Tips for Incoming Japan ALTs

I think we all have experienced that high when you finally received your job offer from JET, Interac or wherever you had interviewed for. That feeling of anxiety but also excitement. That feeling of getting the email and going, “what next? now what?”.

Here’s some of my tips for you to (hopefully) ease your anxiety a little bit.

Don’t Bombard Your Company with Emails!!!

Breathe. You‘re probably not getting timely emails because they are emailing you from a different time zone, and/or it’s probably something they don’t even have an answer to yet.

If it’s about your placement, it’s very likely that dispatch companies like Interac won’t know until the very last minute whether or not that have a contract from the Board of Education (BOE) to give you. Many dispatch companies usually bid for the same BOE contracts, and the decisions don’t get to your company until up to one month before the start of a term (either April or September). Even if they know, they are probably trying to organize hundreds of other people overseas, current employees who may be relocating and displacing current employees into different areas of the region.

Of course, if your company hasn’t responded to anything, you will definitely want to follow up. But emailing your company 5 times a week isn’t going to make your answer magically appear if they don’t have one in the first place.

Bring Deodorant!!

Seriously. Japanese deodorant doesn’t do anything. I’ve been in Japan for 5+ years and have tried to switch to J-deodorant, but other than having the cooling effect, it doesn’t do anything to prevent you from being less smelly. I still use deodorant from Canada to this day.

Get Your Documents in Check

If you have extra, physical copies of your school transcripts, diploma and other certificates that you cannot access online and get official online copies of, scan them and take them with you on a USB or computer (if you’re taking one with you). Whether you plan on switching jobs in the future, you may end up in a situation where you are forced to, and having digital copies of these things will help you secure the interview for that new job. I was never asked for official copies of these things, but some jobs want prove and just to see it - so having a digital copy sped up the hiring process for me quite a bit.

Notify Appropriate Government Entities

I’m giving examples here as a Canadian, so please note that things will & may be different in your home country.

It’s definitely not a necessity in Canada, but if you don’t want to be charge tax from Canada’s side of things, you may want to pop in and declare yourself a non-resident (there are disadvantages and advantages to this, so please make sure you understand what you’re signing up for before you do this) before coming to Japan. Likewise, for your own safety, you may want to join the Registration of Canadians Abroad. You will be put on a mailing list that will warn you of any travel advisories in your new country, and they will also have information about you and your emergency contacts should anything befall you. I always receive emails from this website when a serious Typhoon hits Japan, and during the entirety of COVID19, I get occasional emails about available flights that still fly in and out of Japan from Canada.

Don’t Overpack! Tips on Packing.

You mind is probably rushing towards what kind of teaching materials you should take with you to aid you in your classes, or what kind of clothes you should take with you for work... or what kind of gifts you should give to your new coworkers in Japan.

The former really isn’t necessary because you’ll probably be using online resources more than anything. If you want, definitely prepare for an intro lesson about yourself. But I wouldn‘t worry so much about other materials.

Clothes is... for some of you may need to ponder more on than others. I’m sorry to say, but if you do have a big body frame, you definitely may want to prepare more clothing from home. Most stores here in Japan fit more of an average Asian body frame. “Free size” clothing is more common than back in Canada. Same with shoe size. The bigger your feet, the more difficult it will be for you to find shoes.

Gifts! The easiest thing is just to bring food. Seriously. Pack lots of snacks you are used to eating from home. Even if you don’t plan to give them out, you can always eat them yourself so you get a taste of home. It would be best if you can get things that are individually wrapped to share, especially now during COVID19 though (at the time of writing)

Learn Some Kanji (For Beginners)!

I think a lot of people obviously want to study Japanese as they haven’t before, and some people even try to cram a bit of basic hirakana and katakana before coming. But put it on hold. Instead, I implore you to start remember some Japanese kanji instead. Like days of the week, numbers, food/drink items, toiletries, etc. It will probably give you less culture shock to be able to recognize some commonly used Japanese kanji while walking down the street or looking at the menu. For example you might know ‘chicken’ as ‘にわとり’ (niwatori) but you’d be hard pressed at a supermarket to find those Japanese characters. You’re more likely to see ‘鶏‘ or ‘鳥肉‘ in the meat section (I mean, how it looks should give it away... but you know what I mean).

Making Friends

My final tip has to be about making friends and feeling like a sense of belonging here.

Myself included, I know some of you will be quick to try and make friends with the people in your immediate surrounding. After all, you’re all in the same boat, experiencing Japan in very similar ways which bring you together. You all have to recreate your new social support system, and they seem to be the easiest place to start. But please don’t feel like you NEED to be friends with those people. You don’t need to be friends with everyone!

Sometimes those aren’t the people you really should be friends with.

Of course, it’s very possible that there is someone in your immediate surrounding who you really click with, and that’s great. But it doesn’t work out that way sometimes, and it will be scary to break away from the drama and anxiety-inducing situation - but I promise you will be fine.

Use that time to branch out. Look for some organization or association to be a part of, see if you can join in on some new hobbies related to Japanese culture or join some meetup events (if you are in a big city). Someone is bound to take you under their wing. Try not to let your loneliness cloud your judgement.

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