a merkypie in japan

or ” This is really easy if you just read the directions

If you’ve stumbled over this blog, it’s either for two reasons: You want to read about some silly American’s adventures in Japan or you are thinking of applying/currently applying to the JET Program. If you are the latter, you are at the right place. This page will be all about that application process. So pat yourself on the back, visitor, because you’ve got some good Google skills.

So, what will I be talking about? Basically everything that has been said a thousand times over since JETs started using the internet to broadcast their escapades back in 2000. What will I not be doing? Writing ass long essays scaring you into believing that JET only wants people with a Bachelors in Japanese History who saved children in Africa while singing We are the World in Japanese and translating the Declaration of Independence from English to Taglog.

Because if it was that clear cut, about 90% of JETs currently on the program would not have been hired. I know I definitely would have not made it past the application stage.

Now, I have chronicled my application journey from paper to shortlist under the JET tag in this blog. So, if you wanna skip this condensed version for more emotional freak version out then go right ahead.

I will be talking about the following:

  • Before Anything
  • Before the Application
  • The Application/SOP
  • The Interview
  • The Results

Before Anything

You need a Bachelors degree to apply for the JET Program. Doesn’t matter if it’s in Buttscratching for Dogs, as long as its an accredited Bachelors, you’re good to go for the JET Program. It’s a Japanese immigration requirement and there’s no if or buts about it. So if you’re in High School and reading this, come back in four years.

Now, don’t freak out if you’re in school and majoring in Basket-weaving. I went to school and got some degree in developing web applications and sites. It doesn’t matter. It just happens to be that the majority of people this program attracts are Japanese/East Asian majors. There is no degree requirement and you should not get caught up on that tiny, insignificant, fact. Yeah, you maybe the special snowflake of the group once you’re shortlisted, but don’t get so caught up on the, ” If I major in Japanese, I’m a shoe-in ” because it’s not true. And if someone tells you it is, punch them.

Before the Application

You sit one day, and think, ” What the hell am I going to do with my life “. You’re probably a senior in college and then discover this thing called, ” JET Program “. Minimal research shows that it’s a pretty sweet deal that involves teaching English to Japan. You think, ” Hey! I speak English! I can do that! “, and apply.

Or you could be that one guy that’s dreamed about the JET Program since he discovered anime at the age of ten and did everything in his life for this very moment in October/November when the application goes online.

Either way, you want to apply to the JET Program but you have no idea on what to do to make your application stand out. The first thing to recognize about the JET Program is that it is highly competitive. Extremely competitive. Like, 800 people out of 5000 applicants make the final cut competitive. You need to understand who you’re going up against when submitting your paper application. So, you’re earning a degree in Japanese, went to Japan once, and got a scholarship or two.

Fine. So has about 4,000 other applicants.

Not the special snowflake, are we? Yeah, I know, it sucks. You’d be surprised how many people who have majored in Japanese and been to Japan don’t make it past the paper application stage. So let’s put emphasis on competitive. Alright, got it? Good. Now realize you need to do a little bit more to really show the Japanese government that you’re an awesome person on paper.

The year before you apply for the JET Program is the best year to prep for your application’s credentials. Do not try to apply a year early or try to write your SOP early. You’re just going to waste time. Use this time to volunteer at organizations, work with children, get more involved in your local international community, etc. It’s highly preferred that you always been active in multicultural activities, but a year in advance probably won’t hurt. It shows that you have interest in internationalization.

And that’s a key thing to remember here. The mission statement of the JET Program is to promote grassroots internationalization. While, yeah, you teach English to children, the goal of the program in the eyes of those going through your application and selecting candidates is a desire and passion for international exchange. You will need to live and breath that phrase if you want to successfully make it through, at least, the paper stage of this application.

The Application/SOP

The paper application is a resume, essentially, and you need to put down as much stuff as possible. This is the stage that you’re trying to beat out 5,000 applicants for an interview spot at your local consulate. Going to Japan or having a major in East Asian studies is not going to cut it. There’s so many factors to getting an interview that one sole element isn’t the straw that breaks the camel’s back. So what you’ve went to Japan, Applicant B over here has spent ten years organizing a Japanese festival in his community and has offered to teach Spanish to the local kids for free. Applicant B has as much pull as you with your two week stint in Japan.

Don’t stress over if ” this or that ” is okay to put down on your application. Put. It. Down. Hosted a panel on sushi at a convention? Put it down. Volunteered at the Polish American society? Put it down. Saved a beached whale? Put it down. Went to the local Cherry Blossom festival in your town? Put it down.

I’m sure you’re noticing a pattern here? Good. Put it ALL down. You’re only hurting yourself when you don’t. The application even says you’re allowed to attached one additional sheet if you have more things you’ve done. I did. I had attached a sheet to almost every section. I wanted to show the processors in D.C. that I was passionate for Japan, I was highly active in my local community, I engaged in the multicultural events in my town, I was a leader and excellent student.

Brag, people. Brag like you’ve never bragged before. You want them to want you. Don’t hold back. You’re only screwing yourself over when you do.

Find the two best people ever to write your references. They need to give you references that speak highly of your character and skills. It doesn’t matter if it’s a two page or two paragraph reference, as long as the reference speaks highly of you.

Now, for the SOP. This is the rumored essay that holds the most weight on the application. A two paged, double spaced, essay explaining your reasons why JET, why Japan, and how much you will rock Japan’s world on the program. Please, for the love of God, do not spend time talking about your study abroad and how much you missed Japan or about that one time you taught Tarou the English language. This is a job; they’re looking for people who are going to go into that classroom and teach some awesome English while understanding the core values of the JET Program.

They already know you want to go to Japan. They already have some idea that you might have a small interest in Japan. Just write an essay that talks about your strengths and how these strengths will help you in the JET Program and the program as whole. Of course, include some small blurb about what you hope to gain from the JET Program. Just don’t spend the entire essay talking about how you wanna go to Tokyo Disney and JET is the only program that can facilitate that goal. You will not make it to the interview stage. Trust me.

And, FOLLOW THE ESSAY PROMPT. Make sure you’ve covered every area of that topic.

The application stage is said to be graded on a point system. There’s a cut off and those who fall under that cut off are immediately removed from the selection pool. Those who’re left move on to the interview stage. Look at each section as points. You like points, I like points, we all like points. So fill up each section and win all the points for ultimate success. Then, in late-Jan/early-Feb when interviews are announced you can scream and cry that you’ve made it past the first stage and beat out about a good 3,000 applicants.

The Interview

Congratulations! You’re now an interviewee. You have that magical email with interview instructions and some paper work to fill out. You take your first round of pictures and attach it to that voucher.  You buy a fresh new suit and probably get a hair cut. This is your time to shine.

The interview is the stage where you’re now competing against the 50 or more so applicants that’ve passed the application at your consulate. This is the point where those in this stage of the application process, your consulate, determine if you’re not an insane psycho that can fill out an application. The job, at this point, is for you to loose it (as a wise man said).

You can watch all the videos you want to watch. Answer all the mock questions that you want to answer. But none of that will prepare you for that day. NONE OF IT. You will stumble, slip, and possibly fall — but that’s the whole purpose of this interview — to see how you function under stress. If you can’t handle sitting and standing in front of three complete strangers, how can you function in front of a class of 30 in a foreign country that does not speak your language nearly a half world away? You need to rock this interview as natural and professional as possible. If there’s something you do need to prep on, it’s probably Why Japan and Why JET.

And even then you should ALREADY know this because you wrote it down on your essay. So read your SOP.

Now, apparently, your interviewers do not pick you. They send their recommendations to Tokyo. These recommendations, coupled with your application, are then evaluated in Tokyo. Then, about two months later (Oh yeah, forgot to mention this thing called waiting. It happens), Tokyo sends back to the consulates who they want, who they want but have no spots for, and those they just don’t want.


Congratulations! You’re now a shortlisted JET. Or… not. You’re an alternate. Which isn’t a bad thing, it just means there wasn’t enough positions offered for your consulate and you’re on reserve in case one of the shortlisters drop out for whatever reason. You’re a JET, there’s just not enough spots for all of us.

… or, perhaps, you were just rejected.

If you were rejected from JET, look at how you came off in your interview. Cocky? Uninterested? Not “Genki” enough? Too nervous? At this point, it’s all on you. Now you just have to fix what went wrong with you and try again next year. Nothing can prepare you for anything but yourself.

Once you find out you’re shortlisted or alternate, its a roller coaster of paperwork and more waiting. Submit your forms in as soon as possible and enjoy the bliss of knowing that in 3 months you’ll be on a plane to Japan. I know I am!

Congratulations, you’re JET!

Some Notes

No one knows how the application process works. Sometimes people are alternate one year, rejected at the paper stage the next, and make it in the third time around. I wouldn’t say the application process is random, but it is definitely tricky. What I wrote here is just advice and not hard factual information to application success. Rather, it’s simply tips based upon my own experience in the application process. As they say in JET, Every Situation is Different.