Hong Kong & China
Singapore & Malaysia
What to take
Hikone Nishi ESS
Note: This section of the site has been a work in progress throughout my time in Japan, but now that I've returned to the UK, it's unlikely that many more changes will be made. To the best of my knowledge, the information it contains is correct as of summer 2001.
My interest in Japan was first stimulated in 1997, when I had the opportunity to go out and visit Darren, a friend from university, who at the time was living in Sendai and carrying out research work at Tohoku University.
I managed to arrange a few Japanese lessons before my departure, which meant that I was able to employ useful phrases like "Kono densha wa, Kyoto ni ikimasu ka" ("Does this train go to Kyoto?"). Unfortunately, partly due to the Japanese aversion to using the word "no" (iie) I stood very little chance of being able to understand the answers!
Anyway, I found Japan a fascinating place, completely different from anything I'd ever encountered before, and decided that I'd love to spend a bit longer there. This, combined with the fact that I'd always quite fancied a stint of TEFLing (teaching English as a foreign language) and wasn't particularly enjoying the job I was in at the time, led me to apply for a place as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) on the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme. In the Japanese school system, English hasn't really caught on yet as a means of communication; the Japanese tend to see it more as a subject to be studied, along similar lines to Latin and Greek. The emphasis is very much on reading and grammar rather than on speaking and listening, because that's what the university entrance exams demand. The government realises that this is producing students who are unable to communicate orally in a foreign language, and that's why ALTs are being brought in: to give the students exposure to native English speakers (or French/German speakers in a few cases) and to improve cultural awareness both in Japan and in the JET's home country.
Getting to Japan on the JET Programme is a very protracted process: application forms become available in the autumn, the deadline for submission is early December, interviews are held in January and February, and it's not until the beginning of April that you find out whether you'll be going out to Japan in mid/late July (or early August, as from 2001). So why was it such a mad rush to get everything ready in time for departure?!
I set up this website largely for the purpose of keeping my friends and family informed as to how I was getting on in Japan, and it's also developed into an information resource for other people with an interest in Japan. There's a section on my visit to Japan in 1997, and a series of pages chronicling my life as an ALT (gaikokugo shidoo joshu in Japanese) on the JET Programme. If you're thinking of coming to Japan and wondering what you might be letting yourself in for then you might like to take a look at my "A foreigner in Japan" page. I also have a page offering advice on what to take (and what to leave behind) if you're heading for a stay of more than a couple of weeks in Japan, and another page with advice on getting online in Japan. If you're about to leave for Japan - or if you've already arrived - then you might find my speeches page useful for when you embark on the endless round of self-introductions (jiko shookai). In response to popular demand I've also added a JET FAQ page covering things like the JET interview and what you can expect in terms of accommodation.
If you're planning to travel in Japan - whether on just a few days' visit or as part of a longer stay - then take a look at my costs page for an idea of the day-to-day expenses you'll be dealing with.
For a little light relief you might like to take a look at my collection of Japlish. English slogans are very popular on bags, T-shirts, writing paper, and all sorts of things in Japan, but they are often pretty meaningless and sometimes completely nonsensical. You can also find a couple of links to other Japlish (a.k.a. Engrish or Jenglish) collections on my Japan links page.
There's also a homepage for Hikone Nishi ESS (English Speaking Society), for which the members have provided most of the content. The page features a link so that you can email them if you like. It may take them a while to reply though!
Summary of my placement:
Region: Kansai, the western part of Honshu. Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe are in this region. (The official administrative name for this region is actually Kinki; strictly speaking, Kansai (the name of which means "west of the barrier") stretches further west, but in practical terms Kansai and Kinki are often synonymous.)
Prefecture: Shiga - the area around Lake Biwa, Japan's largest freshwater lake, east of Kyoto and about 200 miles west of Tokyo
City: Hikone, population about 108,000, on the east shore of Lake Biwa and well-known for its castle, one of Japan's few remaining original wooden ones and one of only four classed as National Treasures.
Base school: Hikone Nishi High School (average/low-level school with c.800 students, ages 15-18)
Visit schools: Aug. 99 - July 00: Hachiman Technical High School (vocational school, also c.800 students, ages 15-18, 2 days per week); Aug. 00 - July 01: Hikone Technical High School (similar to Hachiman Technical but slightly larger, 1 day per week)
Accommodation: A pleasant 2LDK apartment in a small block in central Hikone, close to the station and the castle entrance.
My 1997 visit to Japan