Surviving as a Japanese Civil Servant?! Work Life 6 Months into the JET Programme

I moved back to Japan at the end of July 2019 and time just flew by since then. Hard to believe it’s already been half a year already! I’ve somehow managed to survive working as a Japanese civil servant so far.

I fell into a routine at work pretty quickly. Having worked in Japan and in education before definitely helped me hit the ground running. The school is very different from my previous ones in Kyoto and Osaka, but the general premise is the same.

I get along with my JETs for the most part, with one being the definition of getting along with out of necessity rather than actually liking each other. I work with 7 different JTEs which makes it understandable that I will not be best friends with every single one of them. Every now and then an issue emerges but gets worked out eventually.

I love my vice principal. He is the best and if he retires or get transferred out before my time with JET ends, I will be a mess.

I am the only ALT at my school of around 800 students and I teach every single class and grade. This makes life hectic at times but also it is nice to be able to form closer bonds with the students rather than if I only saw them a few times a month with multiple schools. I try to remember as many names and faces as I possibly can, along with the students’ interests, but there are so many of them. Ahahaha. I have a handful in each class that I remember and are my go-to when I need to win brownie points for knowing them.

Seriously, you can get a rowdy class to suddenly listen to you if you call out the class clown or popular kid by name and act like you know them all. (Probably because it means that you would be able to recognise them if they were misbehaving outside of class and needed to report/punish them, which I don’t get paid enough for).

Lessons are OK. There are some difficult classes in each year, but I am lucky enough to not have any majorly horrible classes and students. I have been able to manage my difficult students for the most part. There aren’t any classes or students that make me not want to go to that class any more or cry, which there are a lot of JET horror stories about.

I make stickers for my students as rewards when they do well or participate in and outside of the classroom. The kids love them. This takes up a bit of my time outside of school as I don’t like drawing too much around others. I hate it when people look over my shoulder at what I’m doing and get in my personal space. It happens all the time when I’m working on the pc in general, even if it’s just a simple lesson plan, and it’s horrid when I try to draw something. Plus, I don’t have a workstation to set up my drawing tablet or get comfortable enough. The biggest downside to Japanese [school] staffrooms is that it is such an open floor and you get no privacy. You can see and hear everything that everyone is doing. Some of the other teachers and staff are very noisy or distracting. As an introvert who needs my own space when working, it is hard to focus at times, much less on something such as drawing or editing. I also print the stickers at home, but have started to cut them up at school because I don’t want to waste more of my own time at home on work stuff than I already do. I have permission to print them at school but it’s very tedious to have to switch out the paper and make sure that no one else is printing anything from the communal printers so that they don’t waste the sticker paper by accident. We tried it once and it was a failure LOL. So, I just print at home, usually once a month, and then just sort it all out at work later.

I started to do themed sets at times. If there’s a new anime/manga or season that just came out and is a hit, I try to get at least 3 designs for that. During Halloween, I did a Trick or Treat theme all month, where the kids could go to each English teacher 1x/day every day to get 1 of my stickers. It was a huge hit and I quickly ran out of stickers LOL. I also did a Pokémon theme when the new game came out, as well as a short Fire Emblem theme when I got the game because it took over my life. There was a Persona 5 theme when P5R came out for a week. I did a Christmas/winter/snow theme during the last week of classes in December. I plan on doing an Animal Crossing one in March and another Persona 5 theme later after that. I’m debating on a Valentine’s/White Day theme but also don’t have many designs ready and am not sure how dedicated I am to it. Summer is going to be a festival/beach theme mainly, I think. I’ll have a detailed sticker/classroom motivator post up in the coming months! Stay tuned!

I’ve been trying to save up as much nenkyuu, or paid leaved, as I can. I can carry over 12 days out of 20 into my next contract year. My plan is to save all 12 of those days so that I can take a long holiday next summer rather than deskwarm every day for 2 months. I have 3 remaining days so far before I start pulling from those 12, so I am trying to use them wisely. However, who knows what will happen for the remaining 6 months of my first year. I might end up using more or all of it if something comes up.

I had some daikyu, or special leave (basically overtime leave), which I ended up using in October and November to make some long weekends for mini staycations. Best decision ever.

Have not had to use any byoukyu, or sick leave, yet. *knock on all the wood* I have a decent amount of paid sick leave, which is nice. Some JETs don’t get paid sick leave, which makes me appreciate mine. But it doesn’t transfer over like the nenkyu, so if I don’t use it, I lose it. Unlike the US, sick leave tends to be a lot stricter in Japan, so I can’t just use it whenever I feel like to take extra time off.

There are some more national holidays coming up for the remainder of this contract, which is always nice as free paid time off. I am very confused about the upcoming Golden Week holidays though, as there seems to be a mix of answers of whether staff get it off or just the students. I guess we will find out later down the line.

I have not done too much CIR stuff in the end other than in those first few months after arrival. I’m ok with that considering it is harder to balance working at both the BOE/City Hall and the school.

We had a mini scare for like an hour January 10th at work just before the workday was finished. There was an explosion on the 4th floor in the boy’s toilet during classes and a staff member thought it was a bomb. They burst into the staffroom and everyone that was in here freaked out. Eventually it was discovered that it wasn’t a bomb but that some genius kid set something on fire there and it ended up combusting at some point. It wasn’t a huge fire and it put itself out mostly, but it caused a scare for the staff mainly. I had to give the announcement over the PA system for all staff to return to the office immediately for a meeting and that students weren’t allowed to go home until we gave them permission to even if it hit 16:00 and to remain in their classrooms. In traditional Japanese fashion, all staff got lightly scolded for not managing the students better to know where they were at all times or to notice that someone was planning to blow up the toilet (because that’s totally something that we have ESP for) and then all the homeroom teachers had to take statements from every single student because any of them could go home. I was allowed to leave once it hit 16:00 though, because my school is very on top of daikyu (and not wanting to give it LOL). The next workday we still had to deal with it all and students had a bunch of fun dealing with a pissed off principal and home-room teachers. It was great. Spent around 2 weeks dealing with punishments and whatnot.

Have you ever had any scares at work? Do you get along with all your co-workers?

Do you have any burning questions about working in Japan or in a Japanese school or city hall?


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