Or, 'Tay tay tay tay, t-t-t-tay-tay, tay, tay, we ain't never gonna be acceptable'.
Alright, time for another functional blog about the JET Programme. Move along friends and family, nothing to see here.
I've just received a rash (OK, three. For a small-time blogger like me, that's a rash.) of hits from New Zealand, representing anxious Kiwi JET hopefuls Googling about their reserve status. The acceptance notifications must be dropping all over the Anglosphere right about now - for the record, I got mine on April 4th 2009, thereby urinating all over the barbeque of my brother's 23rd birthday.
Your letter from JET will tell you one of three things: accepted, reserve, or rejected. In the manner of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, I shall cover these possibilities in turn:
If you were accepted: Congratulations! Enjoy that feeling of excitement tinged with the slight fear you're about to make a huge mistake. Frustratingly, you won't have any details yet regarding where you will be or what age you'll be teaching, making it difficult to do any material preparation. I didn't get this info until late May (29th or thereabouts, as I remember), so don't hold your breath. For what it's worth, I requested Hokkaido and ended up here in Yamagata. I imagine few people request Yamagata, what with it being voted the 38th most interesting of 47 prefectures.
The placement system is shrouded in mystery, though it is rumoured to involve blindfolds and dartboards. Actually, that's a little unfair; the JETs around this mountainous area all seem to be quite outdoorsy types. Also, I suspect that if you can drive and/or speak Japanese (one out of two ain't bad), you're more likely to end up in the countryside - it would have been pretty cruel to give my placement to someone who couldn't use a car. But at the end of the day, it all depends on what the contracting organisations request, and their requests can be quite specific. I'm the eighth British male in a row to teach in Nanyo.
Oh, and a quick tip for when the info does come in: if your contracting organisation is a city or town, you will be teaching elementary and/or junior high. If it's a prefecture, you're in senior high.
My advice to you now is to learn as much Japanese as possible. I know it's daunting: there are three different writing systems, all of which look like unintelligible squiggles at first. But no matter how much or little you currently know (assuming you're not fluent), every single word you learn will make your life incrementally easier once you get here.
Everyone learns in different ways, but my tip would be to avoid textbooks that use romaji (i.e. Japanese rendered in the Western alphabet, as I use in this blog). I know it seems like the easy option, but Japanese was never meant to be written that way, and it's hard to suppress your English pronounciation instincts. For example, 'Osaka' is actually spelt 'Oosaka' in romaji, and it's very tempting to read that double-O as an 'u' sound rather than a long 'o'. 'おお', on the other hand, doesn't cause the same mental interference. Besides, you're going to have to learn the kana (hiragana and katakana) sooner or later, so I would advise you to man up and use them from the get-go. I've heard people claim you can learn hiragana in an afternoon, but if you're not a ritalin junkie or neural-prosthesis-using cyberpunk, I'd say a week should do it. Worry about kanji later.
The other preparation I would suggest is learning to sing at least one well-known song. The Beatles are the obvious choice; Queen and Michael Jackson are also firm favourites. I guarantee that within a couple of weeks of arriving you will find yourself in a karaoke bar having a mic thrust into your hand. If you really want to blow them away, learn a Japanese song. This is something I'm working on but haven't yet achieved.
If you are a reserve: This means that you will get 'upgraded' if enough acceptees turn down their offers. You have my sympathy; being stuck in that limbo must be really hard. All I can tell you is that I know lots of people who were upgraded, but at the same time, plenty of people aren't. There's no way of knowing whether you're top of the list or a real long shot. Hang in there, and attempt to prepare yourself mentally for either outcome.
If you were rejected: Bummer. At least you haven't been strung along as a reserve for three months. If you're really determined to come to Japan, there are other ways. Private agencies will generally not pay as well as JET, and you'll have less in the way of support - JET sorts out (and pays for) things like flights and visas, which I think I'm right in saying that the others don't. But it's not all bad. Once you're actually here and teaching, ALTs of all stripes are in pretty much the same boat, other than a few minor contractual differences. And speaking for Yamagata at least, there are sufficiently few foreigners around that all ALTs hang out together regardless of affiliation. I've heard it said that JETs can be cliquey, but I've not seen any evidence of that here. The most prominent private agencies I've come across are Interac and Heart, so check them out.