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July 4, 2012 7:59 AM   Subscribe

The curious case of the eroding eikaiwa salary. Now fraught with job insecurity and low pay, there was a time when the work was steady and salaries were high for those who taught English in Japan. Around the turn of the millennium, salaries and work conditions for English teachers in Japan began a downward trend — one that has now spilled into the '10s and shows no signs of slowing, let alone reversing.
posted by KokuRyu (49 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

"It's not like I'm using," Case heard someone say, as he shouldered his way through the crowd around the door of the Chat. "It's like my body's developed this massive drug deficiency." It was a Sprawl voice and a Sprawl joke. The Chatsubo was a bar for professional expatriates; you could drink there for a week and never hear two words in Japanese.
posted by thewalrus at 8:09 AM on July 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


That steady decline in work and salaries for English teachers in Japan seems to mirror a larger demographic trend in Japan towards, well, basically not having kids.

Japan is a rapidly aging society staring at a deeply problematic population problem in the next twenty years as vastly more elderly people need long-term care before they die, and there are very few young people to fill their roles.

In many countries, policymakers would try to smooth those curves out with a combination of incentives towards young families and loosened immigration, but the immigration side of that solution isn't on the table at all for Japanese policymakers.

It's going to be a great place to buy some beautiful real estate in twenty years or so.
posted by mhoye at 8:14 AM on July 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


Japan's not all bad. Anyway, foreigners are already buying real estate in Japan, notably in Hokkaido and Kyushu.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:19 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

Black?
posted by Marky at 8:20 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Black?

Get off my lawn.
posted by mhoye at 8:21 AM on July 4, 2012 [59 favorites]


Black?

I don't know about anyone else, but my Japanese television displays a pleasing Sega blue.
posted by ambivalentic at 8:29 AM on July 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


SEGA?
posted by thewalrus at 8:33 AM on July 4, 2012


Are English teachers in Japan entitled to high pay and job security, or something?
posted by Melismata at 8:37 AM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think ideally everyone is entitled to at least a living wage and some modicum of job security, yes. In a humane society, anyone who worked full time would be able to support themselves in at least a modest lifestyle and there would be provisions in place such that generally speaking they wouldn't have to worry about being suddenly unemployed thorough no fault of their own. Is that unreasonable?
posted by Scientist at 8:41 AM on July 4, 2012 [27 favorites]


Are English teachers in Japan entitled to high pay and job security, or something?

I don't think so, though I do think they are entitled to not have abusive or exploitative work situations, and their job security should match what they are promised (ie, if you are promised a year teaching contract, it's shitty to fire you three months into it). The article makes the point that the high wages were part of the economic bubble, which has definitely ended.

But agreeing that bubble-era wages are going to need to change is not quite the same thing as being willing to toss them all over a cliff.
posted by Forktine at 9:20 AM on July 4, 2012


I don't think the article is arguing for higher salaries, but is simply documenting the fact that salaries have remained flat, or have even declined, over the past twenty years.

The only editorializing I can remember from the article is that the lower the pay for ALT's, the worse the outcomes in terms of what the ALT's "internationalization" mission is supposed to achieve.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:25 AM on July 4, 2012


If the JET program was designed to raise the level of English proficiency in Japan, I think there's a good argument to be made that it is a failed program. Perhaps it did not fail on it's own- there are clearly other factors at work.

And while this has nothing to do with eikaiwa, look at the devastation that is Japan's finance industry. The 80s and 90s saw a myriad of foreign banks, funds, etc. set up shop in Tokyo only to close their offices for a myriad of reasons (better prospects elsewhere, lower costs elsewhere, etc.)

The same can be said of non-Japanese media. In the 80s and 90s, most of the large global media firms had Tokyo bureaus. Today only a handful of non-Japanese media have Tokyo bureaus and most struggled to cover the 3/11 catastrophe with any competence.
posted by gen at 9:34 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've always wondered whether this phenomenon was partly related to the popular North American attitude about teaching English in Japan. When I was a teenager in the late '90s and early '00s, adults often told me about a friend of a friend of a friend's daughter who had made soooo much money and had such a great time teaching English in Japan, and they didn't even have any qualifications!!!11! I'm a lit nerd, and was already interested in Japanese culture (ok ok, anime) at the time, so it made sense that they were choosing me to talk to about it--but the people I remember hearing this from were just average my-parents'-friends, not in any particular position to know or care about Japan or language teaching.

So it really makes sense to me that by around 2002, there was a spike in the number of JETs--running off to teach English in Japan without any actual knowledge or qualifications was had become very normal. And I wonder if that might also have changed the kind and quality of English teachers showing up in Japan--they might have been folks who happened to be native English speakers and had heard it was easy money, rather than people who were actually interested in language teaching. When I lived there in 2008, I met English teachers of both types--real teachers and I-just-thought-this-would-be-easy people. This isn't to say that people with impure motives deserve bad job situations! I just wonder if a glut of teachers with lower levels of qualification and passion in the '00s might have played a role in this pattern in the industry.

As for me, while I got a TESL certification before teaching English in Japan, I also did it in a really weird way, working on a 6-month working holiday visa in a part-time local job I found through uni connections and teaching private lessons on the side. So all of this speculation is really just the opinion of an observer/outsider to that profession, anyway.
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:38 AM on July 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


If the JET program was designed to raise the level of English proficiency in Japan, I think there's a good argument to be made that it is a failed program.

Well, I haven't read any of the CLAIR mission statements etc. recently, but JET is about more than increasing English proficiency (and even if you had highly experienced, trained native English speakers in the classroom, there is little they can do to help improve proficiency - ain't gonna happen); it's also about "grassroots internationalization", and while the term "kokusaika" may be a leftover from the early 90's, I still think JET has been successful in that regard.

There are thousands of non-Japanese all over the world who have a deeper appreciation and understanding of Japanese culture - JET has been a great success for soft diplomacy. However, since it has achieved success, maybe that means it's time to focus on something else.

As an anecdote, I've noticed a change in rural Japan since first arrived in 1994 - people no longer stare at me or grope me on the trains (as much)! There is an entire generation of Japanese folks - Millenials - who grew up with a foreigner in the classroom, so attitudes have changed a lot, at least in Hokuriku.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:45 AM on July 4, 2012


"Supply, meet demand. Demand, this is my friend supply. Supply seems like a pretty big guy, but I have no doubt you'll be able to handle him."
posted by anewnadir at 9:49 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm too old and settled now, but in High School I took some basic Japanese lessons in anticipation of one day joining a friend and spending a year there teaching English. I've still never been, and I still wonder if his stories were heavy with exaggeration, but damn it sounded like the thing to do!
posted by cell divide at 9:53 AM on July 4, 2012


China?
posted by jsavimbi at 10:06 AM on July 4, 2012


I think ideally everyone is entitled to at least a living wage and some modicum of job security, yes. In a humane society, anyone who worked full time would be able to support themselves in at least a modest lifestyle and there would be provisions in place such that generally speaking they wouldn't have to worry about being suddenly unemployed thorough no fault of their own. Is that unreasonable?

So if I put in a full day producing some unwanted product or selling an unwanted product I should continue to do that since I am assured a salary?
posted by mulligan at 10:12 AM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


So: people with no qualifications besides white skin and a random bachelor's degree aren't getting paid what they used to for going to distant countries and staggering into classrooms and blabbering while trying to hide their hangovers.

Probably has more to do with the decline of America as a world power, leading to the end of the illusion of Mastering English as a magical path to prosperity, than anything else.
posted by Aiwen at 10:30 AM on July 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think ideally everyone is entitled to at least a living wage and some modicum of job security, yes. In a humane society, anyone who worked full time would be able to support themselves in at least a modest lifestyle and there would be provisions in place such that generally speaking they wouldn't have to worry about being suddenly unemployed thorough no fault of their own. Is that unreasonable?

No, it's not unreasonable. People talk about supply and demand, and that is reasonable. If there is no longer the same market for your work, you can't expect to go on earning as you used to. But a huge caveat, to me, is that in so many industries full-time workers are being replaced with part-time workers to cut payroll and benefits. I don't think it's just the worker that suffers, either; it's the customers and in the long run, the business.
posted by BibiRose at 10:30 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


What a great and dispassionate article. Far better than the articles that appeared during the Nova collapse when everyone involved was just shocked, shocked I tell you, that such a key industry could collapse overnight.

Once upon a time, as a stupid young person who had not yet realized that the phrase "earning a living" applied to me just as it applied to everyone else, I was a japanese major (and graduated as such, even).

Classes broke nicely into four groups: korean students looking for an easy A that satisfied their foreign language requirement (fluency in korean is a huge leg up given the incredible similarities in grammar despite completely different phonological systems; japanese is actually very slightly simpler than korean in terms of grammar and substantially easier to pronounce), mormon pre-missionaries (many of these), kids who thought Japan was going to take over the world and who had other skills they thought they could turn into money (hello to my spiritual brothers now studying mandarin!), and people whose plan consisted entirely of "teach english in animeland" (oddly enough, mostly women -- there were some guys, and some guys in the "teach english and get laid" pile, but a tiny fraction).

Anyway, as a result, I have a *lot* of friends who moved to Japan to teach English.

The general consensus among these friends by the mid-late 90s was that the eikaiwa situation was a bubble based entirely on bored wealthy housewives, bored salarymen who wanted to talk to pretty young foreign girls as a hobby, the solitary children of Japanese parents who saw english schooling as yet another notch in the competitive schooling belt, and sales guys (and these guys only went to professional schools, not the smaller ones). Of these, only the latter had any real economic incentive for their lessons.

It was for the most part obvious as a completely disposable segment of the economy even to a bunch of twenty somethings with limited life experience. The end of the good times assuredly was going to come if the recession continued, and possibly was coming anyway as the hobby english trend waned.

As for the friends, they don't teach anymore, but they mostly haven't left for a very simple reason: hard won Japanese language skills are pretty much worthless outside of Japan (becoming a translator of literature is not a viable career, etc.) so if you intend to capitalize on time spent, you need to stay. Most of them have moved into sales or support, into software, and so on.
posted by rr at 10:50 AM on July 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


Probably has more to do with the decline of America as a world power, leading to the end of the illusion of Mastering English as a magical path to prosperity, than anything else.
You're delusional if you think that's the case. It has nothing to do with America, English is the defacto international language. If someone in Japan wants to do business with someone in India, what language do you think they use? In fact, Japanese companies are starting to focus more on speaking English specifically because Japan declined as a world power and people from other countries stropped trying to learn Japanese. As for the JET thing, it could be too popular, or it could be fewer children in Japan. There are still plenty of places in the world where you can go and teach English. According to facebook an acquaintance of mine who graduated recently is teaching English in Korea, for example
posted by delmoi at 1:28 PM on July 4, 2012


As an anecdote, I've noticed a change in rural Japan since first arrived in 1994 - people no longer stare at me or grope me on the trains (as much)! There is an entire generation of Japanese folks - Millenials - who grew up with a foreigner in the classroom, so attitudes have changed a lot, at least in Hokuriku.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:45 AM on July 5 [+] [!]


This is pretty well worth noting — Hokuriku is a region of Japan generally regarded as such a rural backwater that even national tour guides meant for the Japanese often skip entirely over the prefectures that make it up. Fukui, the prefecture farthest south in it, has been consistently among the top ranked in the nation on all sorts of things educational, from test scores to student fitness rankings, and this has extended to having been the first in the nation to put full-time JET ALTs into every high school and, then, virtually every middle school. This is unusual enough that the first-year beginner's English textbook has a stand-in ALT character who comes to their school two days a week.

As for the issues with salaries and conditions drying up, it sounds like any other industry where supply of willing workers significantly outweighs demand (see also: publishing, Sea World, etc.). There's something to be said for weeding the applicants out by requiring qualifications of some sort beyond any four-year degree anda pulse, if only to narrow the field to be chosen from.
posted by DoctorFedora at 1:51 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


jsavimbi: "China?"

The real growth field these days is teaching Chinese in Zambia or other African countries, I think.
posted by jiawen at 1:55 PM on July 4, 2012


Upon RTFA: ¥450,000 a MONTH for some folks doing this? Yeah, that is a clearly unsustainable pay grade for someone who is hired without scrutiny for specialized skills. I mean, that's fully 50% more than JET Programme employees pull down to work at an actual school.
posted by DoctorFedora at 1:57 PM on July 4, 2012


I wonder at times whether one potential failing of the JET Programne is that, while people are hired as essentially token native speakers for "internationalization," they are basically all employed as educators, and as such need to be able to explain succinctly the difference between "high" and "tall," or "that" and "which" (and "they are basically the same" is not the correct answer in either case at all).
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:05 PM on July 4, 2012


I read this yesterday and the ¥450,000 is a holdover from the bubble. No one offers that salary anymore, certainly not at any kind of entry level. There's a bit of history involved, and since we are talking about people's livelihoods, mayhap drop the snark?

Up until the middle of the last decade, the law regarding the most common type of visa for English teachers (Specialist in Humanities) required a monthly salary of at least ¥250,000. That was the starting line for any and all teaching jobs here, which, by the way, tended to be 40 hours a week or more. For people scoffing at chatting with housewives for money, it's not simply that, and I'm pretty sure your first day of work didn't involve a three year old looking at you with a quizzical expression shorting before unleashing a torrent of urine that, considering her size, seemed outright absurd at the time.

Anyway, ¥250k used to be the barest minimum, offered by crappy schools that (Westgate, Interact and the like) most people tried to stay the hell away from. Usually it was easy to find a conversation school job starting around 260. The real money, and actual satisfaction from teaching, was in junior high or high schools (leaving aside the utter hole that is getting and keeping a job at a university here). When I started teaching, jobs at high schools paid, entry level, between 280-300,000 yen. Eight years ago, it was possible, as a business English trainer, to earn nearly 5,000 an hour. Now, most of those positions are glorified eikaiwa lessons, and pay less than half that. As for the high school positions, most of those jobs were for dispatch companies, because few private schools in Japan are willing or able to conduct a job search for foreign teachers. For the most part, the dispatch company took a sizable fee, and the teacher's salary was what was left over.

That was mostly for private schools. For public schools, depending on the prefecture, teachers were acquired from the JET program, direct hire, or giant companies able to provide teachers to cover entire districts or even prefectures. These jobs tended to suck on every possible level. Most often, the teacher would be assigned to several schools, meaning thy each day they could've teaching at a different school, doing maybe one lesson a week with the same students, or even less. One of the biggest problems with English teaching here is the low expectations held by many schools. Many of them believe that native speakers either aren't able or aren't willing to actually teach, leading to the human tape recorded syndrome, where the Japanese teacher occasionally asks the native speaker to read aloud to the class, and nothing else.

When the law was changed, allowing the specialist in humanities visa to be handed out with no minimum salary, the bottom fell out of the market. The giants, like Interac, dropped their salaries to 220 a month, and in some places, 180. Essentially, teaching English in Japan got Wal-Marted. To remain competitive, most other dispatch companies dropped their salaries as well, and a job that used to provide enough to live on, even raise a family on, now pays so little I actively encourage people looking for a place to make some money to go elsewhere.

To buy into the stereotype of teaching overseas as a paid vacation is lazy. I've worked damn hard to get where I am, and I need to continue to fight every year to keep it being taken away.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:37 PM on July 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

No joke, that line ran through my head during my phone interview. I was in China, and the language school that I started at in Japan had called me to tell me I got the job, and to ask where I wanted to teach, Nara (renowned for its history, temples, and vicious deer) or Chiba, which I'd only ever heard of from that line in Neuromancer. Of course, I said Nara. By the time I got to Japan, they'd already given the Nara job to some other guy, and I have lived in Chiba Prefecture for twelve years as of a week ago.

The sky looks like the sky. There are no keyboard jockeys, no yakuza with fake thumbs hiding monofilament garrotes. If I ever meet Mr. Gibson, he will have a lot to answer for.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:45 PM on July 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


I mean, that's fully 50% more than JET Programme employees pull down to work at an actual school.

Back when I did JET (10 years ago) I also got a housing allowance (30,000 a month) plus I believe they paid my pension or something, and I also think Fukui (as JETs, DoctorFedora and I are from the same prefecture if you can believe it!) paid my health insurance costs.

So while the base is about 300,000 a month, it was more like 350,000 a month. Plus, at least where I was living, no one much cared if I took work outside of school, with the result that I a) taught 3 nights a week at a local textile company b) took over a cram school with my wife c) became a wedding officiant on weekends (and married a lot of the teachers in the town).

It was decent money.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:09 PM on July 4, 2012


When the law was changed, allowing the specialist in humanities visa to be handed out with no minimum salary, the bottom fell out of the market.

Wow, when did this happen? This also explains why the salaries these days on GaijinPot are so low. It's hard to imagine anyone wanting to take a job in Japan at the rates they're paying these days.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:10 PM on July 4, 2012


no yakuza with fake thumbs hiding monofilament garrotes

Sometimes I think the real Japan is far weirder than Gibson described it, what with the gothic lolita fashion in Harajuku, cafes where you can pay to be surrounded by fifty cats for an hour, and nuclear meltdowns.
posted by thewalrus at 4:28 PM on July 4, 2012


KokuRyu, yeah, Fukui still pays roughly half for housing costs, and we're covered by the national healthcare. As far as these things go nowadays, it's a pretty sweet deal overall.
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:55 PM on July 4, 2012


Seems like they hit most of the highlights, but underplayed the significance of the Nova bankruptcy and the general collapse of the eikaiwa business. Suddenly there was a huge surplus of unemployed English teachers whose visa sponsorship would expire and they would take any job that would sponsor them. Wages never recovered. They were already marginal at best. I saw tons of eikaiwa jobs offering Y180k monthly salary when the minimum salary for sponsored visas was 200k.

Then there was a factor they completely missed. There was also a problem at the top end of the eikaiwa business, with qualified professional English instructors. Say what you will about Dave Aldwinkle, he did see this coming before anyone. The change to the Labor Standards Law in 2004 gave universities an economic disincentive to grant tenure to foreigners. I know people who have Masters degrees in linguistics or even doing research for their PhD, TOEFL certification, and years of experience teaching English at Japanese universities, and suddenly their path to tenure is blocked, they are only able to get nonrenewable 3 year contracts.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:47 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


The article seems to focus mostly on the supply side of the issue. While it does mention that many Japanese companies are no longer willing to foot the bill for their employees taking English classes, I've also found from my anecdotal experience that most Japanese are no longer very interested in working abroad (at least in countries where English is the primary language).

This has a lot to do with the way the Japanese recruiting system functions, where if a Japanese student does not enter into a Japanese company immediately after graduating from university they will have a much more difficult path if they want to work in Japan at some point in the future. While the number of international companies in Japan ameliorate this situation somewhat, for many Japanese it seems like the choice is between working in Japan immediately after graduation or severely decreasing their chances of ever being able to work in Japan at all. And, as other people have pointed out here, while Japan used to be the base of operations for most companies' Asian branch of operations, the culture and language barriers and also the growing influence of China have meant that many of these companies have moved their Asian operations to either Hong Kong, Singapore, or with increasing frequency, Shanghai.

Couple this with the waning influence of Japanese companies abroad and I think the lowered demand and perceived importance of English has made learning English a far less attractive proposition for most Japanese.

delmoi: If someone in Japan wants to do business with someone in India, what language do you think they use?

This is true, but ultimately somewhat unfair. In general the English level in India is pretty high, but Japan's biggest trading partner is China. Which would be the correct language to use there? English isn't the wrong answer, but the more time I spend here in Hong Kong the more I think that it's not the right one either. You'll be able to deal in English with most of the major companies here, but as companies push further into Western China you get to the point where you might as well just have a Chinese / Japanese interpreter on staff as opposed to trying to fumble through business negotiations in English.
posted by C^3 at 7:24 PM on July 4, 2012


What charlie don't surf said about university work is dead on. I had the misfortune to work at a very, very low university here* and while they did experiment a little with trying to keep teachers for a longer term, the teachers themselves ended up ruining it with all of their backstabbing and attempts at cronyism. The constant pressure and insularity of teaching English at the university level here has made it much worse than it needs to be. Open jobs are rarely advertised, and many times the only people who find out about them are people who are friends of the teachers already at the university. In order to create positions for their friends, people can, will, and have stabbed other teachers in the back. Hellish.

The three year limit is an interesting thing. Technically, after three years of working for a company or school, you are supposed to become a full-time employee (it's never been very clear who qualifies for this). In Japan, full-time employees are next to impossible to fire, which is where the stories of putting people in the corner office and waiting for them to quit come from.

A couple of years ago, they actually put teeth into this law, saying that if you had temporary employees/part-time employees doing full-time work, at the end of three years, you must make them employees, or you can't hire replacements for that position for six months. The most visible result of this was that the city of Kashiwa, here in Chiba, had to go without native English teachers for six months. They had used the same contracting company for three years, and the company (as well as the city) were faced with the prospect that they would need to make the teachers all full-time employees with benefits and pension, and all.

Rather than do that, the city had the company fire all of the native English teachers (about 20 or so people, covering sixty schools) rather than give them direct contracts with the city.

It's a lovely system.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:54 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I first went to Japan in '94, I had no idea what I was getting into, and ended up on the Noto Peninsula, an hour by highway bus from Kanazawa, and the last bus home was at 6PM.

It was not easy finding work, but somehow I got a job at the world YKK headquarters in Kurobe, Toyama, another rural town pretty far from anywhere (but I liked it).

I lived in a house specially constructed for Jimmy Carter (he had helped YKK establish its first American plant in Georgia) and worked 3 days a week for a full salary of 300,000 a month (and this was at a time when 100 yen equalled $1.50 Cdn). It wasn't even full-time schedule either - I taught for maybe 9 hours a week total.

It was kind of a boring existence - this was pre-Internet, and there were no English books. I spent the winter playing Uno and Scrabble with my roommate, a diabetic middle-aged American who had recently lost his job as a microchip salesman and had been kicked out of his house for carrying on an affair with his former boss' secretary.

So he went back to teaching English in the middle of nowhere, the poor bastard.

With the same company I was hired to do "intensives", where I would work one week on, one week off, and get sent around Japan by bullet train to assignments aimed at providing a boot camp for managers destined overseas. That was pretty fun, but I do not believe those jobs exist anymore.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:45 PM on July 4, 2012


Here's the company I worked for.

They were a nice bunch of people back then, and it's interesting to note their website says this today:

TCLC also recognizes that only when an instructor has a comfortable lifestyle can they do a job that will bring themselves and TCLC credit.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:48 PM on July 4, 2012


Holy shit, I used to do business classes for TCLC. My first business classes were at their office in Takebashi, then years later I did a class at Keidanren for them. I did a three day teacher training thing with them as well, something like twenty native teachers giving an intensive lesson planning workshop for teachers working in Kanagawa public high schools.

Tiny, tiny world.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:30 AM on July 5, 2012


I occasionally do translation work for TCLC. Not very often, but the last job I did for them was just last month.
posted by Bugbread at 1:27 AM on July 5, 2012



Are English teachers in Japan entitled to high pay and job security, or something?


Shouldn't we all be?
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:58 AM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm going to link people to this whenever I get suggested that I go teach English in Japan (which at times is more than once a month) from now on.
posted by koucha at 8:00 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


How is TCLC these days? Back when I worked for them in around 94/95 it was managed by a bunch of friendly Australians. I really liked them.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:46 AM on July 5, 2012


To buy into the stereotype of teaching overseas as a paid vacation is lazy. I've worked damn hard to get where I am, and I need to continue to fight every year to keep it being taken away.

I dunno. I did the post-uni teaching in Japan thing for 3 years, and took it very seriously and worked hard at becoming a better teacher and ensuring my students learned something. And while I had other friends like that, I reckon we were solidly in the minority. The stereotype isn't a pretty one, and while of course it does not apply to everyone, it does ring true for far too many people I met while in Tokyo, unfortunately.

If the reductions in salaries remove some of those people from the market, or the salaries are redirected to the better qualified (I was part of the group given visas simply for having a random BA, and had no intention of making 'teaching english' my career, even though I would work hard at it while it was my job), then that's probably no bad thing for the students.
posted by modernnomad at 9:39 AM on July 5, 2012


I think it's a bad idea to denigrate anyone's career choice, and I probably did this myself earlier in this thread.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:42 AM on July 5, 2012


My dream is to live in Japan, for a year, maybe more. I've been fascinated by their culture all my life, and now I've been a tourist there, eight times. In the early 80's I came across a book about teaching English in Japan, said it was the greatest, everybody should do it -- but teaching? Teaching English? This seemed far beyond anything this IT engineer would or could do. But over time, the idea grew in its appeal. I realized I was already anomalous, I'm far more literate than my colleagues, and the go-to guy people bring their writing to, for proof-reading. People also said I'd be a good teacher, so I began taking the TEFL classes, mostly as a lark -- but I got into it, eventually starting a second career (to get the needed experience) as an ESL teacher of adults, here in California. A couple years ago I decided I'd gotten enough experience to make the move, and responded to an Aeon recruitment in the Bay Area. Passed the first cut easily, got the callback, but didn't get the offer, after the second round; some say because they figured I'd jump ship as soon as I got the visa. But I was actually kinda relieved, since the deal wasn't sounding all that appealing. I forget the exact figure offered, but housing was included, and haelth insurance (although costs for both of those would be deducted). The rudest aspects were the hours -- the schedule would be noon to nine, with any speaking of Japanese forbidden in class (the immersion style of language-learning which I don't agree with, for casual learning). Stated hours for this 'part-time' position would be 39.5 a week, in other words just under the requirement for full-time. (Real full-time work in Japan actually means around 60 hours, I'm told). Plus 5 days vacation per year, taking that time at Christmas, not an option.

So, based on that, and stuff like I've read here and the message boards, I've given up on my dream -- and it's too bad for Japan, 'cause there's an awful lot I could offer, and we'd both benefit if I was there.
posted by Rash at 2:08 PM on July 5, 2012


Rash, if you're really interested, you should pursue it, but probably from the IT angle. My study group and I did some extensive studies of how to get into the job market in Japan, as my friends and I all graduated from our Japanese language studies. I am the only one of our group who didn't make it over there, but that is a long story.

Even back then in the 90s, eikaiwa wasn't a very sustainable career path, especially if you really wanted a regular career path like IT or whatever. What you really want is a 総合職, a "sougoushoku" which translates, more or less, as "a regular job." Those are the "lifetime employment" positions, which are also now fading away. But my general impression was that the eikaiwa path pretty much precluded any regular job path, since it would put a hole in your resume. Everyone else in your field would be advancing while you weren't getting any job experience in your professional area.

Anyway, the regular career path like IT kind of assumes your language skills are sufficient to hold a regular job amongst people that don't speak English. I have friends that went over and got the coveted 総合職, but they ended up being the "Departmental Gaijin" and they dealt with English speaking customers all day. I know some who have advanced beyond that.

But for the professional eikaiwa instructor, with teaching certifications and experience, I have already described upthread how that path is also very difficult, and universities have economic disincentives against giving you a career path. But it isn't impossible, just difficult. Hell, if it was easy, anyone could do it, but they can't, and some people are doing it. You could be one of them. There are guys in this thread who are doing it.

If you're still interested, I'd suggest Japanese language studies, which will give you an edge over other candidates. And if you have those skills, PM me and I have a Japanese resume kit with model cover letters that I can send you as a PDF. Oh man you should have seen some interviewers freak when they handed me a Japanese rirekisho resume form and I actually filled it out. They would use that to filter out all the foreigners. That alone got me callbacks.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:26 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Rash, I second what charlie don't surf said. If you really want to come to Japan specifically to teach English, then you'll have a bit of a hard time of it, but if you study Japanese and get your Japanese language skills up, you could more easily get an IT job, which would suit your background, and (probably) be a better paying and more enjoyable job.
posted by Bugbread at 4:09 PM on July 5, 2012


Yeah, IT would be a better choice, but only working for a foreign company. Japanese companies don't really pay all that well for IT.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:10 PM on July 5, 2012


i see it as mostly an over-supply of english teachers, though a a slow growth japan also contributes. i think the over supply of english teachers is a consequence of the american economic depression, now five years in (give or take).

there's still money to be made teaching engilsh in asia, though, but it's more for the young, and those who can adapt to ... less developed locations. that's another thing that adds to japan and south korean over crowding of english teachers: everyone wants to go to the developed countries, all else equal. except it's not: your salary compared to living expense margins are just not as high. so, the key is to go to the "wild" west of laos, thailand, cambodia, vietnam. a english certification helps.
posted by cupcake1337 at 9:45 PM on July 9, 2012


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