Sushi, Sony, Miyazaki, Nintendo, Sumo.
You would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't associate at least one of these things with Japan. But what about the words (or more accurately, acronyms): ALT, CIR, and JET?
Each year, the Japanese government employs thousands of foreigners as Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) in elementary, middle schools, and high schools across Japan (with the expectation that these ALTs will be teaching English).
It is known as the Japanese Exchange and Teaching Programme, or JET Programme (no, you're not the only one bothered that it isn't spelled “Program”), and every year thousands of foreigners are shipped off to Japan under the pretense of their being English teachers (or rather ALTs).
The JET Programme serves as a medium between the English speaking nations of the world and Japan, as the ALTs are ultimately employed by local Japanese governments, schools, or boards of education.
They throw these gaijin (foreigners, in Japanese) into the deep-end as they are shipped off to their respective prefectures and expected to fall in line with their Japanese counterparts. However, said assimilation rarely occurs peacefully.
So you want to be an English teacher. In Japan. On the JET Programme.
Good for you.
What you may have failed to realize about JET is that it is not an organization aimed at the teaching of English within Japan.
Instead, according to their website, “The [JET] Programme seeks to enhance internationalization in Japan by promoting mutual understanding between the people of Japan and those of other nations [and] to enhance foreign language education and promote international exchange at the local level through the fostering of ties between Japanese youth and foreign youth alike.”
In layman's terms, this sounds like, “to make Japanese people less afraid and more accepting of foreigners and to work on their English, but mostly to make Japanese and foreign people friends.”
A common complaint of ALTs in Japan is that they are simply used as tape recorders in the classrooms (or not used at all), and that the Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs) appear to prefer class without the bothersome foreigner. For anyone seeking a career in language education, the JET Programme may not be right for you.
I would venture a guess that one of the program's key demographics is recent twenty-something college grads who may or may not be building resumes (or saving money) for graduate school.
And in case you were sharp enough to take note that CIR was never defined, it stands for: Coordinator for International Relations. These folks are not English teachers, but are still recruited via the JET Program for Japan's many localities.