-Where do you live?
I am currently living in Tsukuba, Japan also know as “Science City” because of the number of researchers and science research facilities in the area. Tsukuba is located in Ibaraki, one Japan’s eastern prefectures.
-Where did you do to College?
I attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A
-How long did you attend?
I attended college for about four-and-a-half years. From August of 1998 to December of 2003.
-What was your major?
Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing.
-Did you base your schooling specifically around the Idea of teaching in Japan?
Not at all. To be honest my initial plan (which I am still considering to some extent) was to become a dentist. My initial college curriculum had a heavy science emphasis. I majored in business because I had spoken with several local dentist who said business was something they weren’t taught in school.
There are number of reasons that I chose to come Japan. I think the primary reason is that I had been a karate teacher for years prior to coming, and I had always wanted to experience karate training directly from the source. Another major reason I chose to come here was because I was feeling so jaded with teaching after just two years Georgia’s public school system. There were many days where I felt like I was doing every role except the one I had signed on to do: I was a bodyguard, a babysitter, a referee, a counselor, a disciplinarian, and…at times…a teacher.
-Where do you teach?
Do you have any other Jobs? I teach for AEON, one of the largest Eikaiwas (えいかいわ), English conversation schools, in japan. This is my only job.
-How do you get to work?
Strangely enough, I ride a bike to work. And I’m not talking about a cool, James Bond motorcycle either, I ride my electric blue, bicycle to work everyday. A lot of people might in the U.S. would think it’s lame, but you’d be surprised at how many adults actually ride bikes in this town. The other great thing is that my commute is about 7 minutes door-to-door.
-On a typical day, what is your schedule and how many hours do you work?
On a typical day, I get to work at about 12:15pm. I check the computer for the lessons I have scheduled for the day and have the 10-minute morning meeting at 12:50 pm. I usually teach between five and seven, 50-minute lessons on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and between six and seven on Thursday through Saturday. My lunch break can change depending on the day’s schedule, but I usually have lunch around 2:00 or 3:00pm. My last class ends at 9:00pm but I usually stay to post the next day’s schedule, empty trash, or have an after-work meeting. This means I usually get home around 9:45pm or, if I buy groceries, around 10:15pm.
-What are some hobbies or interests that you may have not discovered if you had not moved to Japan?
Two hobbies that I’ve really gotten into since I’ve been here are playing piano (kind of teaching myself) and investing in the stock market. These are two things that I always wanted to do but never had the chance or the money to do. Other things I have sparked an interest are traditional Japanese instruments and festivals. I don’t know if I’ll ever play a traditional Japanese instrument like the http://www.thejapanguy.com/1067/tsukuba-universitys-fall-festival-2010/ (like a traditional Japanese guitar), the koto (traditional Japanese harp), or taiko (Japanese drums) but they’re all amazing instruments to hear live. The festivals here are hard to put into words but they’re always positive reinforcement for me. They truly make me glad I came.
-Do you find it difficult to make friends or to blend in in Japan?(Because Japanese people can
spot an American from a quarter-mile away.)
Because of my job, it’s been pretty easy to make friends. As soon as I got here there were three other Americans who had a cooked a charming, quaint welcome dinner for us. It was like having instant friends provided for you. The students here have also been super friendly, too. So, it’s quite easy and quite normal to befriend students. Outside of my job, finding friends hasn’t been so difficult partially because of my sister. She emailed everyone she knew, and by the time I had a cell phone, there were quite a few people I could get in touch with. As far as the other teachers go, everyone seems to have an easy time with making friends…especially teachers who like beer. I’m not a drinker so I don’t go out to bars as much, but in Japan beer is the ultimate social facilitator (maybe worldwide), or so it seems. As long as you’re polite (and even sometimes when you’re not) you’ll make friends here in Japan.
Blending in? Hmm. I’ve kind of given up on that one. I am a 6’2,” bald, African-American male and I stick out like a devil in the Hallelujah Choir. I just stick my chest out and roll with it. I know people are going to stare from time to time, and that’s okay. I often make the comment that I better not commit any crimes here, because all they have to do is send a call over the police radio saying “It was a was a tall, African-American male…” And the other police officers would be like “Yep, we know him, we’re brining him in now.”
-What is your official English job title?
There’s no special name really. I’m referred to as an English Teacher, or Foreign Teacher.
-How do you teach students when you are still learning Japanese yourself?
My situation is a little different than say someone working in Japan’s public school system. I am required to speak only English around my students. It’s great because the students get more exposure to English this way and I don’t have to know one bit of Japanese to be able to teach my classes. The downside is that this situation makes it harder to learn Japanese. You really have to put forth more effort to pick up the language in my case.
-What are befits you receive through your Job? Health Insurance?
Japan has a public healthcare system and on of the first things I remember receiving was my health insurance card. If you have that, doctor, dental, and vision appointments are SUPER cheap. I think there is also rent assistance. If your apartment goes over a certain limit, I think the company covers the remainder (but the company also chooses the apartment). The company set up the apartment before I came which is a huge weight that’ll be lifted off your shoulders because it literally costs between $2000 and $3000 to move into a new apartment. In addition to these, there is a pension plan as well.
-For someone to work in your position, How much teaching experience is required?
For some teachers, this was their first teaching job. I think as long as you can demonstrate that you’re trainable, and have good English abilities, you have a good chance of making it. I had taught two years of public school math and science in Georgia before coming here. Experience only helps your chances.
-How much education is required?
Many schools require you had to have had 12 years of schooling in a native speaking country, but none of the teachers I know had less than a undergraduate degree.
-What range does your salary fall under?
I think when I started, my salary was around the ￥270,000/month mark or about ￥3.2 million per year. It’s hard to say what the American equivalents are. When I came it was about 100 yen to every dollar so it was like making $32,000 per year. However if you used the 82 yen for every 1 dollar exchange rate from last week, it’s more like making $38,000 per year. The yen is really strong right now.
-What about the future? What If you decided to stay?
This place is addictive. I intended to stay for only one year and I have been here for three. If I stay longer I plan to get my 1st dan black belt in Kyokushin Karate. I hope to speak the language much more fluently and possibly even get married and start a family, but I kind of need to get a girlfriend first.
-Could you renew your visa and continue to work at the same school?
If you do a good job, contract extensions are quite common. I renewed my contract three times since I’ve been here. As far as visas go, if you are working for any company that’s worth its salt they will handle visa sponsorship (I know major Eikaiwas, public schools, and many private ones that do visa sponsorship). Your timing couldn’t be better, I actually renewed my Visa today, November 15th, 2010. So now I have the option of staying in Japan for three additional years, as long as I have a re-entry sticker whenever I leave the country, but those are pretty easy to get.
-Do you have an opinion on organizations such as the Jet Programme?
Yes. I think there are some great programs out there. I like AEON a lot. They were very good about making sure that I was all set prior to starting my job (housing, insurance cards, etc.). The Japanese teachers at AEON were also quite helpful if encountered any day-to-day problems: Internet, cell phone service, hospital visits, etc. They’ve really taken good care of me. I hear that Berlitz and ECC (English th From aren’t bad either. From what I understand (if you check out any of the forums for teachers coming abroad) Jet is the most coveted of the U.S. headquartered teaching programs, reason being that it’s so well respected and it’s more stable than the others because it deals directly with the Japanese public school system. The Eikaiwas are businesses and in recent years we’ve seen a couple of major English conversation schools go belly up; Nova and Geos. It’s just very hard to know whether or not a conversation school’s business practices are sound. I hear that the Jet Program also will help to pay for tuition for Japanese classes for it’s teachers…I wish I had that. It’s a little harder to get into that program, but it may be worth it.
-To you, is living in Japan worth it? Are you happy where you are?
Living in Japan is hands down one of the best choices I’ve ever made. It’s 200% worth it. To anyone thinking about studying in Japan or living here I encourage you whole-heartedly. I want you to know that you can have a happy life here and it’s everything you would expect and then some. I got really lucky with the city I was placed in because it’s such a easy place to live in, people are so friendly, I’m not far from Tokyo…Tsukuba is AMAZING…Japan is AMAZING!
I want to personally thank Josh K. for some amazingly well-thought-out questions. I hope my answers were helpful for you. And I hope these questions help someone else.