Supplement Material: Omiyage (or gifts)

There is so much to say about omiyage that it merits a post of its own (to go with the theme of the JET application and post departure).

Omiyage is an amazing and stressful thing. It is awesome because it is nice to get little gifts frequently and your desk to be filled with snacks at almost any given moment, but it is stressful because you have to think about what works and what doesn’t, what’s good and what isn’t. Japan is a big gift giving culture so get used to it (and be prepared to be assimilated into it). When in Japan, it is very easy to figure out what to get people, but coming from your own country, that might be a little trickier. So here are some tips for your omiyage before you come to Japan:

Who are you giving omiyage to?

You will be preparing a lot of omiyage to give to many people. The main people you want to give it to are your principals, vice principals, and supervisors at your schools. These are probably the bare minimum requirements, but it is a good gesture to give a small something to everyone. At your base school, you would want to give special things to the English teachers and then a small communal thing for the rest of the teachers. At your other schools, just the communal thing works but if you are feeling rich/have that much space in your luggage, you can get them individual things too. I made little gift bags for the teachers and added in extra things for my principals and vice principals. Then I had boxes of teas and candies for the general teachers.

Omiyage gift bags. You do not have to do this. I was just feeling crafty.

Omiyage gift bags. You do not have to do this. I was just feeling crafty. Inside was salt water taffy, hand sanitizer, some trinket from my hometown, and a tea bag.

Aside from your schools, it might be a good idea to give a small something to your neighbors and landlord at the place you are living at (if you have any). The mayor too if you happen to meet them.

What omiyage works:

  • Individually wrapped food of some kind. I cannot stress this enough but individually wrapped food is going to be your best friend. Food in general is going to be your best friend here, but in terms of omiyage, if it is individually wrapped, you are golden. Local candies or snacks that your city or state or country is famous for or originated in your city/state/country works well. Alcohol too! Don’t be discouraged when bringing alcohol and thinking you will be seen as an alcoholic or something (that thought will soon disappear when you realize the amount of drinking parties there are and the opportunities to drink). I brought California wine for my principal at my base school and he seemed to like it. But just keep in mind the amount limit when taking it on the plane. Local teas work too. Just get a few boxes of Western teas and bam! You have about 20 pieces of omiyage you could give out throughout the year or add with other omiyage. It helps if your city or state or country name is on every piece, but that isn’t too necessary (and frankly, you may be hard pressed to find that anyway). But yes, something that says “I am from ____! Here is a snack!”
  • Small trinkets with your country or even city name on it. Here is a pro tip for you: hit up your local city hall, tell them you are going to a foreign country to work, and you are wondering if they have anything you could bring as gifts. City halls usually have things with your city name on it and are always wanting to promote their city, especially internationally so no doubt they would give you stuff. I was given a huge envelope filled with pins, pencils, bookmarks, keychains, and luggage tags with my city name on them FOR FREE! The free part is the most enticing part so try it!
  • Handkerchiefs. You will be arriving in summer and it is hot and humid as balls. Sweat towels is a thing so giving one would work perfectly.
  • (If you can) Things made in your country. I was embarrassed to find out that the university pen I gave to one of my vice principals was made in Japan instead of the U.S. Double check that shenanigans! And if you are from the U.S….erm…good luck. Nothing is made in the states anymore! HENCE, candies 😀
  • If you want to bring some things for students, coins from your country works like a charm. Students of any age are excited to see different kinds of money and they will ask you questions about it. As an American, I got questions like “why is the dime smaller if it is worth more than the nickel?” and “can I buy a juice with this much?” You know what else doesn’t get old, no matter what age you are? Stickers. Students go nuts for stickers. If you could (and I wish I did this), bring unique stickers like fuzzy ones or scratch n’ sniff (if those are still around).

What doesn’t:

  • Things that melt. I learned this the hard way and now I have a backup that came a little late… If some of your foods melt, give that out early and don’t wait like I did. In terms of chocolate as omiyage, totally doable but again you are arriving in summer. Freeze it before you take it on the plane. Wrap it tightly so it doesn’t melt all over your clothes if it does melt and give it out immediately.
  • T-shirts. Just because you don’t know the sizes and Western sizes tend to run larger than your typical Japanese person. But hats are acceptable.
  • Root beer flavored things. Apparently that isn’t a very well received flavor here. The same goes with licorice flavored things too.
  • Mint flavored things too. Apparently students don’t really like that flavor.
  • Anything too expensive. What can happen is that the person you give a gift to will give you something in return. You wouldn’t want the person to feel bad in receiving it and/or feel like they have to repay the favor with a gift of equal value. Simple is always better.

When do you give the omiyage?

I have heard that it doesn’t super matter when you give it but if you want to get it done and out of the way, I would suggest giving it out in the first couple weeks you arrive at your base school and then on the first week of school at your other schools (if you have any). That way all of your teachers are there and you could use it as a conversation piece. But if you are shy (like yours truly), then throughout the year is fine too. As long as you give it at some point. I am still sitting on some myself that I will give out at one point or another.

Omiyage throughout the year

No doubt you will be traveling and going on cool trips outside of your prefecture. It is customary to bring some omiyage from a place you went for your coworkers. Now, this is somewhat left to your best judgment (and you will get a feel for it once you are here). Personally, whenever I have to take days off to travel somewhere relatively far, I bring back something for just my base school (sometimes my other schools if I have enough space to carry it). Some people don’t do this and that is completely fine too. It is up to you how you feel about it but gift giving is a thing here and Japan is well equipped with all of your omiyage needs when you go on trips within Japan. There are even omiyage shops with a variety of items you can choose from so they already did the choosing of the gift for you. Just need to count how many coworkers you have and how many are in a box and you’re done! A good tip is to buy omiyage with the name of the city or place you went to (or something that is super popular from that place).

You'll be seeing a lot of these...

You’ll be seeing a lot of these…

Other tips:

  • You can include a nice little note with your omiyage. It shows that you took a little extra time and care into it and you thought about the person, even if it is a saying that you wrote for everyone. There is a Japanese phrase お世話になります. This roughly means “Thank you for taking care of me (in advance)”. I wrote it on little cards and attached it to my omiyage. Don’t know if they were read or not but I was proud to write it haha.
  • Keep a stash of omiyage at home just in case you meet a new friend. I know it is a lot to carry when you first get here but if you are able to get things shipped to you during your duration here, be sure to ask for some candies or trinkets and stash them. Again, you will be immersed into this gift giving culture so prepare for any and all situations where a small gift is nice. For instance, I was meeting a new friend that I was introduced to online for the first time for baking soda she was giving me. I thought wait a minute! I have these lollypops from home that I can give to her and her family! So I pulled out four different flavors and gave them to her as a little “nice to meet you. Let’s be friends!” gift and she also gave me Tim Tams. I didn’t expect the Tim Tams so it was a good thing I had those lollypops! 😀 So yes, future gifts for future friends, good idea to have them.

If you have any other omiyage questions, feel free to leave a comment below. I would be happy to answer any inquiry you have 😀

Posted in Incoming/Aspiring JETs, Pre-departure, School Life | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Post Interview Process of the JET Program (and Preparations After)

So you finished your interview and you waited the two months while the JET gods are deciding your fate. After those two months, you will receive an email of either congratulations, you made it onto the short-list or you are on the alternate list. I was glued to my phone, refreshing every few minutes during the day to see if I got an email. I received an email on April 1st that I was on the alternate list. Beginning of April seems to be the common time you will find out if you have been accepted or not, so in those two months, try to stay busy. But yes, I was placed on the alternate list.

Alternates: There are mixed feelings about this position. For one, there is a possibility of you being upgraded to short-list if someone drops out. But that is also banking on someone dropping out. They would have to drop out from your consulate, so if you are from a small city with not very many applicants…good luck. If you are placed on the alternate list, do not give up hope! It is still possible to be upgraded. Word around the grapevine is that there are two major times when alternates are upgraded: after the paperwork is due at the end of the month and prior to departure time in July. People either turn in paperwork late or decide they don’t want to go or that they realize that they were not ready to leave and drop out. Upgrades can happen throughout the year too, but this is not common. Your best bet is around those two times.

Once you know what list you fall on, you must turn in the necessary paperwork and await further instructions. April 30th was the deadline for me so I turned in all my paperwork and just waited. It is hard to stay away from your computer or phone and constantly checking your email to see if you got upgraded. Again and again, try to stay busy and work on that backup plan for if you don’t get upgraded and go to Japan. But how the upgrade process works is that you will simply receive an email from your consulate stating congratulations! You have been upgraded to short-list! And with that, there is more paperwork to be done but you made it! My upgrade happened on May 8th, so a little over a week after the paperwork was due and within that first wave of upgrades. So it is possible! Never give up, never surrender!

Here was my process and dates from alternate to short-list and the documents needed at those times: (my consulate also sent me an email when they received my paperwork so I hope yours does too because that made life easy)

  • Beginning of April – Email received. Alternate position. QQ.
  • End of April – Deadline for the following forms: Alternate Reply Form, copy of Application of Criminal Background Check, and a copy of passport
  • Beginning of May – Email received. Upgrade to Short-List position. Yay!
  • Mid-May – Deadline for the following forms: Status Upgrade form, a copy of the application for IRS Certificate of Residency (Form 8802)
  • Mid-June – Deadline for Certificate of Health
  • Mid-June – Email received. Placement in Ibaraki prefecture.

So you made it onto the short-list, but what do you do now? At this point, you have little information to go off of. You know you are going to Japan, but where? You could literally be placed anywhere in the country, despite what preferences you may have put. All you could do is start preparing for the departure. Some things you can do while waiting:

  • Start buying omiyage (or at least researching what to bring). You are going in the middle of summer, so be mindful of things that melt (if you want to bring chocolate, freeze them before taking them on the plane as a carry on). Local snacks are always safe and if anything, much desired (Japanese love their snacks). Something small so you don’t have to carry so much. Don’t fret so much about omiyage either. Your schools and other people will be happy with whatever you give them, but still put in an effort. (For a more detailed look at omiyage, check out my omiyage post)
  • Make a packing list. Again, going in the middle of summer so be mindful of the clothes you bring. Plus you can go shopping for anything you might need when you get to Japan. You can pretty much find anything you need here if you look hard enough so if you have particular brands you just can’t live without, bring it with you. You also have to be willing to pay for it so if you aren’t, bring it with you. Or if you are way out there in the inaka (countryside) and not close to a station that can take you to a major city. Then definitely bring your favorite stuff with you. But you are limited in space, so think carefully. You would be surprised about what you can find here.
    • Things you might want to bring:
      • Deodorant because they aren’t as powerful as Western ones.
      • Clothes in general if you run a large size. They have Uniqlo that offers some big sizes and Western stores too but if you run exceptionally large or exceptionally tall, consider bringing some clothes and having the rest shipped to you. As a female, finding bras…forget it. If you are anything larger than a D-cup, bring them with you or have them shipped.
      • Shoes because shoe sizes run small here so finding anything beyond 25cm will be a hassle (sorry, gentlemen mostly). Here is an international size chart for your viewing pleasure. If you have big feet by Japan standards, bring your own. Remember also: you will need indoor shoes. Any kind of shoe is fine, just as long as it hasn’t been worn outside ever. They do have Crocs here which are good indoor shoes but if you want to bring your own, easy slip on slip off tennis shoes is a safe bet.
    • Things you don’t have to bring:
      • Basically everything else needed for daily life. Japan isn’t a third world country. Unless you are high maintenance or you need those certain brands to live, you will be fine with the Japanese equivalent. But if you want to bring them, more power to you.
  • Plan them going away parties and dinners. Spend some time with your family and friends. You may not be seeing them for a while and Skype/any other video chat could only do so much. Take pictures, make videos, eat your favorite foods because I can guarantee you will miss them here. Unless your favorite foods are Japanese foods. Then you are fine. But Mexican food? Forget it; gorge yourself. But yes, take lots of pictures and videos. I can guarantee you will be asked about your family and hometown, so bring pictures of your favorite places and people and pets. Plus it is nice to look back on them when you are feeling a little homesick or need a pick-me-up.
  • Start thinking of your self introduction. You will be giving a million and a half self introductions during your first couple months at your schools (sometimes in the first five months like yours truly… -.-), so think of what items to bring, what prizes to bring, what you want to share. If necessary, take pictures of what you need. (Note about your self intro: some of your schools may not have access to technology like a projector or sound so prepare for both cases.)
  • Prepare your computer. I wish I did this before I left and I am kicking myself for it. Load it up with MS Office and make sure you have the necessary video players or books to entertain yourself in the time you don’t have internet. To clarify, you will have internet access for the first three days you are in Tokyo for the Tokyo Orientation, but when you go to your respective places, your place may not have internet so be prepared to spend a few weeks without it in your new place. You can buy a computer in Japan, but the keyboards are a little different and can be pricy so if you are particular, then bring your own and have it loaded up with everything you need.

There are hundreds of other things you could do but this will help you get started before you find out where you are placed or who you are teaching in terms of school. Speaking of placement, that email doesn’t come probably for another month. Since I was an alternate upgrade, my placement came a little later (or at least I would like to think that was why it was delayed). But after you get your placement, you can really do some digging on what schools you will most likely be teaching at and who you will be working with.

Once you get your placement, do your best to get in contact with the person you are taking over for as soon as possible. Assuming they are available for you, they should help you in answering whatever questions you have that your research couldn’t find. I was lucky that my predecessor was helpful and walked me through some things and even offered some suggestions (and we still talk now!).

But that is all I can offer right now. The rest is up to you. Go forth and make a difference in the world! Good luck and if you have any questions at all, feel free to comment below. There is no such thing as a stupid question. The only stupid question is a question not asked.

Posted in Pre-departure, The Application Process | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

JET 20 Questions

Taken from the blog “Memoirs of a Gaijin”, here are some questions about my experience in the JET Programme and living in Japan. Although the common Every Situation Is Different (ESID) mantra is strong, it does help to have as much information of what could happen when living in Japan and teaching here.

Name: Lucy

Prefecture Placement: Ibaraki

Prefecture Requests: Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto City, Tokyo City (I like to dream big)

Teaching Experience: 2.5 years at my university during my graduate program years and some undergraduate years.

Number of Schools and age: three senior high schools and one secondary school (junior high and high school combined)

School Level: I am not quite sure what my secondary school’s level is because it is still in the experimental stage. As for high school, one high-medium, one medium-low, and one low. I got a nice range of students to work with. The low level students are a tad difficult to work with considering some of them will probably not go to a university so their level of caring for English is zilch.

Average number of classes a day: 3

Closest JET to you distance wise: 40 minutes drive away (although I haven’t reached out to other JETs in the surrounding prefectures that border me so for all I know, there is one closer.)

Best part of the job: the students outside of the classroom. They are so funny and interesting and want to talk about things they like and you like, but inside the classroom they are quiet. It is an interesting phenomenon when that happens. It’s like the class time itself creates a barrier between teacher and student and once that bell rings at the end of class, students are all like “Lucy sensei! Lucy sensei! 見て!見て!(Look! Look!)” and they show me a picture on their phone or something or something in their pencil case.

Worst part of the job: Uncooperative students and JTEs who do not help discipline them. It is difficult to control a bunch of rowdy teenagers when you do not know the appropriate words to calm them down. I am not one to yell at students to get them to cooperate. And it doesn’t help of the JTE isn’t stepping in to calm them down. It has led to days where I felt apathetic towards the students. Also, teachers moving to different schools after a certain period of time. I like my teachers so I don’t want them to leave but some do and it makes me sad.

Best part of living in Japan: the ease of travel. It is so easy to just look up how to get somewhere and find a path there. The train system is phenomenal here so getting from point A to point B anywhere in the country is simple. Yeah, there are other and sometimes cheaper options like buses, renting cars, or flying. But you can explore so many places on a weekend or even in the evenings if you are close enough.



Worst part of living in Japan: Hmm…I don’t know if there is a worst part as most of the difficulties that come with living in a foreign country, I already kinda expected it all to happen. I already knew there was going to be a language barrier so that isn’t the worst thing about living here. I suppose the worst part about living here is the trash system. It is difficult to toss certain large items and sometimes you have to pay to get it hauled away so that is kind of frustrating. Oh, and shops closing early, even on weekends. That’s kinda annoying.

Favorite memory so far: I have two: Tokyo Game Show (TGS) and Universal Studios Japan (USJ). TGS because I met someone special there and USJ because I got to see the gigantic Shingeki statues and that just blew my mind.

I felt like a child when I saw this... I was so amazed.

I felt like a child when I saw this… I was so amazed.

Hardest time so far: Having bad days and not having that immediate physical connection with someone. I am in a long-distance relationship and I usually coped with my rough days by seeing my significant other and spending time with them. Now, I can only see them through a screen and that is really tough.

What do you miss most about home: My family, friends, and food (specifically pizza and burritos).

What would you miss the most about Japan if you left tomorrow: The people I have met here, both fellow JETs/ALTs and my JTEs. I am having difficulty swallowing the fact that some teachers change schools and I like most of my teachers. They are still in the same country, yet I am really sad they are leaving my schools. I would miss everyone I have met here if I were to hop on a plane tomorrow back home.

What’s one thing you wish you’d brought with you to Japan: A new laptop. I didn’t realize my tiny little netbook couldn’t handle what I needed it to without crashing or slowing down. I could be way more productive at home if I had a better laptop so I am currently hunting for one.

What’s something/things you brought that you wish you didn’t: Nothing really. I packed relatively light so everything I brought, I needed. Maybe some foods or spices I can’t get here? But again, I could live without them.

Tip for living in Japan: Go out and explore as much as you can. Your time here is limited (unless you plan to live here forever, in which case ignore this) so live it up while you can. Experiences over possessions is what you should spend your money on so travel more and spend less on material things that you are just going to have to send back with you when you go home or leave behind. Plus Japanese apartments are pretty small so it is best not to have too many things to begin with. Make friends with both other JETs and the locals in your area and don’t be a shut-in. Even introverts find friends in other introverts. You are not alone.

Tip for being a JET: Go in with little to no expectations (aka keep an open mind about EVERYTHING). Many people go in with the fantasy of Japanese life and teaching in a Japanese high school being amazing and exciting and the students are respective and obedient and that is totally true…to a certain extent at the beginning. But once you start establishing a routine, the novelty of living here wears off and you start noticing the little things that either don’t make sense to you or you think could be done better. Just know that you will hit moments where you question being here and you will either get through it and continue or realize that this gig isn’t for you. And that is totally okay. JET is there to place you in an area that needs you and you have little choice in the matter (despite what you put on your application). Make the best with what you got.

Posted in Living in Japan | Tagged , , | 1 Comment