As an Incoming JET, soon to be arriving in Japan, there is the matter of your predecessor (which many incoming JETs will have), and the sort of questions you could ask them to help you with pre-departure preparations and also once arriving in Japan.
Fortunately, your predecessor is not the only person you could ask. There is also your supervisor, and current JETs who can be found on the online forums and various Facebook groups. So if you’re not getting much out of your predecessor, remember there are other sources you can consult.
Don’t feel obliged to ask every question under the sun. I know a lot of incoming JETs who prefer to know as little as possible (especially related to school and classes) so that they can form their own opinions and views of working with JTEs (Japanese teachers of English) and teaching students.
Apartment and general day-to-day:
Most of the time, JETs take over their predecessor’s apartment. It involves little hassle from your Board of Education’s side (your contracting organisation) to replace their name on the apartment’s contract with yours. However, I have heard of JETs being offered a choice of apartments, and don’t necessarily take over the one inhabited by their predecessor. But if you are taking their apartment, here are some questions you could ask them:
- How big or small is it? (it could be an open plan modern apartment, or a traditional, tatami mat, sliding doors type of place – like mine was)
- How far away is it from the Board of Education (BOE) or base school, including visit schools?
- What is the address (so you can Google map it)
- Is it close to the shops, convenience stores, train/bus station, shopping malls, etc? See my post about shopping in Japan here.
- Where does your predecessor do most of his/her shopping? Can they leave a map to show where the main shops are?
- Are there any items/furniture that they will be taking with them from the apartment that you will need to replace?
- Any maintenance issues you should be aware of? Insect infestations? Problems with leaking taps? Noisy neighbours?
- Ask them to leave instructions for how to use appliances, such as the microwave, stove, washing machine, etc., as most of them will be in Japanese.
- Ask them to leave written guidelines on how the recycling and rubbish works – most times your city/town will have a poster that describes what can be thrown away on which day. It is very important that you stick to the recycling/rubbish guidelines, they take it very seriously.
- Ask for pictures of the apartment (I did a Skype video tour of my apartment with my predecessor before I arrived in Japan)
- Will they be selling anything?
NOTE: You are under no obligation to buy anything from your predecessor. You have the right to decline any offer they make, unless you really want that particular item, is in good condition, and is at a reasonable price. My predecessor never sold anything to me, and in turn I decided to leave everything to my successor for free.
- How many schools will you have?
- What type of schools are they? (this question is mainly aimed at senior high school ALT’s as the school could high-academic, commercial/business, sports, etc)
- What is the dress code?
- Will you need indoor shoes? (I ask this because my base school did not require indoor shoes, though they were needed for my island visit schools)
- A weekly timetable example.
- How many lessons, on average, does one teach per day/week?
- How much are you involved in the actual lessons?
- Do you and the JTE take the lesson together, properly team-teaching? Or are you expected to take the lesson with the JTE on the side? Or are you the classroom parrot?
- Lesson planning (especially in senior high school): Do you and the JTE plan lessons together? Or are you expected to plan the lessons? Or are you hardly involved in the lesson planning?
- Information about the JTE’s
- Information about the students
- Any other duties expected to be performed? (such as running the English club, helping with speech contests, organising English debates, etc.)
- When arriving in late July/early August, what would you be expected to do at school/BOE until classes start in September? Or alternatively: what was August like for your predecessor?
The general area and prefecture:
- What’s nearby that is of interest? Sightseeing spots, temples, shrines, famous landmarks, etc.
- Do you have to walk, take a bicycle, bus, train, boat, or car to get around most of the time?
- What will the weather be like when arriving in August? Most of Japan is very hot and humid, but some areas are spared the intensity.
- Any festivals in your area that will be happening when you arrive? Summer is the month for festivals, so there should be something happening no matter where you are.
Money and other stuff:
- How much money should you bring? See my own answer to that in this post.
- What is their budget/daily expenses?
- When is pay-day?
- How much is the rent? Is it subsidised by the BOE/school?
- On average, how much is water, gas, electricity, internet, cellphone per month?
- How do you pay the bills?
In my situation I paid my gas, electricity and internet bills at the conbini (convenience store). The water bill money was collected directly from my door, and my cellphone bill was taken directly out of my bank account. I’m supposed to go to the bank to pay for my rent, but fortunately the secretary at my base school did that for me or else I would have had to take a few hours of nenkyu (paid leave) each month to get it done.
- Is there internet connection at the apartment?
- How easy would it be to get internet connection? If you need to get internet set up at your place I highly suggest going through BBApply. They got me set up in just two weeks.
- Cellphone: what provider is your predecessor with? There are three main cellphone providers: AU, Docomo, and Softbank.
- Will you need a car to get around? (if you are hesitant to buy a car then do some research, ask your supervisor, and see if it would be necessary for you to have one)
- Will your predecessor sell their car to you?
- Costs involved in having a car?
- Are there any other JET’s living in the same apartment block or nearby?
- If you are based at a BOE then how many other JET’s will be there with you?
I am sure there are many other, unique-to-your-situation questions that I have not covered here, but please feel free to drop me a message below or through my contact page if you have questions that could be added to this list that will help other incoming JETs, or if you have any questions of your own you would like me to answer.