First Week in Japan

A week ago, I stepped off a plane into a completely new country, with a language and culture that I don’t understand, to work as an ALT (assistant language teacher) in Japan through the JET Program.

It has been a week, ya’ll.  Here’s the rundown:


First order of business when you arrive in Japan on the JET Program is Tokyo orientation.  The program puts us up in a swanky hotel for a few days to attend conferences and workshops on a range of topics (from disaster preparedness, to teaching strategies, to managing life in Japan) before being shipped to our respective prefectures.

Tokyo orientation is, in a word, brutal.  The workshops begin at 9:00 am and end around 5:30 pm, and you will be struggling to stay awake toward the end of the day.  I didn’t get a picture of the schedule, but trust me, they cram a lot into those hours.

After the workshops end, you’re free to do as you wish.  Some people sleep, and some people choose to walk aimlessly around Shinjuku (and eat dinner at Hooters because they think it’s funny).




Bonus Picture–here’s a squat toilet I peed in at Shinjuku station on my second day in Japan.  Unsurprisingly, I saw a cockroach in this bathroom.




On your final day in Tokyo, you have say goodbye to all the friends you made at orientation, most of whom live nowhere near you.  Sad.

For those of us heading to Kyoto Prefecture, we boarded a Shinkansen (bullet train), and were met at Kyoto station by a representative from our Board of Education.  From there I boarded another train and rode for about 20 minutes to Uji, my new home.  I then registered my residence at city hall, opened my apartment, went shopping for my apartment (kind of), tried (and failed) to get a SIM card for my phone, visited the school I’ll be working at, and met up with my predecessor.

It was A Day™.


Thursday was technically my first day of work, though I was still running around and getting settled in.  I opened my Japanese bank account, observed one of my JTE’s (Japanese Teacher of English, AKA a teacher I will be team teaching with for the next year) classes, met some third year students at my school, and met my Principal and Vice Principal.


Friday was my first full day of work.  Students are on summer break right now, so I had nothing to do.  Nothing.  I basically just sat there for eight hours, which is apparently a common occurrence for ALTs in the summer.  I’ll have more to do next week, when I start planning my self-introduction lesson.


This has been an extremely overwhelming week, with a lot of ups and downs.  Here’s what I’ve generally been noticing, feeling, and going through throughout the week:

  1. Food — I am not an adventurous eater.  That being said, I’ve eaten a lot of things that I have no idea what they’re made from this week, most of which I’ve enjoyed.  The first few days, though, every meal made my stomach gurgle. I haven’t been grocery shopping yet, as I have no stove, no pots and pans, no plates or silverware, and no table to eat at, so I’ve been eating a lot of combini food and prepared food from the food store.  It is…not Japan’s finest, but it’ll do.
  2. Language — Tokyo orientation is like summer camp–you’re with a lot of people who have similar interests and are like you.  And a few of them speak Japanese, so when you venture out, they can talk to people for you.  When you’re on your own, you have to fend for yourself, which was a major source of anxiety for me on Wednesday, when I began to realize that summer camp was over and I was heading to a place where I had no friends and couldn’t talk to anyone.  Luckily, it hasn’t been too much of an issue.  It would be nice if I could read labels at the store though.
  3. Apartment — Currently, my apartment is empty but for a futon and some curtains (and a fridge and washing machine, provided by my school).  It is extremely odd to own nothing, but I’m buying a lot of things from my predecessor and therefore just need to wait until she cleans out her apartment.  Here’s a picture of the view from my little patio:
  4. Garbage — Garbage is apparently a whole process (in which you need to separate garbage by type of garbage, seriously).  One that I have no understanding of and that nobody thought to tell me about.  So I’ll just be hoarding garbage for the time being until I can get clued in.
  5. THE HEAT — When I told people I was going to Kyoto, they warned me about the heat.  I thought I understood, but I did not.  I have consistently taken two showers a day since arriving.  There’s just a constant sheen of sweat on me.  The sweat-stache is unreal.  My hair, which I usually only wash twice a week, has been washed every day.  Any thought I had of exercise is gone.  It is brutal.
  6. Small Victories — Taking the train by myself without getting lost.  Figuring out how to use the washing machine.  Learning how to flush the toilet (this is sometimes an issue).  Not getting teary-eyed at school.  Going out of the apartment on my own.  Having a successful human interaction.
  7.  Kindness — Last but not least, here are some super nice things people have said to me or done over the past week: (1) My supervisor: “Ask me every time if you need help.” (2) The secretary at my school: “How are you going to survive over the weekend?” (3) Two non-English speaking speaking teachers introducing going out of their way to introduce themselves to me (4) Another teacher offering me food she made at home, despite having never spoken to me before. (5) The little old man whose desk is right next to mine: “You’re in an unfamiliar country with unfamiliar food and an unfamiliar language, so make sure you take care of yourself.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *