Gaijin Smash

Sour Apples – Part I

Posted in Blog by gaijinsmashnet on October 28, 2008

I went to a shindig in Tokyo last year I think celebrating the 20th anniversary of the JET Programme. There, I met a Japanese guy who said that he was the father of the JET program. According to him, the main goal of the program was simply to get more foreigners in Japan. Back in 1987, I don’t think Japan was as popular among the kids as it is today. I was only 6 years old back in 87, but I seem to remember the big things back then being Optimus Prime having DIED on the big screen, and Crocodile Dundee waving a big knife around. Neither of these things have anything to do with Japan specifically (unless you’re one of those people who insists on calling Prime “Convoy”, and if you are one of those people, just know that I hate you, officially). Japan, then, was simply the land of compact cars and super polite people. Maybe enough to warrant a visit, but there weren’t a whole lot of foreigners beating down the gates to get here.
So this guy and perhaps some other people (I don’t know the detailed history of JET) got to thinking “we need to get more foreigners into this country to live and work…but how?” What they eventually settled on was English teaching. And it wasn’t because of a great Japanese desire to learn English. It was because the main point was to just get people here – regardless of whether they could speak Japanese or knew anything about the country or not. Really, English teaching was the only option.


So that is how the whole “teach English in Japan!” sentiment started. I say all this to illustrate the point that English teaching was not made in mind for actually helping Japanese people with their English abilities. The foundation is built upon just getting foreigners here. Some 20 years later, that foundation hasn’t changed. It would be unfair to level the Finger of Shame solely upon English teaching – I feel the Japanese eduational system as a whole is flawed and needs revolutionary change. But I’m sure I’ve talked about that at length.
For a foreigner looking to live and work in Japan, English teaching is what gets you here. With any luck though, its not what keeps you here. At least for me, its not. Its a very dead-end profession – there’s no sort of advancement, and most English-teaching positions expect you to only work for a few years at best before going home. While working as an English teacher, you gain nothing that makes your resume look better for any other profession. I’d worked as an English teacher for three years. I’d burned out on it, and I wanted to work in a field where I didn’t have to be the English-speaking entertainment monkey. I’d been learning and studying and speaking Japanese – I wanted to work a job where I could put that to good use. Of course, entering the Japanese workforce is a frightening beast in its own right – most people are at least vaguely aware of the insane amounts of overtime that Japanese people regularly put in. Even with Japanese abilities, the foreigner still has to look for jobs that are aimed for foreigners specifically. That’s a narrow field in itself, and I had a lot of stiff competition – people who’d been here longer than me, spoke better Japanese than I, were probably better looking, lasted longer in bed, and could hold their breath underwater for 17 seconds longer than I could.
Despite the odds, after a few months of searching I finally found a job in January of 2007. The company specialized in exporting Japanese goods overseas, with the primary product being clothes and fashions. As many of you may know, I absolutely hate fashion (see “The Devil IS Prada”…), but aside from that, everything else about the job seemed great. I originally joined the company as a customer service representative, but quickly transistioned from that to translation checking, and then was entrusted with translations of my own. I was thrilled to have the chance to work a job with real responsibilities, and to be able to put my Japanese abilities to use. Aside from my personal gains, the company seemed like a great place to work. The president was still relatively young – in his mid 40’s or so. He’d started this company and worked his way up – it was still small, but he had big dreams for the future. I really respected him for that. He didn’t seem to be your typical Japanese salaryman – we didn’t have to wear suits to work, and he didn’t seem to care if we did insane amounts of overtime or not. The other workers all seemed like nice, good people as well. I imagined that, having found a good place to work, I could work this job for the next 5-10 years, perhaps even longer than that if things went smoothly.
But of course, as we all know, life never goes that smoothly…

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36 Responses

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  1. Buzz said, on October 28, 2008 at 4:01 am

    Ah way to end on a cliffhanger mate. Better not go on a month long sabatical now!
    I’m sorry you feel indebted to tell this story by the way. If you don’t want to, I’m sure we’d understand.
    Hope married life is treating you well 🙂

  2. Saitama-rama said, on October 28, 2008 at 4:32 am

    Thanks for the re-cap Az. You might also want to read the book “Importing Diversity.” Despite being written in the 80s, it is fairly relevant and pretty much required reading for any would-be JETs who want to know what kind of sentiment they’ll be up against.

  3. fff said, on October 28, 2008 at 6:18 am

    I found myself confronted with an ellipses…

  4. ItAintEazy said, on October 28, 2008 at 6:35 am

    All right, first donation per part sent.

  5. Prometheus said, on October 28, 2008 at 6:51 am

    Nice post, look forward to the rest of the series, where it all presumably goes horribly, horribly wrong. However, a little bit of an editing snafu in the third paragraph. It says “I say all this to illustrate the point that English teaching was not made in mind for actually people Japanese people with their English abilities.”, which doesn’t really make any sense.

  6. BlackCap said, on October 28, 2008 at 7:57 am

    You’d be surprised. English teaching may be a big way people come over, but it isn’t the only way. I work in engineering in Kanagawa and a lot of times they just want English speakers. It depends on what your degree is in.
    You’ll find that the “no room for advancement” feeling is the same no matter what the job is in Japan. The company I work for never gives full time position to foreigners. The reasoning is they don’t want to invest heavily into someone who may just end up returning to their home country after a few years.
    Anyways if you are ever by Yokohama give me a mail.

  7. anthony said, on October 28, 2008 at 8:04 am

    Glad to see you are posting the work story. I’m going to start looking for work here in Ecuador so I will have to face a lot of the same problems you are. The biggest problem, though, will be finding something that pays more than $400 a month 😦

  8. shanghaiguy said, on October 28, 2008 at 8:32 am

    the stories getting off to a great start, please don’t make us wait too long for the next installments.

  9. Steve said, on October 28, 2008 at 9:07 am

    DUN DUN DUN!

  10. Jon Helgi said, on October 28, 2008 at 9:49 am

    it never does, does it?

  11. Anonymous said, on October 28, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    Nice. It’s about time we had a little “recap episode”.

  12. Anonymous said, on October 28, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    Nice. It’s about time we had a little “recap episode”.

  13. Tanaka Taro said, on October 28, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    I will add my recommendation for “Importing Diversity” by David McConnell. It’s pretty old now, but great for learning about the creation and early history of the JET Program. I left my copy for my successor so I can’t refer to it now, but I seem to recall it was at least partly a gift from then-PM Nakasone to Reagan. Kind of a way to reverse the flow of cash between Japan and the US a bit. Of course most JETs spend a big chunk of their salary in Japan, but it’s the thought that counts. The Brits already had a similar program in place and other countries were gradually brought in as well.

  14. Anonymous said, on October 28, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    uh-ho, ze prelude!
    Looking forward to your stories! Been reading them since “My Kids are perverted” which is… yes.

  15. Anonymous said, on October 28, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    uh-ho, ze prelude!
    Looking forward to your stories! Been reading them since “My Kids are perverted” which is… yes.

  16. Joe said, on October 28, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    You beat me to it, Steve! I could almost picture Elan (from OOTS) doing that at the end of the story…

  17. MasterCJ said, on October 28, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    AZ! You’re picking up Engrish! Quick, shake it off.

  18. Anonymous said, on October 28, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    Damn, I forgot you existed. I used to read this about 3 or 4 years ago and haven’t checked back since. Apparently, you’re married. Congrats?

  19. Anonymous said, on October 28, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    Damn, I forgot you existed. I used to read this about 3 or 4 years ago and haven’t checked back since. Apparently, you’re married. Congrats?

  20. Helge said, on October 28, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    I never knew that JET was just a way to get foreigners into Japan, but from all of the descriptions of who goes and what they experience, I’d strongly suspected it. It’s part of what I see as the quintessential Japanese cultural schizophrenia, where on the one hand they (sweeping generalization, I know) don’t really trust anyone who isn’t Japanese, and on the other hand they don’t want to be seen as parochial or racist.
    It’s kind of like in the US, except that for Japan the rest of the world is Mexico.

  21. Tensho said, on October 28, 2008 at 7:46 pm

    Regarding Prometheus’s comment – now that you’re married to a Japanese girl, I would think prospective employers would be less inclined to think you’ll be heading back to the US. Especially if you heavily imply you’ll be living permanently in Japan.
    Just my $0.02.
    And as always, best wishes to yourself and your lady wife. 🙂

  22. Patrick said, on October 28, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    Hmmm. JET may be my only chance to get over there. Better get some space cleared on the CC to get myself a copy of Rosetta Stone and find language classes at Baker.
    Unless you want to adopt a 32 year old white scientist, Az.

  23. Ken said, on October 28, 2008 at 10:57 pm

    Hey Az, have you thought about becoming a personal guide? I’m planning to go to Japan with the missus to take advantage of their awsome plastic surgery but none of us can speak a word of Japanese. There are alot of people going to Japan for various reasons that would need an English speaking guide who isnt just a walking dictionary.

  24. ALT said, on October 29, 2008 at 3:38 am

    At first ALTs probably weren’t expected to teach English well and people didn’t care much about students learning. That has changed. ALTs can’t just sit around doing nothing anymore, especially since some prefectures are getting rid of the JET Programme. JETs are overpaid and have a bad reputation for not working. Now, ALTs are actually supposed to work more and students are supposed learn English to pass exams.

  25. well said, on October 29, 2008 at 6:18 am

    Is this what happened? http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi3114664217/
    (I haven’t seen this movie yet but I was thinking about it)

  26. mike said, on October 29, 2008 at 6:57 am

    Ive been in Japan for over 13 years. I have never worked in an Eikawia school. I came here via the US Military. I have worked in several employment sectors here in Japan since my seperation from the military. You dont need a college degree to get a job here, its allot about timing and who wants who. This is where it gets tricky. Allot of Japanese have lived abroad and may want something they experienced abroad. Some foreigners here are the shacho and want to shake things up inside the company. The problems with this is that the other employees would just assume you not be here. Ive been in these situations more than once. Its hell. Be careful about what you select, its not just a job here in Japan, its more about being accepted, which you probally never will be. You will learn allot (allot about reverse engineering) but it comes at a price.

  27. Joe said, on October 29, 2008 at 7:24 am

    Awesome intro dude! Hmmm… maybe you should be a writer?

  28. Anonymous said, on October 29, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    quit your whining allright we get it teaching english sucks get on with that already to be honest lately all you doin is repating yourself

  29. Anonymous said, on October 29, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    quit your whining allright we get it teaching english sucks get on with that already to be honest lately all you doin is repating yourself

  30. Joe said, on October 29, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    > Regarding Prometheus’s comment – now that you’re married to a Japanese girl, I would think prospective employers would be less inclined to think you’ll be heading back to the US.
    Umm, but Az actually *plans* to head back to the US so that his kids won’t go through the Japanese school system. And yes, his wife is in full agreement with this. She’s trying to learn English, etc.

    Am I the only one who remembers these things? 🙂 We have a dozen people who remember that Az once wrote about gentei (and he did, but it was a different entry; it mentioned gentei condoms, not Mega Macs) but nobody remembers all this about his wife? Sheesh, guys 🙂

  31. tekuno said, on October 29, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    Hey Az thanks for posting this.

  32. code monkey said, on October 29, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    Life never does…
    Xenophobia–it’s a bitch.

  33. LoR said, on October 30, 2008 at 12:23 am

    Thanks for going through and writing a story you really don’t want to write. Maybe you’ll find something in it.
    But yeah, my world regions class mentioned that the Japanese government is worried as hell about the future, since the Japanese just don’t have kids at the replacement level (2.1 per couple).
    Most developed countries have two solutions to this:
    A) Encourage more sex/children (tax breaks, sex camps) and
    B) Immigration
    Sounds like Japan has a long way to go in both cases.

  34. Sparky Santos said, on October 30, 2008 at 12:26 am

    It will get better.
    Jobs can be found. I’ve given you several leads. Best, Sparky

  35. Falk said, on October 30, 2008 at 1:02 am

    Time to creep out of the shadows 😉 I’ve been reading your blog for a while now – not long enough to have catched all the old stories from your JET times – and you definitely got some talent to entertain people with your writing if I am anything that resembles your average reader.
    I was surprised when I read that we’re about the same age. I’m also living and working in Kyoto and will probably marry my girlfriend in ’09. Didn’t come here teaching English though as I’m one of the few lucky guys who got hired by a Japanese company right away and one that doesn’t suck either!
    Anyway, I can more than understand your situation – money doesn’t grow on trees here for us non English teaching gaijin and as great as Japan is it’s not the country I’d want to have a family in. I hope you’ve got the worst behind you and look forward to reading more from you! And if you can make some time you’re always more than welcome to drop by in Mukoshi… just ask if you don’t know the place – most Japanese don’t :P)

  36. Leon said, on October 30, 2008 at 8:18 pm

    Interesting, I have been in Japan for little bit more than half a year and found a progressive job(when it comes to full time sallary). I think the market here is very versitile you just have to look hard. Az, just be persistent and eventually you will get what your looking for!
    Good luck mate!


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