Downtown Osaka – a bustling metropolis full of delicious food and opportunity.
I had only been working as an assistant language teacher (ALT) in Japan for about a month when I came to the realization that teaching was not for me. I was a introverted nerd that majored in IT and Japanese who honestly preferred desk work to talking in front of people for hours. It took a lot of improvisation when my students were too shy to talk and I continually had to prompt them. Not to mention the endless amounts of paperwork I had to fill out that could have been easily recorded with a spreadsheet. I noticed the technology in Japanese classrooms was extremely outdated too. Everything from the software to the textbooks was nearly a decade old. Was it really okay to still teach with these? A part of me felt it may be better to request new materials, but the Japanese teachers insisted that sticking to to the given curriculum was important and that everything was fine. As a newly hired English teacher, all I could really do was grin and bear it. There was nothing in my power that I could do to change things. You could argue that a lot of things in Japanese society are like this, but I knew I could find a career more suited for myself if I gave it another try. I had to get out and find something different. So if I was so capable in my abilities, why did I take up English teaching in the first place?
The simple answer is: English teaching is the easiest way to get a working visa in Japan. You could say this for almost any country (keyword: almost). All you need is a bachelor’s degree, basic social skills (bonus points if you’re overly enthusiastic), and the ability to speak English. If you speak Japanese then that gives you an even greater advantage, but if you don’t it’s not a huge weak point. As an ALT you are only expected to speak in English and leave the rest to the Japanese teachers and staff unless otherwise instructed. Most English teaching jobs also provide you with subsidized housing, assist you with getting cellphone service, and signing the necessary contracts to live here long term as a foreign worker. Sounds like the perfect first job right? Well, it’s really hit and miss. I remember reading this thread on reddit as I was applying, and the mixed experiences are still very true today.
Some people will tell you that English teaching is a “throwaway job” because it wastes time you could have spent gaining experience in your field, but I would argue that that’s not entirely true. Working in another country looks good on a resume, plus the connections and memories you make with people here are invaluable. You life and perspective will also be changed in ways unimaginable. I was planning on networking my way here since I had already met some people in the IT and gaming industry during my study abroad trip in 2013 at Michigan State University. However, I found that most IT jobs required you to already live in Japan to be hired. That is what led me to English teaching. *I have met animators and artists that have been hired here from other countries, but they were extremely skilled and had much more experience than I did. They had previously worked on films and games by famous companies, while I had only worked on indie stuff.
Before I left America, I did a ton of research on different teaching programs and opportunities in Japan. I definitely wanted a full time job because I planned on living here long-term. I applied to the JET Programme and passed the initial interviews—which were quite difficult and took months to hear back from—but due to lack of experience I passed but got wait-listed. If other JETs resigned from their job I would have a chance of being randomly place somewhere, but I did not have the luxury of waiting since my university job was ending and I would likely be unemployed. I decided to look into applying at smaller English conversation schools and teaching jobs instead. Some of the companies I applied to were: NOVA, Hello English School, various listings on GaijinPot, and Interac. I ended up getting hired at some of these, but I chose another relatively new school that offered to give me a 5 year visa (most teachers start with 1-2 years unless they are highly skilled).
Due to the contract I signed when I quit the teaching company I worked with for 3 months, I cannot mention their name in this article series. Interestingly enough, after I quit they shutdown due to lack of profit. What I can do give others advice on what I’ve done career-wise besides travel around Asia, go to music events, and eat aesthetic food.
Quitting my job took a lot of guts and I was trembling as I handed in my letter of resignation, but I had a lot of support from my friends and had already been hired at another job so I felt secure. In this article series I will be writing tips about job-hunting in Japan and what you should do if you feel unsatisfied with your career. As much as companies here try to threaten you for quitting, they legally cannot blacklist from other companies in the same field unless you break a major rule. It’s important to note that quitting your job will affect your housing (if the company pays for it), your healthcare, and how you pay your taxes, but your working visa will still stay active as long as you continue to pay your bills and living expenses each month.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask me. Since this introduction is long, I will get into the actual details of my job-hunting adventure in the next article. It starts with taking a 2 hour bus ride to the city Osaka.
- Jobs in Japan – An English listing of current jobs in Japan that gives you an overall view of what type of careers are available. I get occasional offers on LinkedIn as well. I used to use Career Cross but it seems to be less active now.
- ALT Handbook (by the JET Programme) – A detailed textbook on the activities an Assistant Language teacher is responsible for. This varies from company to company, but JET hands down has the best guide.
- Hello Work – Comprehensive guide on employment for those already living in Japan. This company can also help you find employment if you live here.