Imagine losing half of your year’s JET salary. Would you quit? Would it make you ask “why did I even come to Japan?”…
There is a famous TV program here in Japan called youは何しに日本へ that poses the question all nationals ask of foreigners: why did you come to Japan? I couldn’t tell you how many times I have been asked that question. It would be at least 200 by now but each time I have been unable to give a clear, succinct and honest answer.
Why did I come to Japan? Yoku wakanai~ I don’t really know.
Maybe it was that my family hosted some Japanese students. Maybe that I had watched Dragon Ball and Pokemon before school gave me inspiration. Unlikely. I had no real interest in Japanese things at that time. I liked football, metal music and Grand Theft Auto. Japan didn’t register on my radar.
Why Did I Go To Japan
I wanted to be a pro soccer player, so I went to England for a year. When that didn’t work out, I started studying Law which was so boring that I found my solace in combat sports. When I watched old tapes of Sakuraba knocking the snot out of the Gracies (whom I despised) I had found a new hero.
My new hero was Japanese. And he was a pro wrestler.
Intrigued by Sakuraba, I watched some old NJPW (and Kingdom/UWF) featuring him. It was glorious. It had the drama and intensity of a big football match, and the exotic flare of a Van Damme film. I was hooked. My dream was to become the next gaijin star of puroresu but a horror injury left me unable to walk for a year – ending that dream. I turned to business. Making money was something that I could do from my computer chair. I scraped my way through the Law degree, then got myself back to Australia to focus on business.
I had a great time in my first year of entrepreneurship, but after a year, things got strange. I found myself having no motivation. Something wasn’t right. I still had an itch to scratch.
I needed to take on something totally new. Something totally foreign that would challenge me every single day.
The incredible timing of my mood to the JET Programme Application process was like a divine message.
Getting Onto The JET Programme
My application must have seemed bizarre to the people tasked with reading it. An Aussie bloke with a law degree but no interest in Japanese things (aside from random connections like Sakuraba) wants to stop making lots of money so he can come to Japan and teach english to little kids, something in which he hasn’t got even the slightest experience.
Luckily, I had years of experience selling project ideas to clients, so a few negotiation magic tricks may have hit the mark. I was granted an interview. And it was an amazing experience unlike any prior interview.
I am very lucky to boast a 100% conversion rate of interviews (5) to resulting appointments. I have confidence that given the chance, I can convince someone of anything that I truly believe myself. And I truly believed that I would have a wonderful time in Japan and mould myself into a valuable resource.
(If you want advice on how to nail interviews, hit me up on Facebook and I’ll do my best to help)
My interviewers were extremely friendly. We were joking about football, pro wrestling and Australian culture within minutes and the tone stayed jovial until it came to the Japanese language section, which I failed spectacularly. I was not well prepared for their questions actually, but I spoke clearly and with integrity about my motivations and interests in Japan. I spoke about my personal qualities and how I believed they would be beneficial to the Programme. I demonstrated before their very eyes that I was confident in my strengths, aware of my weaknesses, and could fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants like the best of them.
With hindsight, I think those are the most important base traits for incoming ALTs. Confidence will help you win the students to your character. Honest self-assessment will propel the necessary self-development that one must undergo here. Ability to improvise will save you countless times in the unique role of ALT in Japanese schools (and life).
Confidence, self-awareness, flexibility: vital core requirements for a JET.
My interview went for almost an hour, but must have done the trick. I got onto the JET programme, and found my way to Gunma.
The New Challenges In Japan
From the very first day, I felt the thrill of daily challenges. First day challenges in Tokyo: buy lunch outside the comfy “JET bubble” hotel (success); get a Japanese girl’s Facebook (failure); find my way out of Kabukicho without getting offered a job as a gay host (failure).
Everything was new. And not just new, different to a degree sufficient that my brain was going into joyful overdrive taking it all in and sorting it out. I was serenaded by background babble oversaturated in open vowels.
Out in the countryside it was equally staggering. I grew up in cities all my life, then I was cycling past rice fields and pig farms. I found my first supervisor to be not only a great advisor, but a father-like figure prepared to accept my wilder sides with an amused grin and a helpful hand pushing me in the right direction.
Work was fun. From birth I loved being the centre of attention and every day I could play the professional clown to adoring cheers and requests for my autograph. I met some great friends too. All the orientation warnings about “stage 2” faded into myth.
About now dear reader, you must be expecting the “Stage 2 – things went bad” story to begin. In part, you’re right.
(Abridged. Full story here: My Japan Odyssey: Wrestling, JET Programme & Losing Stuff by Daniel Bamford)
Realisation of Purpose
I crashed my dream car in icy weather. Replacement car broke down. Insurance companies found loopholes to screw me. My wallet was stolen. Cancel cards and bank books. Etc. Handle a million pain-in-the-ass things. In Japanese; a language I didn’t even know a year earlier in August 2013. What a wonderful year, 2014. About 1,500,000JPY vanished in return for stress and anguish.
I lost almost half a year’s salary. Gone.
But still, I had amazing fun. I traveled and I ate great food. I made close friends and I hustled hard. It seemed that many JETs had given up in the face of nothing much, so I looked with a bizarre pride at the glorious beating I had taken at the hands of lady luck, yet still I stood there smiling. No Stage 2 for me baby.
It was exactly this extreme challenge that I had wanted. This was my reason for coming to Japan.
As an Australian I’m proud to say that I have hardened up. I have gained improved focus. I have seen the value in being loyal, responsible, capable, resilient and positive. I’ve learned to avoid excuses and to embrace self-responsibility.
Now, From Days of Brighter Weather, Clearer Skies
2015 for me has been wonderful. Truly wonderful. I travel when I can, still paying off the horrors of 2014. I took out my last business cash and borrowed from my family to get another roadster that I can drive to wonderful places like Kamakura, Nikko and Tokyo.
At the time of writing, it’s farewell time for me at many schools because my assignments are changing. I get the pleasure of hearing how students don’t want me to leave, and that teachers are genuinely worried about if my replacement is going to be up to the task (he certainly is and more, but it’s nice to know you are valued).
I look forward to more new challenges in Japan, knowing that I am slowly becoming the man I aim to be. I am grateful to Japan and its people, my friends and my colleagues, for helping provide the platform and support for my growth.
To those who are at the beginning of their JET journey, I wish you good luck. But I also perhaps wish you some bad luck, too. I wish you could gain the same benefits from misfortune and difficulties that I have. I hope you will be proud, strong and positive.
The full version of this post appeared on Daniel Bamford’s personal website:
My Japan Odyssey: Wrestling, JET Programme & Losing Stuff
Daniel is an Aussie JET enjoying the laid-back life in Gunma and trips around Japan. Before this, he tried playing football in England, studying Law, and running businesses. These days you can find him feasting at your local burger store or cruising Mt Myogi in his green roadster.