TEFL Interview: Let's Japan on… Japan

Last week’s interview with Shawn Thir of Let’s Japan.org was all about Eikaiwa in Japan. In part 2 he gives us his views on working in Japan.

What are the highs and lows of teaching in Japan?

Obviously, seeing your students progress or pass a test. A low would have to be forever trying to stamp out the poor grammar instilled into students by the public school system. “I go to shopping” is a prime example.

What is one myth about living/teaching in Japan would you like to destroy?

Teaching eikaiwa: That it’s a career.

Living in Japan: There are no geisha or samurai (OK, there are a few geisha), and that the Japanese have a unique respect for nature.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to teach English in Japan?

Have a plan and don’t stay too long. Where do you want to be and what do you want to be doing in one or two years? You are really just marking time in terms of professional development while you’re in Japan. Two years teaching English in Japan can look good on a resume provided you present it the right way, however.

Also, once in Japan, don’t be a pushover. Educate yourself. Try and learn as much of the language as possible. Find out what your labour rights are and stand up for them. Don’t let your employer take advantage of you just because you’re in Japan for the short term. Don’t be afraid to report your employer to the Labour Standards Office or seek help from a union, but also realize that butting heads with your employer may ultimately result in you losing your job.

I recommend only staying for a short time because of the working conditions: yearly contracts that can be canceled on a whim, the pay is low, no contributions to a pension or national health plan (although this may change soon). These conditions are not conducive to thriving in the long term in Japan.

Where do you see the English teaching industry in Japan heading?

I think it will continue to contract largely because the aftershock of Nova’s collapse still resonates with consumers. A lot of schools still don’t seem to have learned from the lessons of Nova and continue to abuse and rip-off their customers. Students, on the other hand, are voting with their feet and seeking out other venues such as Skype-based lessons, which are incredibly cheap.

There’s also Japan’s rapidly graying population to consider. The market for students is shrinking. All of this is putting downward pressure on the job itself. Salaries may remain depressed, but eikaiwa will trundle on with a steady supply of instructors willing to work for low pay thanks to the popularity of cosplay, manga, and anime abroad. That said, it would not surprise me if one of the large eikiwas failed in the near future.

How do you think the new visa regulations (re: Health Insurance) will affect English teachers?

It’s difficult to say. Profit margins are really narrow in eikaiwa and I can see part-time jobs increasing just so that employers can avoid having to pay their share. If you are working three quarters of full-time hours, your employer is obligated to enroll you in national health insurance (shakai hoken) or you are supposed to enroll yourself (kokumin kenko hoken).

If schools decide to live up to their obligations, they’ll likely tell instructors to enroll in kokumin kenko hoken since the schools themselves don’t have to match employee contributions. Under shakai hoken, they would have to enroll you and match your health and pension contributions. Japan’s health insurance is expensive, but worth enrolling in should you ever require hopsitalization.

Thanks to Shawn Thir of Let’s Japan.org for this interview. My TEFL Journey may not share the same ideas as Let’s Japan on everything, but it’s always good to get alternative points of view.

Anyone else wishing to participate in an e-mail based interview should contact me using the form below, or e-mail ‘tefl at jobs dot ac dot uk’.


About Ben Davies

The purpose of this blog is to introduce you to some ideas about teaching English as a foreign language. I lived in Japan and taught English for several years. It was a great experience that I would strongly recommend. Browse through the blog posts and get some tips, or get in touch if you have a specific question or comment.

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