Backtrack #23: That Was Enough (Christopher Reed, Kihoku CIR 2006-2011)


What’s your name, when and where was your placement, and where are you from originally?

My name is Christopher Reed, I’m originally from the USA, and I lived in Kihoku-cho, a small town of about 10,000 people in Ehime Prefecture from 2006-2011.

How did you find out about JET, and what led you to apply?

I found out about JET when I was in university; one of my friends applied and was accepted, and she told me about the program. I have been interested in Japan since I was little; I was kind of a typical sword and video game nerd, but I also found Japanese history fascinating, especially the Mongol invasions during the Kamakura period, and the explosive reformations in Japan during the Meiji era. And, of course, the usual Sengoku Warring States era history fandom.  I started studying Japanese in high school, and it was kind of a broken study, a year here, a year there, so I didn’t advance much until I did a year exchange at Waseda University in Tokyo. That was an incredible experience, and I knew I wanted to live in Japan again when it was over.

What did you hope to achieve on JET, and did that change during your time here?

I originally hoped to become fluent in Japanese, and do a lot of translation work. However, even though I went to Japan as a CIR, I spent 99% of my time teaching English. I got to do some translation and cultural presentations, but most of my work was teaching. So I embraced teaching more, and tried to adapt to my circumstances rather than wishing I had more CIR work. I also wasn’t able to pass Level 1 of the JLPT, though I passed Level 2. I would caution people against having many expectations or hopes for Japan/JET. You may be placed somewhere you absolutely love, and enjoy your whole experience, like my wife, or you may be placed in some small town you don’t like and you leave every chance you get, like one JET I knew (no, it wasn’t me). Most JETs will be somewhere in the middle, but anything is possible. It is vital to be adaptable because a lot of your JET experience is out of your hands aside from what you choose to make of it. 

What is your lasting impression of the work you did on JET and the communities you were part of?

I do not have a lasting impression of work I did in Japan. I am sure I was an influence on some of my students, but how much is impossible for me to know. I don’t think it’s a good idea to go on JET thinking you’re going to be a major influence on your town or students. They are going to get a new JET every 5 years at most, and you’re only a small part of their lives unless you only have one school, and you are there all the time and get to do club activities. I had 7 schools, and I was stationed at the town board of education, so I was not allowed to participate in club activities. I only visited each school 2-3 times a month, if that. I had many wonderful students and I did my best to be a positive part of their lives for the time that I was there, and that was enough.

Where did JET lead you?

I met my wife in Japan; she was a Canadian JET, and when my 5 years were up we moved to Canada and got married, which has been amazing. JET also led me to understand that Japan was not going to be a major part of my life forever. I spent about 6 years in Japan in total, and in the end that was enough. I have not been back in 10 years, and I will go back, but I have no interest in living in Japan again. Also, prospective JETs should probably know that JET didn’t really open a lot of career doors for me or anyone else I know. In my experience most employers don’t know what to think of JET and won’t be particularly impressed seeing it on a resume. If you want to get a translation job after JET you’ll absolutely have to pass Level 1 of the JLPT or be able to pass it. That said, you’ll meet some of your best friends on JET and make thousands of amazing memories that will change your life and be with you forever.

Right now, some incoming JETs have been delayed by more than a year, and are in the difficult position of choosing to indefinitely wait for Japan to open up or to give up on coming here. Do you have any comments or advice for them during this time?

My heart goes out to all the people waiting and wondering whether they’ll get to go to Japan. I am so happy that I got to spend 6 years of my life there; it wasn’t always easy, but I wouldn’t trade those years for anything. This is my advice: People go to Japan on the JET Programme for a lot of reasons. Maybe they are Japan geeks. Maybe they want to date Japanese people. Maybe they are anime and manga otaku. Maybe they’re fascinated by a culture so different from their own. A lot of people LIKE Japan, or THINK they like Japan, but when they get there, it’s not what they expected and they spend all their time with other foreigners or quit and go back home. Then there are the people who KNOW they want to go to Japan, who feel like Japan and/or JET is a part of their personal destiny. That’s what JET was for me, my wife, and many of my friends who stayed for multiple years. I was actually an alternate, but I knew I wanted to go to Japan again, and I asked my consulate every week if a position had opened up, and I finally got one. Those people should absolutely hold on, work a temporary job for a year or more, and make their dream happen. It will be worth it. If you don’t feel as strongly about Japan, maybe save up and spend a month in Japan, or do some kind of extended trip there. But for the people who know JET and Japan are in their destiny, yes, wait. Hang in there. 

If you had been in their position, do you think you would have gone on JET if you’d been in limbo for a year?

 I would have waited, yes. I had already taken time off from university to get Oregon state residency, and it would have been relatively easy for me to work a seasonal job and hope that I got on JET the next year. That said, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in this situation when many jobs are not an option and there is so much absolute uncertainty. 

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