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Teaching English in Japan 'wonderful'

Special to Kalamalama by Jason Yumen, '03


Editor’s note: Jason Yumen is from Kailua, O‘ahu. He shares his experiences as an English teacher in Japan, experiences open to most HPU graduates.

The JET Program (literally Japan Exchange and Teaching but some like to think of it as Japan English Teaching, or Teacher) gives a selected number of college graduates teaching positions in various schools throughout Japan. It is a great program for a number of reasons: The work is exciting and fulfilling, the pay is adequate, and there are lots of opportunities to meet great people and see new places.


My journey began when I arrived in Tokyo and met the rest of my fellow JET participants. There were quite a few of us, maybe a couple thousand, from all over the English-speaking world. While we were in Tokyo for only a short period, for orientation, I was awestruck by the ever-moving, never-sleeping life of the city. This was not for me though. I’m an island child, and I need the sun and the ocean. Luckily, I was placed in an area more suitable.

I am living in Okinawa prefecture on an island called Miyako-jima, smaller than O‘ahu and much more rural. The population is about 50,000. There is little entertainment on the island, but what it lacks in the man-made attractions it gains in natural beauty. It is a first-class diving destination with lots of fish and beautiful reefs.

Visitors flock to the island year round but not to the extent that it becomes a Waikiki Beach. The weather is quite warm, similar to Hawai‘i’s, but with differences in weather patterns.

The people of Miyako-jima are just about the most hospitable I have ever met. Since arriving a couple months ago, I feel I have almost reached celebrity status due to the number of people I now know. I guess that’s an advantage of living on a smaller island.

I work for the Miyako-jima Education Office, which is like the board of education office on O‘ahu, only smaller. I am sent to several different schools throughout the Hirara City area. Hirara City is the largest metropolis on Miyako-jima. I actually go to 11 different schools, some of which require short plane or ferry rides.

I spend less than a week at each school and will visit each school about six times during my contract year. Though there’s no time to get settled into to any particular school, my work takes me all over Miyako-jima, and I meet a lot of people, more than any other JET on the island.

Lesson planning is easy and a lot of fun. As a JET, I am there to assist in the teaching of English. It is usually not my responsibility to teach the class myself, though at times that does happen. I usually discuss with the English teacher a day or two in advance what will be covered in the class. I make recommendations on what we should do. Sometimes I develop worksheets, make up games, print out lyrics for various songs, and do whatever else the teacher wants.

I usually have the time to finish my work at school, so I have free time at home. It is by no means an overly demanding job, and it does not require any experience. I have no experience in teaching, and yet I am doing this job. I spend a couple hours a day at school making my lesson plan, and I have anywhere from two-to-four classes a day. I find it fun thinking up new ways to teach the kids English. It is very fulfilling.

Outside of school, I live a laid-back life either swimming or fishing. Nightlife is great also, with restaurants, bars, and karaokes. I spend a lot of time with the other JETs and foreigners living on the island.

I’ve met other HPU grads, such as Sean McGonagle, class of ’99, and I’ve been making a lot of new friends. We spend a lot of time helping each other in language studies. My Japanese is still bad, so I’ll take all the help I can get.

So, my life at the moment is a new way of life yet not so different from the one I left behind in Hawai‘i. Many new friends, new sights, and new experiences have made things very enjoyable for me, and my “local” lifestyle has appealed to many of the residents I spend time with. It is mutually beneficial and this helps create great relationships that I feel will become long-lasting bonds with people whom I will never forget.

So I recommend the program. It is a great opportunity to do something unusual once out of college, without risking a career or rushing into one. It’s a chance to spend a year or so deciding what you want to do for the rest of your life while experiencing how wonderful the country of Japan is.

Editor’s note: There are several JET programs. Japanese language ability is not required. Successful applicants receive $32,000 annual salary, round-trip airfare, health insurance, and other benefits. Application deadline is Dec. 1. Students can obtain application forms and more information through HPU’s International Studies office, 544-1171, or e-mail

2004, Kalamalama, the HPU Student Newspaper. All rights reserved.
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