Out of all the teaching English in Japan programs, I think JET has the best benefits and support system. They pay for your flight from your home country to Tokyo Orientation, your hotel for orientation, and your transportation to your placement. The monthly salary is pretty high - in my first year, I would get 240,000 yen directly deposited in my bank account each month (and this is after paying for Japanese pension and National Health Insurance). With my rural/suburban placement in southern Nara, I only had to pay about 35,000 yen per month for an entire apartment to myself. It was more than enough money for me to eat out almost everyday (I was too lazy to cook most of the time), buy random cute Japanese trinkets I'd see in stores, going out into the city with friends some Saturday nights, and traveling to different neighboring prefectures on the weekends. (One of my friends had an entire HOUSE to himself and didn't have to pay any rent at all! His BoE covered it all. And then there were my northern Nara friends--the ones who live close to/in the main city, and have to pay about 50,000 yen a month for their small studios/apartments)
The work I had was fairly easy--I would plan and teach 13-15 classes a week at three different elementary schools. Since most of the teachers I worked with didn't speak much English, our lesson-planning meetings were conducted mostly in Japanese. (I was really glad I had five years of Japanese background. Knowing the language helps so much in daily survival and interactions.) I believe that JET places people with higher Japanese ability in elementary schools, where students and teachers speak minimal English, and people with lower/no Japanese ability in high schools, where the teachers and students know more English. The kids I taught, grades 1-6, were bright, energetic, curious, and a joy to teach. They constantly asked me if I were Japanese, and why my English is so good. Since I'm Chinese (but have been told I look Japanese or Korean), I didn't fit their image of the "foreigner." Even after a year, some of the students still didn't fully grasp that I'm of Asian descent, but born and raised in America and fluent in English.
One of the best parts of JET for me was being able to travel on the weekends. It would take me a full hour to get to the city than my northern Nara friends because of my rural placement and infrequent train times (only twice an hour). I loved traveling in Japan because the trains were always clean and quiet, and I felt safe even when I was venturing out alone at night. Also, the food (even fast food) is so much healthier here, almost all of my friends here lost weight while living here. (On the other hand, I discovered the amazing variety of unique chip flavors Japan has to offer, and gained some winter fluff while I was here) Since I lived in the "inaka" (countryside), me and my fellow inaka friends in the area would hang out a lot. Our area was called "Yoshino-gun," so JETs living in our area were affectionately dubbed "The Goons." We would have midnight runs to the nearest McDonald's after my evening eikaiwa (adult conversation class) on Thursday nights, drive to each other's villages for spontaneous sleepovers (called "goon spoons"), and participate in alcohol-fueled karaoke sessions with the locals. The best thing about living in the countryside is the small town, community vibe. Anytime I ventured out in my town or to neighboring places, I'd run into some of my students or colleagues. My friends and I became regulars at the local okonomiyaki restaurant.
The hardest part of the program was definitely when teachers and students found out I was leaving, and then all the ensuing goodbye/last lessons and assemblies in my final months there. It was heartbreaking... I've never cried so much in my life. Every class I had taught made me personal handwritten cards, letters, posters, and some students gave me little gifts that they had made for me. They chorused "Thank you and see you again" to me after my final lessons, and ran up to hug me goodbye. We took commemorative photos. Some students cried, which of course made me start crying too. They told me to take care, and wrote in their letters, "We won't forget you, so please don't forget about us."
Whether you stay on JET for one year or five, make sure to cherish every moment of it. My JET coordinator told us before we departed for Japan, "Going to Japan means saying goodbye a lot." You will meet a ton of new people, make new friends, bond with your students and fellow teachers, and most likely have the time of your life while on JET. (of course, every situation is different, but almost everyone I know on the program embraces their unique situation and set of circumstances, makes the best of it, and enjoys their time in Japan) But your time on JET and in Japan is limited, and eventually you'll have to say goodbye. But the unforgettable memories I made while on JET, and the time I spent with the people I met there, will stay with me for a lifetime.