The JET Programme – Background


The Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (外国語青年招致事業, Gaikokugo Seinen Shōchi Jigyō) or JET Programme (JETプログラム, Jetto Puroguramu) is a Japanese government initiative that brings college (university) graduates—mostly native speakers of English—to Japan as Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs), Assistant Cultural Exchange Teachers (ACETs) and Sports Education Advisors (SEAs) in Japanese elementary, junior high and high schools, or as Coordinators for International Relations (CIRs) in local governments and boards of education. JET Programme participants are collectively called JETs.

Participants come from a total of about 40 countries. As of July 1, 2006, 5,508 participants (in CIR, ALT, and SEA positions) were employed on the programme, making it the world’s largest exchange teaching programme. Of that number, about half are from the United States (2808), with Canada (618), Britain (577), Australia(316), New Zealand (242), Ireland (95) and South Africa (94) for ALTS as well as China (77) and Korea (59) mostly CLRs, making up most of the remainder. As of 2006, roughly 41 countries have participants in the program. Holders of Japanese passports may participate in the programme, but must renounce their Japanese citizenship to do so. In principle, participants should be under 40 years of age when hired. The focus of the program is on English language learning and teaching, so about 90% of the participants on the programme are ALTs; the remaining 10% are divided between CIRs and SEAs. The number of alumni totals over 40,000.


History and aims of the programme

The English Teaching Recruitment Programme was started in 1978 and initially was exclusively for British university graduates. This programme became known as the “British English Teachers Scheme.” American teaching assistants were later added under the “Mombusho English Fellows Program.” As more countries were included, the programmes were folded into a single entity, the JET Programme, in 1987. Its aims were revised to “increase mutual understanding between the people of Japan and the people of other nations, to promote internationalisation in Japan’s local communities by helping to improve foreign language education, and to develop international exchange at the community level.” In 2007, the Jet programme welcomed 5,119 participants from 41 countries. As of July 1, 2008, there are 4,682 participants (384 CIRs, 4,288 ALTs, and 10 SEAs).

Administrative details

The programme is run by three ministries: the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) in conjunction with local authorities. The programme is administered by CLAIR (the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations), and has an annual budget of over 45 billion yen (US$400 million).

Application process

One must:

  1. hold a Bachelor’s degree (in any subject);
  2. be a citizen of the country where the recruitment and selection procedures take place;
  3. have excellent skills in the designated language (both written and spoken). (English or for non-English speaking countries English or the principal language);
  4. have a keen interest in the country and culture of Japan;
  5. in principle, be under 40 years of age;
  6. not have lived in Japan for 3 or more of the last 8 years, nor be a former participant in the programme for the last 10 years.

    Prospective participants must submit a detailed application including a statement of purpose and self-reported medical form, usually in November or December of the year before their departure.Those who pass stage one of the process are invited to interviews which are conducted in major cities, usually in February. Interviews are conducted in English or in the language of applicant’s country and, in some cases, in Japanese, by JET alumni, embassy or consulate representatives and people from the business community. Interviewees are then offered a position, rejected, or become “Alternates” (who may participate if positions become available).Once offered a position, applicants must formally submit their acceptance or rejection of the offer. In addition, they must provide the results of a recent physical examination, performed by a physician within the last three months. Finally, they must submit detailed contact information so that the programme can send them materials and information as the departure date draws nearer.

    Participants usually learn of their placement details during May through July just before their departure date of very late July (Group A) or very early August (Group B). Alternates may receive very short notice, sometimes only a few weeks, if a placement becomes available. It should be noted that applicants who withdraw from the program after receiving placement notification are ineligible to reapply the following year. Applicants are required to depart in a group from the city in which they were interviewed. This is usually the Japanese embassy or consulate that serves the applicant’s home town, though it could theoretically be any site in the same country that the applicant submits on his or her application. Airfare is arranged by the programme.

    Participants are also required to attend pre-departure and post-arrival orientations as well as conferences, including mid-year conferences and returnee conferences, during their tenure.

    Participants are placed with a local authority in Japan (the Contracting Organization) which is the employer. There are 47 prefectural governments and 12 city governments, as well as numerous individual city, town and village governments and some private schools designated as Contracting Organisations. While applicants can specify up to three preferred locations, and can request urban, semi-rural or rural placements, they may be placed anywhere in Japan, and placements may not match requests.

    Participants sign a one-year contract, which can be renewed up to four times, for a maximum of five years. Before 2006, participants could only contract for up to three years, with the exception of a few positions.

    Participants receive 3,600,000 yen per year. In addition to this, participants may receive housing subsidies or other benefits including paid airfare to and from Japan, and city taxes paid by the Japanese government. Participants are generally forbidden to take paid work outside of their Programme duties.


    JET post-arrival orientation

    Upon arrival at Narita, JET Program participants are met at Narita airport by selected JET Program participants known as TOAs. The TOAs guide the new participants through Narita airport to pre-arranged ground transportation to their hotels in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Most will stay in the Keio Plaza Hotel, while a few will stay in the Shinjuku Hilton. For the following 3 days, participants will attend welcome ceremonies and seminars known collectively as the JET post-arrival orientation or JET Tokyo Orientation while overcoming the effects of jet lag. At the end of the JET post-arrival orientation, participants are divided into groups by prefecture and dispatched by various modes of transportation to meet a representative of their CO, usually the supervisor.

    Prefectural Arrival

    On arrival in their town of placement, the supervisor will show the new participant to their apartment and help them set up their basic domestic arrangements. At some point after this, a JET Prefectural Orientation will take place. This will be another 3 to 9 days of seminars intended to prepare the new participant for work duties. The prefectural orientation is also a good time to familiarize oneself with the prefecture’s main city and modes of transport.


    Many JETs elect to stay for the pre-2006 maximum three years (increased to a total of 4 recontracting cycles as of the 2007-2008 JET programme application year for a total of 5 years maximum ALT/CIR experience) and even beyond (JETs are sometimes hired on privately by their Contracting Organizations when their three year tenure is finished), and the JET Programme continues to receive funding and attract applicants. Some JETs in recent years have been placed in elementary schools, reflecting MEXT’s plan to raise the English ability of Japanese students. Some contracting organizations go further and have ALTs periodically work with kindergarten students teaching basic English vocabulary as well as exposing them to non-Japanese people (something the markedly homogeneous Japanese demographics often lacks). JETs occasionally also teach in special schools.

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    Several prefectures have opted out of the JET Programme in recent years. Some hire directly while others use an intermediary dispatch company. While direct-hired employees may obtain working conditions similar to the JET Programme; those employed by dispatch companies often have very different working contracts—unpaid holidays or pay-by-the-day contracts are not uncommon. Some dispatch methods used by certain Boards of Education have even been declared illegal by Japanese labor standards authorities.

    For the contract year of 2007, the possible stay for all JETs was extended from 3 years to 5 years. However, there is a stipulation. The participant that wants to stay for more than 3 years must show ability in the Japanese language by passing level 4(lowest level) of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test or by completing one official CLAIR Japanese language course.


    There are several general criticisms of the JET Program:
    Many participants have no formal training aside from what is presented during JET Tokyo Orientation and JET Prefectural Orientation

    Most Japanese co-workers of JETs have no formal training in how to utilise their services

    The exceptional treatment of foreign workers is a burden on the Japanese

    There is a wide variation in fringe benefits such as rent and annual leave between different COs

    A number of participants are interested only in exploiting the financial and travel benefits of the Program

    Because participants arrive in August, they cannot take part in the important meet-and-greet icebreaking enkais at the start of the Japanese fiscal year, and have no cohort of freshman teachers with whom to associate.

    The same time limit applies to all JET participants regardless of job performance. However, in 2007, the 3-year contract may be extended to 4 or 5 years if the applicant passes the lowest-level Japanese language certification.

    There are very few opportunities for advancement in the JET program.

    Because the selection of participants is weighted toward recent university graduates, COs may have to deal with problems with reliability, stability, maturity, and inexperience in the working world in general.

    The COs have very little influence on the choice of participant

    The participants have very little influence in their choice of placement

    The program is used as a diplomatic tool to dispel foreign criticisms that Japan has xenophobic immigration policies.


    Participants in the JET program often have a number of misconceptions about the program, leading to confusion and frustration. Here are some of them:

    That participants are employed by CLAIR or JET. This is a false belief that usually comes up in dispute resolution. Participants do not understand that JET is basically a recruiting program and support network, and that JET has no power to intervene in employment disputes or personal crises.

    That teaching is important. Different schools have different perspectives on how to use an ALT. Some use them heavily in lesson planning and delivery, some treat them as untrained assistants, some use them only for internationalization, and some schools don’t use them at all. If your job satisfaction depends on doing any meaningful teaching activities, or being recognized as a competent teacher, you may want to consider working at an eikaiwa instead of JET.

    You get free housing. The CO will help arrange housing. However, participants may be responsible for anywhere from 0% to 100% of the rent, with the average being around 30%. This is one of the biggest sources of frustration to participants who have been led to believe therwise.

    You get free furniture, housewares, etc. Totally dependent on what the CO provides, and whatever the previous occupant chooses to sell or leave behind. It is not uncommon to have contention between predecessors and successors over what should be left and how much should be paid.

    Cases of outright fraud have occurred (failing to transfer items as agreed, failing to pay money as agreed, re-selling items one received free of charge, re-selling BOE property, re-selling property that is obviously in poor condition.

    You’ll get on-the-job training and everyone will tell you what to do. False for some, true for others. Basic team teaching classes are given at orientation. After arriving at the school, many participants find that nobody tells them anything and they have to figure things out on their own.

    You don’t need to know Japanese to do the job. Don’t count on this. It may be hard to believe, but many Japanese teachers of English can’t hold a non-trivial conversation in English because the English curriculum has historically been oriented toward reading comprehension, not speaking. In many offices, there is at least one person who has very workable English. In some offices, there isn’t.

    You can just get the information from the person who previously had the job. Not always. It is up to the CO’s discretion whether to put you in contact with your predecessor. Some offices have been known not to do this, particularly if the predecessor did not fit in or has a bad attitude. Some predecessors don’t respond when contacted. And for new JET positions, there may be no predecessor at all.

    The exact details of one’s situation can’t be known until one has applied, interviewed, been accepted, and been given contact information for the CO and predecessor. This usually happens about 6 weeks prior to departure.
    Note: All of the above was sourced from wiki pages (as below) and therefore some of the material may be outdated or opinionated. does not necessarily endorse or support any of the material therein. If you wish to provide updates please do so by email (see bottom of page).