As I wind down on my time here in Japan, I wanted to take the opportunity to not only reflect on my experiences, but also offer some advice to any incoming/ new JETs. While this is framed specifically for participants of the Japanese Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, some of the information could apply to any soon-to-be expats who are moving abroad to live and work.
I’ll also note that of course, this is coming from the lens of my personal experience. I have been in the JET Programme for one year, and while I have learned and experienced a lot, my thoughts may have differed had I spent another year here, lived in a different part of Japan, or participated in different opportunities. Regardless, I hope I can help someone think about ways in which they can adjust and adapt to a new culture, country and experience.
Tip #1: Do Extracurriculars
When I came to Japan, I knew I really wanted to learn to play taiko drums. And fortunately, my Board of Education asked us right away if there were any Japanese hobbies we’d like to try. Some of my colleagues mentioned other aspects of Japanese culture they wanted to take part in (i.e. kendo, tea ceremony). We were immediately connected with resources to support our interests.
I had considered doing other things as well, but initially wanted to give myself some time to adjust to my new schedule and life in Japan. There were definitely pros and cons to this mentality.
- Time to adjust
- More free time to explore my new home
- More opportunities to meet new people and build new friendships
- less time to learn
- less time spent building community relationships
The Cons definitely have only come now in retrospect, staring down the final weeks of my contract and my life here. Yes, part of me wishes I’d just jumped into everything right away so I would be further on in my learning. However, I think it was ultimately the right decision. Being able to fully know my schedule, allowing me to adjust mentally and emotionally likely made me more open to learning new things and ultimately kept me from burning out.
How much can I take on?
This was a question I struggled with a lot, and the answer will really depend on the individual. For me, the more I settled in, the more I wanted to learn. I had a level of desire to do and try every single uniquely Japanese thing I could- from archery to kendo to judo to tea ceremony to dance to pottery to calligraphy. But there just isn’t enough time in the day/week/month/year. I ended up doing three extracurriculars: tea ceremony, calligraphy and taiko. I also attended some Japanese language classes as well. There were times when it felt like too much and I just wanted more down time to myself. For the most part, it didn’t bother me at all.
Part of this was the frequency of my classes and the resulting impact on my schedule. I started with Japanese language class and taiko. Japanese class was every week on Tuesday. Taiko lessons were averaging twice a month for an hour on Fridays. Then I added calligraphy which was 3 times a month on Thursday nights. Finally when I felt adjusted in that schedule, I added tea ceremony which was every week on Wednesdays. Ultimately, Japanese classes fell to the wayside, partly because of the commute I had to and from them, and partly because I felt I could find alternative ways to study that were more cost effective (the classes were essentially free but the commute cost about $12 (1180 yen) for the round trip. After that, everything else felt more manageable. I even considered adding more.
What should I try?
This of going to be largely dependent on personal preference, available resources and scheduling needs. I strongly encourage you to try as much as you can reasonably take on (for some this may be one thing, for others it may be several). But the primary aspect of this should be that it is in your community. Try to stay as local as possible with your activities. There are a few reasons for this:
- Commute! If you can bike or walk to the place it’s far cheaper than catching the train/bus/taxi.
- Connections. It’s great to be connected within your community. To be able to run into people you know around town can be a wonderful thing in an unfamiliar place.
- Sense of belonging. Jumping off of connections, feeling like you have a place within your community can help create an environment that feels a little bit more like home and can help you feel you belong in a world where you likely stand out 99% of the time.
How can I find things in my area?
To get connected, utilize your support/supervisors at the Board of Education. Mine were extremely helpful; I know that is not the case for everyone. So if your Board of Education is not a resource for you, connect with other foreigners in the area (fellow JETs or anyone else you meet) and see what they’ve done. Ask your coworkers (in my case, teachers) at school to see if they know of anything. Ask your predecessor what they did and if they can connect you. Living in a foreign country can feel lonely but you do have supports and the more you utilize them the better!
Why should I do this, really?
While I’ve mentioned a variety of reasons throughout to do extracurricular activities (personal interest, community involvement) my number one reason would be that it significantly helps with culture fatigue/shock. I cannot count the number of times I have had a bad day/week, feeling frustrated with the cultural differences, feeling lonely or homesick and I have gone to one of my classes and immediately felt better. At the very least, it can be a needed distraction and time eater. At the most it is a reminder of why you came to Japan, how your time here has helped grow you, how much you’ve learned here, and hopefully remind you of the wonderful things this place has to offer.
Since joining my extracurricular activities I have numerous opportunities that I would not have otherwise had. Here are just a few
- Increased communication opportunities
- Exposure to different facets of Japanese life
- Deeper understanding of cultural practices
- Participation in cultural experiences
- Connections with a wide variety of community members
- Trying lots of Japanese treats (more おみやげ (omiyage- Japanese souvenirs) and every tea ceremony lesson!)
If you haven’t thought about taking on a Japanese hobby, I hope this was helpful in giving you some ideas. If you have thought about it, I’d love to hear what you’re hoping to try! Leave a comment and let me know!
Thanks so much for stopping by. Get home safe 😉