October 7, 2009

Tokyo Orientation

Congrats - you've made it to Tokyo! Take a deep breath, look around and give yourself a solid pat on the back for a job well done. You deserve it, after all, for surviving the grueling nine-month ordeal of waiting and more waiting that is the JET application process. Now that you're here, don't screw it up.

You're probably thinking, how hard can it be? Well, harder than you might think. Picture this - a hotel filled with 1,000 foreigners, most of them fresh out of college. For many, it's their first time in Tokyo and all they want to do is get out and explore the city. As tempting as is to get drunk with your new friends outside the combini and terrorize Tokyo, be smart about it. Show up to the meetings you are required to go to (there are at least a couple where they take attendance).

You are being paid to be there. You are officially 'on the clock' from the minute you wake up after your first night in Tokyo. Absences will be noticed and noted. People have been sent home before. Honestly - how much would it absolutely suck to spend all that time and effort getting to Japan only to have them send you home because you proved within the first 24 hours that you are completely unable to handle the responsibility of working in a foreign country. Pretty damn sucky.

But as long as you are smart about it, there are lots of ways to have a fabulous time in Tokyo. Your nights are free to do as you please, and for those of you who are placed in certain areas or don't plan on driving in Japan, many of the talks and presentations won't apply to you in any way. That's valuable free time for you to catch up on your sleep (because yes, jet lag is a bitch), or go explore Tokyo. Personally I took some time to go to some bars/karaoke at night and to see Tokyo Tower during the day and had a great time. So just be smart about it.

But what exactly does Tokyo Orientation entail? I can't speak for those who get upgraded and arrive in Group C, but those Group A and Group B here's a bit of a run down. The first day that you arrive in Tokyo you will be shuttled from the airport to the hotel by (literally) an army of helpers. They will all be wearing the same coloured t-shirts and carrying signs pointing you in the right direction. The bus from the airport to the hotel takes about 2 hours so if you're feeling sleeping, catch some "Z"s. Once you arrive you check in and then your night is free and clear. You can go out on the town, explore, sleep, eat, whatever you like.

Day One of the orientation starts pretty early - around 9 am if I remember correctly. You must attend this meeting. I can't emphasize that enough. They arrange your seats by prefecture and take attendance. It's a great way to meet all the people you are going to be working with over the next year, as well as your Prefectural Advisors (PAs). The meeting itself was decently entertaining. They had a few speakers from MEXT, a few from CLAIR, the guy from the JET Life DVD got up to do a talk, and they had some helpful tutorials about how to bow correctly and how not to get deported for using drugs in Japan.

(You will be told this over and over again at Tokyo O - Drugs are bad. If you like doing drugs at home that's fine, but do not do them in Japan. Being caught with drugs or associating with people who are using drugs = criminal charges and deportation.)

Day One they also serve up a nice lunch. Ours was a chickpea curry and it tasted delicious! The afternoon was filled with various talks you could go to, most of them based around different aspects of living in Japan.

Day Two is a lot of the same.There is no attendance taken at the info sessions, but you are expected to attend them. There was also a helpful information fair in the afternoon where people could find out about volunteer works in their area and how to get internet in Japan. In the afternoon there are assigned meeting times for each prefecture where you find out information about how you are getting to your placement, shipping your luggage and what time you are leaving.

Do NOT miss this meeting. Attendance IS taken and the meetings are usually in small groups. If you are not there everyone will know, so keep that in mind. Some people are required to fly to their placement, others take the train. It's important to know how you are getting there since depending on how you are travelling there are luggage weight restrictions and super early departure times (I know a few people who had to leave the hotel day on Day Three at 5 am).

Day Three is the day you depart for your prefecture and finally see where you are going to be living for the next year. My advice is to get a good nights sleep the night before and don't show up hung over. My first day I met two of my JTEs and a few other important people so you don't exactly want to make a bad impression fresh off the bat. Be on time, dress appropriately (usually business casual) and put on a happy face. Even if you are hung over and jet lagged and feel like rubbish stick it out for the day. You only get once chance to make a first impression so make it a good one!

Next up is what to expect at your placement. I've been at mine for about a month now so I can offer a few minor insights but like the JET manual says ad nauseum, Every Situation Is Different.

Until next time...