Life As and After JET: Building Bridges

The JET Programme has lead to many opportunities and careers, sometimes rather unexpectedly. Our Life After JET articles by former JETs gives an insight about their lives after the programme, and how it has shaped their careers and paths. We hope that it will prove useful as an insight for potential applicants into what we as ex-JETs got from our experience, and maybe provide some nostalgic memories for others. Please feel free to contact us if you want to write about your own experience!

Nathan Poore was an Oita CIR from 2004 – 2007, after which he used his JET experience working as an Events Coordinator and Translator for Waseda University in Tokyo until returning to Australia in 2010. He gives us a fascinating insight into what CIR does, as opposed to the life of an ALT.

In July this year, it will be ten years since I first arrived in Japan as a participant on the JET Programme. Looking back at my JET experience, my fondest memories are of the wonderful people that I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know personally during my placement. Apart from being an unforgettable experience on a personal level, JET also became a fantastic professional opportunity. I learnt and developed a wide range of transferrable skills, even though I often did not realise this at the time.

As an undergraduate student, early on I had decided that I wanted to apply to the JET Programme. The grassroots exchange opportunity on offer to live and work in Japan, whilst utilising and improving my Japanese language skills was exactly what I wanted to do after graduation. A number of friends had also successfully participated in the programme, and highly recommended the experience. With the support and encouragement of my Japanese lecturers, I submitted my application. After an interview, I was fortunate to be accepted to the programme in the role of Coordinator for International Relations (CIR). My placement was in a small town called Ume*, located deep in the mountains of southern Oita Prefecture, Kyushu.

I arrived in Japan in July of 2004. My new supervisor and a few other colleagues made the two hour journey north from Ume to greet me at Oita Airport. Nearly ten years later, I still remember how friendly and welcoming my new colleagues were at the airport that day. I soon realised this sense of openness and warm hospitality were characteristics shared throughout the town. I spent the first few nights in Ume with my supervisor and his lovely family. It was summer, and those first days were spent in a haze of introductions to colleagues and neighbours, trying out the delicious local cuisine and attempts at getting used to the southern Oita dialect. I remember feeling at the time that my textbook Japanese was too formal, and I was eager to learn as much of the local language as possible.

My role as a CIR was to facilitate grassroots cross-cultural exchange activities in my area. In reality, this meant organising cultural events for the local community, visiting schools and other facilities, attending local events and basically getting out amongst the community and interacting with as many people as possible. Working together with my Japanese colleagues and other CIRs placed nearby, I planned various cultural events from proposal stage to running the event on the day. This involved gaining the support of my direct supervisor and section chief for each project, starting with a written proposal. With often limited or no budget allocated for these kinds of activities, it was important for me to consider the resources already available to receive the green light. I had many ideas (not all of them practicable) and after each project I sought feedback to try and make the next one more successful. During my time as a CIR, some of my particularly memorable events and activities included teaching Australian-style bush dancing to senior citizens, accompanying a group of locals on an official trip to Queensland as an interpreter, and publishing a commemorative collection of essays from all of the previous CIRs placed in Ume, to name a few. I could not have achieved what I did without the support and guidance of those around me, both inside and outside of the office.

My local CIR network was an incredibly diverse, talented group of people from across the globe, always happy to offer their support and share their skills and expertise. As many JET participants will have experienced, my role as a CIR extended further than the usual nine to five. Whether I was buying groceries at the supermarket or attending a local festival, I was always meeting new people and having conversations about life in Australia and Ume. These kinds of interactions were some of the most enjoyable and memorable for me personally. After living in Ume for three years, I was fortunate to have made many close friends, and feel truly grateful for the kindness extended to me. On a professional level, participating in the JET Programme taught me to be flexible in my thinking, and how to communicate and work successfully with different kinds of people. I learnt how to be resourceful, resilient, and proactive in order to achieve my work goals. I improved both my written and spoken business Japanese, in addition to public speaking in both English and Japanese. I gained experience in event planning, translation and interpreting, and teaching children and adults. These types of skills and experiences that JET participants gain are highly transferable across various roles, and personally speaking I have greatly benefited from my JET experience in my professional life since completing the program.

For new JET participants, I highly recommend getting involved with your local community as much as possible to make the most of your experience. For those who are returning home, I encourage you to stay in touch with your friends and colleagues from Japan, and get involved with your local JET alumni chapter, which is a great way to network and maintain your connection with Japan.

*Ume amalgamated with Saiki City in March of 2005, together with seven other nearby towns and villages.

Life After JET: It’s Hip to be Square

The JET Programme has lead to many opportunities and careers, sometimes rather unexpectedly. Our Life After JET articles by former JETs gives an insight about their lives after the programme, and how it has shaped their careers and paths. We hope that it will prove useful as an insight for potential applicants into what we as ex-JETs got from our experience, and maybe provide some nostalgic memories for others. Please feel free to contact us if you want to write about your own experience!

Kenneth Pinyopusarerk, who hails from Canberra, Australia, was a 2003-2006 CIR who worked in Saigawa (now Miyako), Fukuoka-ken. A man with a lifelong passion for two things: Japanese culture and computer games, he managed to combine the both and land a dream job at Square Enix in Tokyo where he currently works today. The only downside to his job is having to turn down countless requests from friends for “A Realm Reborn”, the latest in the Final Fantasy franchise.

Twenty years ago, on a crisp Sunday morning in Canberra, I had a life-changing encounter. I was strolling through the local Trash & Treasure when I stumbled upon a pre-loved cartridge of Final Fantasy II*, lying upon a splintery foldout table. Drawn by some unknown force, I paid the $40 asking price—a small fortune for a 14-year-old in 1994—without so much as an attempt to haggle. Thus began my enduring love affair with the video game developer Squaresoft, now known as Square Enix. Had my pimply teenage self been told that he would one day work for this company, he would have scoffed and promptly resumed playing whatever game it was he was obsessed with at the time.

Since childhood, I’ve had an affinity with Japanese culture. I attribute this to the years I spent growing up in my parents’ native Thailand, a nation that has historically been receptive to all things Japanese. My adolescence coincided with the golden age of console gaming, and nothing captivated me quite like fantasy RPGs. However, in spite of my infatuation with text-heavy Japanese games, and the dearth of translated titles in Australia, I didn’t have the chance to formally learn the language until halfway through university. When that chance finally came, I seized it with both hands and undertook my studies with a fervor I never knew I had. My dream of working as a creative director in an advertising agency lost its lustre next to my desire to master Japanese, and under the auspices of talented and passionate lecturers, I journeyed to Fukuoka on exchange in 2001.

The year I spent in Fukuoka counts among the best in my life; no sooner did I arrive back in Australia than I was laying plans to return to Japan. I had heard positive things about the JET Programme, and decided to apply for a CIR position after graduation. I was fortunate enough to be accepted, and, much to my delight, found myself in Fukuoka again, in the verdant rural township of Saigawa (now Miyako).

As a small-town CIR, my duties spanned a diverse range of activities, from visiting schools and holding conversation classes to running international events. I was also encouraged to propose new projects, and, with the mayor’s invaluable support, succeeded in securing funding for the town’s inaugural homestay programme, which took a dozen middle-schoolers to Brisbane. Overall, I had a tremendously fulfilling JET experience, and this influenced my decision to stay the full three years (at the time).

At first, I spared nary a thought to what I would do after JET, but towards the end of my term it hit me that I needed to make provisions. There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to stay in Japan. To improve my chances, I studied like a man possessed and managed to pass JLPT 1. Through JET alumni and former classmates, I learned of openings for bilingual staff at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, located in Beppu City in neighbouring Oita Prefecture. My application was successful, and I served as an admissions officer in the hot spring capital of Japan for a year and a half.

It was rewarding to liaise with applicants the world over, and I could have happily carved out a career in tertiary education administration, but eventually I grew restless and took to browsing employment websites. That was when I learned about an opening for a JP-to-EN translator in Square Enix’s Localisation Division.

While I had remained an avid gamer throughout my time in Japan, I never entertained the possibility of actually working for the company that I so adored during my formative years. I love Final Fantasy, and by then I had come to know that I also enjoy translating, so the job seemed the stuff of dreams. The pessimist in me, however, feared that it was fated to remain just that. Square Enix is a world-renowned company, and there would doubtless be hundreds of applicants; what are the odds that I would rise above this vast sea of competition? But misgivings or no, I knew that I had to give it an earnest shot, or else I would regret it for the rest of my life.

Words cannot describe the elation I felt when I received the phone call from the company’s HR division informing me that I had been accepted for a six-month trial. Almost six years have gone by, and I’m still working at Square Enix, so I’d like to think I’m doing something right. I started out on Final Fantasy XI, the company’s aging MMO, staying on the project for three years, after which I was taken on board Final Fantasy XIV, yet another MMO, shortly after its failed release. As the development of its remake, A Realm Reborn, went into full swing, I was promoted to lead translator.

Times were trying heading towards release; the workload was mountainous, and the deadline absolute. But whenever I felt discouraged, I recalled the excitement that coursed through me the day I first lay my eyes upon that Final Fantasy II cartridge. Twenty years on from that day, in August 2013, A Realm Reborn was released to positive reviews. While the hardest part is behind us, updates are constantly in the works, and my sights are set on the challenges to come.

Like a lot of people, at first I didn’t have a clear notion of how my time on JET would benefit my career prospects. But looking back now, I can say with confidence that the programme has provided me with myriad opportunities, some of which have taken my life in unimaginable and exciting directions. I’ve chosen to make language central to my career, but it’s up to you what you do with your JET experience. I know many alumni who have gone on to employ their skills in a supplementary capacity with great success, including one who now works for a leading Japanese advertising agency. In an alternate reality, that could have well been me. Perhaps it still can be.

I would like to express my undying gratitude to my Japanese language lecturers at the University of Canberra, Dr Nicollette Bramley and Ms Yumi Eto. Thank you for inspiring me to follow my heart.

* Known as Final Fantasy IV in Japan.

Life After JET: Food for Thought

The JET Programme has lead to many opportunities and careers, sometimes rather unexpectedly. Our Life After JET articles by former JETs gives an insight about their lives after the programme, and how it has shaped their careers and paths. We hope that it will prove useful as an insight for potential applicants into what we as ex-JETs got from our experience, and maybe provide some nostalgic memories for others. Please feel free to contact us if you want to write about your own experience!

Our next article comes from James A. Foley. A former Iwaki-shi, Fukushima-ken JET (2007-2010), James met his wife on the JET Programme (who was also a JET) and has successfully carved out a career as a reviewer and critic of New York’s Japanese food scene for the famous Village Voice publication. James is also quite handy with the camera, and his blog contains his writing, articles and photography. A little known fact is that he’s totally metal on the shamisen.


This August marks the third year since I finished my time on JET; I have officially been gone from Japan for as long as I was there. Looking back now over my time on JET, the connections between the Japan experience and my work as a professional journalist are abundantly clear.

Prior to packing up life and moving from the middle of America to Iwaki City on the coast of Fukushima, I worked as a news reporter for a daily newspaper in suburban Kansas City, Mo. While I was in Japan I continued to write and hone my journalism skills, but mainly just for a blog I kept for my own records.

Towards the end of my JET tenure I had no life plan or job prospects. I thought about continuing teaching, but my heart wasn’t in it. I thought about going to graduate school, but I didn’t know what I wanted to study. All I knew was that I wanted to travel for as long as possible and that I could probably generate some income if I wrote about the journey. I starting pitching freelance story ideas to various magazines and websites. There was a lot of rejection (or, more accurately, no responses whatsoever). But I did have success getting stories published in Metropolis magazine in Tokyo, Japan Today, CNN Travel, CNN Go and Independent Traveler and some others as a result of 10 months of being a homeless, unemployed nomad.

By the time I was back in America I was with my fiance Lauren (who is also a Fukushima JET and will be my wife as of Oct. 11) in Monterey, Califonia for her to get a Master’s degree. I found work at a historic hotel, where I fell in with a well-traveled set of people. In September of 2011, six months after the Great Tohoku Earthquake, the JET Program invited me and a handful of other former Tohoku JETs to come back to Japan for a week to do some reporting on the situation in Fukushima. Seeing my old Japanese hometown after the quake was surreal — some things looked exactly the same, while others were forever changed. I came back to the States with some good stories and tried to get them published. The cover story I wrote for my local paper, Monterey County Weekly, was published a year after the quake and is still one I’m very proud of — and it went over so well that I became a regular contributor for the Weekly, which was the most widely circulated publication in the area.

My editor there spent a lot of his time covering the vibrant local dining seen and food economy, so much that he could no longer appear at restaurants without being recognized. He asked me to review a local Japanese restaurant in his stead. The story did well, and the food writing assignments just kept coming. I spent the rest of my time in California working as a food writer, which is something I never considered as a possible career.

After Lauren finished her coursework we moved to New York City for her to do an internship at the United Nations. I eventually found work on the food team at Village Voice, where my three years on JET have really come into play. After myriad meals in Japan, I can speak and write with authority on Japanese food and drink, which has enabled me to carve out a niche for myself in the overstuffed New York food writing scene.

I don’t necessarily plan to keep on writing about food, or for that matter to stay in journalism at all, but for now it’s all I know, and I see my life now as a direct result of the choices I made on JET — everything from the work I do, to the woman I love, to the food I love to eat the most are all connected to my time in Japan.

James A. Foley