Making friends with the Japanese teachers or staff at your school or eikawa (English school) isn’t always easy. Everyone looks busy, buried in paperwork or running in and out of the room. You’d like to talk and get to know them, but it never feels like there’s time!
You spend a lot of time at work, so it’s only natural to want to make friends or get to know your fellow teachers. Plus, it’s a genuine way to practice Japanese and get integrated with Japanese culture.
Here’s a few ways you can bridge the gap and build better relationships with your coworkers.
Does the Teacher Room Feel Lonely?
If you’re wondering why it’s so hard to find time to connect and develop some rapport with your teachers in the staffroom, it really comes down to one reason. Japanese teachers are busy. You’ve probably heard that said before, but it doesn’t really convey the sheer amount of work they have on their plates.
Most Japanese teachers will arrive at school around 6 or 7 a.m., and stay until well into the evening. They’ll have marking to do, lessons to teach, student meetings to plan and even clubs to run. It’s so exhausting that the Japanese government has even begun a push to bring in external coaches for school clubs, just to lower the workload on teachers. With so much on their plate, it’s hard to find time for a chat to get to know you. That’s why you might have to put in a little extra effort to build rapport.
Now that the restrictions from Covid have been almost entirely lifted, schools are starting to host enkai, or drinking parties. Usually, a way for everyone to socialize and let their hair down a bit, they’re a great opportunity to get to know each other. If you can find the time to attend, you’ll find your teachers are much chattier.
You’ll likely be seated with at least one other English teacher, so you’ll be able to have conversations without struggling in Japanese. Often, the other teachers will have plenty of questions for you, so it’s easy enough to build some rapport to carry back into school.
Just a note here—Japan’s drinking culture can be a little overwhelming, and often you’ll find a lot of alcohol being passed around at these events. Make sure you’re comfortable with how much you drink, and don’t feel pressured to if you don’t want to. You might be invited less frequently if you pass on the drinking, but that’s better than the alternative.
Ah, nothing like some good old-fashioned bribery. Omiyage (which literally translates to souvenir) is also the name of a custom where you bring back small snacks for your colleagues when you travel. As a foreign teacher, it’s worth bringing some snacks from your home country. You’ll find the teachers will both appreciate the snacks and want to talk to you about them, like if they’re popular in your home country and so on. It’s a great way to get talking about yourself.
This one goes both ways though! You’ll get omiyage throughout the year from your teachers, especially around the holidays. Use them as a way to chat-when you thank your teachers for them, ask about where they went and what the snack was. You might have to time this one carefully to make sure they have time to talk, but it’s an easy way to build some rapport.
Despite the changes being planned, it’s likely that external coaches won’t be used until 2025. So there are a few more years of teachers running club activities. While not ideal for them, club activities are a great way to get to talk to your teachers. Head out to the grounds or hall while a club is in session and watch. While there’s a break in the action, talk to the supervising teacher-why do they like this sport, or if they play an instrument. You’ll be surprised at how much they enjoy the distraction when they’re just overseeing the club. As a bonus, you can also use this as a chance to develop rapport with the students too-they’ll be delighted to see you at their club.
While they are stressful to prepare, many teachers will be looking forward to your yearly school events. Chorus contests, sports days and other events bring out the competitive spirit in kids and teachers alike. While you might not get much of a chance during setup, the days themselves will give you plenty of opportunities to wander around and talk to your teachers.
Beyond talking, develop rapport by getting involved! Ask if you can help out, or make sure you’re at the front of the crowd supporting your favorite classes and teams. Not only will your students love watching you in the thick of things, but you’ll feel more like a part of the school community.
Is there an opportunity we missed? Or one that you want to try in the future? Let us know in the comments!