THE TWELVE DAYS TO NIPPON

*Sung to the tune of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’*

On the first day to Nippon
I tossed into my bag
a full sized Canadian Flag

On the second day to Nippon
I tossed into my bag
two suits and ties
and a full sized Canadian Flag

On the third day to Nippon
I tossed into my bag
three dress shirts
two suits and ties
and a full sized Canadian Flag

On the fourth day to Nippon
I tossed into my bag
four pairs of shorts
three dress shirts
two suits and ties
and a full sized Canadian Flag

On the fifth day to Nippon
I tossed into my bag
five pairs of socks
four pairs of shorts
three dress shirts
two suits and ties
and a full sized Canadian Flag

On the sixth day to Nippon
I tossed into my bag
six omiyage
five pairs of socks
four pairs of shorts
three dress shirts
two suits and ties
and a full sized Canadian Flag

On the seventh day to Nipon
I tossed into my bag
seven electronics
six omiyage
five pairs of socks
four pairs of shorts
three dress shirts
two suits and ties
and a full sized Canadian flag

On the eigth day to Nippon
I tossed into my bag
eight tubes of toothpaste
seven electronics
six omiyage
five pairs of socks
four pairs of shorts
three dress shirts
two suits and ties
and a full sized Canadian flag

On the ninth day to Nippon
I tossed into my bag
nine prizes for students
eight tubes of toothpaste
seven electronics
six omiyage
five pairs of socks
four pairs of shorts
three dress shirts
two suits and ties
and a full sized Canadian flag

On the tenth day to Nippon
I tossed into my bag
ten important documents
nine prizes for students
eight tubes of toothpaste
seven electronics
six omiyage
five pairs of socks
four pairs of shorts
three dress shirts
two suits and ties
and a full sized Canadian flag

On the eleventh day to Nippon
I tossed into my bag
eleven boxes of condoms
ten important documents
nine prizes for students
eight tubes of toothpaste
seven electronics
six omiyage
five pairs of socks
four pairs of shorts
three dress shirts
two suits and ties
and a full sized Canadian flag

On the twelfth day to Nippon
I tossed into my bag
twelve Canadian pins
and now it weighs too much
what am I going to do?
I’m running out of time
Oh crap this isn’t good
Let’s take some stuff out
Don’t need so many socks
maybe one suit will do
omiyage for two people
condoms..yeah I need those
WHAT THE HELL AIR CANADA!!
..and a full sized Canadian flag

Two Weeks to Tokyo

So I’m up at quarter to five in the morning and I can’t sleep because it’s begun to dawn on me that in 2 weeks, I’ll be hoping on a plane, travelling halfway around the world and heading to Japan. 2 weeks! That’s just a scant 14 days, and in that small amount of time, I have to wrap up my life here in Canada, see all my friends one last time, and bid my family a tearful farewell at the airport.

Fortunately, I’ve managed to accomplished most of the major things I needed to get out of the way such as visa applications, getting my international drivers permit, putting my OHIP card on hold, and buying Canada branded giveaways at the dollar store, but there’s still a ton of little stuff that needs to get done. I also have that nagging feeling that I’m forgetting something. Anyways here’s my checklist:

  • buy omiyage (gifts) for my supervisors
  • apply for Aeroplan card
  • get immunized for all the things that can kill me in Asia
  • visit the dentist
  • call my bank and tell them I’m going to Japan
  • get my suits and dress pants tailored
  • buy a DSLR camera (Canon EOS Rebel T2i, I am coming for you)
  • see as many friends as possible and have more farewell parties
  • do a test pack of all my luggage..and actually pack
  • shoot more videos of my city, my house, my family, and my life here

And that’s just the stuff I remember off the top of my head, so it’s not quite smooth sailing yet. It’s still surreal to think that exactly one year ago, my life was headed in a completely different direction, and now here I am, about to venture off into a completely foreign land with a fascinating and exotic way of life; an adventure in the making with countless stories just waiting to be told. I’m going to make the most of it. This will be the best year ever.

Goals in Japan

Here is my “bucket list” of things to do whilst in Japan. Hopefully before I leave the country and come back home for good, I can look back and have checked every single one off.
Experience goals:
  • visit an onsen
  • wear a kimono and watch the fireworks during summer
  • watch the trees during cherry blossom season
  • join a martial arts club and learn Kendo, Iaido, Aikido or Karate
  • learn some kanji and try my hand at calligraphy
  • drive on the right side of the road
  • Sing karaoke with my co-workers and make a fantastic fool of myself
  • go to the legendary penis festival (I’ve heard of this and can’t believe its real. I have to see it for my own eyes)
  • get involved in the local community and in my school
  • film some short movies ala wongfuproductions style
Travel goals:
  • climb Mt. Fuji
  • go snowboarding in Hokkaido
  • visit Osaka castle, Kyoto City and go on a temple sight-seeing tour
  • visit the beautiful beaches of Okinawa and go surfing
Culinary goals:
  • eat from a ramen cart, the sketchiest, yet most flavourful one I can find
  • eat fugu sashimi (and not die. I will probably save this for the end of my trip so my students aren’t without a teacher)
  • eat onsen tamago and onsen bao
  • drink a Sapporo in Sapporo
  • learn how to cook  full course Japanese dinner
  • sample the local delicacy or specialty in every city/region I visit

15 Bits of Random Interview Advice

If you want to get accepted into the JET Programme, it’s going to take a lot of work. You’ll have to write a killer personal essay, get a couple of absolutely glowing reference letters, and basically be able to prove to them that you’re an upstanding, well adjusted, cultured and flexible young person. Or at least be able to fake it I guess. The interview itself however is a whole nother ball game. On another post, I’ll talk about the first stage of the application, but for now, let’s focus on the interview since in the last post I said I’d write about advice for the interview. Without further ado, here’s the top 15 tips I could think of that really helped for preparation and the actual interview itself.

1. Do lots of mock interviews. As many as you can, with different variations and different scenarios so you dont get screwed even if you encounter the dreaded war tribunal panel. I repeat, the single best way I found to prepare for the interview is by doing tons and tons of mock interviews.

2. To that end, do lots of mock interview lessons. Have your friends throw different interview topics at you then roll with it and create a lesson out of it. Some ideas: holidays, sports, home country, history of home country, household objects, colours, animals, types of clothes, directions, expressions, useful phrases, a song, etc..

3. After you do a few of them, begin filming yourself doing mock interviews and practice lessons. Get over how you sound like on camera lol. Look at your body language, tonality, vocal projection and try to minimize distracting mannerisms. When I did this, I felt like it improved my presentation dramatically as I saw all sorts of little things I was doing that I could improve. Do a few mock interviews in your suit with a panel of your friends/family and have them FILM it. Critique yourself on film. Would you hire yourself for the JET Program? Keep doing mock interviews and watching yourself until your presentation is good enough that you WOULD hire yourself.

4. Think about how you can offer value to the JET Programme, when you’re figuring out how you would answer the interview questions you anticipate being asked.  What exactly would make you an asset as an ALT or CIR. For me, I felt that that being able to offer value as a fun and outgoing person, being open-minded, and being adaptible and flexible are the most important traits you can have. Make sure you communicate that you have these traits.

5. Memorize some trivia and lists. Don’t go crazy, but prepare adequately. Some of the lists I prepared just in case were:
– 5 things I want to do in japan
– 5 favourite japanese foods
– 5 places I want to visit in japan
– 5 things i would bring to japan to represent my country
– 5 things i absolutely would bring with me
– 5 famous japanese people
– 5 famous japanese authors/artists/singers/actors/athletes
– 5 famous canadians
– 5 canadian authors/artists/singers/actors/athletes
– 5 canadian inventions/history events
– 5 current canadian news stories
– 5 current japanese news stories
– 5 transferable skills I have
– 5 positives and 5 negatives that are also actually positives LOL
– self introduction in japanese
– self introduction in english

Notice the differences in the types of lists. You have general trivia and you have things that could be asked in a variety of different ways. For example, you may not be asked 5 positives and 5 negatives, but you may be asked about your perceived strengths and weaknesses. So spend the time to memorize or brush up on some general knowledge trivia, but also think about the types of questions you may be asked.

6. Anticipate what you’ll be asked. If you’ve done your research, you probably have a good idea of what kinds of questions show up during interviews. There are tons of interview questions floating around on the internet in various forums. But to make the best use of your time, you need to be smart and try to anticipate what kinds of questions they would ask you depending on what your weak areas are. Make sure you can back up your weak spots and can confidently shine on your strong points.

7. Look sharp. Suit up. If you’re a guy, wear a grey suit, you’ll stand out because almost everyone will be wearing a navy blue or black suit. Make sure it’s tailored. There’s a HUGE difference between the look of a tailored suit and one that isn’t. Wear nice shoes. Complete the look with a tie clip and/or pocket square. If you need some ideas, go check out GQ.com

8. Do NOT be the one guy not wearing a suit. You’ll feel like crap at your interview and you will NOT be standing out in a good way. Instead, aim to be the BEST dressed interviewee there. You’ll feel like a million bucks and act like it. On that note though, don’t go super overboard. You want to look sharp and professional, but not gaudy and obnoxious so no gold cufflinks.

9. Your best accessory is your smile. SMILE!

10. Go to bed early the night before so you don’t risk getting insomnia. Get LOTS of sleep the night before. Eat a good breakfast, brush your teeth, mouthwash, and floss then leave and arrive at your interview location early. Don’t eat any foods that make you gassy, don’t eat at Tim Hortons and risk spilling coffee on yourself, and don’t get schooled by traffic if you’re coming from out of town. Keep some gel/hair wax in your car so if it’s really windy or rainy on the day of your interview you can fix yourself up in the washroom in the interview building.

11. REMEMBER YOUR INTERVIEW VOUCHER! Double check EVERYTHING you need to bring before and after you lock your door. Write them down on a piece of paper and physically go CHECK CHECK CHECK. Don’t be the one idiot of the day who forgets his voucher at home.

12. Be friendly to everyone in the morning, say hi, smile and be enthusiastic. Pump yourself up and get in the right state of mind while you’re sitting and waiting for your interview. Also, you never know who you might talk to in the morning – it might end up being one of your interviewers.

13. Anticipate problems and logistical issues. My mouth gets really dry whenever I do interviews or speak in public. I was really worried about this leading up to my interview, but a couple days before I was in shoppers and I found this product called Oralbalance Dry Mouth Moisturizer. It comes in a little tube and you squeeze out a little bit of jelly into your mouth. It’s basically lube for your mouth LOL. It may be a bit weird to some, but I was glad my mouth stayed nice and moisturized throughout my interview.

14. Spread your eye contact to all the interviewers. Dont focus on just one, and don’t ignore an interviewer if he doesn’t say anything. Make sure to engage all of them, and have some good questions prepared to ask them at the end of your interview.

15. When in doubt or when you don’t know an answer, smile. Staying smiling will keep you looking calm and composed. The actual act of smiling itself will actually improve your mental and emotional state. So try not to look like a deer caught in the headlights, and if you truly don’t know the answer, smile, laugh at yourself a little bit and look slightly embarassed and tell them, ” it escapes me at the moment, but I will make sure to look into it! “.

My JET interview pt. 2

…Continued from the previous post

Did you have a good bathroom break? Or maybe ran to the kitchen to grab a little snack? Well then good, let’s get right back to it.

So after the friendly chat we had, (no interogation for me, phew) I’m asked to do a role play demo lesson. My topic is animals. I stare at them blankly and think to myself , “Oh…my…god, I practiced every conceivable demo lesson theme I could think of..and I didn’t think to do animals.” They tell me I can have a couple minutes to think about it. I stand up, and quickly turn my back to them so that they don’t see the obvious deer in the headlights look I have. Behind me is a blackboard and some chalk. I pick up the chalk and begin writing ANIMALS in big letters on the board without a clue as to what I’m going to do. Suddenly I’m hit with a flash of inspiration.

I quickly draw 4 of the cutest animals I’ve ever drawn in my life. Lion, Giraffe, Elephant, Monkey – you four will determine my fate.

” WAHHH~!!! KAWAIII DESU!! HONTO KAWAII!! ” Translation: OMG! they’re cute!! THEY’RE SO CUTE!. My interviewers are literally exploding with cuteness overload. I thank my lucky stars that my interviewers are asian girls and that I can actually draw.

I run the demo lesson with big smiles and enthusiasm, lots of classroom participation. I ask them to repeat words after me.

“Can you say LION with me? “
“Rion!!”
“Good job! Do you guys know what sound a lion makes?”
” Um..rion! rion! ”
” LOL..close! But lion’s are not pokemons! “
*silence*
They make a sound like this: ” ROARR ”
I bellow like a huge lion and my interviewers laugh enthusiastically and clap. The next interviewee outside must be thinking ” WTF is going on in there??”

I do the same thing for Giraffe. I ask them if they know what sound a Giraffe makes. Suddenly I’m hit with the terrible realization that I don’t know what sound a giraffe makes. Undeterred, I decide to go for it anyway.

” Well,  a giraffe makes a sound like this… ‘E-E-E-E!’
As I wail like some sort of dying animal, the interviewers and I burst out laughing.

I begin doing the same thing for the elephant. The pretty interviewer stops me and smiles, “Thank you, that will be enough”. I say okay and begin erasing the animals. ” No no! leave them on there please! ” I smile to myself as I re-draw half of monkey-san.

Then they ask me how much Japanese I know since I took a course in 2nd year which I very nearly epically failed. A little I say. ” Chotto, chotto.” They smile and ask me if I can introduce myself in Japanese. YES! this is a very good sign I think. Demo lesson AND a self introduction. I’m going for broke. I announce I will introduce myself like I would to a class. I stand up. Bow. Big booming voice in japanese and an idiot smile plastered across my face:

” Good morning everyone! My name is APOLLO~! I am from Canada, I’m 22 years old and I studied economics in university. I have three younger sisters and they are VERY CUTE!. (the interviewers love that part). My hobbies are MARTIAL ARTS! FILM MAKING! KARAOKE! and EATING! (big gestures).”

My interviewers are smiling a lot now. The japanese lady asks me a question in japanese. I don’t quite understand it but I catch two of the words – ichiban and tabemasuka. I think she’s asking me what my favourite foods to eat are. ” Tempura..or sushi!” I retort with a big grin. She asks me another question, I recognize “kirei” but I have no idea what she says. I smile anyway – ” Gomen, wakarimasen!” (I’m sorry I don’t understand). She smiles and says thank you and I can sit down. Felt like I handled that okay.

I’m asked if I have any questions, but to make them quick since they’re already running late. I glance at my watch and it’s almost 35 minutes in. NICE! Overtime! I ask the ex-jet how she felt being a Canadian-Asian and what challenges she experienced. She enthusiastically tells me about her experiences.

Then I’m told the interview is over. I get up, walk over to their end of the table and shake their hands. They comment on the Canadian flag pin I wore on my suit. Yes! Another good-call! I thank them and step out. I feel a tremendous weight lifted off my shoulders.

I float back downstairs, smiling and saying hi to everyone I walk by. I hang around the lobby a little bit and talk to some of the other interviewees. They tell me some stories. I realize how lucky I was because some of them faced the dreaded war tribunal. From the fact that my interviewers were two asian girls, to the fact that they made me teach about animals, and that they both did dragonboat which gave us some commonalities, I don’t think I could have asked for very much more.. Maybe it was divine intervention or fate.

I see tall asian girl walk down. She looks slightly sick. Finally a new expression! I ask her about her interview and she tells me it wasn’t so great. Poor girl. I offer some encouragement. Blondie comes down. I chat with her too. She’s tiny but rather pretty. After a bit of chit chat, I tell her I’m taking off and that I’ll see her at pre-departure orientation. Wink and smile, thats my style.

Finally I step out of the building into the chilly February morning. Wish a few more interviewees good luck as they pass by. My phone rings – my mom asks excitedly how I did. I sigh with relief and recount the story I just wrote out.

And that’s my story! Different people will have completely different experiences. I was extremely fortunate that I didn’t encounter The War Tribunal or The Execution Committee, but if you’re interviewing for JET, you should be prepared for anything they might throw at you. In my next post, I’ll offer some advice as to how to tackle the interview itself.

My JET Interview pt. 1

Since I don’t have too much to talk about yet, I suppose I can start off with what has happened so far. This post will be about the INTERVIEW. I applied to the JET Programme at the end of November.  The application took me almost 2 months to put together and I mailed it in on literally the last day of the deadline, 5 minutes before Canada post closed. You can imagine that when I got a letter in the mail in January saying I had been accepted for an interview scheduled in the middle of Febrary at the University of Toronto, I was beyond ecstatic.

So anyways, I had been preparing for this interview for an entire month straight. I seriously wrote out sample interview answers to about 200 questions that I found on forums on the internet, watched videos on youtube, studied trivia and current events, rewrote 25 of the most important interview questions multiple times, then distilled them into the most important points. Then I did mock interviews for 3 weeks straight with my close friends and family. I felt pretty nervous going into it, but it was exciting and I remember it vividly. Here’s the story of my interview for those who want a glimpse into what the interview process is like. I suspect it should be especially helpful for next year’s new JETs. I’ve actually decided to divide up the story into two posts so you, dear reader, can take a short bathroom break.

*******

I woke up at 6:45 am. Had a quick breakfast of tuna, toast, tea, eggs and a banana. No milk so I don’t get gassy. Shower. Suit up. After double and triple checking everything I need, I’m finally out on the road by 7:55 am.

The drive to Toronto is hellish. I hit massive traffic on the 401 and then again on the Gardiner. Didnt get to St. george campus until 9:40. STUPID NO LEFT TURNS BEFORE 6 PM! Whoever decided the street rules in Toronto is a total asshole.

My Interview was at 10, but I was supposed to be there by 9:45. I JUST MADE IT! I mentally noted that  University of Toronto  King’s College campus felt like a trip to Hogwarts.

Finally stepped inside the building. The first thing I see is a huge metal gate that’s padlocked as if to say ” YOU ARE NOT WELCOME.”. Unfettered, I glance around some more, and realize there’s a door to my right. Except it looks like a part of the wall. Really weird. I guess that’s the first step of the elimination process.

Once I’m in the lobby I begin to wonder again if I’m in the right place as there’s not a single person and the hall is ghostly quiet. Fortunately I see a tiny JET sign in the corner telling me to go right. I walk down the hallway and discover the interview waiting room which is held in a stuffy old classroom.

I glance inside the interview room. About 5 or so applicants waiting there, all sitting in silence watching an orientation video playing at the front of the classroom. The tension in the air is so thick you could cut it with a knife.

I hand my interview voucher to 2 ex-jets sitting at a desk at the front of the room. I recognize the guy on the left. ” Hey, you’re _____ right? You sent out the interview letters! I recognize you from the website. ” He looks up and gives half a smile. Rather stone faced expression. I glance down at the paper in front of them and it shows 5 interview panels running concurrently until 3:30

Doing the math in my head, I figure they’re interviewing about 50 people today, and 150 over the 3 days. Last year, 70 got sent to Japan from Toronto. Gulp. Roughly 50% shot it seems. ( I later find out that 68 people + a handful of upgraded alternates are going to Japan from Toronto this year)

I’m asked to take a seat. I’m all smiles but my heart is racing like crazy, a million beats per minute. I watch the orientation video and am reminded how awesome JET could be.

I scan the room to check out the competition. Two geeky looking fellows wearing ill-fitting suits and ugly shoes. One of them looks like he’s about 14. And he looks extremely anxious, as if all the blood had drained from his face. I breathe a sigh of relief, super grateful that I got a new suit and shoes as a grad present and that I looked to Barney Stinson for inspiration. I won’t lie, I cleaned up pretty good. First impressions count I think.

I turn to look around some more. In the corner of the room is a very tall asian girl. Completely blank expression. I keep looking at her and she turns to look at me. I smile, and her expression doesn’t change at all. Turning my head slowly back in front of me, I notice a  very short blonde girl in front of me furiously cramming her hand written notes. There are loud steps coming from outside the room. I turn to see another asian girl walk by. Concerned expression. Guess she finished her interview.

Finally I’m called up. They tell me my room is 248 upstairs. ” Thanks, see you guys soon! ” I walk down the hall and take a left, walk down another dark narrow corridor, then up a flight of stairs. It really does look like Harry Potter, with wood walls and everything. The atmosphere just reeks of stuffy old academia.

I take a left at the top of the stairs. Room 248 is first room on the left of a long, dark hallway. The door to the classroom is a solid block of wood, no windows. I hear some murmuring coming from inside. I look down the other end of the hall where I see tall asian girl and blondie sitting outside their interview rooms waiting. I wave. Only Blondie waves back. Tall asian girl gives me another blank expression. I give a thumbs up.

The chair outside the interview room is made of creaky wood. As I sit down on it, it wobbles and makes a noise that breaks the awkward silence with an awkward sound. As sit and contemplate my fate, I feel confident and prepared, but my body does not. I’m annoyed at the increased heart rate, and mental movies looping through my head. I tell myself out loud to calm down, focus on the moment. A silence and stillness overcomes me. I’m glad I read the book ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle. Incredible book, highly recommended.

I pop out my ipod touch and scan through the interview answers I prepared. Close it. I know I’ve got this. Practiced a million times. I close my eyes and smile as hard as I can as I’ve got to get my face used to this position for the next 25 minutes. The adrenaline is pumping hard. I hear the door creak open. Time to rock and roll.

– I hear my name called out ” We are ready for your inteview. ” I stand up, big smile, turn to my right…and see nothing – huh? I look down and there’s a pretty asian girl looking up at me. I was not expecting that. I expected to see a panel consisting of an old japanese guy from the consulate, a prominent Japanese person from the local community, and an ex-jet. I step inside the room, and see only one other interviewer. A Pretty Japanese lady. Have I stepped into the twilight zone?

” Hi I’m Apollo, Nice to meet you! I’m so excited to be here this morning. ” They introduce themselves next. The girl was an ex-jet from 2000-2003. She looks much younger. The Japanese lady from the consulate has a very strong accent. She seems very nice and reserved in that stereotypical Japanese way. My heart stops racing. Already I feel like I have been spared the guillotine.

-They ask me to sit down. They go over how the interview will be conducted. I nod. Then they start asking the questions in turn. I remember almost all of them:

How did you first hear about JET
What exactly in japan do you want to experience
How will you deal with shy students who dont pay attention
How will you deal with culture shock
Tell us about a time when you had to deal with people who did not accept you
Tell us about a time when you had to work with people who had different views than you
Tell us about your teaching experience
What kind of activities would you like to get involved in
What would you do in your spare time

They scribble notes and make little checks on some forms as I articulate myself. I feel like I spoke confidently and expressively. I felt good with my answers. The funny thing was the Japanese lady’s way of asking me her questions. She was so reserved and polite! I almost felt as if she was  prefacing the questions like, “Um, excuse me..I’m sorry but..if it’s not too much trouble..do you mind if I ask you this question, if that’s okay with you?”

I mention my participation in my university’s dragonboat club and the race in Toronto in the summer. They murmur excitedly to themselves. I ask if they’ve heard of it. They tell me that the Jet Alumni Association has a DB team and they were there last year! AWESOME!

Then they tell me thats all the questions they have for me. I’m taken back a little bit. It felt so short. They asked me such easy questions! I prepared for this like It was a war tribunal and I was going to be executed. I want to ask them to ask me more questions! Harder ones! Ask me some trivia, current events, let me tell you more about how awesome I am! What kinds of things I would bring to Japan!! …But I keep my mouth shut. Glance at my watch. A bit over 20 minutes have passed. WHAT? That felt like it barely encroached 10 minutes…

to be continued on the next post..

Welcome to The JET Experience

Greetings, wearied internet traveller. Your journey through the interwebs have brought you to my humble blog. I, Apollo (fun tip: not my real name), hope to offer you a glimpse into the life of a participant in the world renowned culural exchange program, The JET Programme.

I’ve been meaning to start up a blog to chronicle my experiences on JET ever since I found out I was accepted to the programme back in April. Unfortunately I procrastinated on this for awhile not (just) due to laziness, but also because I’ve been thinking a lot about what direction to take, what I’ll talk about, privacy issues, and even just what to name the darned thing (that was actually the hardest part by far).

To that end, I still haven’t decided if this will be primarily a diary of my everyday life in Japan, or a collection of thoughts, musings and observations of Japanese culture or a how-to-guide to becoming the best JET ever. With 3 weeks left before departure, I figured I’d just start it up and see where it goes, although it will probably end up being something in between.

Anyways this first post is just intended to introduce the blog so I’ll end it here. Enjoy the rest of the site as I come up with more things to write about and please, leave a comment and let me know you were here.