s easy to come off as fake, a Try-hard, Keener, noob in the bad way. People pick up on those things. Try-hards suck. Nobody likes Try-hards.

See my bear? No picture, so I drew one. Adaptation in practice!

See my bear? No picture, so I drew one. Adaptation in practice!

So you have to adapt with authenticity, with conviction in who you are and who you want to be otherwise you risk alienating yourself from the world around you. Kids are the best meters on whether or not you’re try-harding, and teachers seem to understand that with a certain depth that not many are aware of. Going out with my other ALT friends we often talk about work. It’s an interesting subject–the little things our students say to us that stand out, the questions kids ask, stories about big ass hornets flying into rooms and us having to remain calm even though we’d love nothing better to run with our arms flailing (this happened to me this week). One of the most common subjects that comes up when we talk about our kids is how perceptive they are. It’s amazing how much kids can pick up on; it’s like they’re all highly sensitive empaths: when we’re pissed they know, when we’re sad they know, when we’re hungover and not on our A-game, they know, and it takes a lot of practice to be able to effectively hide our worst moments from them. It’s because of this that adults, especially adults, should never cheat a child on who they are. It’s just not good to fake yourself–it does no good for anyone.

Still, there are still some demons…

In some respects I’ve been having a really easy adapting to life in Iwaki. There’s a lot happening in the everyday that I’ve already experienced when I was an exchange student: bills, cleaning, cooking, shopping, all of that is the same as before and isn’t very different from life back in Canada; where I’ve been having some problems are mainly at two points–spiders and loneliness. Spiders I’ll never get used to. It’s a phobia. Irrational to a fault (not really in my opinion), and my own reaction is probably a lot more subdued compared to others, but they’re freaky and scary and

I'm not homesick, but I do miss my folks.

I’m not homesick, but I do miss my folks.

belong somewhere in the rings of Hell. Loneliness is a completely different beast. It’s constant. Consistent. It will sneak to the back of a person’s mind only to come out from the shadows when they’re alone. Loneliness can either be a nagging specter with hardly any influence, or a powerful force that drives one to ruin, and it’s not limited to living away from home–we’re all known someone who just can’t be comfortable with themselves outside of a relationship. My loneliness stems from not having my family around. I was fortunate enough that my parents let me stay with them while I finished my degree, and though I wasn’t often home, or when I was would be holed up in my room, the idea that my family was close by was a singular comfort that I took for granted–my daily routine included giving my mum a hug in the morning and a kiss when I came back in the evenings.

Loneliness for me is of the more subtle sort, but it’s been more prominent in my mind lately, particularly around dinner time. I love having my own place, my sanctuary where my rules apply and I can do what I want, when I want, and how I want; eating alone, though, has found me wanting for conversation, someone to talk to about silly things or important things or whatever. I’ve been lucky, though it’s through Line and Facebook, to have a friend in Tokyo who has been a much needed solace, and it’s comforting to know that I can message them and they’ll reply.

This post is as much a warning as it is a reflection. I hope those of you reading this will find somewhere to belong, find friends who you can be as silly as you can serious with regardless of distance. If you haven’t yet, please do. It’ll give you some peace of mind, and you’ll be all the better off for it.

Please share and comment if you like what I’m writing. Cheers.

How to Deal

How to Deal: Reverse Culture Shock

“Just remember: No one will give a sh*t about your stories.” These were the words of Mickey, the easy-going, Star Wars­-quoting, English speaking, jovial worker at my exchange program in Nagoya, Japan during the orientation for returning home back in 2014. These words were the end of his advice about facing reverse culture shock, based on his own experiences from studying abroad in America. When he said that, everyone in the room laughed. Once I returned home, however, I quickly found out that reverse culture shock was no laughing matter. And I will tell you now, everyone has a different experience with it, but it can hit you like a slap in the face.

I am here to tell you that you can get through it.

When you return, you become hyper-aware of a lot of things about your home country. There were a lot of things I had taken for granted here, and it was only once I returned that I was overly-conscious of them. “Am I going to get shot here?” “Why do we dress like that?” “Why is our government approving of that and fighting over that?” Some aspects may have legitimately changed over the 11 months I had been gone, but a large part of it was just actually realizing what I had not before.

Just as Mickey prophesized, there may be some stress closer to home as well. In my case, many people (friends, family, neighbors, etc.) did not really care to hear about my experiences or stories or want to see the numerous super-amazing pictures I took. Some people looked down on the country I just came back from. Nothing is worse than the ever so assumptive questions, “So, glad to be back?” and (with the expectation of a 1-2 sentence reply to cover every single awesome or horrible or neutral thing you experienced) “How was it?”

After being in major urban cities with great public transportation for 11 months, I returned to suburban Indiana without access to a car. What am I supposed to do with all this extra time? Where can I go? How can I eat [insert beloved food from the foreign country]? Who can I find to talk to about my experiences? How can I keep my language skills up? These are things that are normal to worry about upon returning home. You may begin to feel alienated and alone, and recognizing this feeling is important—it can help put you on the path to coping and using this feeling to your advantage.

One of the most important things to do is to not lose touch with the friends you’ve made abroad. I talked a lot with my Japanese friends who had previously studied abroad in America—they understand both cultures, and have also had to deal with reverse culture shock. It also encouraged me to keep up with my Japanese skills, since I was suddenly completely surrounded in English 24/7 with no one else to practice with. When you want to rant, these are the people who are most likely to be willing to listen (or even be interested). It is important not to forget that you are not alone, and will never be alone in this feeling. Also, you probably now have some very interesting insight to our own and exchange countries; maybe not everyone, but some people will want to hear about that.

Frequent international markets to make the food you miss. Volunteer to help foreign residents in your community—you may be able to sympathize with them all too well and be a fabulous resource for them. Write a diary documenting your feelings and experiences—it may come in handy in the future. Find a local group that’s interested in the country you went to and share your knowledge. Do whatever you need to cope with reverse culture shock. Everyone has a different experience with it, but that doesn’t make it any less real. Find the coping mechanism that best fits you and I promise, no matter how tough things are at the beginning (or middle, or whenever reverse culture shock slaps you or stabs you or touches you at all), they will get better. Remember, your experiences, whether good or bad, are never meaningless.

For my blurb on culture shock, refer to this page.


Featured image original credit here.

please work you bastard

5 tips for applying to a Japanese company

So you want a job at a Japanese company outside of Japan, but you’re not quite sure how to get one? Perhaps you’ve just returned from the JET program, or maybe you’re looking at Japanese companies from the get-go. Either way, I’d like to share some tips and tricks that could help get you a few steps closer to that dream job. Note: There is no foolproof method, but I hope this advice will help you prepare and start down the path towards your goal.

handshake 2 thinkpanama

c/o Thinkpanama

1.Contact a recruitment company

The best and most helpful tip I can give is to get in contact with a recruitment company in your area. They have the resources and access to all of the Japanese companies in your region. Top US or Pasona are both great resources for finding a job within a Japanese company. Once you get in contact with a recruiter, keep in contact and do your best to respond to e-mails and phone calls right away.  Just a side note: these recruiting companies typically deal with manufacturing, trading, and import/export companies, more so than creative positions like marketing or advertising.


2. Practice answers in Japanese

If you are intent on using your Japanese language ability, it’s likely that the recruiter will want to test your Japanese during the initial interview. It’s not the end of the world if you misunderstand some words here and there, but it will give you an idea of how Japanese company interviews may go. Interviews in English are difficult enough with the on-the-spot questions, so having those answers prepared and practiced in Japanese should help everything go smoothly in the interview.

c/o Taka@P.P.R.S

c/o Taka@P.P.R.S

3. Have your LinkedIn profile up-to date and on point!

Make sure you are either selling your Japanese skills, or your knowledge of the culture. Maybe you are worried you Japanese skills aren’t up to snub for an office setting – never fear! Advertising your experience with Japan or knowledge and understanding of Japanese culture is also a great selling point. Linkedin is also one of the first resources recruiters might use to find possible job candidates.


4. Find out who is nearby.

Do some research about which Japanese companies operate around your area. If you find some that you are interested in, you can either directly apply to them or bring them up to your recruiter and see if they have any connections there.

c/o Steven Depolo

c/o Steven Depolo

5. Get a hobby!

Last but not least, let’s say you have gotten the interview: many Japanese companies and even recruiters will ask what your hobbies are during an initial interview. Again, preparation is key. Have a few hobbies at the ready, with a little spiel about why you like them. It may seem a bit odd or silly, but the interviewers are essentially trying to get a feel for your personality in that short one hour interview. They want to see how you will fit with the team and are trying to get a sense of your interests outside of work.


And that’s it! Of course this advice applies mainly to people seeking employment at a Japanese company outside  of Japan, but some of the more general advice may be helpful for interviews within Japan as well. Best of luck with everything, and happy job hunting!


c/o Rocky Lubbers

Becoming a writer in Japan

Thanks to advancements in technology in recent years, it has now become easier than ever for writers all over the world to make their dream come true. Paradoxically, it’s also more difficult than ever, particularly for English language writers living in Japan. But it’s not impossible.

kind oage Mobil Yazilar

c/o Mobil Yalizar

First, you have to ask yourself what kind of writer you want to be. For me, the answer was simple—I wanted to write fiction. In the past, the path to becoming a publish fiction writer entailed submitting short stories to publications or completing a novel and querying agents in the hopes of finding one to represent your work. These are no longer the only routes available. The advent of the ebook hasn’t only changed the way we read, but also the way we publish, and has in turn led to the rise of the self-publishing movement.

I entered the world of self-publishing in 2007 when it was in its infancy, before ebooks came into being and print-on-demand was the only real option. The process of writing, publishing, and marketing a book can’t really be summarized in one short article, but there are numerous resources out there to help you learn how to get your books ready for publication. What I will say on this matter is this: make sure your book is the best it can be, from the writing to the cover. Thanks to the internet and services like PayPal, it’s now possible to contract with cover designers, editors, book formatters, and advertisers all over the world.


c/o Rocky Lubbers

The biggest obstacle I faced when self-publishing in Japan was getting paid. Amazon, Google, Apple, and Kobo are just a few of the big ebook retailers, and all of them do allow Japan-based authors to sell through them. Barnes & Noble is still behind the times with this and only allows users in a few countries to publish through them, and unfortunately Japan is not among those select few. However, if you use an aggregator such as Smashwords or Draft2Digital, you can still get your books on Barnes & Noble’s website. Most of the ebook stores will provide you with profits from the sale of your books through electronic fund transfers (EFT) to your Japanese bank or to your PayPal account.


Using the bank account can be difficult. If you have an account with a major national bank, then you should be okay. But many of the small local banks that foreigners in more rural areas of Japan deal with will not accept these transfers, and they also won’t accept deposits from PayPal accounts. This was a problem I ran into. Shinsei Bank, and likely other institutions, allows you to open an account with them via mail. You fill out the necessary paperwork, send them the required documents, and they’ll set you up with an account and an ATM card. Since opening up my account with Shinsei, I’ve never had a problem transferring money, either through a direct EFT or through wiring it from my PayPal account.

National Library of Sweden

National Library of Sweden

There are also legal matters to consider if you’re going to be making a living off of your writing. For one, you have to consider your work contract. If you’re part of the JET Program, your contract states that you can’t have any other jobs. To bypass this, you could just have the proceeds from your book sales transferred to a bank account in your home country. This may of course present another problem in the form of income declaration within your tax returns, but I can’t speak properly to that here, as each country will have different tax laws.

Another aspect not to be overlooked is your visa status. If you have a Specialist in Humanities work visa, you should be fine—writer is one of the jobs covered under that visa category. A spousal visa and permanent residency should also be fine. If you have any other kind of visa, though, then you may want to consult with an immigration attorney to double-check that you’re in the clear. If you’re not interested in writing books, you still have options. Getting a position at an English-language publication may be difficult if you don’t live in a major city, but you can still contribute in other ways. There are numerous websites with a focus on Japan, particularly if you enjoy travel writing, and their methods of compensation are just as numerous. Some pay per article, some provide reward points for use with partner companies. And some simply provide exposure, but don’t discount these right off the bat. If you’re a good enough writer, the content you provide could help open doors to other opportunities.

typing sebastien wiertz

c/o Sebastien Wiertz

And that leads to my final point—the importance of networking. Try to find out if there are writer communities in your area. I live in Kagoshima, which is a pretty rural area with a small population of foreigners and an even smaller population of writers. If you’re like me, then I encourage you to check out the Japan Writers Conference. The conference is held once a year, and it’s almost always in a different part of the country. This is a wonderful chance to connect with other English-language writers all over Japan, and they also encourage presentation submissions from first-time presenters.

You need not limit yourself to networking only with Japan-based authors, however. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook, and numerous writing communities, I have become acquainted with a number of people in the publishing world over the past few years, which has led to more opportunities for marketing, cross-promotion and new projects. Most importantly, I have learned a lot from these fine people; valuable knowledge I would not have acquired without putting myself out there and doing the research. Whether you hope to make writing a valuable income stream, or you just want to express yourself, you can make it work even if you live in the most remote part of the country. You just have to be willing to put the work in.


The Difficulties of Renting an Apartment in Japan

Apartments in Japan

Quality of housing is a significant issue amongst foreign residents in Japan. With a view to the Olympics, the Japanese Government is pushing globalization heavily and the amount of foreigners in Japan is increasing. With Japan becoming more and more diversified, the rental market is still lagging. It still presents a large amount of barriers, making the process of finding an apartment extremely difficult for foreigners.

There are 4 main obstacles to securing an apartment in Japan:

Amount of housing available for foreigners 

In Japan apartment ads can openly say “no foreigners”. When you indicate interest in an apartment, the first thing your agent will do is call the landlord and ask if foreigners are allowed.

Is this Racism? – Rejections aren’t always due to racism, other reasons include:

Ties to Japan

  • The fear that you’ll just leave the country without paying rent owning.

Fear that you wouldn’t follow Japanese customs

  • Examples include taking off your shoes inside and separating rubbish.


  • Most landlords aren’t comfortable speaking English.

At Tokyo Fresh we have relationships with a number of landlords and directly manage over 250 apartments, providing a large base of apartments available for foreigners.


Anyone renting an apartment in Japan will need a guarantor. A guarantor agrees to cover any debts incurred that you refuse to pay. For example, unpaid rent and damages to a third party (eg You have no insurance and a flood from your washing machine causes damage to the person below you).

Japanese people often ask their relatives, company (法人契約)or use a guarantor company. In most cases your guarantor must be Japanese, making it extremely difficult for foreigners to find a guarantor.

Many foreigners ask their company to be their guarantor, meaning that the lease will be a contract with your company, not with you personally. However the downside to this is that in most cases you will have to pay an extra months deposit/gift money under this arrangement.

So this leaves foreigners with one option, to use a guarantor company. With only a handful of these guarantor companies actually accepting foreigners. The standard fee for using a guarantor company is 0.5-1 months rent.

On the other hand there are plenty of apartments that don’t require a guarantor. These are typically monthly apartments (short term) that are far more expensive than a regular apartment (1.5-2 times the rent).

At Tokyo Fresh we cut the hassle of finding a guarantor and work with you to find the best option. Most of our clients tend to go with one of our recommended foreigner friendly guarantor companies. Even if your not working in japan, these companies also have options for students studying aboard in japan.

Language Barriers 

Finding an apartment is a complex process that requires a great deal of communication. The first step to finding an apartment is to secure an english speaking agent (which there is a lack of). Your agent will handle the whole process for you.

Japanese Landlords want to be able to communicate with you and when you apply for an apartment, the landlord’s first question will be whether you speak Japanese. If you have a good relationship with your agent they may exaggerate your skills.

At Tokyo Fresh we act of your behalf as your bilingual partner in property. We handle the whole process in english, from your first inquiry until you move in. Even after you move in we are just one call away to answer any questions you may have.

Upfront Costs 

Regular apartments (1-2 year contract) are far cheaper than monthly apartments in the long run. However, they require a big upfront payment. The classic fee structure is as follows:

  • 1 months rent in advance
  • 1-2 months gift money (not refundable)
  • 1-2 months deposit (You will receive most of this back minus cleaning fee for the apartment)
  • 1 months agency fee
  • Household insurance (20,000 yen average)
  • Key change fee (20,000 yen average)

So when renting a 80,000 yen / month apartment be prepared to pay 350,000~500,000 yen upfront.

At Tokyo fresh, we have a range of apartments with no deposit and gift money required, providing a familiar option for foreigners.

Unexpectedkindness is themost

My Experiences with the JET Hiring Process


Hi all! I thought I’d share a bit on my experiences with the application, interview, and excruciating wait time involved in becoming a JET ALT; as well as some recommendations based on what I’ve learned.


First off I’d like to say thanks for reading! Next, I should mention that I have applied to the JET Program twice – 2011/2012 in Portland and 2014/2015 in Seattle – and have technically gotten accepted both times but turned down the first offer back in 2012 for financial reasons (had been home from Tokyo study abroad for only 10 months, just graduated, only had a part time job, and had a car loan). So below I’ll put in bits from both those experiences, but each consulate might do certain things differently.

Read more

JET Programme- The Interview

JET: The Interview

As I have been short-listed for the JET Programme, I’m now confident enough to discuss what I did in preparation for the interview and how the actual event transpired. Some of this is slightly embarrassing to admit but it appears to have worked so I couldn’t care less! I hope that in the future, some people may find this post helpful in preparing for their interview.

The Preparation

Read everything. I absolutely mean everything. The interview is arguably the most important part of the JET selection process and you should do everything in your power to be prepared. Unofficial JET resources are often the best places to look. Wikipedia is fair game. Personal blogs are great. Reddit can be a goldmine. ITIL is amazing. Additionally, you should absolutely use as many personal contacts in JET that you have. I was lucky enough to go into the interview after asking two school friends extensively about it.

My preparation for the interview consisted of reading through the extensive online lists of JET Interview questions, brushing up on basic Japanese geography, having mock interviews, writing down prepared answers, and looking up important information on Japan such as important politicians, prominent royalty, and celebrities. At the least, be sure you can name several prefectures, the current prime minister, the current emperor, and all of the main islands. I didn’t end up needing much of what I researched but it absolutely helped me because I was able to walk into that interview room and be absolutely fearless.

The Day Of

When it comes to the day of the interview, wear a suit. Absolutely wear a suit. Have people been hired when they didn’t wear a suit? Yes. Will a suit reduce your chances of being hired? No. So wear a suit. It will also help with your confidence. If you look great, you feel great, and you will be great. You want to be at your best and nobody is ever at their best in a golf shirt.

I strongly recommend going into your interview like you would a university exam. By that I mean don’t drink too much or too little before, and make sure you don’t eat a heavy meal that might make you sluggish. You want to be lively enough to hold a conversation and a dry mouth is a problem you don’t need. Ideally, you want to arrive early as well. If you are interviewing in a city that you do not live in, it will likely be worth the cost to get a hotel close to your interview location so that you can have minimal stress.

There are many accounts of people having ex-JETs in the waiting room when they get there. One of those ex-JETs may even be one of your interviewers so be civil and talkative if you can. In my particular situation, I had the first interview of the day and was only one of two people in the waiting room before my interview. I would highly recommend taking the first interview slot in the morning. This is because the interviewers have nothing to compare you to and you will also likely be one of the easier ones to remember. This does not simply apply for JET. It is a proven strategy in the HR industry because people naturally remember the first and last of a series best.

My Interview

The panel for my interview consisted of the JET Coordinator for my consulate, an ex-JET from Miyagi Prefecture, and a Japanese professor from the University of Calgary. Right off the bat, I believe I earned some lucky points because when the ex-JET mentioned Miyagi, I mentioned that I knew exactly where that was and that I had requested Sendai as my top request. All three were civil but the professor was rather soft-spoken and stone-faced through the entire interview. I was able to make the ex-JET laugh on several occasions and got a couple chuckles out of the coordinator.

Some questions and my answers during the interview in roughly the order asked (paraphrased):

1. Why JET?

I currently know two people on JET and it comes highly recommended from them. It is also extremely well regarded in the international community. Additionally, Japan is one of my favorite countries in the world, I love children, and I believe I am a great teacher. JET seems like the perfect program for me because it lets me fill all those criteria and live how I would like to.

2. Why do you love Japan so much?

I really love the respect that the Japanese have for nature. Even though it is a small island for so many people, they still find a way to preserve so many beautiful sites around their country. They also have some of the best cities in the world. I find that the Japanese do parks really well particularly. I loved how I could be in the middle of a peaceful park in Tokyo and feel like I was in the middle of nature despite actually being in one of the most energetic cities in the world.

3. Do you know what the JET acronym means?

Japan English Teaching. (I know this is wrong. He then corrected me and asked the next question.)

4. What does the Exchange part of the JET acronym mean to you?

I understand that it is an exchange and to me that means that I will not only be learning about Japanese culture, but I will also be expected to teach about Canadian culture and I think that is great. I would likely try and bring aspects of my background into lessons when possible. As an example, if we were doing a unit on animals, I might do a mix of Japanese and Canadian animals.

5. Why is Sendai your top choice?

I don’t do well in extreme heat so I wanted to live in a city that wasn’t too cold or too hot. I also did a majority of my final year courses on marine systems biology so I would like to live next to the ocean. Sendai fit all those criteria and also has several ALT positions.

6. Would homesickness be a problem for you? How do you deal with it?

Absolutely not. I haven’t lived at home for nearly 5 years and I have lived in a different country before when I studied in Sweden. Even if I do start to feel a bit homesick I find that all I need to do is find something to do that reminds me of home.

7. How do you deal with language barriers?

I don’t find language barriers to be a major problem. I lived in a foreign country with a foreign language for nearly 7 months and had no major issues. Even if I can’t get my point across to someone, I normally get along fine with miming or gestures.

8. What are some of the differences between the US and Canada?

We have provinces and territories, they have states. We use British spelling, they do not. We have much fewer people and more space.

9. How would you teach that difference to a child in grade 5?

*Spreads arms really wide* Canada is really really big! You can fit Japan into it more than 20 times. We only have as many people as the 3 prefectures with the most people though. US is smaller than we are but they have many more people.

10. What about the political differences between the US and Canada?

The US has 2 major political parties, Canada has about 5 depending on which province you’re in. They have a president, we have a prime minister. The Queen of England is our head of state though.

11. What are some things you would bring to Japan from Canada to show your class?

I hate to admit it but I actually LOVE plaid. I have several of those really horrible and stereotypical lumberjack shirts that are about as Canadian as you can get. I’d love to bring those with me. I also love maple, but not as most people do. Sure maple syrup and cookies are nice, but I really prefer to use it as an ingredient. When I was in Sweden, I was the only Canadian around so I had many requests for foods using maple. I can make about a dozen different things. I’d love to make some food for my class.

12. When you were in Japan, what did you think of the Japanese people?

The people always seem so lively, even if you’re just doing something as simple as picking up onigiri at a 7/11. I couldn’t help but feel extremely safe and happy in Japan. People were always very polite and helpful to me. I even asked a young man for directions in Kyoto and he walked me all the way there and talked with me along the way. I’ve never had anything like that happen here and they say Canadians are friendly!

13. Japanese people may seem nice on the outside but many will not like foreigners. How will you handle these differences?

Honestly, I expect that not everyone will accept me because of my differences. That being said, I actually love those differences in culture. That’s part of the reason that I love to travel. Even if I may not agree with the viewpoints of someone or they may dislike me simply for being me, I find our differences of opinion to be a beautiful part of life.

14. How would you describe your favorite book to a child in grade 3?

As I mentioned in my essay, my favorite book lately is Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. Ultimately, the book is about soul searching and finding ones-self. It has two main characters; a young man who runs away from home and an older man who is homeless and appears to have some sort of mental issue. There are some strange events that occur such as fish falling from the sky and there are some crazy side characters like a man called Johnny Walker but I don’t think I can go into much more detail on the book. It has many adult themes and I probably wouldn’t even try to explain it to someone in grade 3 to begin with.

And those are all the questions from my interview! Overall I think I did alright. If you haven’t noticed, I kind of like to talk and some of my answers are a bit lengthy. I ended up using up all the time and slightly going over I think. They gave me time to ask only one question at the end but it appears everything turned out great in the end! I hope that my experience with the JET interview can be a help to someone in the future!

A version of this post already appeared on Jordan Smith’s personal site ( You can find other posts on topics such as travel, food, and the JET Programme by following the link.


English Teaching Mistakes You’re Definitely Making

Hey guys, my name is James. In pursuit of my goal to help teachers all over Japan have as much fun as possible while being in this beautiful country, I want to take this space to correct two big mistakes that you need to avoid while teaching English. And if I were a betting man, I’d bet that you’re already making these english teaching mistakes, and they’re sapping the fun out of your days.

These two mistakes are like dust bunnies (or strange smells) in your Leo Palace apartment; turn your head for a minute and they’ll rear their ugly heads. And unfortunately, they’re both habits that are easy to slip into, and (speaking from experience) just as easy to slip back into after you’re kicked them. It’ll take some consistent and dedicated effort, but it’ll absolutely pay off with better, more fun classes.


When you first start your career, or when you begin a new school year, it’s easy to keep your speed in check. You’re actively thinking about it, you’re controlling it. Over the course of the year though, as you become more familiar with your students, you’ll become more comfortable, and you’ll often notice that your speed has changed.

It’s true that some students will have gotten more familiar with your voice, and are apt English-learners and English-comprehenders, and are able to keep up with your newfound alacrity. But most won’t. Your middle-of-the-road and never-wanted-to-be-on-the-road-in the-first-place students that are less enthused about learning English will start to get lost, and then lose interest, and then not care about your classes anymore at all. These students already had one mental foot out the door. The more difficult your lesson is, the more likely it is that their second foot will follow the first.

So how do we fix it? Well, first we want to set a target. Think about how fast you speak when you talk to a fellow native speaker. Now, your goal is about half of that. Don’t change your pronunciation, and make sure you’re not sounding like you’re drunk or talking to a baby. Your goal is just a relaxed, half-speed.

Note regarding your more advanced students: You still need to challenge them to keep them interested and engaged. You can give them some practice outside the classroom, or before and after classes in one on one time. Just avoid going overboard during normal class hours.

To make sure that you don’t fall victim to this mistake, occasionally try to step out of yourself and gauge your speed. For myself, I find that the best time to do this is when I don’t actively have to “think” about what I’m saying, like maybe when reading a passage from the textbook or asking those questions we have to ask every day: “How is the weather?” etc.

As you do this, ask yourself, “Are my lower-level students going to be able to keep up? Do they have a chance to answer this question?”

Keep your speed in check and enjoy the benefits of a more interactive class, which leads to a more fun class for your students, which leads to a more fun class for you.


News flash: “Sensei” is not someone’s name.

The worst possible thing you can do is say this in a teacher’s room. Four different people will think you’re talking to them; and then, all four of them will realize that you haven’t bothered to learn any of their names.

Let’s be fair here: this can be a struggle. I went to multiple schools and had multiple Tanaka-Senseis. But hey, I grew up knowing multiple Joes and Brians and Rachels. This couldn’t be that much more difficult. So I finally started writing all the names down on a business card, and put it into my desk drawer for quick checkability in the morning at every school. Even though the names were still foreign to me, it didn’t take long to nail down almost everyone’s name.

And as far as the payoff? The simple act of using someone’s name instead of “Sensei” has a tangible and positive effect on how they treat you. Remember: most of your co-workers have dealt with “you” before; that is, another foreign teacher. And most of those people before you didn’t bother to learn the names of their fellow instructors. That failure to acknowledge their fellow teachers as individuals (rather than just their titles) no doubt hampered their teamwork considerably.

Be different. Be a nice human being. Take the time to remember your co-workers’ names, and you’ll enjoy a collaborative work atmosphere, and maybe make some new friends. So no matter how many Tanakas you have at your schools, dedicate a little time to getting to know those names.

I could go on and on with other more micro-mistakes, pitfalls, and other ways to enjoy your time in Japan more, but then I’d have nothing to write on my website. The bottom line is, if you’re looking to have more fun in Japan, with more engaged classes and better relationships with your co-workers, start by correcting these two common mistakes so many teachers make all over Japan.

I guarantee you will have more fun!


If you have any questions, do not hesitate to email me at I’m happy to offer answers and advice on whatever topic you need, in the service of ALTInsider’s mission: helping ALTs have more fun!


TJC Podcast 003: Your Life Is An Adventure



Summary: Listen to Albo and Nate discuss how in Japan your life is an adventure. It’s like a heroic RPG and your journey is analogous to Joseph Campbell’s MonoMyth.

Your Life Is An Adventure

In this episode, I (Albo) am joined by my good friend Nate, a fellow Gunma JET Programme participant from California.

While going for a stroll on a surprisingly long walking trail around a cherry blossom encircled lake, we decided to record a podcast.

While walking.

So essentially, this may be the first ever walk-and-talk Walkcast ever done.

In the podcast, we wax philosophical about how in Japan, your life is an adventure.

It’s basically like being the hero of your own RPG (role playing game).

We also discuss the analogs between your personal journey and Joseph Campbell’s MonoMyth.

After listening, we hope you’ll be inspired to be the hero of your own life, to grab challenges by the horns and make the most out of your adventure in Japan.

What You Will Learn:

In this episode, Nate and I mainly focus on the parallels between your life in Japan and Joseph Campbell’s idea of the monomyth.

From Wikipedia,

In a monomyth, the hero begins in the ordinary world, and receives a call to enter an unknown world of strange powers and events. The hero who accepts the call to enter this strange world must face tasks and trials, either alone or with assistance. In the most intense versions of the narrative, the hero must survive a severe challenge, often with help. If the hero survives, he may achieve a great gift or “boon.” The hero must then decide whether to return to the ordinary world with this boon. If the hero does decide to return, he or she often faces challenges on the return journey. If the hero returns successfully, the boon or gift may be used to improve the world.

The stages of the monomyth Hero’s Journey are summarized in this handy infographic:

Whether you come to Japan as a JET Programme participant, on an exchange program, a working holiday visa, or through any other avenue, you’ll inevitably face many of the trials that are universal  to packing up and moving to another country.

Yet I’ve noticed that too many people, after the initial high of moving to Japan wears of, become more and more jaded.

They let the little difficulties and challenges of daily life in Japan get to them.

Overtime, that cynicism increases, perpetuating a vicious cycle of apathy.

“X thing about Japan sucks! I can’t change anything about X, so why even bother trying.” These people then turn to the internet where they spend their days trolling forums about how life in Japan sucks.

If you are just now coming to Japan, promise yourself to never become one of those people.

How can you avoid the cynicism and bitterness of the jaded ex-pat?

Well the first step is to recognize that you are in fact, doing something pretty cool by deciding to move halfway across the world to come live in Japan.

Listen to the podcast and find out how deciding to live in japan is a decision to begin an adventure that could completely change the purpose and course of your life.

Don’t be a secondary character in your own adventure.

Be the Hero of your own life.


If you liked this episode, please subscribe on iTunes to so that you can get the next episode as soon as it comes out.