Thursday, September 29, 2011

How to Find a Job Teaching English in Japan

Teaching English and living in Japan is a great experience, the adventure of my life. I've been doing it for over 10 years. I would encourage anyone to come here to start a new career or just for a couple of years for the experience.

If you are still in the US or your home country, you have two options:

1. Find a job before you go over

2. Just buy a ticket and find something after you arrive.

I know many people do the latter. If you are really adventurous then go for it. But I recommend the former. There are many Eikaiwa, or English Conversation schools in Japan. They're private companies where Japanese come to study English. The average starting salary is between 250,000 to 270,000 yen, about 2700 to 2900 dollars per month. I applied to AEON Corporation while still in the states. I interviewed in Chicago and later came here. I no longer work for Aeon, but I recommend them. I was with them for almost 9 years. That's probably some kind of record. Most teachers are there for 1 or 2 years. They are probably the best of the big conversation schools left. A few years ago, the number 1 school, NOVA went bankrupt after a huge lawsuit. They had a bad reputation for years with teachers but also students. It was finally a class action suit from former students that broke them. That event really hurt the industry, but Aeon is still a safe bet. But be warned, they expect a lot. They have high standards of professionalism and they really drill that into you during training. You have to wear a suit and tie. They have branches nation wide, some schools have only adult students, many have adults and children. There are other schools as well, GEOS and Berlitz to name a few. Be wary of one called G.Communications. They are the ones that took over Nova. I wouldn't trust them.

You can also become an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher). ALTs work in junior or senior high schools. The JET program run by the Japanese government is probably the biggest source of ALTs. Interac. one of many private companies that provide ALTs. I think Japan is ready for a mini-boom for teaching English to children. Starting in 2010, English will become a mandatory subject in elementary schools nationwide, so I think there's a lot of opportunity there.

The best place to start is at Dave's ESL Café. It has an abundance of information, not only on jobs, but teaching resources and ideas. It's huge. Be sure to check out the teacher's forum. Read the comments to see what teachers say about different companies, avoid the bad ones. For jobs, Gaijinpot and Ohayo sensei are good. All about teaching English in Japan is good too.

How about education? Most big schools require a college degree. It's not necessary to have a teacher's degree. It's probably possible to get a job with only a High school diploma, but you will be rather limited. Another thing to consider is getting a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate. These are relatively easy to get, only taking a few months. They are available online and most offer an additional practical teaching workshop at a specified location. I recommend that if you can. Most English schools don't require such a TESL certificate, but it can give you a big advantage. It looks great on a resume.

If you are living in Japan now, then there are lots of options. It just depends on where you're willing to go. Actually, in my case, the most important thing in finding a new job was word of mouth. I have a family here and I didn't want to move to a new city. Jobs were limited and I never would have found my current job if it wasn't for my friends. I'm really lucky. Never underestimate the power of networking and friends.

If you've been in Japan a while and have some experience, then a final option is starting your own business. That's not my path, but many of my friends have done it.

Anyway, good luck in finding a job and start your adventure today. GANBATE!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Two Festivals in One Weekend

Last Friday was Shubun no hi or the Autumnal equinox, which is a national holiday in Japan. It's a day to honor the ancestors. It was also a three day weekend. There were two local festivals within walking distance of our house. Nothing too fancy, mind you but fun.

The first one we went to was The Tottori Hamburger Festival. They feature stalls selling local restaurant's hamburgers. It's at least the second year for it. Last year the main event was at Daisen. They advertised lots of free hamburgers, but too many people showed up, there was a traffic jam, and the hamburgers an out. This year it was much smaller, outside the bookstore near our house. They had some live music, too. We tried some of the hamburgers, there were only about four different ones. They were ok, but as usual, too small and too expensive. One small burger was about $5-6. I left a little hungry, but the kids played a kind of fishing game and got some toys.

The second one was the "Yonago Keyaki dori matsuri", which means the "Yonago Keyaki street festival". Keyaki is a kind of tree that lines the main street, rout 431 near our house. There was some food and games. I got a free "Dorayaki", a kind of sandwich cake with a sweet red bean filling. But the main event was a candle lighting. They had thousands of candles in glass jars set up in the parking lot and people were invited to light them. We went with some our neighbors. It was fun. Busy weekend.

2700 Kirin Smash Comedy TV キリンスマッシュ

I saw this on TV the other night. There was a comedy competition with a lot of different Japanese comics doing funny skits. One duo or "Kombi" is called "2700". They did this skit that I thought was funny. Believe it or not, almost everything the guy is saying is in English. The song starts and a guy dressed up as a giraffe comes out with a tennis racket. The song keeps saying, "Kirin smash" or "Kirin receive". Kirin is the Japanese word for giraffe. One time he does a smash position, the next time, receive. Then, a guy dressed up as an elephant comes out and starts betting on which position the giraffe will take. The whole situation is so ridiculous and silly, it's hilarious. The group 2700 ended up taking second place. Watch the video. Decide for yourself.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Japanese Snacks: Bokun Habanero 暴君ハバネロ

 This is one of my favorite Japanese snacks. If you like it hot, this is for you. It's called "Bokun Habanero" which means "Tyrant Habanero". It's probably the hottest snacks sold leagally in Japan. It'll really put hair on your chest, not for the faint of heart. Japanese generally don't like really spicy food, but curry is popular and really hot level 5 curry mix is available in stores. Bokun Habanero ranks as one of the spiciest things I've had. It's instantly recognizable by its skull faced red chili pepper character. Apparently, it's too good. I used to be able to find it everywhere in Japan, there was even a canned soup version. But these days it's harder to find and they keep coming out with less spicy versions more for the masses. If you like hot food, then I recommend you give it a try.
Here's the website in Japanese
Bokun Habanero

Friday, September 23, 2011

Gosekku Festival Days

Gosekku Festival Days These are a group of five festivals from China that were originally observed on the lunar calendar, but in Japan, have been converted to the Gregorian calendar:

1. Seven Grasses Day, Nanakusa no sekku,; Held on the seventh day of the first month (January 7th). It's a day when people eat rice porridge made with seven traditional spring herbs to promote health. Also known as "Human Day" Jinjitsu.

2. Girls' Day, Hinamatsuri; The third day of the third month (March 3rd). It's a day when girls display beautiful traditional dolls in the hopes of good luck and good marriage.

3. Children's Day or Boys' Day, Kodomo no hi. The fifth day of the fifth month (May 5th) Also a national holiday. Boys hang up carp streamers and display miniature armor to be strong.

4. The Star Festival, Tanabata. The seventh day of the seventh month (July 7th). There is a folktale of two lovers on either side of the milky way who can only meet but once a year on this day. The main activity for children is writing wishes and hanging them on a small bamboo branch.

5. The Double Ninth or Chrysanthemum Festival, Choyo,The ninth day of the month (September 9th) Nine is a lucky number in China and this was also a day to observe chrysanthemums or other flowers. This festival is not much observed in Japan and is very minor compared to the others.

Official National Holidays in Japan

Official National Holidays: These are the 15 official national holidays in Japan when schools and businesses are closed. The Japanese government purposefully places many of these holidays on Mondays as to give workers a three day weekend.

1. New Year's Day, Ganjitsu (January 1st) One of the most significant days of the year in Japan.

2. Coming-of-Age Day, Seijin no Hi (Second Monday in January) A celebratory day for all those who turned 20 years old, the age of legal adulthood in Japan. Cities hold large ceremonies. Young men wear suits and women wear colorful kimonos with very long sleeve pockets to indicate youth. These same kimonos will be altered and the sleeves shortened after they grow older.

3. National Foundation Day or Founder's Day, Kenkoku Kinen no Hi (February 11th) Celebrates the founding of the nation, similar to America's Independence Day. Actually, it marks the ascension to the throne of the first emperor in 660 B.C.

4. Vernal Equinox Day, Shunbun no Hi (about March 20th) This is a Buddhist day to visit one's family graves and also celebrate the renewal of spring.

5. Showa Day, Showa no Hi (April 29th) A day to reflect on the Showa era of rebuilding after WWII, celebrated on the birthday of the Showa Emperor.

6. Constitution Memorial Day, Kenpo Kinenbi (May 4th) A day for commemorating the Japanese constitution and reaffirming a commitment to peace. The constitution went into effect on May 3rd, 1947 after the end of the war.

7. Greenery Day, Midori no Hi (May 4th) A day to commune with nature. This holiday was previously celebrated on April 29, that day is now Showa no hi.

8. Children's Day or Boy's Day, Kodomo no Hi (May 5th) A day for children. The main activity is the flying of large carp streamers in a hope that children will be strong like carp.

9. Marine Day, Umi no Hi (Third Monday in July) A day to give thanks to the ocean for many gifts. Many people visit the beach on this day.

10. Respect-for-the-Aged Day, Keiro no Hi (Third Monday in September) People remember and show appreciation to grandparents and senior citizens. Cities hold various events for the elderly.

11. Autumnal Equinox Day, Shubun no Hi (about September 23rd) Another Buddhist day when ancestors are remembered.

12. Sports Day, Taiiku no Hi ( Second Monday of October) Commemorates the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. It's a day for sports and health and many school sports events are held on this day

13. Culture Day, Bunka no Hi (November 3) A day for celebrating freedom, equality, and culture. Many events with traditional arts or music are held.

14. Thanksgiving (Labor) Day, Kinro Kansha no Hi ( November 23rd) A day for workers.

15. Emperor's Birthday,Tenno Tanjobi (December 23rd) A day to give congratulations to the current Heisei Emperor.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Japanese Traffic Lights; Red, Yellow, and ...Blue?

In Japan, people say traffic light colors are red(aka) for stop, yellow(kiro) for caution, and blue(aoi) for go. This was one of the more surprising things when I first came to Japan. The color is the same as in America, so why don't they call it green?

In ancient Japan, they did not distinguish blue and green. And even after the development of the Japanese word for green, midori, in the Heian Period, it was still considered to be "within" blue. Educational materials distinguishing blue and green didn't come into vogue until after WWII during the occupation. Today, most things we think of as "green" are called midori, but still some vegetables and traffic lights are referred to as blue(aoi).

We may think of colors as something absolute; red is red and blue is blue and that's that. But actually, names for colors are completely arbitrary to language and cultural convention. Japan is not unique in this, as there are many Asian and African languages that traditionally do not distinguish green from blue. And on the other hand, colors that in English we call "light blue" and "dark blue" have completely separate names in other languages.

It makes me think of how the Taoist philosophers of ancient China cautioned against words. It's a dilemma; we need words to convey meaning, but words can create reality of their own. Many things we think of at facts, truth, or reality are actually illusions of language. And how we view the world is in part dependent on the language we use. This is apparent in the legal world were words make something real or unreal, fact or false, innocent or guilty. It's well known trivia that the Inuit language of the Eskimos has over 200 words for "snow".  So, it's all good, in America, it's green, in Japan, blue, but we all know when to go.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

ピカルの定理 Picaru no Teiri Comedy Show

Many people have the impression that the Japanese are not funny or don't appreciate comedy. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's true that Japanese are not really joke tellers, like "One day a priest and a duck walk into a bar", but Japanese comedy shows can be really funny. You see some really wild stuff on Japanese TV. My wife and I just caught this show we never saw before called Picaru no Teiri. It's an ensemble cast show with various skits. One of the recurring skits is called, "Bebari to Rui"(Beverly and Luis) about two gay guys in the office. The boss and employee are lovers. Each episode follows the same pattern. Their always sending the only female worker out of the office on some errand. The boss starts seducing the employee, slams him against the cabinet and rips his shirt off. Someone is always yelling at the female worker when she comes back. This particular episode features a guest comedian as the boss's ex-boyfriend, recently returned from America. The thing I like about it is you don't really have to understand Japanese to enjoy it, the performances are so over the top. It was one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time. My wife and I couldn't stop laughing. Not for kids, though. Enjoy!

Hana's Vending Machine Adventure

The other day, Hana was late coming home from school. Actually, I saw her and a group of her friends walking home from my school's window(her Elementary school is just across the street). Another mother, concerned, went to look for them. Just a couple blocks down the street from the school, and right across from our apartment, the group of kids were frozen in their tracks, transfixed. A worker was refilling the vending machine and the door was open. The kids had never seen the inside of one before. They were fascinated and just stood there for 30 minutes watching him. Not only that, some of them were talking to the worker or giving advice. "Hey, you forgot some over here.", "There's still room for a few more, I think.", "If your not going to use them all, can I take one?" are the kinds of things they said. Amazingly, I heard the worker didn't talk to the kids at all, but just did his work.

In this day and age when kids are exposed to so many things and know too much, I think it's nice that they can still be pure and be fascinated by something so simple as a vending machine.

The Japanese Smile; Lafcadio Hearn

Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) was an international European writer of Greek origins who grew up in Ireland. He later came to Japan and settled in the local town of Matsue where he married a Japanese woman from a samurai family and became a naturalized Japanese citizen, assuming the Japanese name Koizumi Yakumo (小泉 八雲). His name is well known to the people in this area; Matsue city is a 45 minute drive from Yonago and the closest big city. Hearn is probably its most famous citizen and the Lafcadio Hearn Museum and his old samurai residence are among its biggest attractions. Hearn lived in many countries and wrote on a variety of topics, but is probably most famous for his writings on Japan. Among them, his most famous book is Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, a collection of  Japanese legends and ghost stories. He also wrote an essay entitled, "The Japanese Smile" where he reveals part of the Japanese character;

The Japanese Smile:
"The first impression is, in most cases, wonderfully pleasant. The Japanese smile at first charms. It is only at a later day, when one has observed the same smile under extraordinary circumstances- in moments of pain, shame, disappointment- that one becomes suspicious of it... But the same smile is to be used upon all pleasant occasions, when speaking to a superior or an equal, and even upon occasions which are not pleasant; it is part of deportment. The most agreeable face is the smiling face; and to present always the most agreeable face possible to parents, relatives, teachers, friends, well-wishers, is a rule of life... Even though the heart is breaking, it is a social duty to smile bravely." (From Glimpses of unfamiliar Japan published by Hughton Mifflin Co.)

Here, Hearn refers to the Japanese smile as a form of self-control, rooted in Japanese culture. Smiles to indicate affection, agreement, and sympathy are the same wherever you go. But this smile of self-control is something that puzzles foreigners.

I myself have often seen in Japan, what in America, we call "painted smiles". You see them most often from store clerks or people in business situations. I clearly remember this once from a video store clerk. He was bowing profusely, saying something polite, with this huge Cheshire smile painted on his face. It felt so superficial and false. He didn't know me, he probably didn't like me, he was just going through the motions of his job.However, I don't want to give the impression that all Japanese are like that. I remember the staff at the convenience store I used to always go to. They knew me, I was regular. They were so kind. And you could feel the genuineness of their smiles and service. We also got a lot of little freebies. Japan is a country of contradictions. You see genuine and false smiles everyday.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"Life in Japan with Jason" Has Gone Viral

I started this blog recently and have been plugging away at it and getting a little traffic, but the other day I had a huge surprise. Suddenly, in one day, I got over 3,500 hits. It was all  from an article about a post on my blog, "Expat Life in Japan". The flattering article was on a Japanese website in Japanese about what I wrote. The author was very kind and sent a huge amount of traffic my way. I'm so appreciative. It really shows the fickle nature of the Internet. Things can suddenly go hot and can just as quickly go cold. I don't know how long this will last, but I'm happy for now. I'll continue to work hard to bring you original and interesting content. Thank you to all my supporters. Go here to read the Japanese article.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Expat Life in Japan

Japan has fascinated and perplexed westerners for centuries. It is a country of dichotomies; strikingly modern, yet under the surface, remains conservative and traditional. Japanese gardens, Geisha, and Kabuki are famous images of Japanese culture, but are not things that enter into most people’s daily lives. But, daily life in Japan can be much more interesting and hold many more mysteries for visitors. For foreigners living abroad or expatriates(expats), life in Japan can be exciting, frustrating, confusing, anything but boring. Here are just some aspects that make daily here so interesting.


In Japan, space is limited. Apartments and houses are generally much smaller than what foreigners are used to. Creature comforts are not the same. It’s been said that living in Japan is like camping. Most people sleep on futons on the floor, though many have beds. Homes and apartments do not have central heating and air conditioning, but rather, each room has a heater/air conditioner unit. They only heat or cool the room they are in. Domestic lighting tends to be fluorescent. It’s brighter, but seems more artificial than incandescent lighting.


Japanese is famous for being difficult to master. One reason is the grammar. Japanese follows a SOV(subject, object, verb)order rather than most western languages including English which follow a SVO(subject, verb, object) order. Important things tend to come at the end of Japanese sentences. Japanese has a rather limited number of sounds and this leads to many homonyms and many words sound the same to foreigners. This also leads to many puns of the Japanese language and cultural beliefs. For example, the number four “shi” is unlucky in Japan because it sounds like the word for death. Another reason is the writing system, which has three different scripts. There is kanji or Chinese characters, of which there are 2000 common ones used and have different ways of reading, hiragana, a cursive phonetic script used for Japanese words, and katakana, a more angular phonetic script used for foreign words. All three scripts are used in writing and are mixed in the same sentence.


Japan is a great place to raise a family, not only because it is relatively safe, but for the government support. Japan has national health care which basically pays 70% of medical fees. Medical care for children is basically free with parents only paying a small consultation fee of about $5 and all medications are free until junior high school age. In addition, all children receive about $50 a month from the government. This is to help with the cost of raising a family. There is also legislation on the way that would increase this. All of these benefits are for people living in Japan regardless of whether you are a foreigner or if you have residence status.


Japanese cuisine is famous for being healthy and Japanese use a lot of fresh vegetables in cooking. One thing that strikes foreign visitors is the variety and color of food at meals. Western meals tend to be made of large servings of two or three dishes, meat and potatoes, but traditional Japanese meals are made of up of many smaller dishes including rice, fish, vegetables, pickles, and soup. Typical foods include rice dishes, noodles, hot pot dishes and of course sushi and raw fish. Seasonings tend to be lighter than in the west and the Japanese appreciate the natural taste of foods. Japanese sweets often seem bland to foreigners. However, the number one complaint from foreigners is not the taste, but the price and serving size. At a restaurant, for the same price you would get a much larger meal in the west. But buffet style or “baiking” restaurants are common. And many kinds of western food are also popular. Japanese food is varied enough to suit every taste. You may not like everything, but you’ll never run out of new things to try.

Japanese Holidays

Japan has a rich tradition of special days. In addition to official national holidays like Children’s Day, Respect the aged day and Sea day, there are many other special observances with specific customs or foods associated with them. Setsubun in March is a day to throw beans at devils and bring good luck. On Seven Grasses Day in January, people eat a rice porridge made with seven traditional spring herbs. There is a day in December to take a bath with yuzu, a kind of citrus fruit to ward off colds. Eel day is in July and people eat eel for stamina during the hot summer days. And of course every city in Japan has its own summer festival, full of dance, music, food, and fireworks. Summer festivals are one of the best things about life in Japan and shouldn’t be missed.

Social Interaction

One of the most difficult things to understand about Japan is how Japanese people interact. In the west, we use expressions like, “What’s the bottom line?”, or “Get to the point.”, this does not apply to Japan. Japanese generally do not state things directly. This is exemplified in the language itself where subject markers and pronouns are often omitted. This is also true in writing and meaning is often implied. This can often leave foreigners confused, especially in a work environment. Unlike the west, where we are encouraged and often required to state our opinions out loud, in Japan, “Silence is golden.” And meetings are often filled with silent “thinking time.” Foreigners may find they are the loudest ones at meetings or on trains. This does not mean that Japanese are not paying attention, however. They think deeply about something before speaking and offer full-fledged ideas and don’t feel the need to fill the air with unnecessary chit-chat. Also, Japanese are extremely polite and this expressed in the Japanese bow. In any social interaction, Japanese must always think of others first. Japanese often engage in reciprocal gift-giving. This is not just being friendly, but to cement relationships in the community and in business.

Expat life in Japan can be exciting and frustrating. You can live here a lifetime and not understand everything. There will be new insights and discoveries everyday.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Sexy House?

My wife likes to tell the neighbors this one. They all get a big laugh at the silly foreigner. There is a famous, high profile house maker in Japan called "Sekisui House" 積水ハウス and they've got a lot of TV commercials and a snazzy jingle. But the first time, I heard it and ever since then, it sounds like "Sexy House". My wife just laughs and says no one else thinks that. You look at one of the ccommercials and you be the judge. Am I crazy? I wanna live in a sexy house.

Sexy House, de shou!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Waiting out Typhoon Number 12

In America they give hurricanes names, in Japan they give typhoons a number for that year. This is typhoon number 12, meaning the 12th typhoon this season. It doesn't need to hit Japan coast to get a number.Typhoon #12 is smack dab on top of Japan. It's center is getting closer to Yonago. It's kind of unusual for Yonago to get hit this directly. They usually veer away from this area. People around here like to say that the gods of Izumo Taisha in Shimane Pref. protect this region I guess they missed this one. Typhoon #12 is moving at a snail's pace. The news said the same speed as a bicycle. It must be a strong one, too. The wind is really howling outside the windows as I write.  It's also the first typhoon in the new apartment. We are on the second floor and the corner apartment, so we get the brunt of the wind. It's a little bit scary, but kind of exciting, too. Junko and the girls love big storms. I'm from Kansas, so I know big thunderstorms that roll through loud with thunder and a vengeance and then are gone. We also get tornadoes which are the strongest winds, but are localized. Typhoons are different. The winds and rain are strong, but little or no lightning and they go on and on and affect a much bigger area. I wonder what will look different outside tomorrow morning.

"Nightmare" Building Progress

They've completed the foundation for the new apartment building outside our window, the one that's going to block our great view of  Mt. Daisen. From now, it's going to go up pretty fast. It's supposed to be completed at the end of September. Watching the building process is kind of interesting, but I still hate it.

Related posts:

そうめん Soumen noodles

そうめん, Soumen noodles are a common dish in Japan, especially in the summer. Soumen is a thin, white noodle. It's much thinner when compared to udon, ramen, or soba. Unlike ramen, which is served hot and with a strong tasting soup, soumen is often served cold and in a thin, light broth. We ate a lot of soumen this summer. Here's dinner the other night. Besides the broth, it's served with tuna, cucumber, egg, and a little nori (seaweed). My wife has a great artistic sense of food. She said it wasn't special. She's so modest. One popular way to eat it is "nagashi soumen". This is soumen served sliding down a bamboo half-pipe. You have to catch it with your chopsticks and then dip in your soup and eat. I did this once this summer at my school's Mt. Daisen camp. Great fun. They put a bucket at the end to catch anything you missed. Beat the heat with soumen!
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