Jet Salary

Money Money Money, must be funny….

I imagine a few of you might wonder how much you get paid being a human tape recorder and frequent volleyball club harasser. Well it’s not that bad to be completely honest.

Firstly, this is a rough estimate of my take home salary and probably isn’t the same for every ALT out there. First year JETs,  as of 2012, get before tax and deductions ¥280,000. (woo just became a second year JET, slight pay rise!)

 Automatic deductions
Health Insurance ¥14,056
Pension ¥24,463
Employment Insurance ¥1,400
Income Tax ¥6,200
Residents Tax ¥2,800

As of early this year I started paying residents tax, this normally doesn’t kick in until your second year (for kiwis at least). Some people leaving this year were surprised by a large residents tax bill, and fortunately my Board of Education takes a small amount out of each pay so I don’t have a massive bill due when/if I eventually leave Japan.

It is worth mentioning that you can also get the money that you pay into the pension fund back once you leave Japan. There is a complicated process to follow but mostly you have a nominated person who acts as a go between and they hopefully will be nice enough to help with the process. This normally gets paid out once you have left the country, if memory serves it takes more than three months to get the refund.

Next is onto an estimate of my monthly bills…

Power between ¥3000 – ¥7000
Water between ¥1500 -¥2500
Gas between ¥1500 -¥3000
Rent Total ¥51,000 but half is paid by my Board of Education
Internet and
landline
¥5000
Cellphone  ¥8000

I also rent a car and have car insurance, make payments to my New Zealand accounts and have to pay for my school lunches.  A lot of my bills really depend on usage and I am rather stubborn with heating/cooling and only ever use them when the temperature is at an extreme.

I do pay a bit more for my phone compared to other people, mostly because I didn’t want an iPhone and got a Galaxy S5 instead. But at the time I thought I would rather pay a little more for a phone that I wanted, than to have to deal with learning how to use an iPhone.

Of course there other expenses like food, petrol and maybe the odd game or new camera purchase but it’s entirely possible to live off easily. For my situation anyway. My rent is subsidized and I am rather rural i.e. on the edge of Hyogo, hours and hours away from the nearest “big city” that being Himeji. Some other JETs don’t have the same luck of subsidized rent. I didn’t have to pay a deposit or anything for my house, which I have found is rather common if you are not placed in a large city.

As with everything on the JET Programme every situation is different, but this is a rough idea of my situation. 🙂

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Could I be anymore embarrassed? … Probably

Things that you never really think you will ever talk about in front of 75% of the staff at your school, how to give a urine sample.

In a few weeks all of the ALTs in my town will have to have medical checkups. It is a standard part of being employed here. So much so that everyone is very blasé about it. But of course, guess who has never had the experience of having a proper physical checkup in Japan? Why the silly foreigner, who half understands Japanese at the best of times.

My vice principal walked over to my desk with some paper work and instead of doing the usual “let’s see if she understands when I give her the paperwork”, he decided that it was ultimately easier to rope my poor English teacher into the fray. Giving me the paperwork and what appeared to be a little plastic bottle, he told my teacher to explain to me how to use it.

And of course I heard the words, medical checkup and was like oh no. Poor English teacher comes round to my desk and crouches down, muttering through a chuckle how is he going to say what he wants to say. At this point I was completely confused but all of the other teachers were listening and watching very carefully so I had a feeling this was going to be bad.

My English teacher proceeded to tell me how to make a little box out of the bits of cardboard and that I needed to pee in it, then use the little bottle to suck some of it up and bring it to my assessment at the start of August. Needless to say as he started to tell me I was turning a fantastic colour of red and giggling in an enormous amount of embarrassment, he got a little stuck on some of the more technical words and the other teachers started to tease him. He started laughing and could barely talk, which made me laugh more. Then all hell broke loose, everyone was laughing and calling out things only making everyone laugh even more. I eventually shrank down in my chair and hid my laughing red face against my desk.

The young male maths teacher even quipped in English, which was surprising on a few levels, “nice Japanese culture” in relational to my natural response to cover my face with my hands; which is a normal response to embarrassment, I think???? Especially when the teachers call out the English teacher to then make poses to demonstrate even though I said that I understood and that he didn’t have to. They knew I understood but wanted to make him make the poses for a laugh.

So while I die in the staffroom from the heat and the humidity of the Japanese summer, I will also be dying from embarrassment too. Although it’s days like these that I am reminded that even though I am from a different country, people all over the world are pretty much the same. Sure, they have different upbringings, beliefs and personal situations but deep down we are all the same, we’d all mock and tease someone who had to give the poor young foreigner advice on how to pee into a cardboard box. 🙂

Getting a Japanese License!

Let me start off saying that I am happy that I come from one of the magical countries, I mean I am so extremely happy that I am from New Zealand and not the United States. Nothing against the States but getting a Japanese license was so much easier being a Kiwi.

Getting right into it, certain countries have agreements with the Japanese Automobile Federation, and thankfully New Zealand is one of them. There are quite a few lucky countries, and the US isn’t one of them. My poor American friends have to get a Japanese license the old fashioned way and not the slightly quickly, vastly less stressful but still decently stressful way.

Special lucky countries include: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, New Zealand, South Korea, Spain and Switzerland. BUT you do need to have had your full license for at least three months before your arrival date in Japan, and you need to prove with your passport that you were in your home country for three consecutive months before you arrived in Japan too. Even if you have had your license for 6 years, they wont believe that you have spent 3 consecutive months in Japan without your passport as proof. If you have recently got a new passport, bring your old one with you to Japan.

Starting off, if you are living in Japan or are moving to Japan you probably have or will soon have an International Drivers Permit (LDP) that lasts one year only. So if you are like me and have decided to stay for longer than a year and need to drive to survive, you will probably have to start the process of getting a Japanese license.

Step 0 – Getting a copy of your licensing history

Technically you do not need this, although some people are asked to bring it to the licensing centre, but I got a copy of my licensing history from the NZ Transport Agency so I could show how long it took to get a full license. This actually really helped me with my application, as the officer wanted to see how long it had taken to get from a learners permit to my eventual full license. For all you Kiwis here’s the link if you want to get a copy for yourself.

http://www.nzta.govt.nz/licence/photo/confirming-licence-details.html

Highly recommend getting your licensing history, regardless of where you come from before you leave for Japan, as a just in case measure.

Step 1 – Juuminhyou – Certificate of Residence

First I had to get a copy of my juuminhyou or a Certificate of Residence. If you are on the JET programme you would have been registered on one of your first days in your town at a local branch of the City Council. Also if you aren’t on JET then you should be registered at your city council too, well hopefully. You will need to request a copy, they normally cost around ¥200 -¥300 but you will need to state that this is for getting a driver’s license as some councils have different types of juuminhyou and its just better to be safe than sorry. Just pop into your local city council building and say something along the lines of 運転免許のために、住民票がほしいです  and that should suffice. It takes around 5-10mins to get so it’s not a big deal. I keep a copy of mine at my house in case of emergency because I am a paranoid neurotic person.

Step 2 – Translation of current license

Regardless if you are from a lucky country or not you will need an official translation from the JAF.

Here is a list of branches, http://www.jaf.or.jp/inter/entrust/index_e.htm

I believe they prefer if you send or take the form into the regional Headquarters for your prefecture. Forms to fill out for this translation and instructions are on this page http://www.jaf.or.jp/inter/translation/index_e.htm

Since I am living on the Sea of Japan, hundreds of kilometres away from any major city I posted my form in. To post a form with money you will need to buy a special envelope called “Genkin kakitome futo” from the post office. Fill it out, normally has instructions in English, send it off while you’re at the post office with your ¥3392 and then wait for it to turn up at your house which doesn’t take long at all.

Step 3 – Photos

Get a few passport sized photos and while you’re at it, colour photocopy your home license, passport, zairyuu/residents card. These photos won’t actually be used for your license photo, just for the application.

Step 4 – Figure out where the nearest licensing centre is.

If you live in Hyogo then the Akashi Licensing Centre is where you go. Take a day off work and get to the centre before 9am, figure out that where the lucky countries go. For Akashi, you go in the building and go left passed the long line of Japanese applicants to where you will see a small area with some seats and a notice in English, Chinese and Korea. (I think it was near window number 7 but it’s been a while since I was there, so that might not be the right number). Take a number and wait your turn.

Step 5 – Start the application

Once they call your number you will go through to a small office that normally only has two people working. Give them all your paper work and basically have a huge nervous wait while they take forever to go over it. They will ask questions about the requirements for getting a license, and other various related questions. You will have to fill out a little survey thing, that will ask you if you have ever driven against doctors’ orders or have driven under the influence of alcohol. Unfortunately I had to circle yes for have you been in a driving related accident since arriving in Japan. That added another hour or so of very broken Japanese, trying to explain that I got hit and that I didn’t hit someone. Hopefully you get through this bit fine.

Step 6 – Pay for the license

After you have your time with the officer, they will send you to another window, possibly number 6 to pay around ¥4000. This is the cost of getting your license. Then you need to go back to the same officer and show him that you have paid. He will then set you free from that dreary office with a few pieces of paper that you should not loose and depending on the time, you might have 2 or 3 hours to kill until the next part. Make sure your phone is fully charged and not at 30%… not my brightest moment.

Step 7 – Waiting. Waiting. And more waiting.

Your butt will go numb and you will be bored. I had to wait for 3 hours. It was torture. Bring something to do. You can leave, but the times aren’t set in stone so it can start earlier (pfft not likely) or much much later than you were initially told. There are a few convenience stores close by for getting snacks to get you through the soul crushing. While you wait you will need to find the weird little machines near the front of the building and pick a pin for your license. Keep the printed bit of paper as you need it when getting your photo taken.

Step 8 – Lecture and lining up

After far too long, you, the other successful foreigners and around 100-200 young Japanese people will have to sit through a lecture. Mine took around an hour, about basics of driving. Then you will be called to line up in a strange order where you most likely will be placed at the very end. They will call out a number that is on the forms given to you by the officer earlier. After the line whittles down and you eventually get to the front its photo time! Then after your lovely no-smiling photo you will follow your line around to the front of window 5 (again not sure on correct window numbers, it will be very obvious where you are supposed to go, the massive group you are with will be difficult to miss). There will be a special foreigners/special license line that you will need to join, normally on the very far right. Then they will wait, give a short speech and slowly give out the licenses. Either stamp your inkan or sign and then you are FREE. You now will have wasted a whole day at this depression hell hole but it’s over… until you need to renew your license, like I will in just under 2 years…

Things to bring

  • Home country license
  • Official Translation from JAF of Home country license into Japanese
  • Passport – photocopies will not be accepted
  • Passport sized photos
  • Inkan/hanko/personal stamp
  • Money between ¥5000 – ¥6000
  • Juuminhyou/Certificate of Residence
  • Zairyuu card/Residency card
  • International Drivers Permit
  • Licensing History/Certificate of Particulars
  • Patience, a fully charged cellphone, headphones, snacks – optional but highly recommended

Good luck and safe driving along those crazy narrow roads! 🙂

The infamous desk shuffle!

If you think that working in a Japanese staff room isn’t difficult enough and you want a challenge in your life then I suggest going away for over a week during the spring break at the end of the school year. You’ll leave at the end of the 3rd term and come back to the start of the new school year with a whole new layout to deal with. New students. New teachers. New dress code for spring. New everything.

I had heard rumors about the April desk and teacher shuffle. I had heard the legends passed down by those who have been here longer than a year. Fortunately for me, only two of my teachers transferred and neither were my English teachers.

Before I went on holiday I was actually allowed to go to the staff meeting for a change! Which was where my Principal announced who was transferring. Now my Japanese ability is shaky at the best of times but sometimes I manage to understand what’s going on. And this was almost one of those times.

I understood that…

  • Science-sensei was leaving to go to Takeno JHS,
  • New Social studies-sensei is coming from Takeno JHS
  • New science-sensei is coming from Morimoto JHS
  • Social studies-sensei was leaving

And that’s where I lost it. I missed poor old Social studies-senseis announcement, I got that he was leaving but wasn’t sure where he was going. So I repeated the announcements one by one in English to the English teacher I sat next to, and when I got to Social studies-sensei I asked where he was going and my English teacher flat out said “He’s dead.” I repeated that back to him as a question and he nodded and said again, “He’s dead” with a smile on his face.

I was so confused and still am. Obviously he’s not dead, or dying, or sick. In fact on my trip home from my holiday I saw him coming home from a holiday to Kyoto and he looked fine, even gave him a little present from Okinawa. I didn’t have enough time to ask him where he was transferring to as I had to catch a connecting train but he legitimately looked like he was happy and healthy. Gonna just put this down to one of those things that I will never understand. I think he must be retiring?

Before teacher shuffle – total teachers 9, Principal, Vice Principal, school nurse, admin lady, grounds keeper and myself.

There was also a teacher who only came on Fridays, Friday Sensei, who was a calligraphy teacher and the school counselor who visited once every three weeks. So in total at my school there were 16 staff members officially. (I don’t think Friday Sensei was officially part of our staff, he wasn’t on the staff list, I can add for the record I know it should be 17 technically)

Breaking it down further …

20150424_140033

1st year homeroom teachers – Music, Social studies and Maths teachers

2nd year homeroom teachers – One of the two English teachers, PE teacher and the History teacher

3rd year homeroom teachers – The other Maths teacher, the other English teacher and the science teacher

Obviously the teachers taught all year levels but they are separated into desk groups based on homeroom teacher groups. Last year (until March) I sat next to one of the English teachers in the 2nd year desk group.

After teacher shuffle…

The science and social studies teachers transferred to other schools and we got two next teachers. I also think according to the new staff list that was on my desk we have a new school counselor. Apart from that everyone stayed. The one thing I was dreading was that I was going to lose my Vice Principal, who just might be the best person I’ve ever met. He’s so lovely and always trying to help me. He took me to a fish market and auction late last year, across the river from school. (Where I live is famous for snow crab and the season starts in winter) which as strange as that sounds was really cool.  My predecessor here warned me that he was going to retire this year but he’s still here and boy am I glad.

So now the homeroom teachers are…
20150424_1400191st year homeroom teachers – Both of the Maths teachers and a English teacher.

2nd year homeroom teachers – New science teacher, new social studies teacher and the music teacher.

3rd year homeroom teachers – PE teacher, English teacher that I used to sit next to and the History teacher

Now I sit with the 1st year homeroom teachers and the nurse. It’s not a whole lot of change but it’s enough to get slightly confused every time I leave the staff room. I feel rather sad for some of my friends here who lost all of their English teachers and Principals that would be a big adjustment. Almost like starting from scratch again.

However with all the changes and the new students to deal with, there is a weird atmosphere in the staffroom. While being an ALT is a really good job and I love it to pieces, I would kill to take on a more serious role in this workplace. I want to help more.

Even if I was fluent in Japanese there would still be this invisible wall between us. They all studied to be teachers, I didn’t. I’m realizing lately that I want more than sitting at my desk and having not a lot to do. At my old job I worked crazy hours, and was constantly busy. And I did that for almost 5 years. So coming here I was ready for having a break and doing not a lot. I kind of felt that I was ready for a break, but I think this is too much. I need to be busy and useful, not just be a foreign shaped paper weight that stops my chair from freely roaming the staffroom.

I wonder if this means I want to be a teacher. Oh god I hope not. That’s a whole another degree and nightmare going back to university.

Spring is here… ugh *sneezes violently*

One of the demon trees (Japanese Cedar tree/ Sugi tree) currently ruining my life -_-

One of the demon trees (Japanese Cedar tree/ Sugi tree) currently ruining my life -_-

This week has been a nightmare. All of a sudden SPRING! And not the good cute flowers blooming, weather getting warmer, birds chirping kind of spring. But the pollen-y, rainy, windy, I want to curl up in bed and never leave kind of spring.

This week began my first ever experience with hay fever and I have to say that I don’t care for it. Of course I want to use stronger language than that and curse spring from the rooftops but I hardly need another reason to be the weird foreigner. The undying loathing I have for these trees is so strong. I’m super glad I am going on holiday next week to Okinawa. I’ll out run the pollen (oh god I hope the pollen isn’t as bad there).

Look at this thing, they surround all of the school buildings. Evil!

Look at this thing, they surround all of the school buildings. Evil!

Back in New Zealand, I never had hay fever. I remember those days fondly. My eyes weren’t puffy, I wasn’t sneezing every 10 minutes. My throat didn’t feel like sand paper. But most of all, I remember my nose not running like a leaky tap. This is what drives me mental. I can handle the sore eyes, sore throat but the uncontrollable constant dripping nose? That’s a battle I will never win. Even with anti-histamines.

Hopefully this weekend I will be able to fumble my way through a conversation at the local chemist/pharmacy/drug store and get something that will actually help with the symptoms but in the mean time I will be wearing a mask where ever I go. Looking like I’m either plotting something or about to die. Even though I feel pretty ok, minus the nose running, my kids at school are convinced I’m on deaths door. Apparently my eyes have two emotions, dying or suspicious. Fantastic. Also masks here are not glasses friendly. I need to figure out how to wear a mask and not have my glasses fog up every 10 seconds.

SPRING! Grrrr I used to like spring and now it has become my least favourite season almost instantly. Oops enough ranting for now…

Aside from the hay fever hell that I am now in, it has been a rather slow week at work. Classes are winding down to the closing ceremony next Tuesday. Been trying to get my paperwork sorted for getting my driver’s license changed into a Japanese one. So that’s kept me busy in between my sneezing fits.

Enjoy a few snaps of the school that I grabbed on one of my many visits to the bathroom to blow my nose. Today’s weather is a bit bleak as you can see. Wish me luck on my battle with hay fever!

Harmless flowers.

Glorious harmless flowers.

The main corridor leading to the gym. The staff room is on the right by the sign

The main corridor leading to the gym. The staff room is on the right by the sign