The Big Deal about Big Daikon

By Dominique Flemings and Sergio Lombardi

One of the most interesting sites on the subject of English teaching in Japan is BigDaikon. Primarily devoted to the JET community (JET, of course, standing for the Japan Exchange and Teaching program, now in its 25th year). While there are a number of official and unofficial JET-related websites serving those who’ve gone through the program, BigDaikon is committed to telling it how it really is (for the most part).

Big Daikon’s population consists of mostly past and present JETs – of course, the number of past teachers increases as time goes on. Site moderators prefer an unbiased view of JET program, although the site is not just about that but also about how JETs perceive life in Japan. As such, the site has a plethora of content, both good and bad, that you won’t find in any tourist guide or JET program brochure. Someone living overseas and wanting to get a good idea of all aspects of life in Japan, or considering a stint in the JET program, would do well to spend some time hanging around Big Daikon. There’s plenty of enjoyable material to be read – but also some that is a bit revolting. More on that, later.

While some JETs wind up in the city, a surprising amount go to schools in the countryside. This, we suspect, is the reason for most of the population of BigDaikon – with little to do in the, the country-locked can enjoy writing about their enjoyment/frustrations about JET life.

The bread and butter of the site is the discussion forum, and it probably consumes most of the attention of the website masters – so much so that some of the other links on the site aren’t really worth your time. But you won’t mind, as the forums are a website unto themselves. The forum is the heart of the site, and “Speak Your Mind” forum is the heart of the forums. This is where the real action is

Here, anything and everything goes, and that perhaps is the biggest downside of Big Daikon. Looking through some of the threads is like rehashing some of your more debaucherous moments from college. It would appear that many BigDaikon regulars are former JETs who looking to join in other has-bens in reminiscing about the wild parties, XXX and other aspects of the good old days. In direct contrast to those, you have the individuals who had a miserable old time in Japan and won’t let you forget it – these folks fester and complain in their own threads. In these aspects, the forum seems to be drifting away from its original course. But, it does offer a bit of insight into some experience, both good and bad (depending on your perspective), so it may be worth perusing if only for a few laughs.

And there are the threads which simply don’t pass the straight face test. There are those who seem to have not advanced beyond freshly-exited puberty in their puerile conversations. But such are forums, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a forum that’s not guilty of it.

The above said, the incoming and potential JETs threads seem to be more mainstream. If any of our readers are considering coming to Japan as a JET, this is the place to start. As said earlier, a lot of what you’ll encounter with in Japan isn’t mentioned by even the most honest of brochures. Here, incoming and potential JETs can get a glimpse into real Japan, in all its quirks and wonders. That honesty can be hard to find and is certainly invaluable when deciding whether to make the move across the world.

As of late, there has been a lot of discussion as to whether the JET program is really worth continuing, with some of that debate playing out in the forums of Big Daikon. Some swear up and down by the program’s virtues – others would like to see it go the way of the horse and buggy. Detractors include not only former students and teachers, but the people who plan the budget who claim the benefits simply no longer justify the costs.

While neither of us has had an actual hands-on experience with the program, we’d like to see the program continued. If not for the education, then surely for the cultural exchange and connection to the rest of the world. Japan is now at a point where the inspiration to come to Japan is at one of the lowest points in post-war history; the JET program, despite its flaws, is one solid connection bringing young and fresh minds to Japan, giving it a chance to showcase its beauty as a nation and people to foreigners through hands-on experience.

Some might argue that the JET program hardly shows foreigners Japan’s good side, and there are anecdotes which would lead us to agree that this can be true. However, the superiority of the JET programs versus its counterpart, the commercial conversation schools, is indubious. While some argue that the wages are low in the JET program, compared to these so-called-eikaiwa schools, wages are fit for a king. JET positions come with a package of health insurance and pension benefits, whereas with the eikaiwa schools are reminiscent of ancient slave galleys: (click this out to see what working at an eikaiwa is like) no stable work hours, no insurance benefits and no chance for advancement. But most surprising is that there are teachers who actually stay in these sweat shops for as long as twenty years or more. It makes one wonder which is more pathetic – the eikaiwas or the people that stay there for year after year.

The JET program does have faults – this is undeniable. But it cannot be blamed for the flaws of those running it, which is from where many of its troubles stem. One suggestion that might fix a significant amount of issues is that former JETs should be brought on board to manage the program. They would know best as to what the flaws and strengths of the program were, and how to build on that. Who knows, they might be able to hire some of the regulars at Big Daikon! Thumbs up to an interesting, entertaining and useful site.

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~ by Japan Blog Review on April 1, 2012.

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