Why did I leave Japan (once)?
This excerpt was taken from my Quora forum. The original answers and more interesting content like it can be found at https://www.quora.com/Why-did-you-leave-Japan
This is a very interesting question and as someone that has left Japan once, I would like to deposit my 2 cents to everyone’s experiences here in the Quora community, while also sharing a very personal side of my life.
I arrived in Japan in 2007 and couldn’t be happier then. At the time, I found work at Berlitz teaching business English to a large variety of salarymen and office-ladies. Pay-per-lesson work was busy but rewarding—giving me the flexibility I needed to take time off to travel around this wonderful country, as well as study Japanese on a full-time basis.
Things in Japan started heading down south for me when I started getting greedy. Back then (especially prior to the Lehman-shock recession), working at Berlitz paid well. You could easily be banking circa 320,000 yen -take home- on a busy month (teaching only evenings and Saturdays). That was plenty of money to pay the bills and to enjoy the hobbies while leaving between 60,000~100,000 in the bank for savings. However, once the Lehman shock hit our economy with a vengeance—and NOVA decided to go all scandalous on the EIKAIWA industry, crushing the trust we had built for decades with the Japanese English learning clientele—the amount of pay-per-lesson work we could do went constantly down, hitting a bottom 190,000 yen for me—which led me to seek work elsewhere: and that was the beginning of my sorrows.
In my years with Berlitz, I had been able to create some life-changing connections with famous university professors; thanks to the out-service system that Berlitz offers to businesses and academic institutions. Out-services basically comprises of sending Berlitz instructors to teach courses in several universities and/or businesses in the area. I was able to be part of the Berlitz out-service team which granted me the opportunity to make such connections. Thanks to these connections and to the hard-work I placed in preparing my lessons, my teaching style soon caught the attention of many professors in the universities I was teaching then, and some of these professors recommended me to institutions that needed part-time English instruction—which allowed me to get my very first few direct-hire contracts with universities in Japan—all at the youthful age of 24!
Things seemed to be going really well, the smaller Berlitz salary was now being complemented by 3 other part-time jobs at the university level and another junior/senior high school gig I had acquired along the way. Being young allowed me to have the energy to handle all of these 5 different jobs plus another job at an internet café I was doing in the mornings, 4 times a week, from 4 am to 8 am—just to help me master keigo Japanese. Overall, my total take home salary had increased to a whopping 580,000 yen, and, at the time, I thought such financial success was making me happy—little did I know that working so many hours in so many different jobs would burn me out so hard that all the love that I had for this country would soon turn into pure disdain.
Fast-forward to Japan year 7, and handling this kind of schedule had brought upon me constant diarrhea, overweight from bad eating habits, constant stress due to overwork and a lack of time to properly prepare my lessons, a social life that circled around playing online games with my gaijin friends, a myriad of human relationship problems AND constant fatigue coupled with a career that was going nowhere! These gave birth to a version of myself that I was really disgusted with. I was constantly wearing a mask in front of my students—pretending that everything was all good—while in the inside, I was literally dying from a lack of purpose and fatigue. Work became work for work’s sake. The sense of mission/purpose I once had of bringing positivity and a tint of Brazilian passion to the hearts of young Japanese people had vanished, which led me to develop some terrible habits to cope with the demoralization of my career: constantly drinking and smoking shisha, seeking one-night stands, wasting too many of my very few hours playing video-games were all things I decided to do in order to run away from my new workaholic self.
At the same time, my salary had actually gone down substantially from the previous number mentioned—all because I was not able to handle all the jobs I was doing anymore and had to cut at least 2 of them in order to mentally cope with all the workaholism. In the end, I found myself working 4 part-time jobs, in a field with no prospects for personal growth and without a career path. Life at university level had been all too merciless, no matter how hard I tried to write books/research…in the end, the time I had allocated to study was too small due to the 80 hours + of work I was putting out every week, my personal bad choices in selecting how I was to spend my free time and, at least in my case, the wall the Japanese seniority system would always place between me and a tenured position at a university. Seniority would always take priority and the older guy waiting in line to get that tenure-track job would always be the one getting ahead.
Being fair though, I could have done more research and worked harder on getting published in order to build a solid academic record—had I had 15 publications instead of 7, perhaps, I would have made it…who knows? All I know is that my desire to increase my income was my downfall here in Japan—and when it comes to my work addiction, this is one of the worst countries to be in. Trust me, Japan will hand it to you when it comes to doing all them extra overtime hours of “service zangyo” unpaid, sleeping in the office in order to get work done, useless meetings that go nowhere—all designed to keep you away from home and the people you care/should be caring about. I don’t blame Japan alone for the mistakes I made in the past—I just point the fact that, if perhaps I was in another country, there would have been people or systems in place to keep me from doing what I was doing to myself—always saying “yes” to work that I really didn’t have the time to complete. People here always praised me when I declared that I was working nearly 100 hours a week at a point. No one Japanese came to me and tried to warn me that perhaps, going down the track I was going was not going to lead me to a life truly fulfilling.
This led me to seek rehab for my workaholism in New Zealand. I went there on a working holiday for 1 year—away from the bustling city life in Japan, to the quiet town of Christchurch. I actually thought that Christchurch and I had a lot in common—both under reconstruction after having to handle a disaster that both were not really prepared for.
I know I am drifting away from the topic a bit, but for those interested in knowing, my days in CC were peaceful and it allowed me to make the changes in life that were necessary for me to be able to return to Japan with the mindset I currently have—work and money-making are not the most important things in life! I am currently back in Japan and I work only ONE job as an interpreter for a rugby team. Christchurch also introduced me to this amazing sport—since I was there during the last rugby world cup—and, thanks to that, now I can work only at one place and have enough time for my family and me.
To wrap-up, although all the problems I mentioned above could’ve been avoided if I had taken the necessary precautions (i.e.: made some better life choices), I think these experiences can still serve as a warning sign for those who are too industrious and predisposed to prioritizing work too much. If you plan on coming to Japan, make sure you got your thoughts sorted on work-life balance: the Japanese work vortex can easily suck you into developing an overworking life-style and you may unexpectedly become the next victim of karou-shi. Trust me when I say this. I would have never thought that I, being a laid-back Brazilian native, would almost die of workaholism—but life here proved to me that this is easily achievable when your priorities and your mindset around work are not well organized before you start your life in the land of the Rising Sun.