Why becoming an ALT is a very bad idea….

Only one month left. One month.

As my English teaching contract draws to a close, there is one thing I keep telling myself : never again. Not an ALT ever ever again..

 While I genuinely like kids, and I really like teaching, the senseless protocols are killing me. The whole Japanese-ness destroys the charm. Today, I woke up at 6am for a class at 11:30. Long hours instead of productivity. The status quo instead of critical thinking. The textbook teaching instead of actual speaking in English. The lack of healthy competition in favor of laggards. I spent practically the whole morning playing sudoku and reading TC Boyle’s World’s End (a wonderful book!). I got paid though – for the whole day even though I worked a total of 100 minutes. I shouldn’t be complaining. I know. Still, we’re talking about my time that cannot be turned back. 

But, as I flip through the pages of my TC Boyle’s undroppable book, I realized that, yes, I don’t give a rat’s ass if they don’t like it that I’m no longer one with them, harmonious in pretending to be busy with English-teaching-related work. I mean, what do they expect me to do? I have no responsibilities. They made that clear. So what’s the point of pretending? What am I going to prepare for? Nothing. So fuck the tatemae, I am not going to do this again ever anyway and if they decide to sack me one month shy of my end-of-contract date, well, thank you! Never again. Not even if they begged (they won’t, ALTs are disposable!).

So before you pack your bags and drop everything at home in the name of the great Asian adventure by teaching English in the land of the rising sun, there are some things you must consider.

1) Have you experienced living in Japan?
Be prepared. Brace yourself. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies. And don’t tell me all you know about Japan is by watching anime or J-drama or listening to Exile. Please.

Here are the Things that foreigners find annoying about life in Japan

Personally, I hate the lack of critical thinking, the group think, the nil social skills, the inhibitions. I hate it that Japanese need to get drunk to have fun. I hate the unquestioning acceptance of the status quo. I hate the way they revere the airheads on TV. And there is no way you change this – demn, you can’t even vote!

2) Do you have a family to support? Are you the breadwinner?
You must forget this dream now. The average salary for ALT is JPY200,000 while an Eikaiwa*(English conversation school) is from JPY240,000-270,000 (please check my article, Comparing Eikaiwa). Most companies in the mega-cities don’t provide housing support unless you’re sent to far flung places like North Korea. Just look at Craigslist.

Take note : some Eikaiwa also don’t pay transporation, like Gaba. Some ALT dispatch don’t pay insurance, pension or  transportation, like Heart.  Some don’t give any bonuses regardless of the tenure like Heart. Some don’t pay at all if you have no students. Likewise, don’t expect a paid vacation leave, sick leave, rice allowance, gas allowance, health and wellness reimbursement ( yes! I used to get all these shit in the Philippines!), spouse allowance, or some sort of perks (like access to discount sites or yearly travel allowance) to incentivise you to work. You are paid for the hours you worked: no more, no less. Not much different from the combini or other blue collar workers. That is, except that you’re wearing a suit.

But will you survive?

To give you an idea : Our pad costs JPY120,000 (a bit expensive than most, I guess). Food costs JPY30,000-50,000 (for two). Cellphones costs JPY10,000-15,000 (for two). Gas, elec, water- add JPY10,000+. What about beer? Entertainment? What about the monthly Brazilian waxing? What about your student loans, vacations? Can you save up? 

If you’re married to Japanese, what about her pair of Louboutins?  Her Chanel?


Cost of Living : Necessities Breakdown

Cost of Living : Necessities Breakdown

Please see : Cost of Living in Japan. 

* Dorm/guesthouse from JPY20,000

Will you survive Japan? On your own, yes. With a family, the answer is no.

3) Is this a short term thing? Or do you plan to make a career out of this?
On a short-term, it’s probably a good experience. It’s a chance to experience Japan, learn Japanese and all that Kanji, see the overrated cherry blossoms, eat sushi. But on a long term, you must understand that as an English teacher -
- You are disposable. Anybody can do your job. Everybody wants your job.
- Regular (yearly?) salary increases are not guaranteed.
- It’s a pretty dead-end work. Unless you plan to open up your own English school someday…or you do this on a part-time basis.

4) Do you want to get rich?
Let me break it to you, no one got rich teaching English per se.

5)Do you want to meet the Japanese girl of your dreams?
Some Eikaiwa ads seem to suggest romance between the teacher and the student.

From  A critical look at eikaiwa marketing techniques

The second image is of particular interest as it shows the faces of caucasian male ‘teacher’ with a Japanese female ‘student’ in extremely close proximity. There is a subtle sensuality in the context of their respective positions which resemble more of a couple preparing for a kiss than for an English lesson. Eikaiwa advertisements unfailingly match images of Japanese women with caucasian males of ideal age and physical attractiveness.

Is it a coincidence that only 2 are females out of the 30 people who contacted me for private English lessons ?

Whether it is a way to meet foreign males/foreign females, I don’t know. But if you are a male, make sure you earn 6 million yen and up.

What Japanese women think about money and marriage

The largest number of women answered that they would like their partner to earn 6 million yen and up.

Wait, you can’t make 6 million yen being an English teacher!

On the good side, I think it’s one of the most common way to meet your future spouse. I know people who dated and eventually married their students.

6)Are you white?

Congratulations. Race always matters. Japan is at your feet.

From  A critical look at eikaiwa marketing techniques

The utilization of the white male in eikaiwa advertising is almost at an iconic level in Japan, especially in Tokyo. Most eikaiwa (including NOVA, GEOS, ECC, and AEON make it a point to mention that all their instructors are ‘native’ speakers. Philip Seargent, in his book “More English than England itself”: the simulation of authenticity in foreign language practice in Japan” (International Journal of Applied Linguistics)

””..the idea of communicative practice to the native speaker as if they were logical equivalents, an effect which is further extended by adorning promotional pamphlets, adverts and websites with photographs of Caucasians enacting the role of a well-dressed instructor. The ‘authenticity’ stressed here refers to interaction rather than text, demoting the language to being of secondary importance in comparison to the teacher’s cultural status.””

Being a non-native English speaker, and Asian at that, I virtually decreased my chances to 0. A lady in the Hello Work agency told me this : You probably won’t get hired in Tokyo. That’s what English is all about after all, for many Japanese: being white.

From Gaijinpot forum

Gaijinpot : White = More Jobs?

Gaijinpot : White = More Jobs?

This is really sad. I learned English from a non-native speaker. I learned French from a non-native speaker. My first Japanese teacher was a non-native speaker. But I dare think I fare very well than my native-speaker-taught counterparts here in Japan. For one, I never met a Japanese person who neither lived in an English speaking country nor of mixed-descent but speaks as good as the Philippine-born-and-bred call center agents in Manila.Why? How come? Well I don’t think the race of your teacher matters. 

Here is the English teaching caste system:

The English teaching Caste System

The English teaching Caste System in Japan

But fear not – see I’m Filipino and working as an ALT. It’s not entirely a closed, rigid, caste system system (ALT:not necessarily an English teacher, true, but close). I don’t make half as much as the Caucasians though. Welcome to the real world. And even if you are half-Japanese or a Japanese born-and-bred-abroad, the discrimination doesn’t spare you.

Why all the White People in Japan : 

“So wait,” I said, with a mouthful of octopus and wine, “why do you make less? We do the same job.” I like Japan because you can talk with your mouth full.
“Because I’m Japanese,” she said.
“I thought you grew up in Hawaii?” I said. “You’re as American as me.”
“I lived there till I was sixteen,” she said, “but then we moved back to Japan.
“Yeah, but why do you make less?”
Wrong color passport,” she said.

From the Coco Juku Hiring page :

Coco Juku

Coco Juku

7) Are you ready for the Japanese work ethics?

You have to subdue that individuality of yours and conform to the grayness of Japanese society. No one likes to stand out.The nail that sticks out gets hammered, the Japanese proverb goes. And no one likes it when one stands out, it shows their drabness compared to your colors.  Some English school requires you to suit up (dark colors only). Do you have a tattoo on your arm? Show it and you won’t get hired. Are you gay? Gay with tattoos? No-no.

Japanese work ethic 

Some foreign workers are initially very resistant to this, and the following questions are not uncommon.

• “Why do I have to show up to work at 8:45 and start by 8:50am when I’m not meant to start until 9am?”

• “Why do I have to work ten minutes early, ten minutes late and also some of my breaks if I’m not even being paid for it”

Exactly. Why do I have to be there are 8:40 when my work starts at 11:30am? 

Don’t get me wrong. A lot of Japanese themselves complain about their situations: the long work hours, unpaid overtime, the fact that they are required to play golf instead of spending some time with their families on weekends – but do they do anything? Do they fight to change their lives? No. They’d rather bow their heads in submission – and you should too. Especially if they sponsor you visa. 

From Black companies – the ugly side of Japanese business

There is no legal definition for this, but it is usually described as an exploitative employer where unlawful practices are common (in fact, normal), including excessive working hours, abuse of power, harassment and unpaid overtime work.  Such sweatshops might bring to mind Dickensian factory scenes but in fact the black company phenomenon is now associated more often with office work.  These companies rarely recognise labour unions and most of their employees are young people with limited alternative career options and limited knowledge of their rights to complain or challenge those practices.

Just think of it this way : if the locals are being abused in their country, how do you think the foreigners are going to fare?

Still doesn’t stop you? 

Here are the big names  in Japan when it comes ALT and Eikaiwa:

ALT dispatch company : Interac, Borderlink, RCS, Altia

*Eikaiwa : please see my page, Comparing Eikaiwa

Conclusion : Learn more. Google is your friend. While situation looks dire for me and you, I didn’t “drop everything” to come here to teach. I have my own visa, and my housing is subsidized – meaning I don’t take it up by the rear if I don’t want to. But if you’re coming through the graces of their sponsorship, think again. They will own you and will want to make as much money off you as they can. Who are you to say no? Ask questions. Eight hours a day teaching, but four hours waiting? No health insurance? Let’s not get abused.

Reviews about Eikaiwa, ALT agencies

Reviews about Eikaiwa, ALT agencies (Coco Juku, Gaba, Interac)

Related post : The harsh truth about English teaching in Japan when you’re a Filipina