5. What do you know about Japan, Japanese culture and language?
What do you know about Japan? If your thoughts are something along the lines of, “I love anime!” or “Sushi is delicious!” but without any depth, or real knowledge, seriously reconsider. Yes, anime is fantastic and there is an innumerable amount of merchandise to find, your love for anime can be satisfied by just visiting Japan. How about sushi? Yep, also amazing. The sushi, sashimi, yakitori, tempura, and every other food is outstanding. Japanese food is probably the best food I’ve ever eaten, yet that can also be experienced by simply being a tourist. In fact, probably better experienced as a tourist since working here with minimal pay means largely cooking your own food and not eating amazing food every day. Suffice to say, if you truly want to live in Japan, your knowledge of Japanese culture and language should be exceptional. You need to be more than adequately prepared.
4. Do you like children?
Do you absolutely love being around children? Have you worked extensively with children before? If you haven’t worked with children previously or even feel somewhere in the vicinity of neutrality towards children – think again. While it’s assumed from an Anglo-Saxon point of view that Japanese children must be as polite as Japanese adults, the opposite is true. Japanese children are terrors. I’m not making this up. Why is that, you may ask. Well, the culture of raising children in Japan means believing babies are basically gods, and they can do no wrong. Hence, Japanese children are allowed to do whatever they like without being reprimanded. Yes, they are spoiled. They lack discipline. So how do they turn in to intensely polite adults? Through rampant passive aggressive shaping to invisibly force each child into eventually learning that being part of the group is the most important aspect of their lives. They acclimatize to the notion around the time they reach the age of majority.
3. What do you know about the company?
You should very carefully pick the company you’re going to work for. While it is incredibly difficult to know what the company is going to be like from purely perusing their website or visiting rambling reviews or blogs on the matter, I would make a couple of suggestions. Don’t believe all the propaganda the company sells – they can and will exaggerate for their benefit. Most companies will have you believe they are doing great things for you, but the fact of the matter is, you’re doing them a favour and not the other way around. English teaching companies are big in Japan and highly competitive, they’re all looking for fresh meat to put through the grinder. The biggest problem with private companies is that they are unmistakably profit driven. That means employees are put on the back burner, especially in Japan. Customer service is of the highest significance, and expect no reward for going the extra mile – it’s simply expected. It can be incredibly stressful when dealing with finicky parents and undisciplined children. I would suggest finding a company that teaches adults, or one that hires for the public board of education. Less pressure, more time with fellow employees and never having to deal with parents. (Want my advice? Check out Interac or JET. Avoid ECC or iTTTi.)
2. How well do you deal with isolation and being away from home?
As a Gaijin, you will always be an outsider. After having spoken with many other Gaijins from various nations, and living here for various amounts of time – they all report the same. If you appear anything other than Asian, expect to be treated like a perpetual alien. Japanese people are notoriously xenophobic. I cannot stress this enough. There will be times when people will be afraid of being near you, or you’ll receive judgemental stares. You can feel the cold aura all around you. Be prepared to feel isolated and alienated. This is even truer if you happen to be female. It takes a long time to develop friendships with Japanese people, and sometimes their intentions are only to be friends with someone non-Japanese, like a novelty. That’s not to say there aren’t Japanese people interested in having authentic friendships, but you’re more likely to find like-minded people in a metropolis. Rural areas can be unwelcoming at times.
1. What are your expectations while living in Japan?
My last point ties in with my first point again, since I believe it is once again the most important. Before I arrived in Japan, I perceived Japanese culture to be one aligned with beauty, and simplicity. While Japan is beautiful and clean, the only type of simplicity that exists is perceived simplicity. Japanese society does its very best to appear uncomplicated and consistently beautiful. It is however, the exact opposite. Honesty does not exist in Japan. I’m not trying to be callous or inconsiderate, but brutally truthful. No one in Japan will tell you the truth, and if they do, you would never know it. Everything is hidden and veiled behind thick curtains and multiple walls of civility. The only aggression that exists here is passive. If someone doesn’t like you, they’ll never reveal their true feelings or intent. Instead, they’ll continue to be dishonest and passive aggressive.
Perhaps I sound intensely cynical or jaded. You could argue that my experience is singular and I’m largely affected by my placement with this particular company, in this particular area. That might be true. I might be an irregularity. In that case, here’s my closing statement. If you do choose to go to Japan despite my warnings, please keep the following in mind. Choose the area you want to be placed in – I recommend near or in a large city. Do some research and find out what interests you the most about Japan, then aim for living near that area. If crowds are not your thing, and you would prefer a smaller area, consider that it will be infinitely more difficult to make friends and communicate (unless you’re fluent in Japanese).
Ultimately, I would suggest just being a tourist in Japan. Touring and sightseeing will satisfy all of your casual needs like delicious food, interesting cultural oddities and tonnes of awesome shopping. Living here will drain the life out of you. You slowly conform to the robotic culture of work, sleep, work, sleep, work, sleep, drink heavily, and work some more while pretending that it’s your favourite thing to do. What’s different from any other place? Trust me, the Japanese work ethic is intensely different. You’re expected to work as hard as possible without any sort of praise, (or for that matter overtime) and be grateful for it. If you even raise your voice to mention the possibility that you’re at all unsatisfied (even if you’re prompted), you will be judged extremely negatively. Expect to be reprimanded.
Japan is a fascinating nation with a truly bizarre and magnificent culture. There are many things I’ve enjoyed while living here, but the things I’ve enjoyed most about Japan have come from my brief times spent while behaving like a tourist. Time off is usually spent trying to unwind from a stressful work week, so when vacation time finally rolls around, it’s the best time in the world. I had the chance to visit Hakone, Tokyo and Nikko. Beautiful and quintessentially Japanese locations – but only appreciated off work.
That being said, living in Japan has had some truly positive outcomes. I’m more confident and self-assured than I’ve ever been. A lot of my fears have dissipated – although not entirely, I’ve experienced a noticeable difference. However, I don’t think that travelling to Japan is necessary in order to achieve these kinds of positive results. I think living in other countries would be just as satisfying, if not more. If I could recommend somewhere else that is similar to Japan but friendlier, I would say South Korea. It had been suggested to me numerous times but I was stubborn and insisted on Japan (for numerous reasons). Regardless, I can only offer my personal experiences and advice. Decide on your own if Japan is right for you – if not, please visit! It’s worth it to have an adventure – see the sights, eat the food, and enjoy the culture.
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