From ESOL instructor to Salary-man: hacks that will make it easier for you to reach the top at any industry in Japan – an introduction
By Hyuga Higuchi
A quick overview of how some foreigners end up here in Japan
So there you are! Just finished with your BA in English Literature and carrying a 50K plus large backpack of debt that needs to be paid at all costs. Things at the local economy don’t look very promising for educators within your English speaking country and you have decided to travel for a while, acquire some experience and that much-needed cash flow while enjoying the pleasures of mastering a new culture and language. You, being a geeky hardcore anime fan, conducted a thoroughly biased search for jobs within Asia and felt like the heavens were pointing you to the land Ninjas and cute maid cafés, the legendary island of the Rising Sun.
You quickly started applying for ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) jobs online through the famous JET program, or through the to-go-to website for foreigners looking for jobs in Japan: gaijinpot.com (or was it daijob.com?) Regardless of the tools you used, you were successful in your quest for work in Japan, packed your things, got the tickets, worked out the VISA, followed what Tim Ferris taught you at that masterpiece of a book “The 4-hour work week,” took action and followed your heart.
You felt awesome for having accomplished a feat that, perhaps, less than 10% of those who graduated from the same class as you were able to accomplish: that of venturing into the unknown; of living in a land far from home and loved ones. Everything seemed to be going really well for the first couple of weeks. You have made some English-speaking Japanese and/or expat-friends, and you are settled at your tiny but clean apartment near the train station at a very convenient location somewhere in Osaka.
Salary seems promising, the booze is cheaper than back at home, Japanese people seem to worship you for the good looks you never thought you had and the first month feels pretty much like you are Chris Hemsworth in his first Marvel standalone movie, “Mighty Thor:” you literally feel like a demi-god who just fell from Asgard, enjoying the extra level of attention people all around you have to give you.
And very much like that same “Thor” figure, you notice that you do not have your
Mjölnir with ya. Yes, you got your GPS tracking app and can get around just fine, but you still kind of feel lost in translation: relationships take longer to build and to keep; it’s hard to know exactly how to impress people in a way that allows them to see you for who you are. Back home, the ins-and-outs of basic communication felt a lot more natural to conduct. You were able to handle your communication “weapon,” your Mjölnir, to your greatest advantage and with a great deal of ease.
Unfortunately, for many people in Japan, they arrive here without knowing the language and, even when they do understand it, they are incapable of utilizing it to the same degree they would their native tongue (in other words, they have Mjölnir, but seem unable to “lift it”).
What the lack of language adaptation can cause
The consequences of this inability to fully integrate in Japanese society can be tough on the heart, although, for some, it does not really bother them that much in the beginning: they are able to work an English teaching job without any problems, they might have built a circle of faithful friends who will keep them company in times of trouble, etc. But in reality, they miss on all the other opportunities they would have if they were able to speak the lingo with a high level of fluency. Furthermore, these non-Japanese speakers tend to fall prey to them gaijin-hunters, & free-English-practice riders who are a group of “dark side” Japanese opportunists seeking to befriend foreigners simply for the sake of leeching out on their foreign-like attributes (physical, mental, emotional), and English speaking capabilities. Simply put, the gaikoku-jin who does not aspire to become fluent in Japanese will have a hard(er) time building relationships that are profound and truly meaningful.
How I can help
Within this blog series, I hope to give you tips on how to quickly master the Japanese Language, while making proper use of the same to navigate the culture in a way that will assist you in becoming anything you want to be in Japan: not only the default ESOL instructor that many English speaking foreigners do here for lack of options.
Here you will learn how to:
1. Choose the right school and courses to attend in order to learn Japanese quickly—on a full-time basis—while maintaining the ability to work full-time hours: granting you the income you need to study and enjoy your life here at the same time.
2. Practice the language and places where you can go to in order meet the people that will help you master Japanese while avoiding to encounter people who are just after you because of your native English speaking ability and your different looks.
3. Get jobs in Japanese companies without the need of a JLPT.
4. Navigate within the world of Japanese indirect communication to improve your ability to handle communication mishaps and increase your chances of building long-lasting and genuine relationships with the Japanese people.
5. Find love/an ideal partner in the Land of the Rising Sun for those interested in building their “nest” here.
About the author
Currently going by Hyuga Higuchi, I am originally a Brazilian born, American raised immigrant to Japan that has had to adapt many times to a variety of different cultural situations. After spending most of my childhood in Brazil, my mother, being divorced and with very little job prospects available in her home country decided to look for employment opportunities elsewhere and chose the United States as the most viable option. She was able to climb through the ranks of the house-cleaning industry in the US and that finally granted her the chance of bringing my younger brother and
me into our new home up north. We fell in love with the US instantly but were always faced with struggles to understand American culture and how it applied to our daily lives as we grew to eventually become full-fledged Americans.
After completing my undergraduate degree in New York, I felt like it was time to search for new adventures elsewhere and decided to come to Japan and a quasi-Working Holiday scheme, where I found employment teaching English at Berlitz Japan one month after my arrival in 2007. I have since taught children classes, Junior and Senior high school classes, classes for the elderly, and at 5 different universities here in the Kansai region of Japan. Since arriving here, my ability to master Japanese quickly has granted me the ability to quickly climb through the ranks within the real of Japanese university education, where, for the most part, I was able to teach for there for about 5 years without having an MA (through this blog, I hope to assist you in doing the same).
Acquisition of the Japanese language has also helped me visit 10 different countries on business, acquire positions that range from working within the IT industry in Japan to translating Australian & Kiwi coaches at a professional Rugby team.
Knowing the language has helped me find the love of my life, my wife whom I love, who is the most wonderful woman in the world. She was not interested in being with a foreign man and has had me as her very first international guy. The fact that she was into me because of who I am and not because of my “uniqueness” here is one of the many things I love about her and our relationship. Moreover, knowing Japanese has also helped me teach classes fully in Japanese, and within these, I felt I had a greater chance of truly being a force of positive influence on my students.
I can speak 4 languages fluently and have lived in 4 different countries. Let me share how some of my cultural know-how can help you be more successful in your current, or future, Japanese endeavors.
Observations and limitations of the ideas in this blog
**This blog doesn’t, in any way, aim at downplaying the roles of ESOL instructors in Japan, nor is its aim to diminish the value and importance of being an English teacher in Japan. I personally have built my entire career on the ESL industry and I still see ESOL education as one of my passions. All the ideas here contained are aimed at assisting people who actually want to or at least try to, do something different than teaching English but, at the same time, they feel that, as foreigners, teaching is the only thing they can do in Japan.
**Unfortunately some of the advice here contained can better benefit individuals who are just starting their career, rather than the latter. I believe that people from all walks of life can find something beneficial in the contents of this blog. However, since Japan is a country very much concerned about age and its role in the development of work-related relationships here, some of the advice might be more helpful to those fresh of the plane in Japan.