Teaching in Japan for Mid-Career Folks

I got a question from a reader wondering how one could go about moving to Japan to teach English when already beyond the age limits for JET. Here’s my attempt at an answer.

I have never officially done the English teaching gig, so I don’t have a lot of first hand information, all of the information below is based on conversations with friends more knowledgeable than I.

If anyone reading this has more suggestions, please contribute and add them in the comments!

Private Language School Companies

The usual route is to get a job with a private English teaching company.

This would require you to do the traditional job hunt routine, sending resumes, and taking interviews. Only if you’re not in Japan, in most cases you’ll have to do all of this via email and the phone. To make things even more difficult, the hiring company also must be willing and able to sponsor your visa to Japan.

This all sounds difficult when compared to finding a job in your own town for example, and it is, but it’s not impossible and people are successful all the time.

The easiest way to get an English job with a company Japan while still in your home country is to apply to one of the big English schools, such as Nova, ECC or AEON. However these days you must be careful, because the big schools are filled with horror stories of poor teacher treatment.

Recently Nova wasn’t able to pay their employees on time!

These companies will hire about anyone with a university (college) degree. Using a big English company as a way to get a working visa, and then leaving to work for a more legit school is something many, many foreigners have done. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend this myself, as it’s a bit shady, but it is one way to get things done and basically legal.

Private Eikaiwa:

Contact Companies

You can also get a job with contact companies that will send you to other schools to teach. A big one that was recommended by a friend is Interac. Translators will be familiar with Interac because they take on freelance translators as well.

Contract Companies:
Four Seasons – regional
Altia Central


Dave’s ESLCafe – Loads of teaching English as a foreign language resources, and a great community of people teaching English around the world. Check out their International Job board, they frequently have Japan positions posted.

OhayoSensei – Newsletter of English teaching jobs in Japan.

Jobs in Japan – Job search site.

GaijinPot.com Jobs – GaijinPot.com has a great job listing and active community as well.

Lastly, don’t forget there are more places to teach than Japan! If Asia is your thing, and you’re looking to work somewhere with a fairly strong currency so you can save some money, don’t overlook South Korea and Taiwan! I have a friend in Seoul right now teaching and he loves it.

I’m sure I am missing a lot of information here, but this should get you started.

If anyone else has other information, please post in the comments and I’ll see about getting it integrated with the original post to make it more useful for others trying to get to Japan!

– Harvey

It’s fall again… Time for Rabbits on the Moon

Well fall is finally here. Though it’s still crazy hot in Osaka…

One of the things that the Japanese associate with fall is rabbits on the moon.

Last year in October I posted about this fancy little hankerchief with rabbits on the moon making mochi.

One of the things traditionally done in the fall is 月見、which literally means “looking at the moon”… Moon watching. Apparently you’re supposed to do it while eating Dango. Dango are those sweet rice balls on a stick. Possibly because the white dango themselves look like the full moon?

The only image I could find of dango on Japannewbie was in this lunch box picture! The green white and red thing on the left in case you were wondering.

J-List is getting in on the action with these Lucky Moon Rabbit. I’m sure the stores in Japan will be filled with similar items this fall… That is of course unless they’re overshadowed by Halloween goods!

This is testing my cuteness tolerance… Mr. Rabbit.

– Harvey

Tricked out mobile chair in Kishiwada

At Danjiri Festival in Kishiwada I saw the weirdest thing!

This proud old man who quite literally knows no shame. This man is great!

His ‘ride’ was playing loud repetitive festival music and decked out in all sorts of goods from Danjiri to Doraemon. He’s way into the festival spirit!

In the picture where he is pointing, the man is warning a girl of an oncoming vehicle: she was like a deer in headlights when he saw his contraption approaching.

Nice guy!

– Harvey

Japanese Comedy: Salaryman Neo

I don’t watch much TV, but one show I always try to catch is Salaryman Neo (サラリーマンネオ).

During its season Salaryman Neo is on NHK 11pm Tuesdays. It runs short seasons however, and the 2nd season just ended this week.

Of course, you can catch great clips of Salaryman Neo on Youtube!

One of my favorite, and most popular skits is of セクスィー部長 (Sexy Bucho), the sexy section manager… He uses his hot, hot, HOT Latin style to render women powerless and keep his employees safe. Bossy female customers? Tough consultants? Said a little too much at the bar the night before? Sexy Bucho to the rescue.

Sexy Bucho #1

Sexy Bucho #2

Sexy Bucho #3

I’m sure you can find the rest from there. I think the later skits are actually even funnier than the earlier ones, so be sure to watch a few!

There is more to Salaryman Neo than just Sexy Bucho, check out some of the other skits as well.

I love this stuff.

– Harvey

Learn Japanese with Gundam

I’m not ashamed to admit that I used to be a reasonably hardcore anime fan back when I was in Iowa. The main reason though, was that I could hardly get my hands on any other Japanese media to learn Japanese from. Of course, I watched movies rooted in reality like Shall We Dance and Tampopo over and over and over again, but I also had a healthy dose of anime as well. This was back in the day of VHS, and anime wasn’t available for download (easily) via my 56.6k modem either. Most of the stuff I got I purchased at Best Buy.

Anyway, one thing I noticed about anime, was that a lot of the vocabulary I picked up from them, was near useless in real life. Space ships, fancy weapons, magic, overly flamboyant phrases… All those things don’t come up in everyday conversation, so while it was fun, it was never a serious part of my Japanese study. I would say it helped with general listening comprehension though…

Now though, I came across this book on JList…

Learn Japanese from Gundam

Apparently this book seriously takes you through Gundam dialogs and teaches you Japanese from it English to Japanese readers. Of course, Language learning is a two-way street right? So theoretically, one could use this book to learn Japanese. You’d probably have to be a bit more proactive about it than with a regular textbook however.

I’ve always said that the best way to learn a foreign language is just to interact with the language in the most fun way possible… But wow. These guys are really taking it literally!

One confession though… I’ve never really watched Gundam.

Can you believe it? I’ve been here this long and never gotten into Gundam? I have seen Evangelion, all the Miyazaki Hayao movies, and even have read and watched One Piece… But I never got into Gundam… If I was, I would have loved to have this book. Ah well.

– Harvey

JET ALT/CIR Interview – Part 3

We’ll continue the interview with Sugu, the JET teacher in Hamamatsu now. If you missed it, be sure to check out part 1 and part 2! In this interview Sugu comments on the JET selection process, as well as what causes some JET’s to stay… Forever… and what causes others to leave after the first year.

Q: Now that you have seen many other JETs come and go, have you noticed any similar characteristics in those who opt to stay longer than the initial one year contract, and those who, like your self, chose to extend?

One year is definitely too short on the JET Programme. ALTs tend to spend the first 6 months of that year just trying to stay afloat and by the time they start to get in the groove, they have to leave. However, some ALTs leave their home for an expressed one year sabbatical (Canadian teachers, specifically) and have a reason to stay in Japan for only one year.

After 2 years, ALTs that are ready to leave are usually the ones who are looking at grad school and want to do something completely different that may never put them in a classroom again. These are generally the people that don’t really care about teaching, they just wanted to try something different.

People that stay for 3 years are generally the type of people who are either looking at JET like a real job or using it as an excuse to stay making good money and do nothing. But these are broad sweeping generalizations. I’ve seen too many different types of ALTs to name them all.

Q: So which 3 year clan do you claim? Real job? Or money making do nothing excuse?

I fit into another category all together. I want to leave and go back to the States (I’ve only been back once in 3 years and that was not the best experience), but I can’t. I treat my position as a real job and thus work very hard at it. After all, my job is to manage other people’s lives and I certainly don’t want to see them crash here. But before that, when I was an ALT(Assistant Language Teacher, mind you, although it is just a title, I was not the Assistant), I thought of it as a real job. Not permanent, but definitely something worthwhile doing. As it is now, most of the gears in my life are aligned to keep me here, despite an inner pressure to return home and start my “real” life.

Q: Are there any people who ever jump ship and return to their home country before the program is over? What are some of the reasons they chose to leave?

Sadly, there are ALTs who break their contract and leave early for a variety of reasons. I don’t like to talk too much about them because some of them are very tragic stories. But some reasons I’ve heard is that the stress of living in Japan can suddenly become very strong. I’ve noticed two large time periods were people experience the worst of it. November/December and May.

Q: Could you elaborate just a bit on the Nov/Dec thing? Like, what is this the half-year point or what? Or is it the weather?

Well, in my experience, November and December are really tough for Westerners, specifically Americans, because of the holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sometimes it can be really disheartening to look around and realize that one is all alone. I suppose it doesn’t help that many ALTs actually teach those holidays in their own class so they have to really realize that the safety net of the family is gone. That sense of isolation and aloneness does hit people in many different ways. I’ve found that most people don’t miss the big things from home unless they’ve been here a while.

For example, I love driving and I love my car back in America. But when I came to Japan, I knew that I wouldn’t drive at all and also that I wouldn’t see my car and I mentally prepared myself for that, so it wasn’t a large problem. But things hit really hard when ALTs call home and they’re reminded of all the little things that they hadn’t prepared on missing. Their family is together. The smell of the kitchen as Mom serves her family’s apple pie that’s been the family recipe for generations, ever since the Angles met the Saxons. Sparky the dog just swallowed the entire turkey. The family or friends are having a great time, even moving on,despite that the ALT isn’t there. Pictures from back home are being sent to each ALT and it’s just a harsh reminder that the ALT is out here, not even able to celebrate properly. There aren’t many turkeys or cranberries in Japan. And McDonald’s apple pie is a very pale substitute.

After those depressing months, the JET participants have to decide if they will re-contract or not by February. Many ALTs think their situation will stay the exact same, and so make that decision based on how they feel after a few short months of teaching. But in April, the education system does what I call “The Great Shuffle” in which teachers throughout the schools are shifted around all over the city, creating a totally different experience for ALTs. It can get really bad (awesome teachers leave for different schools and bad teachers can come in) or it can get really good (new awesome teachers totally befriend and take care of the ALT, there’s more acceptance of English).

May is around the time that it sinks in what the next term (maybe even year) will be like. I have dealt with ALTs deciding to go home, and then in April, their school becomes really great and manageable. The ALT then wants to stay, but can’t, because the paperwork has already been sent to CLAIR. I’ve also dealt with the opposite situation, where the school was great in February, and the ALT re-contracted. But then in April, things get worse. Of course, these are extreme examples. Most of the time, it’s something in between.

Q: What advice would you give to people who are considering the JET application, but haven’t quite made up their mind yet?

Apply and be professional! It’s a fun job, but it’s a job nonetheless. Even though the Japanese are big on drinking, they are not big on drinking in the total college-student irresponsible fashion. Remember that the drunk driving blood alcohol level is 0.0. Absolutely no alcohol in the bloodstream. The stories that people do hear are extreme few-and-far-between type stories.

Be fun and open-minded on your application. Write your essay from a standpoint of awe and wonder at the world, not from a standpoint of arrogance and know-it-all. Be honest. I knew nothing about Japan or teaching and I still got in, so don’t think you need to sell your knowledge of either. If you have any doubts about the program itself, just apply anyway.

Q: Any regrets in the decision to join JET and come to Japan?

No. I love being here, but sometimes I do want to go back and get on with my life. On the flip side, I don’t know what I would do back home and plus I’m having a great experience here.

Q: Three years is a long time. Any plans to go home?

Not yet, unfortunately. I do want to go back, but there are still too many things I want to see and do in Japan. After that, who knows? I may be stuck in Japan for the rest of my life, or I may get to live all over the world. The family isn’t too happy about those possibilities, but everyone has to make their own choices sometime in their life.

Thanks for your time Sugu!

Official JET homepage

GuruSugu.com – Sugu’s website

JET ALT/CIR Interview – Part 2

We’ll continue the interview with Sugu, the JET teacher in Hamamatsu now. If you missed it, be sure to check out Part 1! In this section of the interview Sugu gives us information about his Japanese study methods, and the gear that helps him along the way.

Q: Just to ensure readers don’t get the wrong idea here, but you mentioned you sort through Japanese law as it pertains to ALTs needs as part of your job… But this is not to say you read Japanese law, in Japanese… Right? (Even me with my academic Japanese background would sweat if I had to do that!)

Well, I do read Japanese law….in Japanese. Does that mean I understand it all? Nope. My Japanese is nowhere near that level. But I read what I can, translate/interpret what I can, and ask my boss and other Japanese friends and fluent people for help when I can’t do it. In fact, oftentimes I don’t feel like my Japanese is getting better, but I’m becoming more resourceful at finding answers. For example, just the other day, I translated a web page about driving in Japan and how to pass the driving test for an ALT. Using my e-dictionary and many other resources (which I’ll talk about later), it was a very slow process and I’m sure that it would have been much easier for Harvey, but eventually I finished it. And yes, dear readers, Harvey has helped me on a number of translation questions, despite his modesty.

Q: I understand that despite the fact that you came to Japan with zero Japanese, you now speak quite a bit. How did you learn? Were there any particular books that helped you out? What advice would you give to other JapanNewbie’s regarding their language study?

I learned probably the hardest way possible. I learned the hiragana and katakana alphabet right before I came. That enabled me to read……something. In Japan, I joined a semi-professional choir, and learned kendo at my schools and a dojo. Then, I would design my classes so that the students would teach me Japanese while they learned English at the same time. It seemed to work. Of course, my Japanese is very limited now to music, hitting people with swords, and boogers. I didn’t really learn from books, but I talked to EVERYBODY I could. Grocery store clerks, convenience store clerks, banking tellers, choir people, my teachers, bartenders. Everyday, I played real-life Taboo. I would highly recommend doing what I did…as a MINIMUM. Study hard but speak to everyone possible.

One thing that helped me was that for everything I wanted to say in English, I would test myself and see how to say it in Japanese. If I didn’t know how, I would ask someone. All of my Japanese was built on top of each other. But now, after three years of living here, I realize that my Japanese, unlike other languages I’ve studied, is still very foreign to me. Rather than picking up the language, I’ve picked up pieces of the language, random and erratic. I can’t talk about how the cat is on the chair, but I can say with relative ease that honestly, I can’t eat anymore of Mr. Ed but I’ll have another glass of beer.

So because of my random Japanese, I started studying for the Japanese Proficiency Language Test, hoping that that will more than anything else, plug in the gaps.

Q: On that note, any books, gadgets or other gear you would recommend to people wanting to learn Japanese?

Of course. My significant other’s brother’s hobby is actually keeping up to date on electronic dictionaries and he keeps an entire arsenal of them. As an additional service, he keeps me up to date on the best value, and as a result, here is my list, depending on need.

First, if you can find it, the Seiko RM-2000 is a good buy for complete beginners. Everything about it is in the roman script, so learners can read. Unfortunately, they don’t make them anymore, but it might be possible to get a used one. My girlfriend actually uses this and it has helped her a lot. And I’ve been able to see it in action.

However, I bought my first dictionary into my second year. I personally hated learning Japanese through the roman alphabet, so I was ok with the Japanese kanji. It was a Sharp PW-M800. Small, compact, but basic. One of those good-enough-for-now-types. I outgrew it eventually, but it was great while I had it. I used it all the time and I got a lot out of it.

My new baby, however, is the Casio Ex-Word XD-GW9600. Amazing piece of gadgetry. You can actually write the kanji as you see it (stroke order is irrelevant) and if it can identify it, you can still look it up. It also comes with the Oxford Dictionary of English (English to English) and their Thesaurus (which I’ve found invaluable in many of my writings).

Other tools at my disposal were Declan Software’s Read/Write Kanji. This is one of the first programs that I bought while learning Japanese. It teaches all 1,895 of the common kanji, as well as stroke order, meanings, and readings. It tests you on them 10 at a time, so if you learn one, that particular one is removed, but replaced by the next one in the list. That way, you’re always learning 10 at a time (or more, if you choose) with various difficulty.

I also use KanjiQuick, a really good dictionary program for the computer. You can search all sorts of different words, but also add words to your own custom dictionary. It doesn’t go into sentence construction or grammar or those rules, but it definitely helped me with learning the kanji.
Outside of gadgetry and technology, I use the following books:

Jack Halpern’s Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary (which is also available as an add-on dictionary for my Casio e-dictionary). To use a JapanNewbie term, freaking amazing! This book offers a new way to look up the kanji that makes more sense to a foreigner. Halpern’s method does not require knowledge of radicals or even accurate stroke count. It has error entries, ie. how most learners would mistakenly count a kanji is there with a correction, so the learner won’t be lost. Also, scattered throughout the web is a lot of praise and accolade for Jack Halpern’s translation of the different kanji. Apparently his translations and meanings are not only far more accurate, but also understandable for a learner.

Boye Lafayette De Mente’s Japan’s Cultural Code Words. When one learns language, invariably, one has to learn culture with it. This book takes a good look at some of the nuanced phrases that the Japanese know and “live” by. Helps to understand important concepts behinds the words. For example, Western culture tends to view the heart as the emotional center of a person. Japanese view the stomach as that same center. As a result, phrases like “stomach twisting” take a different meaning in Japan than they would in the West.

That’s a lot of gear! Thanks! Actually I plan to buy the GW-9600 dictionary as well. Hopefully soon… As soon as my wife lets me afford it…

That’s a wrap for part 2. Stay tuned for part 3 which will be posted in a few days! In part 3, Sugu tells us more about what it is that would make a JET stick around in Japan for 3 years.

Official JET homepage

GuruSugu.com – Sugu’s website

Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri

I finally made it down to Danjiri Matsuri in Kishiwada on September 15th… I have been trying to catch this festival for years now…

This is not one of the more beautiful or elegant festivals in Japan. In fact, mention Danjiri Matsuri in Kishiwada to a native Japanese, and they’ll probably describe it as down-right dangerous.

(Actually… Many Japanese describe the Kishiwada area as dangerous even when the festival isn’t going on… Kishiwada has a reputation for being… Well… a “wretched hive of scum and villianry”. But that’s another story for another post.)

I have heard that almost every year, someone dies at this festival… crushed by a danjiri or trampled by the crowd or something. I have also heard that citizens who live in Kishiwada can get Danjiri Matsuri insurance to cover their property from damage in case a danjiri goes out of control. Maybe these are only rumors and a bit exaggerated, but I’m sure they are rooted in some truth.

So, you’re probably wondering what happens during this festival that is so dangerous… I’m getting there. Basically, anywhere between what seemed to be 40 to 70 people grab ropes attached to these giant wooden contraptions on wheels called danjiri, and pull them through the streets. Inside the danjiri are drummers, people playing the flute, and various other important people from the participating towns who are along for the ride on. At various intervals the people pulling the danjiri will take off at a full sprint, swinging the danjiri around corners (it’s not even really built for turning mind you) while another guy on top of the danjiri with two fans is jumping around on the roof dancing.

This Danjiri Matsuri youtube video is from 1997, and shows typical Danjiri crashes. Here is another more recent video from 2006. My jaw drops every time I see this. Fortunately(?) , there were no major crashes that I saw this year… Though there were a few close scrapes, and ambulances were rolling around at the ready. This video will give you a sense of how long the lines are that pull the danjiri.

I actually made some videos with my camera in AVI format… But for some reason they’re not making it to YouTube successfully… I’ll tinker with it again later and show them if I ever get it working.

This covered corridor here is called a shoutengai (商店街) in Japanese. It’s a shopping street. Anyway, during the day, this area is filled with pedestrians buying bread and toilet paper. During Danjiri Matsuri, the pedestrians are mostly pressed up against the sides of the walls as the Danjiri floats tear down the corridor at break neck speeds. The mad dash of people and noise reminded me of a passing train in the subway as the danjiri went by. My friends and I actually were running down the shoutengai at one point yelling, “They’re coming!!!” while looking back over our shoulder. It all felt very Indiana Jones-esque.

Anyway, that’s Danjiri. If you’re ever in Japan in September, try to catch this one!

An EnglishMan in Osaka was there as well. He’s got some great pics and videos, check it out!

Man I love Osaka…

– Harvey

All of the girls participating in the festival had braids. I asked someone why, a mom, and she said that it was a popular hairstyle this year… Indeed. Everyone I tell ya!

This is a picture of the entrance to the shoutengai mentioned above. The danjiri come tearing down this thing with hundreds of people running in front of, and behind it.

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