So I had successfully navigated the trials and tribulations of the interviews, demo lessons, other candidates and steely glares of the recruiters, and somehow managed to find myself with a job offer in Japan. The first obvious question was – where was I going to be placed?
I was told was that Toyama City (in Toyama Prefecture) was a “pretty rural” area. I didn’t really have any preconceptions coming in – I figured both a city or country experience would be equally interesting in different ways. My first thought was something that resembled the Australian outback – a sparse natural wilderness where your neighbours will be your lifeline and things like running water can’t always be taken for granted.
After some initial research, though, it became pretty clear that is that the corporate definition of ‘rural’ is pretty generous when it comes to population density. I was, in fact, going to a town with it’s own shinkansen station, 2 separate bar and nightlife districts and a population of about 500,000.
Eikawa chains, by definition, are going to require a market of a certain size in order to operate, and this is very different from the JET definition of rural which can really have you out in some far-flung places.
Tip 1 for future Eikaiwa Teachers: As an eikaiwa teacher, while you probably aren’t going to Tokyo, you aren’t going to be lacking for public infrastructure either.
While you don’t have a lot of choice in your posting, any place you go is going to have plenty to offer. After looking at the prefectural homepage and various business facebook pages, I was put at ease to know there would not only be the natural beauty of the surrounding area (Mountains, ocean and one of the best places for 花見 (hanami – cherry blossom viewing) in Japan), but plenty of places to get a feed, have a drink, sing my heart out at karaoke and obtain some of the creature comforts from home (Vegemite).
It was in these initial conversations too, that I got my first taste of Japanese corporate culture, and the confirmation that the idea of a ‘need to know basis’ was well and truly alive. Now I’m an easy going guy by most accounts, but I’m also really results oriented. The information gap was extremely frustrating to deal with at first.
Tip 2 for future Eikaiwa Teachers: Be prepared to adhere to the Japanese big-corporate lifestyle, before you even get to Japan.
Speaking with the recruiter that hired me, within 5 minutes it became apparent that she was following a doctrine of scripted questions, checks, advice and so on. There wasn’t much room for questions that strayed outside these boundaries.
I’m reasonably well travelled, for example, and therefore the basic information about navigating through the international flight process I didn’t really need. I’ve also been to Japan before during winter, so I know how cold it can get. But when I tried to wave away the explanation she came back twice as strong, going into extreme detail as to what my suitcase could contain, what food is and isn’t available in Japan, and so on.
Remember that they have these checks for a reason – someone has probably fallen afoul of it in the past. Doubly remember that because the required academic qualifications aren’t prohibitive, you are going through a process aimed at the lowest common denominator – in this case, a fresh out of university graduate with no travel experience.
Even if it seems that you aren’t getting any relevant information – it’s a good idea to absorb the conversations politely anyway – it’s an important skill to have in Japan.
While there was to be no cutting corners in the pre-contract process, I also encountered some difficulties trying to get vision of other, non-standard things.
I had a friend’s wedding that I wanted to attend very close to the end of my contract. After looking through the documentation, I was pretty certain that I was going to be able to make it work, but I wanted to check and make sure.
But when I asked? The conversation went something like:
Me: So I understand that I get a set number of holiday days over the contract – I was wondering if it would be possible to take these at the end of my contract?(effectively shortening the contract)
Her: Well……. I think it will really be better if you don’t do that.
Me: Is there some reason why I wouldn’t be able to? I’m just trying to work out if I can commit to attending my friend’s wedding.
Her: I See…… I really don’t think that would be a good idea.
Me: Ok, I understand, but is it possible, and if not can you please explain why?
Her: Well it’s difficult…… (silence)
Me (in my head): difficult WHY?
Eventually I got to the bottom by first placating her growing panic, and later explaining that this wasn’t going to be a dealbreaker, I was just trying to see what would be possible. Turns out it wasn’t going to be possible, and the perfectly legitimate reason was that there is a handover between incoming and outgoing staff over the last days of the contract.
Point is, it will be very difficult to obtain an answer to non-standard questions to a reliable degree of detail.
Tip 3 for future Eikaiwa Teachers: If it’s not written in the policy manual chances are your contact will be very reluctant to give you a direct answer.
So you’re left with a few options.
Just deal with not getting an answer. Depending on the situation, probably the path of least resistance.
Emphasise (or play up) the importance of the item. For instance vegetarianism, specific allergies, religious commitments and the like – be prepared for the conversation to become painful, but if you need the info you need it.
Give them time. If they won’t give you an answer, try to get them to commit to giving you an answer the next time. They won’t feel on the spot at the time, but also you should find yourself with a high quality information the next time you speak.
Special requests are difficult to accommodate in Japan – so if you can live without something, I would think twice about asking – the waves created from just asking are often not worth the value of an answer in the first place.
I’m sure I’m not alone in this experience – I’d love to hear yours, and most importantly, how you resolved it! Next time is crunch time as we pack our bags and tie up our loose ends before embarking for the land of the rising sun.