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A long distance view of the JET experience


When our son received the letter of acceptance for JET we  were suitably impressed both with his achievement and the quality of the stationery used by the Japanese Embassy. The followed months waiting to hear his specific destination in Japan were agonising for the entire household. A distinct sense of relief followed the news of his posting to Himeji; all concerned were convinced of our son’s unsuitability to life somewhere far from the nearest cinema!

The large amounts of compulsory reading material didn’t immediately shed light on what to actually expect on arrival – neither had the off-putting advice and terrifying vignettes described during the 2 days induction in London. The long shopping lists were equally daunting – it being downright impossible to dispatch a son to foreign climes with a year’s supply of deodorant. All in all we saw him off from Heathrow, fully loaded with the necessary provisions with a slightly disloyal, huge sense of relief.

According to his early missives, despite the minutely detailed guidance he had received, life in Japan sported innumerable surprises – many of them pleasant but not all. Taking the cake for less pleasant was access to personal banking: infrequent cash machines adapted to foreigner usage; fragile and easily damaged chipped debit cards (maybe that’s just my son); uncivil opening hours for banking matters and a distinct absence of English translations of Japaneses instructions or English speaking staff.

Japanese culinary delights are revered and enjoyed worldwide. However, my son’s list of faux pax in ‘real life’ Japanese restaurants and supermarkets did provide both humour and pathos in equal measure. Shopping for clothes and shoes seems to have presented some unanticipated problems: as the unsporting boy had not packed any trainers he found himself unfittingly shod for his unexpected shifts of compulsory supervision in the school gym where sports shoes were an essential wardrobe item. An urgent shopping trip followed to the largest department store on Osaka. On asking for his size in the large and well stocked shoe department, he was met with guffaws of laughter!

Other amusing first-hand accounts of the novelties of life in Japan have derived from stilted conversations with pupils and teaching staff in corridors and in the Staff Room. My choice favourite being this conversation about how to teach the ins and outs of verbs with one of his fellow teachers:

“How did you learn to conjugate in school?”

“‘Lie back and think of England’.”

Similarly, throwaway comments from students on how they perceive life in the UK have been very amusing and indeed some of my son’s recollections of Sports Days’ events offer a distinctly distorted,  ‘Faulty Towers’ sense of reality.

Regarding the unreliability of communicating via online, free and interactive websites: I haven’t logged the innumerable, barely started chats we’ve had on Whats App. But possibly and predictably the time difference between the 2 nations has caused the greatest irritation; a bright and breezily started chat at our end on a weekend morning has frequently been answered with monosyllabic mutterings.

However, now that my son has become the experienced ‘Englishman about town’ in Himeji, regrettably we hear about many fewer moments of hilarity!


Margaret O’Toole


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