Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Teaching English in Japan

Here we go... almost everything I know about teaching English in Japan.

I get a load of emails from people wanting information and advice. Not just boring stuff like, "Should I teach English in Japan?", but stuff like, "Exactly how much can I earn teaching freelance English lessons at Starbucks to businessmen?" or "Should I get signed on with a big teaching school, get to Japan, and then quit with my visa still sitting pretty at 364 days?" or "What camera do you use?"

There are two schools of thought for teaching here. Of course there is a third as well. Let's look at the third one first.

Go to college and get a proper teaching degree -> land a job at an international school -> the end. You can land a pretty decent job, with benefits and all that shit. This is assuming, though, that you want to make a career out of teaching. You might be able to pull this off with a fake degree from Thailand. I have neither a real teaching degree nor a fake degree of any kind. I have a degree in computers. Moving on.

The two schools of thought are
  1. Salary. A salaried, 40 hours a week, 5 days a week job with either a major eikaiwa (English conversation school) or as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher).
  2. Freelance contracts. Have a bunch of part time eikaiwa or ALT or other jobs.
Both have benefits and drawbacks. I have also done both. When I first came to Japan, I was a salaried worker for a major eikaiwa. Now in Tokyo, I do freelance style, and currently have 4 sources of income.

Salary Style.

There is a notion that anyone with a college degree (in any field) and a pulse can get a job teaching English in Asia. This is 100% totally true. Not only is it easy to land the job, but logistics are all taken care of by the company. They will often deal with visa paperwork, housing, even airfare and training. And to make matters even easier, many of them recruit overseas. What are you waiting for?

I started with a company called Amity, which is a children's eikaiwa. I interviewed in Los Angeles, was hired a couple weeks later, and spent a year and a half with them. I'm happy with the experience, though if you read some older posts, maybe I wasn't having the best time. If you selectively forget negative experiences, life is smooth. Word.

Some links of easy to get salaried teaching companies:
  • AEON - with 10 recruiting stations in the US, Canada, England, and Australia. They pay a decent salary of 270,000 yen (about 3 Gs) and give bonuses, which is a nice... bonus.
  • Amity - the children's division of AEON. You will get a better salary, but you MUST love getting punched in the nuts, grabbed on your titties, and poked in your butthole by little kids. I'm not a perv, kids in Japan do that shit every day. The salary was 285,000 yen when I worked there, and I often got about 30,000 a month in bonuses. No jobs in Tokyo though, everything is relatively countryside.
  • Nova - This is the notoriously famous eikaiwa that fucked it's employees and students, then went bankrupt, then was bought by another company. The concept of "2 big 2 fail" is out of control in Japan, and it's back to business as usual. They even kept the stupid mascot! 4 years ago, almost every foreigner in Japan was working for Nova. People talk (ed) mad shit about this school, and I miss the almost bi-weekly random news reports about Nova staff getting busted for selling coke, or blogs by Nova teachers talking about how many of their students they were laying, or stories about general nonsense. It was funny.
  • ECC - Another generic eikaiwa. I knew a lot of ECC teachers in Tokyo. Most of them were of the "party in Tokyo for a year" mentality. Huge social circles, and often the gay bar "Dragon Men" in Shinjuku would be full of ECC teachers from 7-10pm, when they have their 1000 yen all you can drink special. I'm not saying they are all queer, just broke.
  • GEOS - wait a minute.... did they just go bankrupt too?
  • Interac - Japan's number one ALT placement company. The salary is shitty, at the minimum legal rate of 250,000 yen. But if you would rather work a 8-4 public school job than a 11-8 eikaiwa job, go for it.
  • JET - The government sponsored ALT company. The salary is better, the locations more countryside, and the application process is much more involved. I don't know enough to talk about it, but I do know not to talk shit, lest a band of merry JETs descend upon me in a murderous rage in the night. They tend to dwell in packs and be very proud of their JETness. In more than 1 countryside city, I've gone to the local gaijin bar and seen a group of JETs huddles together, speaking in JET lingo, talking shit about all the other white folk in the town. Come to think of it, I've also seen the same thing with Canadians.
Each company has different policies about housing. Most will help you out. I haven't heard of any giving it for free. Some subsidize. Some put you with roommates. Check the websites.

So there you go. You'll get here, you'll make enough to survive, you'll get the same holiday weeks that all the Japanese get, and you'll have a swell time in Japan. I was actually able to save about $1000 a month, with a take home of about $2000 after taxes, rent, bills, etc. I was the only person I ever met who saved any money though, which I don't understand. Or maybe I do. My female friends all spent hella dough on clothes, and the dudes all got high maintenance girlfriends.

About vacations, each company is different. At Amity, I had the usual Japanese national holiday days off. But, most Japanese 1-day holidays are on a Monday. And the job was Tuesday to Saturday. Do some math, carry the 1, and you'll see that 90% of the national holidays fall on your regular day off. Daaaaamn. And no, it doesn't mean you get the next day off instead.

More about vacations. I also got 5 flex-time days a year. So you can essentially get an extra week vacation at one point. The manager of your school will likely be angry if you try and use these days, as the Japanese staff follows an unwritten rule that they are not to be used. But a nice trip in the off-season trumps and angry manager, for sure.

Oh, another rad bonus of this system. The bonus is bonuses. Many contracts have some sort of completion bonus. I got about a grand for a year and a half. Plus many will pay for your flight home. Plus your rent deposit might be through your company. At mine, they paid me all of that, plus my month and change in salary, all in cash on my last day. So even if I hadn't saved a yen, I got a wad of like $4000 in a nice little envelope on my last day.

On top of that, when you leave you can apply to get your pension back, if you were forced to pay into the system. So that could be as much as $2000 per year. All that adds up to a nice pillow you could use to travel for a while, buy some sweet wheels, or get a ring for that girl you just knocked up. できちゃった ya'll!

What did I do with my tons of post contract scrilla? I moved to Tokyo and started...


Freelance Style Work (aka hella different job, aka living day by day, aka not for the feint of heart)

First off, let me say that I'm not going to mention particular companies that I currently work for. I just don't want 1 of the 5 people who might read this to be a boss of mine and get the wrong idea about me. Because doing freelance is a volatile situation! Let's say you have 20 days a month where you teach a couple high school classes, but there is a typhoon and school gets cancelled for a week. There goes a potential $800. Let's say a private student gets transfered to Germany. There goes triple digit $ in lost potential a month. Let's say the swine flu is back with a vengeance, there go your kids after school lessons; and there goes a cool G for the month. Let's say your camp boss reads this blog, doesn't like what you said about Saitama, and fires you. The potential loss is huge. But on the other hand...

The sky's the limit! Let's soar!
  • Gaba - I'll start with this one. If you work for Gaba, then something is wrong with you. That said, I worked for Gaba for a little over a year. Here's the deal... they hire anyone, and they let you make your own schedule (more on that in a sec). My interview with Gaba was literally a dude asking me if I had a valid visa, then hiring me. You go through some bullshit company training, which allows the company to advertise that it's instructors are certified (even the 18 year old British kid who was obsessed with manga on a working holiday visa is billed as certified). You schedule yourself in their computer system, and show up on those days. The catch is that if a student doesn't sign up for your lesson slot, you won't get paid. This is all straight forward, so it's not like you're getting tricked or anything, but if you don't work nights or weekends, you won't be getting much pay, cause no one will sign up for your class. And the pay is pathetic at $15 for a 40 minute lesson. There is opportunity for raises, but they have this whack system involving unpaid training sessions and an employee ranking system which only works if you devote 6 days a week to them. But, like I said, they hire anyone, and quick, so when I first moved to Tokyo I was suddenly making $70 a night and $150 on weekends, so it's a good place to start. In the end, I kept making my schedule less and less, and they decided to hint that I should quit by not approving my schedule of 3 hours a week. And that was the end of that. By the way, I know a few people who work full time at Gaba, supporting families with kids. They are all generally unhappy with their work, but, hey... it's a living. Oh, and they make you wear a black suit everyday, no exceptions. Thanks for listening to my rant on Gaba.
  • Part time ALT work - It's not hard, if you want to work from April to March, to get a job working at a public school as an assistant language teacher. You can find listings on gaijinpot.com, just past all the fucking Gaba ads. Of course, you can get a full time ALT gig, which might pay as little as 240,000 yen a month (should I write in yen? Usually I just take off 2 zeros and call it dollars, but of course that's wrong). Anyways, $2400 for 5 days a week of work, albeit it easy work. But more attractive, in my opinion, is part time ALT work. You earn from $70 to $150 a day, and you are off work in the afternoon, so you can go to the park or start a ramen blog or get other jobs. The point is you'll have a ton of free time. It's pretty easy to make $2000 a month off the bat and only work 3 days a week.
A quick note about money. Chances are, you're looking at these dollar amounts and thinking, "The fuck? That's hella low! I'm trying to make $80k a year." There aren't many opportunities for big money for the unqualified English teacher fresh to Japan. I could talk about free time vs. money potential and all that crap, but let's just say that I have a lot of free time and a stress free work life. But I only have enough to ride a 20 year old used motorcycle. On the other hand, a buddy of mine has a new BMW adventure bike every year, but he's a slave at his office. We're both a bit jealous of each other. Funny how that works. Back to the point...
  • Private students. This is a great way to make some extra cash on the side. You meet these English learners, people of all walks of life, at a cafe or their house, or their business and give a 1 hour lesson. Usually it's just free conversation with some textbook work thrown in. When you get some cool students, it's pretty enjoyable. You can charge anywhere from $20 an hour to $50 or so. Scheduling can be a challenge, and lately I have a few too many students, especially in the evenings. So you may have to play a juggling game... with human lives! Rad! Getting students is usually done through agencies like; findstudents.net, teacherstudent.com, eigopass.net, findateacher.net, abckara.com, plus about a dozen others I never signed up for. About half my students come from referrals though, word of mouth stuff. One note about the services. Some of them will charge your students a monthly fee and try to act like you work for them. One company, which I haven't talked to for over a year and a half, has been charging my students $40 a month for my services. It's kind of whack, because they tell the students that I'm part of the company and that we work together for their benefit and what not. But we don't. I schedule everything directly with the students. But I'm scared to say anything because I heard some of these companies have mafia ties. Oh, another note, a lot of people who teach private lessons are smooth talking guys who use it as a dating service. So if that's your thing... go for it you scumbag!

I'm kind of scattered when I write this. Actually, I've been writing this post for about 6 months, maybe spending 10 minutes at a time, often when avoiding more important things. Remember, this info is meant for someone new to the world of unqualified English teaching, with no Japanese language ability, and little or no social network in Tokyo. It should go without saying that if you've been here a few years, you should be able to upgrade things to a point. Some private schools hire teachers directly. Some rad children's programs don't advertise for new workers. Get out there, socialize and doing your thing, and think positive. Or you can just work at the eikaiwa for ten years. I know a few dudes who do that. Speaking of kids...

Kidz vs Adults (aka, gettin punches in the nuts or stinky old man breath)

I don't know where I'm going with this, I just wanted to mention that today I spent an hour with an 8 year old boy, after his grandma's English lesson, eating Thai food and talking about how to kill zombies. He hates the notion of learning English, but I got him to understand the difference between a shotgun and a machine gun, which are English words, so I guess it's good. Also, we came to a mutual conclusion that punching a zombie in the nuts won't do much. So... teaching kids is rad cause kids are pretty funny sometimes.

Getting constantly punched in the nuts... zombie style... is the downside. You think I'm joking. I'm not. There is some dynamic in Japan between kids and their teachers (maybe just the foreign ones) that leads to the infamous kancho.

Teaching adults is more mentally stimulating, usually. But sometimes they have bad breath.

You can fart hella loud in front of a little kid and gain superhero status. Do the same in a Starbucks with your hot 25 year old fashion designer student and things will turn out different.

The End

I'm fully aware that I've stopped talking about useful things and started making poop jokes. So I'll stop. You can ask me questions in the comments.


// ***************
// Years later . . .
// ***************

In case people were wondering, after about four years in Tokyo, my work is in a good place. I have about six or seven sources of income.
  1. I teach part time at a private girl's high school. This is a direct hire. I was introduced by a friend who was leaving the job. Usually these jobs are through an agency, but a few years before I started, the agency and school had a falling out and they just went ahead and hired directly. The school pays less, the teachers get more. It is pay-by-the-lesson style, so if there is a typhoon, I am out some serious cash.
  2. I work for a kid's school a few days a week. The classrooms are actually at local people's houses all over the greater Tokyo area, so I always travel to some new spot. Usually two or three lessons in a day. Ages from five to 15.
  3. I have about six regular private students now. I haven't been searching at all. I like my evenings and want to have more of them free.
  4. I work doing summer camps. A month away, living in hotels in the mountains. My summer is pretty much given to the company. Luckily the other camp people are some of my best friends. The pay is extraordinary.
  5. I do children's events. Singing (sing-talk ftw) and dancing with kids.
  6. I work for a Japanese magazine, but that's another story.

//
//Again, years later
//

I wrote this all back in 2010. If you've been following me all that time . . . who are we kidding . . . if you have been following me all that time I think I know who you are. All 3 of you. Anyways, these days (2016), I do:

  1. I still work at the high school. I'll probably be fired soon because I take a lot of days off to eat ramen.
  2. I picked up a once-a-week teaching gig at a beauty college. Hunh? Well, the pay is good, the lessons are simple, and it forces me out of the house on Wednesdays. I tend to get more done if I'm pushed to wake up before noon.
  3. Only one private student left! She has a fascinating job in the English world translating certain things that I can't talk about.
  4. The kid's shows are kind of my main gig.
  5. Ramen, ramen, ramen.
Actually, I devote about 2/3 of my energy to the ramen stuff. Teaching has been good, but the ramen stuff has been vastly more interesting.







Monday, September 20, 2010

Yokohama Beer Fest 2010

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It's that time of year. Time for the Yokohama Beer Fast (BeerFes?).

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At 4500 yen, it's a spendy place to get drunk. But you're here to sample a few hundred glasses of what Japan has to offer, right? So get your teeny sampler glass and get tasting!

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Other beer blogs will hopefully try to pick some winners. I won't. Actually, I was generally disappointed with the stuff that the micro breweries of Japan have been making of late. It seems like there has been a push to make a lot of German style brews recently. So a lot of bland pilsners. But in a sea of yellow there were a few nice dunkels and what not.

Last year there were a ton of really strong barley wine type beers, which was more my style.

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As always, the overseas section was superb. New Zealand made a big appearance here. More on that later.

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Please don't tell me what you pay for a bottle of Dogfish Head where you live. I know one liquor store in Tokyo that stocks bottles, and it's an expensive habit.

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Of course, the horrid green beer from Hokkaido was back. Of course, it had the longest line to try it. Also, the line to try the cranberry beer was really long. A lot of beer geek dudes brought their girlfriends to the event.

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After the beers...

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Turn these...

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Into this. Read all about it! One of my top 5 bowls of ramen in Japan. Word.

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David, the export manager for the Tuatara brewery in New Zealand, invited us to a special New Zealand microbrew tasting party after the event. Rad!

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By the way, that's a tuatara.

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The beers were great and all, each with unique stories. I forgot all of the stories, though. Something about the Freemasons with this one.

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But I did learn that a "captain cooker" is a pig. And Kiwis refer to this one as "pig beer".

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Tuatara's stuff was poured straight from a 2 liter tea bottle. Their American Pale Ale, a sort of West Coast IPA, works nicely.

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There's David, bringing the next round. He lugged all this stuff in suitcases, breaking a few in the process. Nice dedication!

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Lots of cool Tokyo beer people were here, including the Rogue importer. He thanked me for helping send his kids through school.

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I'd had a few by this time, and things started getting random.

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Ended up at an izakaya run by a Bull Nakano, a female pro wrestler who took the WWF title back in the nineties.

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Cozy little place, where no more than 8 people can hang out and have a drink with Mrs. Nakano herself. I have almost no knowledge of pro wrestling stuff, so I did some searching on the internet in my hungover state the next day. She's super famous. If you're a pro wrestling fan (you know who you are!), check this place out. She speaks some English, and could probably tell you some cool stories.


And I think I just got another part time job... selling super expensive kamaboko (fish cakes) at upscale department stores in the Tokyo area during the holiday season. Hunh?

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hiking the North Alps (Fail leads to Win)

北アルプス

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Epic fail, followed by a minor win, then a rather comical fail, then a cool win (involving booze). Backpacking is awesome! I'll put the photos at the end, so you can skip ahead if you don't want to hear me rant.

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Epic Fail:

There is a bus company in Japan called Alpico Group. Fuck Alpico! That's right, fuck them and their stupid buses. They stole my money and left me hanging.

The plan was to hike from Kamikochi to Murodo, which is described in many hiking books as the ultimate long distance hike in Japan. From the resort town of Kamikochi, you ascend to the mountaintops and stay up there for the next 6 days. This plan relies on many factors, one of which is getting to Kamikochi. You actually have to take a bus, since the road in is banned of private vehicles.

So I called the Alpico office on a Friday and reserved a ticket for Saturday night. It was a night bus, leaving at 11, arriving at 6am, just in time to start hiking. They don't have an office, so you have to do a bank transfer to pay. I did that shit, sent them my 6000 yen, and followed their instructions of arriving at bus stop #23 that night. Then the shit hit. Stop #23 is only for some sort of airport express bus. But have no fear! They had given me the number of the driver, for just such an emergency. But no one was answering. What the hell! You gave me the damn driver's number for this reason. And you took my number. It's probably written on the passenger manifesto or something. This is god damned important. When I walked aimlessly around the area, there were literally hundreds of night buses hanging out for their riders. I asked every Alpico driver I could find, but no one could help me. I was running around the Shinjuku skyscraper district for an hour trying to figure shit out. Finally at 11:45 I hopped the train home to research plan B.

But that's not the end with Alpico's bullshit! Before departing for plan B, I sent a mail to a friend, asking if she could call them up and get my money refunded. They said they'd refund... get this... half. If I want the full 6000 yen, I would have to prove that I was in the bus area at 11pm. And... they admitted that the driver turned off his phone on accident! That's hella shady!

Minor Win:

Driving to Kamikochi is not an option. But, at the end of the planned hike was what looked to be a parking lot. Some internet searching proved it, and the plan was now to start at the end, and finish at the beginning. That's sort of a win, right? The downside is that I had timed my sleep so I would be very tired on the bus. Now I'm very tired on the bike. But I also had to stay up until 3am, since the ride would only take about 5 hours. So I stayed up at home, watching a movie about Unit 731, drinking coffee.

At 8am, pack on my back, rode the Kurobe-Tateyama Alpine Route to Murodo. Basically a smörgåsbord of transportation up and through the mountains. You take an electric bus through the center of the earth, then a cable car, Japans longest single span ropeway, and finally another electric tram through the mountain. It's pretty rad, and pretty expensive. $60 for my trip, and each leg was only about 10 minutes.

Beautiful part of Japan though. If only the weather had been nicer. Which leads me to...

Comical Fail:

I arrived in Murodo and hiked up a few hundred meters to the campground at the base of Mt. Tsurugi. My idea was to ascend this famous peak the next morning, then head south to Kamikochi. Good plan!

At about 3pm I pitched my tent. I was dead tired, and proceeded to nap. When I awoke in the evening, wide awake, I was treated to basically a typhoon. The tent was shaking all blair witch style. There was thunder and lightning. And the wind would come in massive gusts. So for the next 7 hours I sat in my cozy tent, hoping that the morning would be better. Was it better? See for yourself!


I gave up on the mountain for that day. A note on Tsurugi; there are metal ladders, narrow ridges, and spots where you walk on metal spikes above a 1000 meter drop. Don't try it in bad weather. People die every year. Headed back into Murodo to stay at one of the dormitory style lodges and a

Nice Win:

After the night of good times up near the peaks, I found myself warm and dry, drinking shochu up late with the staff of the lodge. Rad people. Most of them are フリーター, freeters, which can be translated loosely as people of working age who aren't really into the whole career thing. One of my new friends works at the lodge for 4 months, then snowboards in Hokkaido the rest of the year. He logged in 140 days on the slopes last year. Rad!

We also played the Japanese language version of Life, which differs from the U.S. version in that it has pachinko and horse racing.

The next morning my new friends hooked me up with some ice cream, and I headed out. The weather was still crappy, so I decided to hike it back to the bike, do some touring, and head home. Good choice, as the rain was chasing me the whole way home.

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Parked at Ogisawa. I hope no one steals my stuff! (expensive riding gear is under the cover)

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It's a spendy ride across the Alps.

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It's also a very popular destination.

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Kurobe dam is the first stop.

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At least they don't charge you to walk across it.

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A few hundred meters up a cable car.

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Nice view!

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The ropeway brings you to the highest point.

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"The land with full of surprise"

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Hello Kitty souvenirs of each vehicle you can ride.

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Murodo is on a massive onsen. Lot's of stinky toxic gas here. But do make sure you go in the bath here, it's super high in minerals and feels great.

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Let's hike!

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Don't be fooled. The wind was so intense that it blew away some of the clouds.

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And soon...

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... it was back to gray.

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Not a lot of scenery photos. Just pour some gray paint on the ground and you get the idea.

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My new camp stove.

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Good times. Not possible in a tent in a typhoon.

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My breakfast.

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Where are the mountains?

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Up there?

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The cloud line was at about 2500m.

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The bus-ropeway-cable car takes about an hour.

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The hike over the mountain takes a bit longer.

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Almost.

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I think this means I'm done. Minutes later, I saw a group of girls in high heels, with makeup and fashionably matching boyfriends. Aka, civilization.

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Sweet, no one stole anything. Japan is cool like that.

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And like that.