I knew the name of my JET predecessor months before I was even accepted to the program in April of 2015. I had read intimate details of the little city-town I now call home — even glimpsed into the apartment in which I now reside — long before I found out where, in all of Japan, I would be living.
It wasn’t due to anything paranormal: my predecessor had a blog. And I was one of her readers.
During the JET application progress back in October of 2014, a quick search on the internet led me to numerous Japan blogs, and I became an avid reader of quite a few, including — ironically enough — that of my predecessors. She has since made her blog private, but some of my favorites remain public: This Japanese Life, Falling for Japan, Gina Bear’s Blog, and A(nother) Year in Japan. I found that these expats didn’t gloss over life here — they emphasized both the positives and the negatives in an overall thoughtful way.
My predecessor’s blog was the anomaly. She was the only writer who seemed to generally hate her life in Japan. Quite a few times, I remember reading that she thought she “got one of the suckier placements” in the JET Program, and she often complained about the high cost of living in Japan. She didn’t find her work to be meaningful. She really disliked her base school. Her coworkers barely spoke to her. Her town was ugly and there was nothing to do there. On and on it went, miniature rants interspersed with colorful travel photos. Although her statements could be a bit harsh, her posts were blunt, honest, and unfailingly unapologetic, and it fascinated me.
When I found out in May that I was destined for somewhere in Ibaraki Prefecture, I was actually a little upset. She was the only blogger I followed who passionately hated her placement, and she was the only blogger I had found who was placed in Ibaraki. Therefore, to me, Ibaraki became a doomed place. (It’s one of the reasons why I didn’t sound so over-the-moon about my placement in this post). In the back of my mind, I knew that she was just one of 40+ JETs living in Ibaraki, and they couldn’t all hate it. But as silly and as illogical as it was, her words had turned me against the whole prefecture.
Then, in June of 2015, I found out that she was my predecessor. And suddenly, her blog wasn’t so fascinating anymore — it became terrifying.
I reread every word that she wrote, over and over again. She hated her base school — I was screwed. She thought that rent was too steep, daily expenses too expensive — damn, I was going to hate going to work AND end up with no savings? She found she needed to go to Tokyo every other weekend just to escape — I didn’t want to escape to Tokyo! I wanted to love my town!
The problem was that I took all of her experiences and I envisioned them as my own future experiences, creating very bleak prospects for my impending life in Japan.
And that made me MISERABLE. Before I even arrived in Japan, I was convinced I would hate it.
For two weeks after learning of my fate, I lived in the dark shadow of my predecessor’s rather pessimistic blog.
Sometime in late June, however — as I despaired over my imminent departure for this cursed placement — I had that much-needed light bulb moment: I finally realized that my predecessor and I were in fact very, VERY different people.
We had both applied to the JET program with very different expectations and a set of very different past experiences behind us. Our personalities seemed to be, in some regards, the antithesis of the other’s. And to be completely fair to my predecessor, she had some ongoing health problems while in Japan… plus, from a little reading in-between the lines, I believe she also suffered a bit from seasonal depression come wintertime.
All of the above colored her personal experiences here, unfortunately in her case, for the worst. But I realized that our differences might signify that my own adventures in Ibaraki would be very different, possibly for the better.
With all of this in mind, I was able to step on that plane in August 2015 with a much better attitude towards my future life. And, in the words of Robert Frost, “that has made all the difference.”
I am very happy here, and I cannot imagine being placed in a better situation for me.
My students make me smile daily. It’s the little things–how enthusiastic my tech school boys are during a game of The Price is Right, or how much a student smiles after 1 hour of EIKEN interview practice. I love my students, even when they are a bit… undisciplined. And my coworkers are hilarious and intriguing and thoughtful and surprising; I’ve enjoyed getting to know them and their fascinating hobbies (bug collecting in Fukushima? Yep, that’s what one of the 28-year old history teachers does on his free weekends). I’m usually busy at work–I have anywhere from 14 to 18 classes a week, plus one-on-one interview practices with students, plus English club–and all of the work gives me a sense of belonging. As for my little city-town, well, it isn’t as picture-perfect as the placements of other JETs, but I’ll never get tired of the view towards Mt. Tsukuba from my apartment building’s 4th floor balcony, especially at sunset.
I think it is easy to skim through blogs, reading about all the bad things that happen to other people, and fret that the same things will happen to you. Especially for programs like JET, or Interac, or Fulbright, or TAPIF, or any cyclical job… the programs in which you inherit a position with a line of predecessors who had their own personal experiences; because whether those experiences were positive or negative, you will listen to them — if only for just a moment — and create expectations.
Negative stories can lead you to despair, but in some ways, I believe that the positive stories are the most dangerous. Fantasies are the easiest stories to swallow, and high expectations are not always met.
A few final words: I don’t blame my predecessor for writing her blog, or for being honest, or for being blunt. She obviously wasn’t happy here. She shouldn’t be criticized for expressing herself unapologetically. I was the one at fault, turning her experiences into my own fearful expectations of the life ahead of me. Also, I must emphasize that in the last few weeks of her position — in the weeks leading up to my arrival — she was nothing but positive for me. She answered all my questions, she offered her advice.
I am just sorry that she did not get the same joy out of her time in Yuki, Ibaraki, that I have gotten so far out of mine.