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.

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