Wednesday, 4 January 2017


Hey! So here's something new to Zarbaraki, instead of just blabbering on about myself, with the help of my friend Tommy, we've decided to actually offer some advice for those about to move to Japan on the JET Programme. He's American, so please excuse the peculiar spelling. Without further-a-poo, please ENJOY:


I’d like to introduce myself to any of Zara’s readers who don’t know me. My name is Tommy, I’m from Syracuse, New York, I graduated from Villanova, and I am pretty much the embodiment of the American stereotype. In the summer of 2013, Zara and I both moved to Japan and began working in the JET Program in Ibaraki prefecture.

I was recently thinking about getting ready for the JET program, and adult life in general and wanted to write a brief post on this. There are tons of sites and blogs that discuss moving to Japan with things like resources for learning Japanese, tips on chopsticks, etiquette, and culture.  I wanted to focus more on that awkward time in between finding out I was accepted into the JET Program and when I actually left for Japan.

I graduated in the middle of May and didn’t fly to Japan until the very end of July. This gave me two and a half months to prepare myself. The first thing I did was start looking into how to create lesson plans. This is something that was definitely helpful in adjusting to my new position when I arrived, but I dedicated way too much time and worry to this in those summer months. There was plenty of time to pick this up after getting to Japan. I spent essentially the first month sitting at a desk in a near empty office, while students and teachers were on summer vacation. This would have been the perfect time to really focus on lesson planning with all the information and tools available in the office. In that regard I was a little over-prepared but that’s rarely a bad thing.

Probably the most important thing that I wish I had done in those two and a half months was figure out all my finances. I simply put it out of my mind like a moron, figuring I’d just go to Japan and deal with it later, once I started actually getting regular paychecks. This was a poor choice. I didn’t fully realize how much I would be paying monthly for student loans, how much interest I’d be piling up, and what a difficult process it would be converting Japanese Yen to US Dollars to pay these bills. If I had been more responsible I probably would have looked into services for refinancing my student loans and setting up a customized payment plan.

Keeping with this theme of being dumb with money, I also wish I paid closer attention to my budget and savings. I absolutely blew through cash in the first month in Japan. Paying for an entire iPhone upfront and furnishing an apartment (ask Zara about this haha) doesn’t come cheap. If I had planned a little better in that brief time before embarking to Japan I would have been much better prepared financially. There are so many great services and apps that make this so easy to do as well. Personal Capital has great free personal finance software tools, and there are apps like digit that track your spending and help you save extra money. There are essentially tons of options that I never put a single thought to.

The last thing I wish I had done was educating myself on current affairs in Japan. I spent tons of time researching culture, etiquette, history and so on, but I honestly felt like I had no idea what was going on around me when I arrived. Even just a basic understanding of current events in politics, sports, and business really help you get integrated into the new environment. They also provide so many opportunities to connect with other teachers and neighbors and build not only conversational skills, but friendships.

Thanks Tommy-chan!!!!

United by our ignorance towards Japanese current affairs, we became fast friends during our time in the land of the rising natto. 

Tommy (left) and Zarbarocky (right) in response to someone starting a conversation about Abenomics:


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