If you join the Japan Exchange and Teaching programme, you can expect to work in schools in beautiful towns and villages such as Shirakawa. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)Japan – the name conjures images of cherry blossoms, sushi and samurai, and for some pop culture junkies, anime and role-playing games. But the country is more than this. With a rich history dating back 35 000 years and a culture based on Shintoism, Japan can be a place that will change your perspective on life forever.Young South Africans have a chance to experience the beautiful island nation through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) programme.On the programme, successful applicants work as assistant English teachers in primary (or elementary), junior high or senior high schools.Since landing a job in South Africa is proving to be a challenge for many graduates, JET offers a unique way for young men and women to gain work and life experience.Bonolo Mogotsi, an international relations graduate who joined the programme in 2012, urges all recent or imminent graduates with a degree to apply. “It was daunting because it was the first time I’d left South Africa but it was an amazing opportunity. You earn good money and can travel quite a lot, exploring a country and culture that are very different but also welcoming and homey. The way I see the world broadened and I also became more patriotic, wanting to learn more about where I come from.”JET considers itself a cultural exchange programme. Each participant brings their culture to a local community in Japan while they learn more about Japan, its people and culture.“This is an experience that can really enrich participants’ outlook and prospects for the rest of their lives,” says Minister Councillor Kawaguchi from the embassy of Japan in South Africa. “We really urge South African youth to take advantage of this excellent opportunity.”JET has been running in South Africa since 1997, and there have been more than 80 South African participants. These participants also act as unofficial ambassadors, taking part in international exchange activities, promoting better understanding and creating closer ties between South African and Japanese youth.Applications are open until 11 November, but you must have a Bachelors degree or higher. Following your application, interviews take place either in Pretoria, Durban, Port Elizabeth or Cape Town. If you are accepted, you will get a one-year contract by the prefectures, municipality or private schools, and the work year starts in July 2017.WHAT TO EXPECTYou will be guided by language teachers to teach English as a foreign language, prepare teaching materials and help with extracurricular and club activities, including English-language speech contests.You will usually work 35 hours a week. Working days in Japan usually run from 8.30am to 5.15pm, Monday to Friday. Over and above weekends and public holidays, you get 10 days’ paid leave during the year. And you work as a Japanese civil servant or private school staff member for the year so be prepared to observe the code of conduct of these contracting organisations, says JET.“The JET courses and workshops helped us with self-development and self-awareness,” says Mogotsi. “This personal growth made me focus better on what I want to achieve personally and in my career. I have made the most of my new networks by working with Japanese parastatals and corporates since I returned.”MORE ABOUT JETNow in its 30th year, JET has hosted nearly 5 000 participants from 40 countries. It is an official Japanese government programme, implemented through the country’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications; Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology; and its Council of Local Authorities for International Relations.The application process is long and competitive. Because the programme is a one-year commitment, you are advised to give serious consideration as to whether you want to live and work in Japan for at least a year.Unlike other English teaching opportunities in other countries, JET tries to expose local – mainly rural – Japanese communities to foreign cultures and norms, helping them to improve foreign language education and developing an international exchange at community level.