Work in Japan! Do You Want Too?
It is a serious and honest question. It was one of the biggest decisions I made in my life. Was it the best decision I have ever made? No, but I do not regret it. Not even once. Life is too short for dwelling on regrets. Do I recommend it? Not one bit.
What made me come here was the culture. Most come for the manga and anime culture. I came for the festivals, temples, shrines, and everything thats old. I was too old for a working holiday visa, so I opted for the international services visa.
I decided I would only come for a year. In that year I planned to do some traveling to places I had not seen and work at the same time. I weighed my options, did a lot of research, but couldn’t find much information on why I should not work in Japan.
So I jetted off on my journey in 2013. I had already secured myself a job prior to arriving in Japan. The process was straight forward. It was easy. The easiest thing I have ever done with any work related things in Japan.
The first thing that my company wanted me to do was secure a bank account and phone. Easier said than done. You can buy these phones that are pay as you go, or something like that. However, that is actually only considered a short term thing here in Japan. I went to buy a contract phone, but I found that I could not do that because I did not have a bank account. I went to open a bank account, but I was not allowed one because I had no contact telephone number.
So I would have to buy a pay as you go just to get a bank account?
I asked them that, and the answer was…
Frustration number one. I conquered it easily though. I gave them my friends old telephone number and opened the account. The same day I went an got my phone.
The interesting thing about contract phones here in Japan is that you have to buy the handset in addition to buying the contract. WHAT?? That is so strange. A contract is considered a rental in U.K. You pay for the phone and contract in one. Not in Japan. It is ten times more expensive. I payed ¥60,000 for my phone plus ¥7,000 each month for the contract plus a personal hotspot.
Still, at least it was done, and a week later I went back to the bank and changed my number.
What I didn’t know about the first company that I worked for was that they were a black named company. This was due to past events. They tried to make it right and it just made their matters worse. It caused them to go bust, but they re-emerged under the same company name. When I did my research on this company, before I started, there was very little information about any bad incidents.
When I arrived in Japan and started to tell people that I was working for such-a such-a company, the looks on their faces told me all I needed to know. So I did more digging. The advantage of being in Japan was that I now had access to the information. However, although the information was shocking, I had no back out because I needed money and I needed it quickly.
I quickly found out that I was on a 29 hour contract, but listed as full time. That’s illegal!
If you’re interested in working in Japan, you must make sure that you know this!
The 29 hour contract means that the company can short change you and not pay for your health insurance! So if you have an accident at work, it’s not their responsibility to pay for it.
Having the 29 hour contract also means that you have to go to the ward office yourself and apply for it. This can be difficult. If you’re working for a school that does Monday – Friday teaching hours, then you would have to apply for time off so that you can apply for the health insurance. If you’re in an Eikaiwa school, then your hours should make it easier for you to attend. Most Eikaiwa schools don’t give you the weekends off. They normally give you your days off in the week.
Above I mentioned the word Eikaiwa. Eikaiwa schools are hard work. Their priority is teaching adults how to speak English, and have simple classes for children. Much more difficult, in a way, than a preschool. Not because it’s overly taxing, but the hours are grueling. Most Eikaiwa schools do not do the national holidays. Shame. That’s a downside, especially when you only get 10 days given holiday per year. Most companies say you can only take 5 days at a time, and some companies say that you should be dedicated to the company, so only one day or half a day at the time. If you desired to travel and work in Japan, then the time you have to do that is very limited, unless you have a Holiday Working Visa. You learn a lot about this when teaching adults at an Eikawa. They tell you lots of information about working in Japan, and it’s not the positive. Could you cope with that?
I managed 9 months in an Eikaiwa before I decided enough was enough. It was terrible. I had Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons off. Saturday and Sunday I worked 9am – 6pm. Tuesday I worked a split shift at 2 different schools, 1pm – 4pm at the first (occasionally I had to arrive 2 hours earlier because of popular demand) and 6pm – 9pm at the second, the hour from 4–5 spent on traveling time. Friday was good because it was 9am-12pm. Easy.
Thursday was the worst!
On Thursdays I had 2 hours traveling time either way. In total that made 4 hours traveling time. I left at 11:30am and taught from 2:00 – 10:00pm. I taught 7 lessons with no break. I left work around 10:15pm and didn’t get home until 00:30am. It was 2:00am by the time I was in bed and I had to get up at 6:00am to get ready to start my Friday shift.
I lasted less than 9 months for that company, and when I decided to quit they turfed me out of the apartment immediately and left me with no money and homeless. No remorse and no thanks for working with their company.
Luckily my parents transferred me some cash. Before I was chucked out of my apartment I had been looking at places to live. So I was able to move into a downtrodden stinky share house whilst I waited to get paid from the company so I could start finding my own place.
I then moved on to be a head teacher of an Eikaiwa school. Admittedly the hours were better, but the time was bad. 3:00–9:00pm. I was still getting home after 10:00pm. I was still having to pay my own health insurance and the job was just plain boring and exhausting. Needless to say, that I quit within 6 months.
I then beat out over 180 candidates for my current job of Senior English Teacher. I was hired to open a new preschool, write and develop the aims and objectives and the school curricular.
The best parts about this job are that I get my health insurance and pension paid, and it’s Monday – Friday, with the occasional Saturday shift. All national holidays off and ten days personal holiday. It started out as great, but after a while the cracks began to show.
We have had a lot of teachers pass through our school because the work is too intense and hard. It’s very true. Over 90% of the responsibility of the running of the school and the teaching falls on the English teachers. This is quite common. In the case of my school we only have 2 English teachers working at a 4 English teachers teaching schedule. We were promised two more teachers early 2017, but due to ‘budget’ the principal decided against it and refused to adjust the majority of the teaching schedule.
If you decide to work for an immersion school or an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) in high schools, all the teaching responsibility falls on you, and more often than not, it’s back-to-back teaching with minimal preparation time.
In a lot (but not all) of preschools they expect you to do back-to-back teaching and assist with care needs of the children too. You generally get less than an hour to plan your lessons for a week. Some days you get no time to prepare.
A lot of schools can be understaffed too. They always make sure they have the right ratio of teachers to the number of children with care needs. However, a lot of schools count the English teachers as part of that ratio and won’t employ more English teachers in what should be a 4 English teacher schedule. This leaves the teachers exhausted, but they still have to put on an extremely fake facade.
Oh that good old fake facade. You got to be bouncing around the room, always cracking smiles, and don’t complain about your work because there’s nothing you can do about it. That makes it ‘shyo ga nai’. That means it can’t be helped.
It’s the Japanese way to not confront issues within the company and to just grin and bare it. To most Westerners this is a complete mind boggle. We are so used to speaking our minds and addressing issues within companies that we wouldn’t think twice about it. Can we do that in a Japanese firm? No. Why? Shyo ga nai. You could try. It may very well be ignored. In fact, unless you don’t go on and on about it, then it definitely won’t be addressed. They would deem it unimportant. Keep on at them and maybe they will listen or maybe you might end up in hot water.
So the Japanese just keep going with the fake facade and continue working themselves into the ground.
That’s also a big problem. Working themselves into the ground. In most companies, there’s a lot of non-negotiable overtime (zangyo suru). Generally unpaid. In fact, it is considered rude to arrive after your boss and leave before your boss does. So most company workers arrive at 8:30am and could end up leaving at 9:00, 10:00, or 11:00pm with only 1 hour lunch break. Healthy, right? It’s no wonder Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.
Karoshi translate into ‘overwork death’ and it’s a big issue in Japan. Don’t worry though. They are trying to address it. They are trying to implement changes in the working laws to make sure that the Japanese can feel human. Karoshi has increased over the last 10–15 years. Why?
After the A-bombs that hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the conclusion of WWII, the Japanese had to seek to rebuild their lives. Those two bombs and the war affected Japan in such drastic ways.
Back in the early 60's the Americans brought English to Japan and the Americanization of Yokohama and the image of the hard working salary man sitting in some local rusty bar, smoking and getting drunk really appealed to the Japanese salary man. They needed to rebuild Japan, so they adopted this overwork, developed over the top hierarchy, and started to go out to drinking parties and after drinking parties that were non-negotiable and considered rude to not attend because the boss has paid.
For the time, that really worked for the economy. However, now it’s starting to have the adverse affect. They rebuilt their lives and they did it well. The salary men and women now don’t see this lifestyle as a required, but there’s currently no way out. So they get depressed and turn themselves inward and take the only option left to them. Karoshi.
I mentioned one word in one of the above paragraphs. Hierarchy. Hierarchy is paramount if you want to work here. There’s no room to be outspoken here. I’ve already spoken about the times you arrive, but alas, there’s more.
Your boss has the final word. There’s not a single point in arguing it. They don’t like confrontation so they will just ignore you in hoping that you will drop it.
Here are some other things you need to know
- You’re considered to be just a minion underneath lots of managers.
- Your Hanako (name stamp in place for your signature) is not allowed to be bigger than your boss’ Hanako.
- Your boss pays for a drinking party, you attend with no excuses and don’t leave until the end.
- Your boss may also pay for an after drinking after drinking party. You must also attend that, even if you’ve had enough.
- You are the lowest of the low, so you must always pour the drinks for the senior staff and serve yourself last.
- The boss may not directly sack you. In order to get you to leave, they might start removing responsibilities in the hope that you’ll quit. They have also been known to take all of the responsibilities away and shut you in a room with nothing to do in the hope that it’ll drive you to quit.
The thing that really irritates me the most is getting sick. The process for it is completely stupid, and don’t ever let yourself be deceived.
If you get sick, then you should be entitled to take a sick day. Don’t let your boss fool you into believing that you have to take it as holiday, because they will! That’s in humane and wrong. They don’t have the right to remove your holiday. It’s almost like a punishment for getting sick.
If you get sick, then you need to go to the hospital, see the doctor and get a shindasho. That’s a doctors note explaining the details of your sickness and how long your absence was. Yes, you have to pay, but it’s better than loosing your holiday entitlement. I've seen countless stories at how people aren’t entitled to sick leave in their job. You are! It’s the law! You should get minimum of 5 sick days per year.
My boss in one of my jobs tried to pull that one over me. They tried to make me take holiday instead of sick leave. However, I told them that I already had a shindasho that entitles me to sick leave. The boss said that they would have to speak to head office about this, but head office said if I had the shindasho, then I was entitled to the sick leave.
Now don’t get me wrong. I probably haven’t painted working in Japan in the best way, but that was the whole point of the article. People only ever read the great stuff about working in Japan. I could list those off easily, but I’m done with working here. I’m returning to my pervious career choice of acting because of what I’ve learned from here.
If you want the experience, then by all means go for it. Do your research first. Lots of people have come here without experiencing the country on the 3 month visa first and have left within less than 6 months because it’s too hard. You need to know what you’re letting yourself in for. You have to be sure.
Japan is a great country. My view hasn’t changed, but I’m someone who had to learn about the working life with little knowledge of the bad things. I hope I’ve enlightened you a little bit more.