Saying Goodbye

I remember my leaving ceremony at my base junior high school like it was yesterday, despite it being almost exactly one year ago. (Has it really been a whole year already?! I’m in denial.)

My leaving ceremony was to be part of the end-of-term ceremony on Friday, July 24th – the students’ last day of school before summer vacation. I was asked to write a short farewell speech, which turned out to be pretty stressful – how do you sum up two years of wonderful experiences in only a few minutes using easy English?! I spent two weeks writing my speech, browsing multiple forums and JET blogs to get ideas along the way.

Knowing the level of English at my school, I made the decision to combine English and Japanese in my speech, using grammar points and vocabulary familiar to the students (and the equivalent Japanese grammar points that I had learned from team-teaching in English classes!). I wanted all of my students, including my Grade 7s who had only been studying English for three months at this point, to understand my speech. After weeks of re-writes and edits, the final version looked something like this:

(Brackets and grey text mark the rough English translations of the Japanese sentences. They were not included in the actual speech. If you need help with kanji readings,  I recommend

Good morning, everyone! Two years ago, I came to [city]. I was so happy. Especially, I had a great time at [school]!
[city]で過ごした2年間、私はとても幸せでした。特に、[school]で優しい人たちにたくさん会いました。(I was very happy for the two years I spent in [city]. Especially, I met many kind people at [school].)

To Kocho-sensei, Kyoto-sensei, teachers, and staff, thank you so much!
一緒に仕事ができて良かったです。私にしてくれたことに心から感謝します。校長先生、教頭先生、いろいろお世話になりました。(I’m glad that we could work together. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for the many things you did for me. Principal, Vice Principal, thank you for taking care of me.)

To the students, I enjoyed English class with you! We made many wonderful memories.
たくさんのすてきな思い出を作りました。毎日あなたたちの笑顔が私を幸せにしてくれました。(We made many wonderful memories. Your smiles made me happy every day.)
I am proud of you. Please do your best!

Now, I’m going to go back to Canada. But I will never forget [school].
これから私はカナダに帰ります。カナダにいても[school]のことを絶対に忘れません。この学校に来ることができて本当に幸せでした。またいつかどこかで会いましょう!(Now, I’m going back to Canada. Even though I will be in Canada, I will never forget [school]. I am really happy that I could come to this school. Someday, somewhere, let’s meet again!)

Finally, I hope you follow your dreams!
最後になりましたが、皆さんがそれぞれの将来の夢に向かって、頑張ることを期待しています。(Finally, I hope everyone follows their future dreams and does their best.)
You can do it! Thank you!

In the end, I was so proud of my speech and how I delivered it. I had wanted my speech to be true to my personality, and it was! I also surprised most of the students with my ability to speak Japanese; I had spoken to them only in English for two years, so to whip out my Japanese at my leaving ceremony was super satisfying. ;)

I even surprised my teachers – one of them approached me at my leaving party that night and commented on my Akita-ben (Akitan accent)! I think that was the biggest compliment I ever could have gotten. Arigatou gozaima’zu~ (*^_^*)

After I gave my speech, one of my Grade 9 students came up to my podium on the stage to deliver a speech to me – in English! – and gave me a lovely bouquet of flowers. That was the moment the tears started. I then exited the gym in true taijou fashion, between rows of my students facing me and clapping, while I waved and smiled and even gave two Grade 8 boys high-fives through teary eyes.

Saying goodbye to my amazing students was not easy, but I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect leaving ceremony. ♥


Getting your Japanese Pension Refund

As a JET, part of your monthly paycheque goes towards the Japan Pension Service. When you leave Japan, almost all JETs are eligible to have up to 36 months’ worth of this money refunded – which turns out to be a nice bit of pocket money!

The refund is officially called a “lump-sum withdrawal.” After you leave Japan and submit an application, you’ll get back 80% of what you’re owed, while 20% is kept as a “tax” by the Japan Pension Service. To get the final 20% back, you have to designate a tax representative who lives in Japan to file a tax refund for you after you’ve received the first 80%.

Sound confusing? It’s actually not so bad! Here’s how my experience went:

June 2015
I asked my supervisor to be my tax representative. She said yes, so we filled out the “Tax Representative Declaration Form,” which can be found at your local tax office or online. Then, she brought the completed form to my local tax office (the one responsible for my then-current address in Japan).

July 2015
I submitted my “Moving Out Notification” (転出届, tenshutsu-todoke) at City Hall one week before I left Japan.
I made sure that I packed my blue pension handbook (年金手帳) to take with me back to Canada (very important!!!).

August 2015
I left Japan. My Residence Card was voided as I passed through Immigration at Narita Airport. I arrived home in Canada.
I printed off the “Application for the Lump-sum Withdrawal Payments” from the Japan Pension Service website and filled it out (using block capital letters). You have two years from your final date of departure from Japan to send this form to the Japan Pension Service. The form is pretty straightforward (your name, date of birth, address after you leave Japan, etc.). However:

  • For Section 4, nominating a bank account, you will need to visit your home country bank to get their “Bank stamp for verification.”
  • For Section 5, “Your numbers on your Pension Handbook,” you only need to fill out the Basic Pension Number (基礎年金番号, kisonenkin-bangou). This number is found in your pension book on the page that has your name, date of birth, etc.
  • For the section, “Your pension coverage history,” the name and address of your employer is usually the CO who paid you. For example, I was a municipal ALT, so the name of my employer was “(my city name) Board of Education” and the address was the address of the BOE headquarters. I entered this information using English/romaji. For “Work periods … under the National Pension system,” I said mine was from the first day of Tokyo Orientation to the last day of my contract. For “Type of pension system you were covered,” I circled “2. Employees’ Pension Insurance.”

I photocopied three pages of my passport:

  • The page showing my name, date of birth, nationality, and signature
  • The page showing my resident status (my Japan Visa)
  • The page showing the stamp/date of my final departure from Japan

I mailed an envelope (with tracking!) to the Japan Pension Service that contained: the completed “Application for the Lump-sum Withdrawal Payments” form, stamped with my bank stamp; the photocopies of my passport pages; and my blue pension handbook. Before I mailed it, though, I made a photocopy of everything for my personal records, just in case!

*Note: In my case, I left Japan before my contract ended. (My BOE was very kind and let me take annual leave (nenkyuu) for my last two days because I wanted to take advantage of an opportunity that had opened for me in Canada.) My passport showed that my final departure from Japan was August 1, 2015, but I claimed that my coverage was until the last day of my contract on August 4, 2015. I didn’t have any problems.

December 2015
I received my lump-sum withdrawal in the Canadian bank account I specified on the application form. This was the first 80% of the total amount I was due. I also received a “Notice of Lump-sum Withdrawal Payment” in the mail, confirming the deposit of money into my Canadian bank account.

February 2016
I could have done this in December, but I can be a little bit of a procrastinator sometimes. ;)
I e-mailed my old supervisor, whom I had designated as my tax representative back in June 2015, to confirm her mailing address. Once confirmed, I sent my original “Notice of Lump-sum Withdrawal Payment” to her. Again, before mailing, I made a photocopy for my personal records.

Sometime between February – April, 2016
My old supervisor received the original of the “Notice of Lump-sum Withdrawal Payment.” She took it and went to the local tax office that is responsible for my old address in Japan. She filed the tax return for me there.

April 2016
My old supervisor contacted me to tell me that she had received the remaining 20% from the Tax Department. I sent her my current banking information and she wired the money from her account in Japan to my bank account in Canada.

The end!

It’s a long, drawn-out process to get back all 100%, but the end result is worth it – after contributing to the pension fund for 24 months, my total refund was around CDN$6,500! (Of course, the crappy Canadian dollar at the time helped boost that amount!)

If you’re a Returning JET, good luck with applying for your pension refunds! And if you’re a Re-contracting JET, now you’ll have something else to look forward to when it’s time for you to return home. ;)

*I am not in any way affiliated with the Japan Pension Service. The above is just my personal experience with getting my pension refund. Please refer to your CO or the Japan Pension Service for information specific to your individual situation. All links current as of June 27, 2016.

Checking In

My blog has gotten a fair bit of “press” recently (thanks to the Consulate General of Japan in Montreal’s Facebook post and the Yurihonjo City newsletter), so I thought it was a good time for a post-JET life update!

Remember in my last post, I mentioned I was already daydreaming about my next trip to Japan? That’s because I had just booked it! Fate (and Aeroplan miles!) were kind enough to allow me a week-long trip back to Japan in March. It was super short, but it was amazing – not only did I get to spend two days exploring Sendai and Matsushima (another Bucket List item!), but I got to spend a wonderful weekend in Akita with my favourite people, and even see my Grade 9 students graduate!


Matsushima, one of the “Three Views of Japan,” is famous for its 200+ islands all covered in pine trees. Even in March, the boat tour was fantastic (albeit chilly!) and had some stunning views!

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Home sweet home in Yurihonjo! I’m sure you guys have missed pictures of this mountain just as much as I’ve missed taking them! ;)

Continuing with the theme from my last post, moving home has definitely not been the easiest transition – in fact, I’d say moving home has been harder than moving to Japan in the first place. After all, moving to Japan was fulfilling a 10-year dream and was full of excitement and much-anticipated adventure; moving back home was a regression to my life of two years’ prior, except this time without a dream to look forward to. Even now, nine months to the day since leaving Akita, I often wish I were back there instead.  Plus, it’s really hard to go from having a full-time job with a well-paying salary back to being a student!

That being said, lots of good, positive things have happened to me since moving home. I can spend time with my family in person again. I feel like I’ve become closer than ever with some of my friends. I met my boyfriend, who has been my rock and a bright spot in the dark. I’m almost finished my GIS diploma. I made excellent connections with professors at my university, which has led to me becoming a co-author on a (currently being written!) scientific paper. I’ve stayed in contact with my JET Programme Coordinator, with whom I worked at the JET Programme booth at my university’s Career Fair last September, and who has invited me to be involved in this year’s pre-departure orientation activities. Most importantly, I’m dancing again.

It’s those things that I try to think about when the post-Japan blues hit me. :)

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It also helps that my hometown is beautiful!

If you are getting ready to leave the JET Programme, I do have some advice for you, especially if you’re moving back home:

  • You will have changed, but it’s very likely that your hometown, your friends, and your family have not. Be prepared. Try to find a new light in which to see your hometown/country. Accept that it’s okay to grow apart from old friends. Understand your family’s position – that they’ve missed you, but also that you haven’t played a role in the family dynamics for however long you’ve been away, and it’ll take time for everyone to adjust again.
  • Make an effort to keep your interests and the parts of your personality that developed and thrived in Japan alive. My biggest failure upon moving home was stepping back into literally the exact same life I had lived pre-Japan. There are no words for how unhappy that made me, especially after two years of growth and self-discovery.
  • Set goals and have dreams that are going to make you happy. I had goals, but they were goals of what I thought should happen next, not what I wanted to happen next. As for a dream… I’m still looking!
  • Talk about it. It’s difficult, but you’re not alone. Your fellow alumni can guide you into adjusting to your post-JET life. Or, if you’re not comfortable talking about it, then journal it! Blog it! Tweet it! Vlog it! Just get it out in the open – that always makes me feel better. :)

With only three months left before a new JET year starts, best of luck to everyone getting ready to leave the Programme. There’s a lot to do, but I hope you enjoy the heck out of your remaining time in Japan!!

Oh, and stay tuned to find out my experience with getting that lovely pension refund! ;)

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Keeping my Japan-developed interests alive with coffee, sweets, and journaling – even on the other side of the world. :)