2 Dec 2020
1st December 2020
JET Spotlight: Chris Broad
How did you end up on the JET programme and where did you go?
I'd always wanted to live in Asia and have some sort of adventurous lifestyle and Japan was top of my list, given its rich cultural heritage and strong sense of identity. I'd studied linguistics and intercultural discourse at University and Japan kept popping up in my studies as well, which certainly steered me towards the country. As for JET I first heard about it on a flight when I was sitting next to a middle aged couple who told me their daughter was in Japan having "the time of her life on this thing called JET". At first I thought their daughter was literally working in some sort of jet turbine industry, until they revealed that JET meant Japan Exchange Teaching programme. By the time I got off the flight I was sold on the programme! I didn't have a preference as to where I'd end up; I chose Kobe because it seemed like an exciting and dynamic city, but in the end I was placed about as far away from Kobe as possible in Tohoku, north Japan. Fortunately, the region of Yamagata that I found myself in was astonishingly beautiful, with some of the best scenery I've ever seen and I spent the next 3 years living in the shadow of north Japan's tallest volcano, with the salty sea air blowing in from the sea of Japan. It was glorious.
What are some of your best JET memories?
In my first year on JET I was a bit of a ghost. I did a terrible job making friends (outside of other foreign English teachers) and I stayed indoors in my free time to study Japanese.
By the second and third year though I threw myself into everything I could; volunteering at two international centres in Sakata and Tsuruoka, doing a Japanese speech contest twice (failing miserably at the first one and winning the second), volunteered at an Eikaiwa every Monday with the town locals and befriended quite a few local entrepreneurs. That transition from feeling like a glorified tourist in my first year, to becoming a part of the local community by the third was an exhilarating transition as I got to know the culture, the language and the customs. That whole experience is one big long amazing memory filled with a mixture of hardships, rewards and beer.
What was your biggest challenge whilst on JET and how did you overcome it?
Language barrier. I knew essentially no Japanese before coming to Japan; it was a conscious decision, given I had no time at University to study and I wanted to start from scratch in the country itself. To go from knowing nothing to being conversationally fluent and reading and writing, has been quite the wild ride. But I often forget how stressed I felt in that first year, where I struggled to understand my students or had trouble doing the simplest of tasks like use an ATM. These days, I urge every ALT to learn as much as they can before they arrive so they can skip out the awkwardness and confusion of living in Japan without knowing the language. I recommend grabbing the app called Human Japanese or the Genki textbooks as an excellent starting point to making that happen! (And of course, getting study tips on Abroad in Japan!).
How did your career progress after finishing JET?
While doing JET I documented my life in Japan through vlogging it on Youtube. By the time my teaching career came to an end, the Youtube channel Abroad in Japan had over 100,000 subscribers and I realised it could become something bigger. Had I not had that, I think I would've moved to Tokyo and found a job there, but Youtube enabled me to stay in Tohoku where I felt I had a purpose and where I had a good network of friends. I ended up moving from Yamagata to neighbouring Sendai and that's where I've been ever since making videos!
What inspired you to start making videos and what keeps you making them today?
I used to mess around with video cameras and make short skits and films as a teenager. The plan was to get into the world of filmmaking, however I tossed the dream aside when I started university and realised how tough it would be to get into the industry. Ironic, given that I ended up choosing a much more difficult path in many respects! But in the run up to moving to Japan on JET, I went on Youtube to try and find out about the country and see Tohoku in particular, where I was being placed. Given it was 2012 and Youtube was still relatively early, I found that there weren't many channels in Japan focussed on the kinds of topics and content that I wanted to see, and realised I could potentially fill that gap and resurrect my lost dream of becoming a filmmaker. When you're truly passionate about something, it's like a fire within you that you can't extinguish. Even after long days teaching class after class, I'd go home to my apartment and script and shoot some ideas I'd had. I found myself getting extremely motivated to produce videos in those pockets of free time and even now after 8 years and 200 videos I still feel that way. The thrill of filming, editing and sharing a video with the world that you ultimately feel proud of is one of the best feelings in the world. My advice to anyone with a creative background is embrace it; you'll never be able to let it go. It'll find a way back into your life somehow.
Was there a significant moment that made you realize that filmmaking could be your career?
Hitting 100,000 subscribers is the ultimate litmus test in the world of Youtube I'd say. Even with that many subscribers it's still tough to get views and live off of it, but it's a solid foundation to build from. I left JET in 2015 and 2016 was a really tough year; I found myself living in Japan and making less from Youtube than I did on a JET salary. I was in a new environment (Sendai) and pretty much all alone and forced to start from scratch. In order to be able to live and produce videos I took out a bank loan without even thinking about if I could pay it back or not, because I was so sure I could succeed if I was able to do what I loved. There was a risk I'd struggle to pay back the loan, fail to pay my rent, and even have to move back to the UK, but because I loved what I did so much, I couldn't give a damn. That focus, drive and determination - which I'd never ever felt up until that point - made me realise this was my path in life. I was drawn to it instinctively and I was going to make a career out of it somehow or another.
Any advice for JETs who feel they have fun Japanese experiences that they want to share?
Write a book. Film a video. Take photos. Chronicle those moments and memories as best you can. Particularly in those blurry first few years in Japan, where it's so intense and you can barely keep up. Looking back on my time on JET, I regret not doing that more often. There were so many amazing experiences and encounters that are now lost in time, given my memories of those early days here have started to fade.
You recently made 'Natsuki: The Movie', do you have any other bigger projects in the pipeline?
Natsuki: The Movie was a blast to film; the story of a close Japanese friend breaking his hectic work schedule to go on a once in a lifetime trip to London and Paris. Sharing Natsuki's story with the world has been one of the most rewarding things I've done! About two years ago I produced a 28 part series called Journey Across Japan, where I cycled from Yamagata to Kagoshima for about 6 weeks. It nearly broke me. Alas, I'm currently gearing up for a spiritual sequel! (This time without bicycles thankfully).
What would you like to do in the future?
Produce some films in Japan. It feels like the next natural step for someone who's spent 8 years being a wannabe filmmaker! I'm currently exploring some stories and ideas to develop before the year is out.
Do you have any advice for other JET alumni? How can someone use the skills they learned in the programme to help in their future career, in or outside of Japan?
If done right, the JET programme can essentially be the ultimate self-help course that can make you more confident, adaptable and forward thinking in your life and career. Standing in front of a classroom for 2,000 hours managing 40 students made me a better public speaker and presenter, learning Japanese taught me the value of self study and self discipline, meeting locals and running workshops at the local international centers made me a stronger networker and taught me how to be more proactive in seeking out opportunities. Overall, adapting to an entirely different culture and way of thinking made me more open-minded and a better communicator, who was able to see the world from a completely fresh (Japanese) perspective.
When I look at the nervous, anxious, stuttering wreck who walked into classrooms in my first few weeks and months on JET, and the confident, (relatively) mature adult who came out the other side three years later, I can't begin to emphasise the positive impact my three years on JET had on me as an individual.
There are certainly a great deal of hurdles and challenges you'll face everyday in the role, but as someone who worked for a brief time in a recruiting environment (pre-JET), from my experience working with employers, you'll find they respond very positively to a potential candidate who was willing to throw themselves in the deep end on the other side of the world, adapt to a new environment and pick up a lifetime of experiences along the way.
When I look at the achievements I've been fortunate to have on the Abroad in Japan channel over the years, from growing the channel to around 2 million subscribers and producing 200 videos to presenting a TEDx Talk, I'm fairly sure I wouldn't have hit these milestones had I not spent three years pushing myself on JET, and started a new life from scratch in the rural Japanese countryside.
Amongst the friends and JET Alumni that I know, I find a consistently overwhelming number of them do go on to do great things and more often than not, JET has had a big role to play in their success.
You can check out Chris' channel here : https://www.youtube.com/user/cmbroad44