Study Tips for the JLPT N3

In Japan, the summer testing date for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test has come and gone. This year, I decided to attempt N3, the newest testing level that claims to cover language used in everyday situations. To my surprise, studying for this level of the test was a bit harder than I thought it would be.

After N3 was added to the JLPT roster, tests from previous years stopped being released as study material. This coupled with the fact that N3 is fairly new makes it difficult to find official study materials outside of one textbook and online test. As soon as I realized this, I realized just how much material “everyday situations” could possibly cover, and I was quickly overwhelmed because I didn’t feel like I knew what would be on the test.

After taking the test, however, I think finally have a good idea of what the official study materials were trying to tell me to prepare for. So today, I’m going to talk about my tips for studying for the JLPT N3. If you’re studying for the test date in December or are thinking about taking this level eventually, I hope this can help you!


  1. Tone and Synonyms

If you look carefully at some of the practice questions in the official study materials for N3, you’ll notice that some questions have two answers that essentially mean the same thing. Often, what makes one answer right and one answer wrong is its tone and level of formality. To prepare yourself for these kinds of questions, make sure you have a good understanding of when certain words or phrases should be used.

Study basic keigo so you have some grasp of formal Japanese.

Study the casual counterparts of the keigo so you have an idea of what language is good for a variety of contexts.

Take note of how grammar and verb forms affect the tone. For example, what’s the difference between ~かもしれない, ~はず, and ~にちがいない? How about the difference between ~てもいいですか and ~たらどうですか? It’s good to know these by heart, and it’s even better to know when and why they’re used.

Take note of how vocabulary fits the tone of a composition or conversation. For example, when would you use したがって over それから? わけover 理由?

On the note of understanding vocabulary, knowing the synonyms of different words could help you. One pair of synonyms that I learned recently was おなかがついた and おなかがへった. Both of these phrases mean, “I’m hungry,” but I had never heard おなかがへった before I moved to Japan and started having conversations with my coworkers.

N3 won’t ask you to do a lot of reading for inference like higher testing levels might, but it will try to test your ability to read context, determine tone, and name synonyms.


  1. Hiragana and Katakana Vocabulary

If you’re taking N3, you clearly know hiragana and katakana. Make sure your vocabulary of hiragana and katakana words is as strong as your knowledge of kanji. This can help you on almost every section of the test simply by increasing your chances of understanding what’s written in front of you. The last thing you want is to be confronted with a question and not understand some of the content.


  1. Kanji

Of course, you can never know too many kanji either. Learn as many as you can for the same reasons you should build your hiragana and katakana vocabulary. It can only help you understand more. Just be careful not to focus too much on kanji, because a lot of the more difficult characters throughout the test will actually come with furigana. It’s still worth learning how to read these to understand their meaning, but don’t go overboard on kanji and neglect other parts of your study routine.


  1. Syntax

Understanding how different grammar forms fit together is essential for understanding the N3. Practicing this can be tricky, so take advantage of what you can find. Finish the exercises in the official study materials and make sure you understand why certain grammar fits together the way it does. Look up different grammar in dictionaries, and read through their rules. If you know someone who speaks a high level of Japanese, ask them what sounds right or wrong in terms of syntax and why.

By now you’re probably noticing that the names of the game in N3 are why and how. Why, why, why, why, why. How, how, how, how, how. This fits back in with my first tip about studying tone. The people who write N3 every year know that you know a decent amount of Japanese. What they want to know now is how well you understand the way this language actually works in everyday usage.


  1. Recommended Materials

The official N3 textbook and the online tests on the JLPT website are the best starting points for building your study routine. Both of these will give you a good idea of how the test will feel in each section, and what kinds of questions you’ll encounter. Outside of these materials, though, there are plenty of other resources that can help you.

Seiichi Makino and Michio Tsutsui’s A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar was something I couldn’t put down when studying for N3. In addition to being easy to use, it gives great explanations of how the grammar you’re looking up actually works. It has several entries for particles like に so it can properly explain all the different ways this particle fits into Japanese grammar. In certain entries, this dictionary will also tell you phrases similar to the one you’re looking up, and clarify the difference between these similar phrases. Most helpful of all, the phrases in this dictionary are some of the most commonly used in the Japanese language and therefore, they’re things that you’ll likely find on the N3. (Side note, these authors also have dictionaries for intermediate and advanced grammar if you’re interested!)

If you still can’t find the explanations you need, though, asking someone who already speaks Japanese for help is one of the best things you can do. While I was going through the N3 textbook, I marked a few questions I couldn’t understand even after trying to look up the grammar and vocabulary and showed them to some of my coworkers. My coworkers were probably the biggest help to me while I studied.

If you don’t know someone who speaks Japanese, though, you can always try using online Q&A forums, because someone else has probably asked a similar question to yours before. Using Japanese media to study can also help. NHK News, for example, has a free app called NHK Easy Japanese News. This app lets you read daily news in N4 and N3 level Japanese. It also comes with things like furigana, vocabulary lists, videos, and settings where you can hide the furigana or begin looking at the news in more difficult Japanese. Look around for apps like these that expose you to real-world Japanese, and you might end up learning exactly what you need to.


  1. Before the Test

A friend of mine took the JLPT the same day I did, and he gave me some good advice for what to do the day before the test.

Don’t study.

According to him, the day before the test shouldn’t be about studying, it should be about mental preparation. As he puts it, studying up until the last minute probably won’t give you too much more of a chance of remembering your material than if you took a day off. On top of that, getting anxious or frustrated can be really detrimental to you during the test because you might not have a lot of time to spare. You want to be able to focus as clearly as you possibly can, especially since N3 covers a lot of subtle language points.

For all of these reasons, taking a whole day to just relax and not think about the test might be a good way to prepare, too. I can’t speak for you, but it definitely worked for me. I stayed at home and watched movies, did some cleaning, and tried some new recipes for lunch and dinner. By the time that day was over, I felt like I was ready to take the test. The day of the test, I went through my kanji flashcards one last time, but in general, I tried not to stress too much about cramming.


I hope these tips help you get a better idea of what to look for on the N3, and best of luck in all of your studying!






On Disaster Preparedness: Tips for ALTs

When I first came to Japan, senior ALTs assured all the new arrivals that since Shimane Prefecture does not sit on the ring of fire in the Pacific Ocean, big earthquakes are rare in this area. However, the longer I’ve lived in Japan, the more I’ve asked myself questions about how prepared I really am for a disaster or an emergency.

Earthquakes can still happen in Shimane. Some of my teachers at my bigger school told me that the year before I arrived, there was a small earthquake in the middle of the school day. Nothing was damaged and no one was hurt, but school was cancelled for the day.

A couple of weeks ago, a chime sounded from everyone’s phones in the staff room. One of my teachers told me it was a test for the missile alert system; in case a missile from North Korea started flying over Japan.

Not too long ago, there was a fire at a hot spring near Izumo station. No one was hurt, and no other buildings except for the hot springs’ was damaged. But many of the buildings in Izumo are built so close together, that it could be easy for fires to spread if the conditions were right.

Like the rest of Japan, Izumo is full of narrow roads that are shared by cars, bikes, and pedestrians. If you’re using one of these roads, you have to constantly be aware that you’re not putting yourself or someone else in danger.

When I asked myself if I really knew what to do in any of these situations, I found I was pretty unsure. For that reason, I took the opportunity last Saturday to go to a disaster preparedness class for foreigners at Izumo’s Fire Station. This week, I want to share a bit about what I learned so that any current or aspiring ALTs can be a bit more confident should they ever have to face a disaster or emergency in Japan.



  1. Phone Alarms

If you buy a phone in Japan that’s served by Soft Bank or one of the other big phone companies in Japan, your phone will come with a built-in alarm for earthquakes. When it goes off, this alarm will chime and say, “Jishin desu. Jishin desu.” Earthquake. Earthquake. When you hear this, protect your head, and get as low to the ground as you possibly can. Ideally, you should hide under a sturdy table and away from heavy furniture that can fall over.

I didn’t buy a phone when I came to Japan. I just switched the SIM card in my phone from the States. For this reason, I don’t have a built-in alarm. However, a friend told me that you can download disaster alert apps for earthquakes and other disasters. If you’re using a phone from your home country when you arrive in Japan, look up disaster apps that will work for your phone.


  1. The News

After an earthquake stops, you should listen to the news so that you can hear tsunami warnings. You can listen to the news either through a TV, a handheld radio, or possibly the radio in your car if you have one. Make sure you have some way of listening to the news in Japan. Specifically, tune in to NHK Satellite Broadcast on TV or NHK Radio 2 Broadcast.


  1. Gas and Electricity Safety

If you’re using the stove when an earthquake happens, DO NOT go to turn off the gas. Many gas ranges in Japan will automatically turn off during an earthquake. Once the shaking stops, though, you should turn off your gas valve and turn off your circuit breakers. If you smell gas, open all the windows, and call the gas company after you exit the building. DO NOT use any electric lights or open flames if you smell gas.


  1. Go Outside

If you’re inside when an earthquake happens, open doors and windows so that you have multiple ways to get outside. Turn off your gas and electricity, grab your emergency kit, and go outside as soon as you can. You should go somewhere that’s away from large buildings.

Around whatever city you live in, you’ll probably see signs that look like this.


These are places you should go immediately after an earthquake happens. Take note of where the nearest ones to you are as soon as you can. The one closest to me is a park near my house. Many of the parks around Izumo are also evacuation sites. Wait here for instructions on what to do next.


  1. Shelters

In some cases, you may need to go to emergency shelters after an earthquake. Shelters in Izumo have signs that look just like the Evacuation Area signs, except they explicitly say that they’re a shelter rather than an Evacuation Area.

Like the evacuation sites, look for the shelters closest to you as soon as you can, and practice walking there sometime. Shelters could be places like schools, the city hall, or other places like community centers or event halls.


  1. Emergency Kits

Before an earthquake happens, begin gathering things for an emergency kit. At stores around Japan, you can buy things like backpacks, first aid kits, bottled water, and non-perishable foods to put in this kit. This is the checklist I got from the Izumo Fire Station.


If you’re worried about the expense of buying everything at once, buy one or two things each time you go to the store. Or, better yet, if your house or apartment had other ALTs living in it before you, look around and you’ll probably find that you already have things like a basic first aid kit.

When gathering food for your kit, make sure you get things that you usually eat. This way, you can eat the food and replace it after a time to keep it from getting old. I’ve been told you should change the water you keep around every six months, and pay attention to the expiration dates on whatever food you gather.

Make sure you have enough food and water for at least seven days.


  1. Heavy Furniture

To keep things like bookshelves or refrigerators from falling over, you can buy tension rods like these.


To use them, stick one between the furniture and the ceiling and extend it until it fits tightly between the furniture and the ceiling.

Also, take a look around the area where you sleep. If there is something heavy that could fall on you in your sleep, move it away from you or make sure to secure it. I had to do this recently. After hearing this advice, I realized that the clothes dryer I used was higher up and not secured. I put the dryer in a lower spot as soon as I realized that.

The last thing you should be wary of is objects on furniture. These could fall off during an earthquake, so make sure heavy objects can’t fall on you when you sleep or when you’re hiding under a table. If you can, figure out some way to secure these objects.


  1. Glass

In some stores, you can buy a sticky film to put on windows or glass casings. In an earthquake, this film will keep broken glass in place so that it doesn’t litter your floor. After an earthquake, make sure to be careful of any broken glass or other sharp objects. Have some shoes ready to walk around your apartment with so that you don’t injure your feet.

9. Neighbors

Wherever you live, get to know your neighbors. In the disaster preparedness class I took, there was a lot of emphasis on helping each other during a disaster, and making sure you can provide some help to others.

Starting to get to know the people you live close to can be as simple as saying Ohayougozaimasu, konnichiwa, or konbanwa whenever you see your neighbors. When you greet people, make sure to use polite Japanese, especially if you’re talking to older people. Going to international events as often as you can or participating in neighborhood disaster drills is another good way to get to know people in the community.

One way that I began talking with the people who live across from me was during a snowstorm this winter. My neighbor noticed me digging my car out of the snow so I could go to work, and he asked me if I needed help. He also asked me, “Don’t they cancel work during this kind of weather in the United States? Japanese people work too hard.” Offer people help when you can. Offer greetings when you see people. Whether you become close with your neighbors or not, it helps to at least know who they are so you can help each other during an emergency.    


Fire, Injuries, and Accidents


  1. Emergency Number

The emergency number in Japan is 119. Some cities have translation services (Izumo does), but not every city will. Find out if your city has emergency translators as soon as you can. Just in case there is no translation service, try to learn the Japanese vocabulary for “ambulance,” “accident,” “fire,” and other words related to emergencies. You should also memorize your address in Japanese and the names of any other landmark buildings and streets.


  1. Useful Phrases

Fire = kaji

            Ambulance = kyu kyu sha

            (Car) Accident = jikko

            Fire! = kaji da! (Shout this when you see a fire to warn other people in the  area.)


  1. Fire Extinguishers

Fire extinguishers in Japan are red. To use them, pull out the pin that’s on top of the extinguisher, detach the hose from the side, and squeeze the black handles when you’re ready to spray the fire.

A fire extinguisher’s spray will be able to reach about five to six meters, and will only spray for about fifteen seconds before it starts running out. Make sure you’re within five or six meters of the fire before you start spraying.

Also, DO NOT throw a fire extinguished into the fire. This won’t work the way you think it will.


  1. Car Accidents

If you hit another car, you must call the police to report it whether the accident is major or not. If you hit a person, it’s especially important to call the police, even if the person you hit says that they’re fine. The police number in Japan is 110.


  1. Drinking and Driving

If you drink any amount of alcohol, you are not allowed to drive or ride a bike. Whether you had one glass or five, you’ll get in trouble. If you go out somewhere and you plan on drinking, take public transportation or carpool with someone.




  1. Drive Safe

Typhoons (heavy rain and strong wind) are pretty common in Japan. Sometimes, school is canceled during particularly bad days (although staff is often still required to go to school). If you drive a car, make sure you drive more carefully than usual during a typhoon. The weather may make it more difficult to use a car or bike because it will limit your visibility, and possibly affect your steering.

2. Water Safety 

           If you live near water, keep an eye on how high it gets during a typhoon. You may need to put sandbags around water to keep an area from flooding.


I hope these tips help anyone who’s been worrying about this kind of thing. Whether you live in Japan, or are just traveling, it helps to know what to do just in case. If you live or have lived in Japan and notice something I missed, please let me know! I’d love to keep this up to date.

Stay safe!



5 Tips for Studying Japanese

We have now entered February, the coldest month in Izumo according to my JTEs. I haven’t really gone out to do much because of the weather, so I’ve been studying Japanese a lot. On that note, for everyone out there trying to learn Japanese either for JET or for other reasons, I want to dedicate this post to the study tips that I’ve found the most helpful over my six years of Japanese language study. Feel free to take or leave any of these depending on how they work for you! The best thing you can do for yourself is come up with a study method that works well with your particular learning style.


  1. Have a tangible goal


I decided this year to pass level N3 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). A while back, I went online and printed out an N3 practice test to get an idea of what I needed to study. As it turned out, I couldn’t read half the kanji on the practice test. Many other kanji were ones that I knew, but had somehow forgotten all the same.

I immediately set to work marking all the kanji I was unfamiliar with or wanted to practice, and made flashcards out of all of them. Later, I’ll go through and mark all the grammar that’s unfamiliar to me so that I can practice that.

I probably wouldn’t be half as motivated to learn all these kanji if I hadn’t decided I want to pass the JLPT. That’s why I recommend you come up with some simple, tangible goal and use that as scaffolding and motivation for your studying. The key to this is to get as specific as you possibly can with your goal. For example, wanting to listen to anime without subtitles is a good goal, but it’s also pretty broad. What kind of anime do you want to be able to listen to? The conversations you’ll hear from a Ghibli movie are way different than the ones you’ll hear from Tokyo Ghoul. Moreover, what does being able to listen to an anime without subtitles actually mean? Do you want to be able to get the gist of what characters are saying? Or do you want to understand every single sentence? The more specific you get with your goals, the easier you’ll be able to come up with ways to help yourself achieve that goal. And, of course, whatever your goal is, you’ll learn something along the way.


  1. Know your weakness, don’t forget your strength


My best skill in Japanese is listening. My worst skills are vocabulary, and reading and writing kanji. All other aspects of Japanese fall somewhere in the middle of those two things.

Once you have your goal set, figure out where your weaknesses are as soon as possible. If you know your weaknesses, then, obviously, you know where to pay the most attention. If you feel like everything is your weakness, focus on what you most want to get better at first, and then go from there. Once you begin addressing your weaknesses, though, don’t forget to keep your strengths on their toes.

During my senior year of college, I didn’t study Japanese consistently for almost that entire year. When I came to Izumo after graduation, I was hit hard with just how rusty my Japanese had become. I hesitated to call anything my strength because that’s how incompetent I felt at the time. However, I started getting better again little by little as soon as I decided I wanted to improve. Now, six months since arriving in Izumo, I wouldn’t call myself fluent in Japanese, but I can hold my own. Moreover, I know for sure exactly where I need to improve the most, and I’m doing things every day to improve one skill or another.

Long story short, stay consistent with all of your skills in Japanese. You don’t have to study everything every day, but keep coming back to work at something.


  1. Routine, routine, routine


Gavin Aung Than, the artist of the books and website, Zen Pencils, said in a recent comic that routine is what helps him get anything done in his drawing. Studying Japanese works the same way. I started seriously practicing kanji last year and had managed to memorize quite a few. However, I stopped practicing for two weeks over New Year’s and when I cam back to practice again, I basically had to relearn everything.

You’re the best person to figure out when and how is the best time for you to study Japanese, so try out a few things and see what sticks the best. Then, keep doing that until it becomes habit. Study for as long or as short of a time as you can, just make sure you practice every day. Also, don’t get hung up on finding the “perfect” time to study. More often than not, there is no completely perfect time. You have to make time somehow.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, offers a wonderful way to think about making your routine. In her creative self-help book, Big Magic, she points out how people having an affair always manage to find time to be alone with the person they’re having an affair with. They’ll get up early, they’ll come home late, they’ll make up an excuse for why they can’t go out that night. Even if all they can get is fifteen minutes making out in a stairwell, they take that. You should do the same thing with studying Japanese. Even if all you can manage is fifteen minutes in a stairwell, go and make out with your flashcards and textbooks. (Not literally, you’re asking for paper cuts that way, but you know what I mean).


  1. Use real world sources


Textbooks are great for clearly explaining the nuts and bolts of Japanese. However, several of my friends in Japan have seen my textbooks from college and they’ve all said the same thing, “No one really talks like this.”

By all means, please continue to use your textbooks, because they’re an efficient way to learn the basics of Japanese. However, to keep yourself interested in studying, and to expand your abilities, couple your textbook learning with real world learning.

Memorize the lyrics to a song in Japanese. Read a book in Japanese. Watch a movie or an anime in Japanese and don’t use English subtitles. Expose yourself as much as possible to how Japanese is used outside of a textbook, and things will start to fall into place. Eventually, you’ll recognize vocabulary words or grammar that you’ve studied. You’ll listen to that song again one day and realize you just understood several sentences in a row. You’ll notice the Japanese language’s cadence, and through your effort, that cadence will soon become so familiar to you that you’ll begin to think in Japanese.


  1. Don’t compare yourself to others, and forgive your mistakes


There’s always going to be someone who knows more Japanese that you do, and there’s always going to be someone who knows less Japanese than you do. Whatever you do, DO NOT let other people get in the way of your growth. Voltaire once said that the best is the enemy of the good, and that definitely rings true here.

I’ve been studying Japanese since high school. However, my consistency in studying has been spotty through the years because I’ve had to deal with things like graduation, irritating people, capstone projects, three jobs, family crisis, zero motivation days, no Japanese classes available, et cetera, et cetera. I’ve always come back to studying Japanese one way or another, but I often end up criticizing myself for what I still don’t know. Whenever I can’t understand something in a conversation or forget a kanji I’ve practiced a million times before, my knee jerk reaction is, “You’ve been studying for six years! How are you not fluent in this yet? If you don’t have the dedication now, you’ll never have the dedication, and you should just give up now.”

That voice in my head sticks around until I tell it, as politely as possible, “Get out of here. I’m trying to study.”

Say this and say this often. Defend your right to study another language and your right to be imperfect at it sometimes. Defend your right to study when you’re a novice, and when you feel like you’re starting to get the hang of it. When you start to get the hang of it and feel like you’re still making too many mistakes, defend your studying harder than ever before.

Think of it this way, I’m a native English speaker, so I’ve been “studying” English for about twenty-three years. It took every second of those twenty-three years to get to the skill level I’m at now, and I still make mistakes sometimes. In the case of Japanese, I’ve been studying that for about six years. How good was I at English after “studying” it for only six years? Not very good at all.

Long story short, you’ll be fine. Wherever you’re at now as compared to where you want to be, everything will turn out fine.


I hope these tips end up being helpful! Learning another language is a wonderful pursuit for its own sake, and I’m totally biased, but Japanese is a really fun language to study.

If you haven’t started studying Japanese yet, but want to know where you can start, I think classes are the best way to go if those are available to you. If you don’t have access to classes, though, I recommend the Duolingo app as an everyday study aid. The blog, Tofugu, also has some good articles about memorizing characters among other things. If you can’t find someone to officially teach you, build a self-study routine using texts and real-world resources, and stick with it. If you have the will to learn Japanese, you can find a way!




The JET Program Interview: What Helped Me the Most

The JET interview was something I practiced and prepared for basically every day since I found out I’d gotten one. A lot of blogs and websites have dedicated posts to nailing the interview, and they’ve got some great advice! One in particular that I’d recommend is this guide from Tofugu:


Through all your preparation and research, though, be careful not to overwhelm yourself. There’s SO much information you can find, and it can all start to run together after a while. So, to try and streamline things just a little bit, I’m going to dedicate this post to the top three pieces of advice that helped me the most during my interview.



  1. Be prepared to improvise a lesson


The three people who interviewed me asked me on the spot to pretend that they were my students, and teach a short lesson to them like I might if I went to Japan. According to other JETs I’ve met in Shimane, they were asked to do the same thing. To be safe, you should be prepared to improvise a lesson, too. To be clear, when I say be prepared to improvise a lesson, I don’t mean you need to prepare materials that you might use in a class. The things the interviewers are looking for with this request are:


-Your ability to think on your feet and jump into new situations


-How clearly you speak


-How you might handle a classroom


Think of it this way, your application has convinced them you might make a good teacher. Now, they want to see you in action.

When I was asked to improvise, I immediately stood up out of my chair. I asked the interviewers if there was anything specific they wanted to see me teach, or if I could just do anything. One of the interviewers said, “Act like you’re introducing yourself to a class.” So I did.

I said hello and my name. The interviewers said hello back as my “students.” I asked them to call me Ms. Laura or Ms. Payne. Then I said something brief about how I was from Oregon, and you can ski in Oregon. At this point, a couple of the interviewers pretended to be having a side conversation. Since I had been talking about sports, I pointed at these two interviewers and asked, “Do you like sports?” They replied, and then told me we could move on to the next interview question.

You may do something similar or different than I did. Whatever you end up doing, here are some important things to keep in mind:


-When you’re asked to improvised a lesson, stand up. Jump right into it


-Speak slowly, clearly, and with simple English. Use hand gestures while you’re                 talking


-Engage your “students” wherever you can. For example, saying, “Hello,” or           “Good afternoon,” and having them reply, or asking simple questions. And if it looks like your “students” are starting to space out, bring them back to the conversation


No one’s expecting you to teach a long, complex lesson. They just want to get an idea of what you might be like in a classroom. Show off your communication skills!


  1. Prepare, but don’t over prepare


There are plenty of blogs and websites that give examples of questions the interviewers might ask. This is nice, because it helps you to think about the questions beforehand, and prepare an answer. However, be careful not to be completely rigid in how you answer. I once read a blog post by a JET interviewer that explained when this can be a problem.

In this post, the interviewer explained that he had asked a question like, “How would you represent your home country in Japan?” The prospective JET being interviewed answered something like, “The three things I would bring to represent my country would be…”

The question, “What three things would you bring to Japan to represent your country?” is a question that has been asked in interviews before and might be asked to you. However, it might not be asked. The interviewer in this case hadn’t asked what three things this interviewee would bring. The question was more general than that. The interviewee didn’t notice this before they answered, though, and gave the answer to a slightly different question.

When I was preparing for my interview, I took note of questions I would most likely be asked. I came up with answers, but I didn’t strictly memorize my answers. For example, I thought it was likely that the interviewers might ask me how I would handle someone in Japan asking me something like, “Are all Americans fat?” I came up with a plan to answer that question in a way that was calm and informative.

When I did the interview, I was asked, “What would you do if a coworker asked you, ‘Do all Americans have guns?'” I changed my answer so that the details were different from what I’d prepared, but the overall tone was the same. What the interviewers really wanted to know with this question was how I would handle myself around awkward questions or situations. The important thing wasn’t to have a perfectly crafted answer, but to give an answer that would show the interviewers that I could stay collected.

This said, when you do the interview, the best thing to do is not to memorize all the potential questions interviewers might ask and memorize an answer for each one. The best thing to do is be prepared for the most likely questions, listen carefully when the questions are asked, figure out what the interviewers want to know about you with each question, and then tell them what you think they should know about you.



  1. You don’t have to answer right away, and be prepared for a Japanese test


Before you answer any question, it’s okay to take a few seconds to think about your answer. This might work to your advantage, actually, because it shows the interviewers that you’re thoughtful and deliberate. Taking your time can also help with your nerves. If you’re like me, you may have a tendency to stumble over words. When I did my interview, though, I made a point to think for a second after each question so I could put my thoughts in order before I spoke. This helped my answers to be much more eloquent. Make sure not to take too much time before answering each question, though!

Also, during the interview, you will probably be asked some simple questions in Japanese to gauge your language skill. When this happens, don’t worry if you don’t understand a question. Testing your Japanese is just a way for you to gain a few extra points with the interviewers, and they don’t expect you to be perfect. They just want to get an idea of how much you can communicate in Japanese if you’ve said you’ve studied it.

In my interview, the interviewers started my Japanese test by asking me what time I woke up in the morning. They asked me a couple more questions after that. The questions gradually became more difficult. I barely understood the last question, so I asked them (in Japanese) to repeat it. I still didn’t understand, but I tried answering anyway with what little I had understood. Honestly, I don’t think I answered correctly at all.

It’s okay to ask interviewers to repeat a question. It’s okay to answer if you only think you know what they asked. It’s also okay to tell them you’re sorry, but you don’t understand. Once I finished my interview, I wished I had just said I didn’t understand the last question. I thought pretending I knew the answer when I didn’t understand would work against me, but it turned out okay. The point of this is, just try your best and the interviewers will see it.



To close, good luck with your interview! You’re definitely going to be nervous, but if it helps, remember that your interviewers are human. They’re expecting you to be nervous and expecting that maybe you’ll make a few mistakes. But as long as they can tell you’re doing your best, you’ll be okay. Some interviewers are former ALTs themselves, and so they understand the position you’re in. Just be genuine, be prepared, and be excited for everything you’ll get to do if you pass this interview.





How to Boost Your JET Application

The time for hearing the first stage results for the JET Program have come and gone. To everyone who will have an interview, heartfelt congratulations! You’ve made it so far, and are one step away from the possibility of living and teaching in Japan! To everyone who will not have an interview this year, sincerest condolences. You worked so hard on your application, letters of recommendation, and statement of purpose. On top of that, the next application period is so far away! But please remember, that that next application period is still open to you, and until then, there are things you can do to boost your application for next time.

All of that said, I want to dedicate the next two posts to JET advice! Today’s post will cover what you can do if you didn’t get accepted this year, and my next post will cover the advice that helped me the most when I did my interview. Before I go on, though, just note that there are plenty of JETs who have written about both of these subjects, and it’s a good idea to look over their advice as well as mine. Other posts may offer something I didn’t cover, or say what I said much better than I did, haha. All that said, here’s my advice on what to do to boost your JET application next time!





Before she wrote a letter of recommendation for me, my Japanese professor had written letters for two other prospective ALTs. One was accepted, the other wasn’t. The one who was accepted had been a nanny for the same family for several years and therefore, had plenty of experience working with kids. The other applicant didn’t have any experience with kids.

I cannot stress enough how important experience working with kids is to the JET Program application if you want to be an ALT. The reason why is obvious; your job as an ALT means you’ll be working with kids every day. A common mistake I’ve seen a few different people make when applying to be an ALT, is that they emphasize their experience with Japanese language or international travel. Either of those things can help to support your application, but as an ALT, you’re first and foremost an ENGLISH TEACHER. I’ve met ALTs who could barely speak Japanese when they first arrived, and one person I’ve talked to had a degree in physics and had never been to Japan. The thing that made them good applicants, though, was their experience with kids.

I put “teaching” in quotes in the title of this section because the best part about this area of the application is that your experience with kids doesn’t have to be formal classroom experience. If you do happen to have experience working in a classroom, fantastic! Put that on your application! If you don’t, though, that’s okay. You still have a chance.

Before JET hired me, I had never really worked in a classroom. What I had done, though, was private English tutoring for six months, summer camp counseling for two different summers, helping exchange students at my college with practicing English on occasion, volunteering in the English Salon when I studied abroad for half a year, and babysitting. Except for the babysitting, all of these experiences were for short periods of time over a few years. Collectively, though, they added up. This is what I recommend you do until the next application period. Find a job or some volunteer work that will allow you to work with kids, and do that for as long and as often as you can. If you can work with kids of a variety of ages, that might be even better. JET hires people to work anywhere from the elementary school to high school level. I’ve even heard of a few teachers visiting preschools for, “English Time.”

In short, gaining experience working with kids should be at the top of your list. I think this, more than anything else, will show JET that you’ll be able to do what they ask you to. Again, I’ll stress that you don’t have to get experience in a classroom. Help out in a ballet class, babysit, volunteer at a preschool, tutor after school. Anything helps, and the more of it, the better.


  1. Check Your Letters


Good letters of recommendation can add a lot to whatever you put into your application. From what I’ve seen and heard, the best letters come from professors, managers, heads of volunteer programs, etc. Basically, from anyone who can speak to abilities or experiences you have that would make you a good teacher. Finding good letters can be easier said than done. However, remember, you still have a stretch of time before the next application period, and you can use that time to find better letters.

If you start doing something to get experience with kids, you’ll undoubtedly find some good people who can write you letters. If you volunteer to teach a class on something you’re good at, ditto. The point is connections, connections, connections. A little creativity in who you ask can help, too.

For example, I followed the YouTube channel of an ALT called kawaiijustu for a while. She once posted a video about the JET Program application process, and talked about the two letters of recommendation she asked for. One was from her Japanese professor, and the other was from another of her professors who ran his own school. She asked this professor of hers to write about qualities she had that would convince him to hire her as a teacher. To be clear, kawaiijustu had never worked in this professor’s school, but she had taken a university class with this professor. Because of the connection through that university class, she knew this professor would know her and her work ethic well enough to write a letter. If you can’t get a letter from someone who has seen you teach something, getting creative like this can still put in a good word for you.


  1. Study Japanese and Try New Things


While Japanese language skill isn’t the most important part of your application, it can still score you some bonus points. It’s common for ALTs to be placed in rural areas, so Japanese skills will go a long way in helping you get around. Also, it can help with teaching. Often when I work in a class, I explain certain grammar points to students in Japanese because they have trouble understanding when I explain in English. The fact that they know I can speak Japanese also encourages them to talk to me more outside of class.

If you have some kind of skill in Japanese and can say that you’ll continue to study it on JET, that’s one more thing that speaks in your favor. However, on your application, DO NOT FOCUS SOLELY ON JAPANESE. I’ll repeat, experience working with kids or teaching something is one of the most important things you can put on your application. Japanese skill just serves to score you bonus points and put you ahead of someone who might not have any Japanese skill. On that note, any kind of Japanese skill is worth mentioning. Whether you’ve taken class for years or just started studying on your own time, mention it. Just try to learn as much as you can by the next application period. If you get an interview next time, you’ll be asked a few questions in Japanese to gauge your skill level (more on that in the next post).

Another good support for your application is something that can vouch for your adaptability. The JET Program wants to hire people who can grow accustomed to new and different situations. If they hire someone, send them to rural Japan, and then find out that that person is having significant challenges adjusting to life in Japan, that’s a problem. Showing JET that you’re adaptable and can deal with new situations will boost your chances of being hired. Many people use experiences of studying abroad or international travel to speak to their adaptability. If you don’t have international travel under your belt, though, you can provide other examples.

Have you ever had to move to a town you were unfamiliar with? Have you ever had to live with a particularly difficult person? Have you ever had to work with particularly difficult people? Have you ever had something major happen to you that forced you to change something about how you live? Have you ever worked a job where you had to learn new skills on the spot and succeeded? Have you ever had to deal with homesickness? How did you deal with any of this, and how does it show your adaptability?

Any experience you’ve had that put you in a difficult, unfamiliar situation could be a good thing to talk about. JET wants to know that you can handle living in a foreign country, and possibly living in an area you’ve never heard of. Depending on where you get placed, you may have to drive, work with special needs classes, work with teachers who want you to make activities for every class, or work with teachers who only use you like a human CD player. This isn’t even mentioning other everyday things like visiting the dentist, setting up your internet, or clothes shopping. All that said, the important thing for you to do, is give an example as to why you would be okay at adjusting to all of these things.

On a side note, if you do get accepted to JET, you won’t have to deal with settling in alone. Every ALT has a supervisor at their board of education who can help with things like setting up appointments or utilities. Also, JET has resources available for supporting an ALT’s mental health.


  1. Edit, Edit, Edit Your Statement of Purpose


Your statement of purpose is what brings all of your experiences together and tells a story about why you want to join JET, what good you think you can do while in Japan, and what good you think you can do after you come back from Japan. I’ve heard some people say that your statement of purpose can be what gets you to the interview stage. This said, take the statement of purpose seriously. Polish it, polish it, and polish it again if you need to. Ask yourself, “Is there a better way I can say this?” Get a few different people to read your statement of purpose and give you feedback. Look up other statements of purpose as examples and check around for writing advice (because SO many JETs have written advice for the statement of purpose). Don’t stress yourself with making it perfect, just tell a good story that shows it makes sense for JET to hire you.

Here’s a way to think about it, anyone can say they want to go to Japan or that they want to work in Japan. But what about your specific desire to live and work in Japan makes you a better pick in the long run?

If you want to be a teacher after the JET Program, how will you use your experiences abroad to continue to promote international exchange? If you want to go into business, will your experiences on JET help you work with foreign companies better? If you want to be an artist, how will your experiences help to educate people on Japanese culture? JET doesn’t just want you to come to Japan and then leave. They want you to be a cultural ambassador for your home country while in Japan, and then an international exchange ambassador when you get home.

A while ago, I met someone who had been an ALT in Izumo twenty years ago. He’s working in buying and selling materials now, and he works closely with companies in Japan.

When I wrote my statement of purpose, I talked about how I planned on becoming a high school English teacher in Oregon. I said that teaching on JET would help me to become a better teacher, help me to support or start a sister city program at whatever school I ended up working at, and help me find ideas on how to teach a global perspective in my future classes.

Whatever you think you want to do with your life, how will JET help you to accomplish it? Moreover, is there something you can do once you come home that helps with education or globalization? There are many things you can and should talk about in your statement of purpose, but this, I think, is one of the most important things to talk about. Make sure you say it all well!


To sum it all up, if you want to apply to JET again in the future, make the most of the time between application periods! By getting better experience, better letters of recommendation, and a solid statement of purpose, you could make next year the year you get into JET. According to a few other ALTs I’ve met, the JET Program accepts about fifty percent of the people who apply, and the upcoming Tokyo Olympics are causing more places to want to add to their English curriculum. The next few years may be one of the best times to apply.

Additional Resources:


Tofugu JET Program blog: