He doesn’t need much on an introduction other than any questions you have about TEFLing in Japan, he’s your man! Take it away Paul…
Having lived in Japan now for four years, I feel a much needed update is needed. Hopefully through this blog you can learn to love Japan that little bit more, or at least find something of interest. Maybe you will be convinced enough to even come teach here!!
Kinkakuji-Temple, Kyoto, Japan
Where are you originally from?
I was born and raised in a small steel making town in the North East of England.
Why did you decide to look at teaching English?
After several years of bad luck, moving from one university to another due to many different reasons, I finally hit a brick wall in my life. I suddenly found myself graduating from University, with a Film and Television production degree that was of little use back in 2010…especially with so many people losing their jobs, the film and TV industry stopping production, and with everything looking so bleak.
So I was very fortunate when a new person began working at my place of work (a part-time job at an interactive archaeology museum for kids). She had just got back from working four years as a JET in Japan. She was very informative and sparked my interest of being able to go teach in the far east. Applying to JET wasn’t an option because this is a year long process, with too many deadlines – so, I applied to Interac whilst doing my i-to-i TEFL course. By the time a completed the course I had a job lined up and ready for me in Japan…my start date – April 4th 2010!!!
What age students are you teaching?
Usually, people who are an ALT (assistant language teacher) in Japan, will teach at elementary schools (aged 6-12) and junior high schools (aged 13-15). So, I was very surprised to be teaching at high school only (aged 16-18).
Students in Japan will start off very ‘genki’ (high spirited)…but often a lot of that energy is sucked out of them in junior high school when the ‘real’ work begins. For English, they learn to read, write, and memorise a lot of grammar at junior high school…Elementary is used to make English fun through the use of games, songs, and dances.
So by the time they get to high school many students no longer enjoy English… But don’t let that put you off – from my experience of working at 5 different high schools over four years, you find that many will still put in the effort and although they may not like the subject, they are often interested in YOU and YOUR CULTURE.
How are you finding the experience of teaching?
When I first came to Japan, even with the a lot of TEFL training, I felt that I wasn’t a ‘real’ teacher compared to the JTEs (Japanese Teacher of English). They would use a mixture of English and Japanese, have all these books on their desks, worksheets, activities, CDs, etc. and there I was in my new suit, fresh face, a few grammar books, and nothing much of anything really – yet i was expected to go and teach a class by myself with the JTE watching.
(I should point out that normally you are an ALT – for ALTs in Elementary and Junior High School, you often team teach and are only an assistant and sometimes only required to teach 10 minutes. Where I live, we have High School positions and so we are called NSs (Native Speakers) and are expected to plan, prepare, and teach the whole class)
Knowing Japanese will and does help – but it is not essential. I spent my first year teaching not really knowing any Japanese. Of course you pick it up gradually, more so if you hit the books and study (I hate studying though). Essentially though, high school is supposed to be taught in English only – something the government is wanting the JTEs to do too. This is gradually being done in junior high school too. Being realistic though, if you are not in the big cities, the level of English will be lower than you expect and often the JTE level will be lower and of course their mistakes are passed on to the students.
BUT… I love being a teacher… You meet so many different teachers and students…So many different personalities. You are part of their life in an important stage as they are growing and learning. I have been blessed to see my first grade students through to graduation and even return for the seasonal festivals in my town. I’ve seen them enter high school as a nervous boy, to becoming a man with a job and even some with a family – words can not describe how awesome that feels!!!
What is the cost of living like in Japan? Do you have enough money to keep you afloat?
Jodogahama, Miyako, Japan
Hmm…it depends where you live, how you live, and if you like to spend money.
Moving to Japan is an expensive task. Apartments can be small and compact but somewhat expensive compared to other countries. And most companies do not offer free air fare or housing allowance like places such as Korea. If you are lucky you will be in a LeoPalace – this comes part furnished (washer, stove, microwave, table, chair etc) <– for this you will normally only have to buy a few things and you will only pay a deposit and one month rent.
However, LeoPalace is mostly in the cities – so elsewhere, you may be in private realtor apartments – this means more cost because often you pay an additional amount called “Key money” – this is a ‘gift’ to the landlord, usually one months rent, and you don’t get it back.
So, if rent is ￥50,000 – your set up cost could be as high as ￥150,000
On the plus side – tax is cheap (although from the second year you start paying the full City tax, National Health, and pension) … if you buy things from the second hand store (sometimes the items are a year old) you can save a lot of money… Daiso is a very popular ￥100 store that has a lot of essential items… Eating out can be cheap if you know where to go – and filling because you often get side dishes too.
In all honesty though – You can easily save! – I often go to karaoke, eat out, go snowboarding, day trips, etc. The summer vacation is when I take a big trip somewhere in Japan. And yet I am still able to save money. My advice, the more often you move, the more often you have to pay the start up fees for the apartment – staying 2 or more years will help you save a lot more!!!
Amazon is also a plus for online deals!
Rakuten offer online prices with worldwide delivery! – And they have Rakuten travel, which is great for hotel discounts!
(TIP: Use google chrome to automatically view Japanese sites in English… it doesn’t work with every site though)
What is an apartment like in Japan?
As I mentioned before they can be small – but this does depend on where you live, how much you spend, and which realtor you are with…but rather than describe an apartment, here is a video of my apartment (My rent is ￥60,000 a month, with parking… With utility bills (water, gas, electricity and internet) is about ￥15,000 a month)
Describe your average day or week!!!
My workdays begin at 7am when I wake up gradually to my alarm. I shower, get ready and out the door by 8am. I have a driving position and so I have my own car (It’s a company rental car – I pay ￥20,000 a month, the company pays ￥30,000… All maintenance, checkups, oil change, tax, etc. are included). On my way to school I go to my local convenience store, buy breakfast and coffee and then I arrive at work about 815am. (My schools are very close).
This year my schedule has been very light – I have only two schools (Monday is a Fisher High School and the rest of the week is a Commercial High School). I teach on average 3 classes a day. The rest of my time is spent studying, preparing, talking to teachers and sometimes going to watch other classes.
Last academic year I was at a different school and used to be a member of the soft tennis club – practice was from 4pm-6pm everyday (I chose to do this).
But this year I have been busy with regular tennis on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with the local community club, English conversation class on Tuesdays, Japanese Class on Thursdays, and Soft tennis and Futsal on Sundays. (I only pay ￥100 per regular tennis class and Futsal session – everything else is free)
In September and October 2013 I even found the time to train for a 10km run, which I ran in November – My first ever race, which I completed in just under 54minutes.
Any there any hidden secrets you’ve discovered whilst TEFLing in Japan?
Jodogahama, Miyako, Japan
Japan is a stunning country to visit, from large castle towns to small fishing villages. You have great snow in the winter in Hokkaido, beautiful blossom tree parks for Hanami parties in the spring, beach volleyball in the summer, and spectacular scenery in the autumn.
As a teacher, you get a summer vacation, winter vacation and a spring vacation – so plenty of time to go exploring.
In the smaller towns you have many winding streets with hidden shrines. Locals are more than happy to stop and talk to you – sometimes you even end up going drinking with them and seeing the real japan – or even getting a Japanese mother to take care of you.
Karaoke is a must – don’t worry if you can’t sing…it’s about having fun.
Oh, and let’s not forget the onsens (hot springs) – hot water at about 42′C, where in some locations you can bathe with the local monkeys too. Be warned…you shower before you go in, you walk around with a small towel, and bathe fully nude!!!
Any last advice?
I cannot emphasise on how wonderful japan really is. You have plenty of opportunities to travel and explore, the ability to save money, respectful students that will greet you throughout the day, locals willing to help you and share the real japan, beautiful scenery, interesting culture, food for every pallet…what more can I say?
Remember! Don’t be afraid to try or do new things. Going to another country, to live and teach, is very scary – but many people have been before you, and many will continue to go after you.
Me and my sister, Jodogahama, Miyako, Japan
So what are you waiting for???