First of all I should explain that I have been elected to the National Council of the Association for Japan Exchange and Teaching. This is a body founded by members of the JET program, that strives to make the experience better for fellow teachers. In order to become a part of it, I had to put together an online campaign and get support from my constituency. I was running against one other person from the next prefecture over, but managed to come out on top. The position I was elected to is Block 8 Representative which basically establishes me as liaison between the national council and the teachers living in Kagawa, Tokushima, Ehime, and Kochi prefectures. I was excited to assume this role on the basis of professional development and also to justify the amount of time I’m spending here as a teacher.
Fast forward a couple months, and I find myself heading into Tokyo for the Changeover Meeting where us new folk learn what it takes to carry the torch for a year. I left work a little early on Friday so that I could get to Tokyo. I wasn’t able to arrive until really late, so I just went over to where Kanako’s hotel was going to be be. As luck would have it, she had just arrived in from Indonesia which meant that her company would be providing hotel arrangements. Between not seeing her for a few weeks and staying in a nice hotel for free, this decision practically made itself.
I’m not peering into your soul, it’s just the mirror.
I woke up early Saturday morning, set off towards Aoyama to meet the rest of the new recruits and after a flurry of handshakes we dove right into some team building activities. We started with a sort of ‘speed dating’ activity to talk to everyone and do 1 minute introductions about our origins, interests, and quirks. There was a name activity too that I completely failed at. Finally, we took a short personality test called True Colors and used the results to discuss our potential strengths and weaknesses in working with the others. I was very much an Orange and Green personality type.
Here were a couple traits from the two colors that I would generally agree apply to me.
- Performs Well Under Pressure. Resilient.
- Lives In Here & Now. Risk taker. Creative
- Playful. Injects fun into work.
- Status Quo Buster. Designer Of Change. Inventive.
- Explores All Facets Before Deciding. Checks for Accuracy.
After we had some Chipotle-tier burritos, we reconvened for the afternoon session and started discussing just what being on the council meant. Last year’s council talked about the defferent positions they each held and what it took to perform them. Prior to this gathering, we had been assigned our council position based on interest and suitability. In my case, as the new Resource Coordinator, I am charged with managing all aspects of our publication supply chain: from production, to storage, to sales. I’ve got some other duties too, but I’ll get that sorted more in depth later.
We also talked about some projects inherited from last year’s council and were briefed on some of the inner workings. As I’ve come to understand it, the different duties that each member have seem to fall within one of two groups – corporate or commercial. Corporate pertains to all things money. Book sales account for about half of our budget and the rest comes from advertising space in our newsletters that we sell to our partners. Together we work closely with the treasurer to make sure that we are meeting financial goals and to ensure that we have the funds necessary to maintain the ambitions of the organization. The rest of us on the commercial side work to create and maintain the image of AJET through such mediums as our newsletter, events, contest, and the website. Neither group could exist without the other and both require a lot of work to maintain. One of the complicating factors that we face is our proximity to one another. We only meet in Tokyo a couple times each year, so all other discourse comes in the form of e-mail. I’ve never been an overly organized fellow, so this lack of face time will certainly provide a healthy challenge to how I do things.
Lisa, Genba, and myself. I’ll be taking over for them on the representation and resource positions.
Beyond the services that we offer to the rest of the JETs, arguably the most important part of our job is presenting reports to the big wigs at the Department of Education in Tokyo. This is a formal meeting with the most important people in the Japanese education world where we offer insight, and exchange ideas about what our fellow JETs need. After selecting topics pertinent to problems we teachers experience, we conduct research and bring it forward. Over the years, our efforts have yielded such things as a conference to help returning teachers making the transition out of this job, addressing teachers smoking in the teacher’s lounge, bumping our vacations days to 20 up from 10, and establishing an anonymous line that JETs can call with any problems they have. From what I gather, it is through these reports that we are able to do the most for our peers.
After that evening session, we had a party at a Jamaican restaurant in Harajuku with the old and new councils. This was two hours of good food and connecting with peers over the standard all-you-can-drink arrangement. Work parties in Japan are always of this nature. Following food, the rest of the crew and I parted ways. They made their way to karaoke and a club, while I joined Kanako at a house party with a number of her friends. It was nice of course to meet more of her friends, but there were also a number of familiar faces from my 1 month program at Meiji Gakuin. After that, it was off to the familiar far side of Tokyo where we would be crashing at her sister’s apartment. Coincidentally, her sister Kyoko is a student at the same school I spent a semester at, so spending any amount of time in the area felt pretty nostalgic. I had been hoping to see Kyoko before she departed on her 9 month bout of study in San Diego.
On Sunday, there was a morning meeting I needed to take part in as well. Kanako was kind enough to write down the wrong station on the directions, so I spent way too much time going somewhere both nonexistent and increasingly far away from my desired location. I caught the mistake before things got too crazy, but was still about 20 minutes late. I wasn’t the last one to arrive at least, but it was hardly the best way to embark on ‘professional growth’. It was also about this time that I was informed of the afternoon session that was to take place. A few of us never received that notice earlier and had already made arrangements to return home. On my way, I had already made plans to meet my host mother at the station for lunch with Kanako. Of course I would have never arranged such plans if I knew that I had another meeting to attend but it all worked out in the end.
The restaurant that Hiroe was kind enough to select was a Spanish and Italian buffet right in Tokyo Station, and it was fantastic. The price was even low enough that I could pay for Kanako too! We took our time and talked a lot about some different trips we’d taken, work, and we of course indulged in the reminisces of days gone by. I had just come back from Vietnam, so Hiroe having been backpacking there before too made for a good conversation point. Even better was her comment that she has flown on Kanako’s route and airline about thirty times over the years. In the end it was a really great, and I was really glad I could introduce the two eras of my life. After parting ways, Kanako and I caught a quick karaoke session before getting on the train. The trip home is took about 6 hours between the bullet train, local lines, and a bit of a walk to my car. I rolled up to my apartment at about 12:3oam, with work the next day. I’ll definitely be flying the next time I have to head to Tokyo…
Overall it was a wonderful weekend and I’m excited to be a part of this team. Besides having a new source of email clutter and stress, I really think that I will get some good experience and exposure to the ‘real world’.