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Japan can present the traveller with a bewildering combination of culture, manners, beauty, architecture and personalities. Whether one goes to Fuji San - mount Fuji, to admire it’s serene beauty, or one parties all night long in Roppongi - the nightclub district of Tokyo, one is constantly taken aback and presented with the unexpected. At times a shade frustrating, such as when you are on a train so crowded that you go three stops past the one you wanted because you cannot move. Hence, the ‘gaijin’, or foreigner learns to laugh about these things and accepts them as a part of life.
A population of one-hundred and twenty seven millions is jammed into a landmass of one-hundred and forty five square miles. Indeed, the population density in the big cities is amazing. The official language is Japanese, but plenty of people in the big cities speak English, though don’t be surprised if it is katakana English - ‘blakely’ for ‘bakery’, and ‘rub rub me do’ for ‘love love me do’. The confusion between ‘L’ and ‘R’ is widespread. This may be amusing; however, less so when you find yourself having to speak this way to make yourself understood. With this said, Japanese is not tonal, the curse of learning many Asian languages, the grammar, like English is actually very easy to pick up, and one can quickly develop a variety of useful phrases. It should be noted that Japanese is expressed in three types of writing, so becoming literate is a tall order. Fortunately in many of the big cities signs are in English as well as in Japanese. This is not true of most institutions, so make sure you have good directions when you set out for schools, etc.
The economy has bounced back from the dreadful economic downturn of the nineties, a time when many TESOL jobs were slashed. Now days it’s business as usual, and there are lots of different opportunities in schools, universities and in corporations. There is also plenty of opportunity with privates, and with conversation lounges. English is highly fashionable, and much of the market is seeking self-improvement, and better social status.
There are opportunities for those without an undergraduate degree, but for most circumstances a TESOL qualification is a requisite. Some of the better jobs and the benefits that come with them can only be available only to those with an undergraduate degree but it is worth checking with the employer. One plus in favour of Japan as a destination is that there is no requisite for two years’ teaching experience. Hence it is a good place to build up your teaching resume.
High school students are not quite as disciplined as they used to be, and are expecting something fun and interesting in their curriculum. Nevertheless, teachers are held in great respect, and if you are out in some of the more remote provinces you can expect ‘rock star’ status.
English teachers work in a wide variety of situations, from language institutes, to corporate training programmes, to conversation lounges. As mentioned, English is fashionable, and many people study it or practice it as a leisure activity.
In whatever environment you teach you must remember that presentation is extremely important. As a teacher or a conversation tutor it is extremely important in this respect-driven society to recognise that you occupy a ‘respectable’ position, and must present yourself accordingly.
As alluded to above, one must deal with Katakana English. Many Japanese have considerable knowledge of English; however, they are let down by their pronunciation and aural comprehension. This is because they have seldom heard a native English speaker speak. Hence the teacher’s task is to bridge that gap, and also to make ‘blakely’ ‘bakery’ and ‘piano rounge’ ‘piano lounge’. Japanese cannot hear the difference!
In the main students are respectful, attentive and work hard. They like to have a bit of fun as well, so digressing into games here and there helps maintain their interest.
The best option is to seek out an employer who is willing to sponsor you. For this you will be looking away from the bottom end of the market, and considering making a commitment to a particular institution for a period of time. The work permit only permits you to work for the company that has sponsored you and is normally good for six months, a year, or eighteen months depending on the application made. The good thing about Japan is that the visa process is now much easier. You can now arrive on a tourist visa and apply for and be issued a work permit without leaving the country. Work permits are only granted to those holding an undergraduate degree.
Tokyo, the nation’s capital is really quite extraordinary to experience. Glittering skyscrapers and swish shopping malls, stand alongside serene temples and out-door markets. The nightlife is out of this world, and the same can be said of the restaurants; however, one must bear in mind that accommodation is not easy, and the cost of living is extraordinarily expensive.
Outside of Tokyo things get a lot cheaper, Sapporo, brewing capital of Japan, offers a friendly welcome to visitors, and is set in a rugged landscape. Osaka, on the other hand is a thriving, but none too pretty metropolis - except that is after dark when they switch on the neon lighting! Kyoto is a different world, with three imperial palaces and over a hundred temples, all set in beautifully manicured gardens. The cultural centre of Japan is a must for a visit at the very least.
A modicum of preparation prior to setting out will pay dividends. Think of not one country, but the continent of Asia. You may come to value mobility once you hit this part of the world. Hence, it is a very good idea to contact all of the Asian embassies your country of origin, enquiring about teaching and visas, and see what you get back. You will find that you have a nice big file folder of leads and information, but will vary from country of origin to country of origin, Asian embassy to Asian embassy.
There are avenues that can be utilised to gain a placement prior to setting out. Princeton (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Stanford (email@example.com) Universities run volunteer programmes in various countries, a component of which is TESOL teaching. Stanford’s programme, for example, is open to graduates and graduating seniors, and charges a fee of $1,975 for one year, and $975 for two. This covers the cost of flights, training, visas and insurance.
Some may wish to participate in the JET programme which offers generous salaries, accommodation and flights for those wishing to work as teaching assistants for one year. The only downside is that you have no choice where you are placed. UK applicants should contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Those of another countries of origin should contact their local Japanese consulate and enquire what is available.
Many Japanese language schools have set up programmes with universities in America and Britain. In addition to that there is the www.ohayosensei.com website which is for TESOL with an interest in Japan.
It is quite feasible to arrive on a tourist visa and then look for a job. Sources include the websites dealt with above and the English language paper the Japan Times, which often carries ads for teachers. Look out though: Life is mighty expensive if you base yourself and your job quest in Tokyo. The upside of this approach, though, is that you get to evaluate prospective employers and look before you leap!
For most engagements you will need notarised copies of all of your certificates. You will also need to have a resume, which the British call a ‘CV’. The Japanese call it a ‘resume’, so you should too! As mentioned above: Three things matter in Japan - presentation, presentation, presentation. Dress smartly, and carry a briefcase with all your documents in it.
Once you have a half-decent job, hopefully with sponsorship with it, and perhaps accommodation as well, then you can think about private tuition, and conversation lounges. These are very good ways to greatly increase your income. Don’t rely on them too heavily since the immigration department wants to see your income tax statement every time you renew your work permit. The want to see evidence of a minimum income and you should check what this is when you apply for your work permit.
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