Observations about Japanese Anime Fandom

If you live in a western country and are an avid fan of anime, you may not fully understand how this hobby is embraced in Japan. To be honest, I don’t fully understand either, but after having lived in this country for almost two years now, I can share some observations I have made regarding this topic.

  1. In general, the typical Japanese fan is similar to the typical western fan.

If you like watching anime, but you don’t consider yourself an individual who would be willing to spend income on extra purchases such as figures, CDs, DVDs, and other various merchandise, then you are similar to the average person who enjoys watching anime in Japan. Japanese people don’t often share their hobbies, so it can be difficult to gauge whether there is any interest or not. When I lived in the States, people usually didn’t broadcast their love for anime and that is also the case in Japan. It is something people enjoy in their free time beyond the judgment of others. This brings us to our next point.

  1. Anime is viewed by some as not being socially acceptable, even in Japan.

Normal Japanese life is very similar to that in the West. I go to work every day, I come home and I engage in my hobbies. I had a very similar routine in the States. Japanese adults are over worked and usually have very little free time for hobbies. Liking and engaging with anime is something that is seen as childish, a situation I experienced more often in the States however. Some view an overzealous love for anime as an extension of working less. If you watch many different shows, then you are most likely not contributing in another area (which is assumed to be the workforce).

  1. The anime industry is driven by a core group of otaku.

Anime merchandise is far and away the biggest contributor to the success of a particular series. DVDs and Blu-rays are unreasonably priced, but if a show is popular enough, this core group of otaku will make the purchases. Figure sales are a significant contributing factor to sales and whether or not a series will continue in the future. While figure prices have increased overall over the past five to seven years, they are more reasonable than the DVD prices. The demographic driving these sales usually consists of young adult and middle aged men who work and without families, find themselves having disposable income. Marriage is on the decline in Japan, and without a family to support, it is easier to convince yourself to splurge on anime related purchases.

  1. Often times, there is a divide between manga and anime fans.

Just as is the case in western countries, people do in fact watch both anime and read manga. However, I have noticed in Japan fans are more often divided into one camp or the other. People, who enjoy reading manga, will usually stick to that medium. Given the long hours and the popularity of public transport in Japan, it is a lot easier for the average fan to read manga than it is to watch anime. I have noticed that there is a surprising amount of computer illiteracy in Japan, and watching anime is confined to the television. Given the unusual airing times of most shows aimed for adults, it can be difficult to follow along on a week-to-week basis.

  1. If you are interested in collecting merchandise, being a western fan in Japan is great.

I am sure many of you have been to conventions and paid witness to the insane markup most vendors will have for all types of Japanese goods. The reality is that merchandise in Japan is usually inexpensive. The biggest contrast is figures. Figures are notoriously expensive, even from online vendors in the States. Since coming here, I have become an avid collector of figures because of the hobby’s accessibility and ease. If I want to buy something in person, I would almost always have to go to a convention in the States. In Japan, it is significantly easier to find stores selling figures in some capacity. The accessibility of the hobby is great to see firsthand. Furthermore, having a Japanese address is an absolute godsend. The shipping is not only unbelievably fast from online vendors, the shipping fee is usually no more than 500 yen ($5). If I bought a figure from an online Japanese vendor in the States, the shipping cost would increase the total amount of the purchase by a large margin. In the end, I am avoiding both the markup and high shipping cost. This adds up quickly over time and becomes an incentive.

These are my takeaways after two years. I wanted to share some insights into Japanese fandom, and if there is interest in this type of writing, I will continue it in the future.

Your First Few Months in JET

So, you have been accepted and you are preparing yourself to leave soon. Here are some suggestions for things to bring with you as well as ideas for surviving the first few months.

The number one thing I recommend bringing with you before you leave is deodorant. Japanese people do not use deodorant as far as I know, and it can be difficult to find if you don’t know where to look. I would also suggest bringing personal entertainment whether that is a book, video game, or something else entirely. The chances that you have Internet within the first two weeks are almost non-existent.

Orientation will occur either at the end of July or early August depending on which group you are in prior to leaving. Orientation is at hotel in Tokyo. When you arrive at the airport, there will be designated people that will point you in the right direction. You will drop off luggage that will be taken to your prefecture and you will take the remaining pieces with you to the hotel. There will be buses that will transport you from the airport to the hotel. You will have some time after arriving at the hotel to do as you wish until the Orientation formally begins the following day. The Orientation is fairly standard. Each day you sit down and listen to lectures. This repeats for a few days before you are taken to your prefecture.

When I traveled to my prefecture, we took the bullet train followed by the bus. We were greeted by our co-teachers at a meeting spot and then they drove us back to either our school or apartments. I remember almost crying after I was left alone in my apartment. I felt so alone with no one near me or to listen to my concerns. It was one of the loneliest points I have ever reached. However, someone from my school picked me up from my apartment the following day and took me to the city office to take care of paperwork. That simple trip made me feel better because someone was going out of their way to help me.

Your first month at your school will be August. I can’t speak for elementary or middle school, but high school teachers do not teach for the entirety of August. August is an adjustment month and you will be able to lesson plan and see what textbooks you will be using once September rolls around. Your co-teacher or one of the teachers at your school should be able to help you with various errands such as setting up a bank account. More likely than not, you will not have to tackle these situations by yourself.

I was without Internet for about a month, but once that was set up, a lot of the anxiety I was feeling faded away. I felt immensely more connected with Internet access, and I was finally able to contact friends and family which helped me overcome the culture shock. You will have another orientation at your prefecture during August as well as many different events you can go to meet other foreigners in your area. In September you will begin teaching. You may have some problems at first, but after some time you will develop a routine and it will become second nature. It might be daunting at first trying to become acquainted with your surroundings in a foreign country, but it is doable. If you are struggling when you arrive, just remember that any situation is only temporary and eventually it will subside. Others have been in the same situation you find yourself currently in and they found a way. So can you.

JET Application Timeline

jet

This is a post I have been meaning to write for a long time now, and I have finally found some time to do so. I will be detailing the entire application from beginning to end to give readers a good idea about how the application process works for JET.

October 2014

The JET application was released near the end of the month. The due date was some time in November. There was an online portal for the application, but all applicants were required to submit a paper copy as well all other documents before the deadline. There are several Japanese consulates in the United States and other English speaking countries. I submitted my application to the consulate located in New York City. For the application, I mailed the application form, self-assessment medical form, authorization and release form, transcripts, proof of graduation, two letters of recommendation, statement of purpose, and proof of U.S. citizenship. Of those documents, arguably the most important is the statement of purpose. It is a two page essay outlining why you are interested in the program and Japan. This is all second-hand information, but I have been told my other successful applicants they were asked questions regarding their statement of purpose during the interview. I was asked one question about it during my interview. The letters of recommendation are also important, so make sure you have people you trust write them as specified.

January 2015

Applicants are notified by e-mail whether or not they have advanced to the interview stage. You are given a number when you do the application, and a list of applicant numbers that were granted interviews is e-mailed to you. I found my number on the list and then I was notified a few days later by the New York City consulate of the day and time of my interview. We were asked to bring a sheet of paper with us that acted as a voucher ticket as well as passport photos.

February 2015

I rode a bus to New York City the night before my interview. I arrived very early in the morning and was forced to change into my suit in a bathroom stall at the train station. When I arrived at the consulate, I was asked to go to one of the higher floors. I was greeted by a former JET participant who was sitting down and asking questions. There were also other applicants in the waiting room as I would be interviewing with some of the other applicants at the same time with a different interview panel. When the appointed time came, I was walked to the interview room by another former JET participant and my interview panel consisted of three men, the aforementioned former participant and two Japanese men. The former JET did the vast majority of the talking during the interview, but the other two men did ask some questions. In the weeks leading up, I prepared myself by compiling a list of all the possible questions I read about online, but I quickly realized that all of the preparation did more harm than good because I forgot about all the answers I prepared and I just answered normally. I sat directly opposite them with a table between us, and I was asked about my interest in Japan, my statement of purpose, and my former teaching experience in Korea. I was asked to give a lesson on any topic to a group of fifth graders, so I chose my favorite holiday which was Halloween. My biggest advice for the mock lesson, if you have to give one, is to be super energetic and smile even though you may be super nervous. They are looking for enthusiastic individuals so the more that shows, the better off you will be. You will receive a test of some sort regarding your Japanese proficiency if you indicated you knew Japanese on your application. I can provide no insight into this because I wrote down that I had no knowledge of Japanese on my application.

April 2015

Very early in April, applicants are notified by e-mail about whether or not they passed the interview stage and are formally accepted into the program or not. There are three outcomes. You are rejected outright. You are short-listed, which means you are accepted with no strings attached. You are wait-listed, which means over the course of the next eight to ten months, you have the chance of being upgraded to short-listed status. Some of my friends were on the wait-list so it is definitely not the end of the world. If you are short-listed or wait-listed, you will be asked to prepare the remaining documents by specific dates. I was asked to obtain an FBI Background Check, a form signed by my physician, and a Korean background check because I formerly lived and taught in Korea. You will also be asked to obtain a tax form from the IRS that will make you exempt from paying Japanese income tax for two years, but the form is not mandatory. For the Korean background check I had to travel to New York City again and visit the Korean consulate to formally request it and have it mailed to the Japanese consulate. The physician’s form was fairly straightforward and I had no issues having that filled out. The biggest issue was the FBI Background Check. Last year there was a huge delay on the processing of background checks by the FBI and there were a lot of issues for the Japanese consulates in the United States and the applicants. I received mine only a week before I had to depart for Japan. I know that this year the consulates are asking applicants to apply after they have the interview so there should not be nearly as many issues this time around or in the future.

May 2015

Applicants will receive their prefecture information via e-mail. If you are in elementary or middle school you will receive your exact school name and address. If you are in high school, you will receive that information at a later date because high schools make decisions later than the other schools because of summer exams.

July 2015

I received my school information this month. I was also contacted by the person I was replacing. There are two departure groups for the JET program: A and B. When you fly out and when you have orientation all depends on what group you are in. The groups are sorted by consulate. So every consulate is placed into one of the groups. New York City was group A, so I flew out to Tokyo at the end of July. There was a required orientation for all accepted applicants from the New York City consulate so I had to travel a day before my flight to Japan to New York City for the orientation.

If you have any further questions, do not hesitate to contact me.