Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I Can't Believe It's Really Happening

Tokyo, 2004
I've been accepted to teach English in Japan with JET. I can't believe it's really happening. I mean, not only that I got the JET job but that I'll finally be living and working in Japan. It's been a long time coming.

In 2003—almost ten years ago—I was living in Los Angeles and working in Anaheim in magazine publishing. I was working in a field I was unfamiliar with (automotive and car audio) and commuting 2 to 4 hours a day, depending on traffic. I had taken the job after a long period of unemployment. It was less than ideal but basically I had no choice; with no college degree my options were limited to what I already had experience in.

That fall, I saw the movie Lost In Translation and it would forever change my life. I was transfixed. I had never had an experience like that. I had never lived in a foreign country. I had never even visited Asia. Even though I was talking about teaching English in Japan as far back as 1992, without a degree it was just a dream. But the more I thought about going (and the more I thought about how unhappy I was) the more I knew I had to take a chance.

And so, on May 1, 2004, I arrived in Japan with little more than a suitcase and a few tenuous hopes. I still didn't have a college degree but I did have a decade of experience in editorial, good enough for Japanese immigration should a local English-language paper want to give me a chance. I lived in Tokyo for 2 months, sightseeing, thinking, writing, and also hemorrhaging the money I got from selling my car. I never did find a job but what I found was a goal, a purpose for my life. On the plane flight back I vowed I would return with an employment visa in my passport.

I went back to school and studied Japanese. I loved being a student. Even when I was stuck for a year in community college taking care of prerequisites, I still loved it. I loved it because I was working towards a goal. I wasn't just floating along, taking what I could get because I didn't have any other option.

Oita, 2009
Doors opened for me. The universe, it seemed, liked what I was doing. I was accepted to study for a year in Japan as an exchange student. I went to a city I had never heard of, Oita, located on the island of Kyushu in southern Japan. It was, without a doubt, the best year of my life. Coming home was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. But I had to finish school and get that much-needed degree.

A year later, I was, at the age of 37, a college graduate. And not just a graduate, a summa cum laude graduate. That first goal accomplished, I turned my attention to getting a job in Japan. JET was my number one choice but I applied to any school, no matter how small, that was hiring. I would periodically put on my suit and do an interview on Skype in the middle of the night. I even put on my suit for phone interviews just so that I would feel more professional.

And then disappointment.

I didn't make it into JET. Well, I made it but as an alternate. I was moved into JET purgatory to wait for someone to drop out. I had no knowledge of my standing on the list, whether I was next in line or 200 down. So I kept applying. I was accepted by a chain English school but decided not to take the job as it just seemed dodgy. Instead, I took a job teaching English in Korea, mainly to gain teaching experience but also for the adventure.

At that point I had written off JET. When I first applied I was just under their age cap of 40 and I assumed that one of the reasons I didn't get the job was my age. But just this year that dreaded age cap was lifted and JET once again drifted into my sights. I reapplied, spent a lot of money to fly to Guam, the closest US embassy to Korea, and interview. And just yesterday I received the news that I had been accepted.

It's funny but somehow I've known all along that I wouldn't return to Japan to work until I was 40. Sometimes I wish I had done things differently, had finished school when I was younger and got started on this path sooner. But then I wouldn't be me and maybe it wouldn't mean as much.

Next stop, Japan.


  1. Congratulations. That is awesome. (And now I'll have someone else to visit next time we go to Japan!) Last time we went (which was also our first time) was in 2001, and we actually stayed with friends who were teaching English there. I wish I could remember if it was JET or not.

    Anyway, it was cool to get all the backstory. Japan is fantastic, and I'm really happy for you!

  2. Adam Senpai,congrats man! My story is kind of similar, I was promised a trip to Japan in high school through an English conversation partner job, but they canceled it. I finally got to go almost 7 years later for study abroad.

    I didn't get into JET this year, but I'm going to get some more teaching or education experience here in SF for now and hopefully get into JET next year.

    Nick 肉

  3. Adam that's awesome.
    There is no straight path to anything, the path you took was the correct one.
    With having a goal to focus on I believe you can get anything done.
    I enjoyed your story about your path and am so happy for you to complete your goal in getting into JET.
    I won't forget your DJ sessions in your room with the 7 or so of us dancing.
    I'm sure I'll see you in Japan sometime