Along with my other blogs, this has been updated and moved to a premanent home at www.accessj.com. Check there for more articles like this, as well as a growing collection of tips for living in and visiting Japan.
This is not an arse-kissing blog about the wonderful land of little people and big buildings. This is the slightly offended view of life as a gaijin living in Japan. More specifically, in the Japanese countryside.
These are the notes of a slightly bitter man. A slightly bitter man who loves Meiji chocolate.
I'll split this blog up soon and treat each part separately with a little more detail. If you have any questions, you can either ask in my thread on the forum, or send me a message.
Teaching Engish in Japan
Maybe a good place to start is with the kinds of foreigners who come to work in Japan.
A lot of people do, and if you're one of them you will quickly be able to identify with the following stereotypes. If you think you want to come over, bear in mind that if you aren't one of these, you will likely hate most gaijin you meet.
Theoretically every Juniour High and High School in Japan should have one gaijin English teacher. However it is not uncommon for some teachers to be split between 2 or more schools.
Anyway, the types of people who come out here often fit one of these stereotypes:
You were expecting it, and here it is: Japanophiles by the bucketload. You can spot these bastards by their annoying whiney voices and piercing Japanese over-familiarities.Their shamelessly sicky-sweet fuckface of a personality SUCKS.
But here's possibly the worst part: be prepared for the jaw-dropping ability for the males to actually physically attract Japanese females! If you were on the fence about the existence of God, this will make you finally turn away: the ideal man in Japan is fair-haired, tall, pale and very skinny. Shudder...
Personality and geekiness doesn't seem to register, or are just seen as cute. Female gaijin, on the other hand, may not be so lucky. I have no idea why, but ostensibly only Japanese women are completely blind when it comes to romance.
Apart from their awful personalities, another problem with these people is their lack of teaching ability. Feeble douches.
Most of their non-anime time is spent doing 100% Japanese things, like awkwardly dressing up in kimonos, and playing with puppets at the puppet festival. They will suck up Japanese friends like an industrial hoover, yet probably won't say hello to you fellow gaijin in the street. What's that about?
Thinking of another stereotype is actually quite hard, but I'll go with the academic fella. Usually a guy, this person has high hopes of mastering Japanese and going back home to study it further or something. There are a fair few of these but their existence is a natural progression from coming out here, and perfectly understandable.
In fact it would be hard to have any problem with them at all if it weren't for their dislike of teaching. Teaching isn't easy to do well. Anyone can sloth through it and earn the money, but making yourself useful and genuinely helping people learn is your job, and learning Japanese isn't. The few that can stradle the two camps deserve a lot of respect and are often very nice people too.
I thought of one more! Travel Cunts. If you've ever been backpacking you will know all about these people (unless you are one). They think of themselves as new-age hippies of the world, the presumption of which is probably worse than if it were actually true. Their "random" humour is little more than irritating, and their lack of originality or personality is a nasty downer. Bear a slight resemblance to:
Party boy/girl. Takes the worst parts of 2 and 3 and adds a total disinterest in anything cultural or language related. They come to the big cities for the big monies and the female attention. They drink, they party, they fuck and they piss all over Japanese customs and sensibilities. They beat a horrible path through Japan leaving a slug-trail of piss stains and puke, making a bad name for the rest of us foreigners. Selfish bastards is what they are.
One more, pretty sad, one is the Lonely Guy With A Beard. He clearly has some emotional problems and has had his heart broken one too many times. He moved to Japan to rediscover a reason for living, and despite looking like he was pulled out of an impounded VW Beatle this morning he has managed to aquire a Japanese wife! He's harmless but makes you feel miserable by not having much to talk about and making you wonder how you will look in 10-20 years time.
.....And now you can identify 80% of foreigners in Japan! But don't let that put you off too much.
The other 20% are people who we might condescend to call "normal". People who want to see a different culture, or just want to teach and have chosen to do it somewhere which is not home. I've met some good friends here, so don't be too scared. And of course there are 120 million Japanese people just waiting to be your friend. Except most of them presume you're a dumbass who can't use chopsticks or eat raw fish, let alone speak any Japanese. Every day it seems like Japanese people don't understand my Japanese just because they don't expect to. But don't let that put you off, most people anywhere are idiots... right? ANYWAY, come one, come all!
Getting a job isn't hard out here, but beware of shakey companies. NOVA was a major language school which went bankrupt and destroyed many gaijin lives. Jobs were lost overnight, wages left unpaid and because NOVA owned the teacher apartments, when it went under they became the property of someone else. Teachers were literally kicked out the next day. Last month another big-player, GEOS, filed for backrupcy. Most of its branches were bought by another company, but some just closed their doors. GEOS also owns teacher-property. BEWARE.
If you're very lucky, like me, you can get a job with the local government. The money is good, the job is secure and subsidised housing is usually available (as it is for Japanese teachers, too).
Like I said, not hard to find. A quick search on google will throw up many companies and opportunities. Usually the only requirement is a Bachelor's degree.
As an example, my monthly finances look like this:
Good deal, right? However,as I said I get a bit more than average, and my accomodation is subsidised, so take off another 50,000-70,000￥ for the typical job.
Also expect to spend at least 40,000 on a trip to Tokyo for a few days (and have nightmares about the cost of living there), about 10,000 on a typical shinkansen ride, and 100￥ a time trying to win a soft toy in a UFO catcher. It's also not uncommon for most of that money to just inexplicably vanish from month to month. Maybe there are a few more social gatherings, or work parties, or maybe you need to buy a new fridge or tried too hard for the giant Elmo in the machine or something. But seriously, beer is so damn expensive (500-800￥).
Also you may want to rent a car. If you have an English or Canadian licence, you can swap it for a Japanese one (after a short written test). If you have some other nationality one you need to do a course (￥++). I don't have either, so I am about to pay 400,000 to do a full course. Renting a car is around 30,000 a month. All highways have tolls.
Teaching English is fun! Well, it is if you like kids... and teaching. I like both and I love it. However a lot of people come to Japan with no real idea about teaching and little to no experience with kids. These people often don't have so much fun. I've worked with kids a lot and always wanted to teach anyway. Do your research before you sign anything. The people who come here just for the fun of it are usually douchebags. Don't be a douchebag.
Your freedom depends on your school and teachers. I teach juniour high school and the teachers are a mixed bag. Some will give you almost complete control of classes (as long as it is relevant to the textbook grammar), and some will want you to just read out dialogues and give examples. It's hit and miss, but the better you are at making worksheets and thinking on your feet, the more of a go you will be given. Gaijin English teachers change a lot, and it must be really hard for the Japanese teachers to put up with it - show them you're a good one and they will thank you for it.
Expect to teach between 3 and 5 hours a day (but to be at school for 8 hours minimum). This may be different in private language schools. There you can work six lessons back to back in a day, and be expected to prepare for all of those classes in five minute breaks.
Japanese is hard, but you don't need to speak it to either get a job or keep one. You will probably find that you don't need to use it at school at all with teachers. You might want to talk to kids at lunch or to help them in class, but unless you put in a lot of your free time for learning then you'll find it a very slow process. Bigger cities have lessons available. Mine doesn't.
Most Japanese people can speak a little bit of English from school, but not enough for a proper conversation or to understand what you're saying if it's more complicated than "the book is bigger than the pen".
Here are some snippits from questions I've been asked on the forum here:
"In JHS there is a homeroom system. I dont know about HS but I imagine it's the same there. They start at 8.10 and finish around 4, though it is very common for students to stay behind/come early for sports and other clubs. Classes are 45 mins and they have 6 a day (sometimes 5 if there is a student coucil meeting). I teach 4 on average, though on some days (like tomorrow) none at all because of tests etc (still have to come in though).
School days are Monday-Friday, but many students do a club on the weekend too, and cram schools/weekend lessons are common."
Is anime/manga actually popular there, or just among the nerdy kids?
Anime/manga is probably a lot more popular than you imagine. All kids like both. Everyone has numerous keychains, lunchmats etc from current series. I havent seen much manga at school (other than english versions of doraemon and dragonball), and I think there may be some kind of ban. But light novels seem to be in every kid's hand at lunch time and in the five minutes between classes. People walk around town reading books too. Nuts.
So how much of a difference is there from living in Japan vs America?
I'm from England so I have no idea :p
That's a broad question and I don't have time to write a novel for you! But as far as the UK goes, Japan is a hell of a lot cleaner. People are much more polite to your face, but at least in my small town there is a very claustrophobic element to being a foreigner here. There are only so many times that being told you speak very good Japanese for just saying "good morning" is funny. I would never dream of telling a black person in England that they spoke good English, if you get my meaning.
Things are expensive but generally of a very high quality. Eating out is pretty cheap, but beer will rob you blind.
Some things are very complicated, especially for a gaijin. Recycling is one of these - a different bin for paper, card, milk cartons, plastic, "dirty" plastic, cans, PET bottles, combustible, non-combustible... the list goes on.
Also people blindly follow the rules, regardless of what they are and how old they may be. For example, if the light is red you can't cross the road. No traffic? The road is only two metres wide? Still got to wait, my friend.
Would you describe Japanese society as particularly... what's the word? Uptight? Reserved? Shy? Introverted? Something like that.
Difficult question but I think the answer is a yes. There's a definately propensity to stick to the rules without thinking about why. It may just be small town mentality, and I don't have much experience of the bigger cities except as a tourist, but here people seem to be a little harsh with foreingers making a cultural faux pas.
On Saturday night I had a PTA enkai (durinkingu paati) and accidentally wore a black tie, which is apparently unlucky. It got pointed out, quite seriously, very quickly. That particular guy was a wanker though. He was laughing at my Japanese, talking a million miles an hour in Kyoto dialect, and generally making me feel uncomfortable. Luckily he passed out after about 30 minutes and no amount of drunkenly tickling his toes would rouse him.
I don't know if it is shyness or blind obediance or what it is, but things are done a certain way and that seems to be the end of it. However there are exceptions... they just aren't really talked about. For example I saw a very drunk drunk driver almost flip his car earlier in the year.
Last week one of my students dyed her hair brown. The teacher who told me said it and looked at me like I should be stunned by the news. She got sent home. The teacher also told me that by some genetic miracle her own daughter had been born with curly hair. Apparently she used to get endless trouble at school (from teachers) for it.
I've only had time to read A, but I enjoyed it. If it weren't for those who can't take the pressure, the system would arguably be almost ideal.
The concept of group ownership is very productive and seems to continue until well after educational and working lives are over. No-one had lived in our current house for something between 5 and 10 years, but there were no weeds in the garden and all the plants were well kept (until we moved in, when weeds shot up and the bushes got scruffy). My only explanation is that the same people who get on their hands and knees and trim the plants by the side (and in the middle) of the road had been taking care of them. I love the "our neighbourhood" idea behind that, even if it does infringe on privacy sometimes. It's especially obvious in the winter, when the snow falls up to a metre thick. By 7/8am the entire pavements have been cleared, but not by any paid workers - everyone has a snow shovel and does their bit (except stupid foriegners like us who get there late looking sheepish).