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27 November 2009

Working in Japan--Joe's last day as a corporate suit

image from tamegoeswild @ flickr

This is the last time that I put on a suit and commute across Tokyo on the rush hour trains - and I am very happy! I'll be leaving the company I've worked at since returning to Japan a year ago, and joining a local publishing / media company www.whiterabbitpress.com - they're the folks who produce the world's no.1-selling kanji flash cards, kanji poster, and who recently have started producing audio tours of Tokyo (Kabukicho and Akihabara so far). You might even find a certain Danny Choo on the Akihabara tour!

Working at a Japanese education company (specialising in English and Chinese) for a year has been an interesting experience. I feel I've learnt a lot about how business is done in Japan.

(Before I go on I would state that I am not singling out the company I have been working for - these are general reflections based on my experience and the experience of friends in other companies, and could be found throughout Japanese workplaces)

I've learnt how much more important Appearance (tatemae) is than Substance or what I would call 'Truth' (honne) in business here. Sometimes it makes your jaw drop when someone says something that everyone knows is completely untrue!

It's often been observed that whilst Japanese employees may work long hours, that doesn't mean they work hard. People are very good at keeping up appearances and pretending to be busy, to show that they are loyal workers.

Then there's the rules - It's said that Japan has a lot of unspoken social rules - join a typical Japanese company and you'll find a lot of these!

Despite all this, I think if you have the chance to work for a Japanese company you should take it. I feel it was an immensley valuable experience for me, and I'm grateful for the experience. For the most part I've enjoyed it too!!

As I mentioned, I was working in the education field - and I think it's worth passing on what I've seen happen in the past year to others who might be thinking of teaching English in Japan.

My first bit of advice would be Don't Do It! ...at least not at the moment. English teaching in Japan is suffering terribly from the recession. Hourly rates have dropped, and for those wanting to teach business English there are far fewer hours available.

Many smaller employers have folded as corporate clients cut back on English education budgets, and the larger chains (Gaba/Berlitz etc) are squeezing their teachers as much as they can. I recently visited the National Labour Union and was staggered by some of the stories of how people are being treated in this industry.

The government sponsored JET Program isn't immune to this either, there have been cases of teachers having their contracts terminated after 6 months, with them re-hired by private companies on behalf of the government who provide far fewer benefits. Interac is the company to watch out for here.

Having said that though there are exceptions. I was recently offered a teaching job at a major airline which paid 5.2million yen - plus multiple free domestic and international flights for me and my family every year. This is the exception not the rule though.

Overall, as I arrive at my office for the last time (having spent the whole train journey tapping this out on my iPhone!), I feel grateful for this insight into another aspect of this country I call home.


I saw this over on Danny Choo's site and had to repost it-- I feel so happy for this fellow, and hope like hell my number will come up soon. Don't get it twisted; I work in public schools, so my take is a little different-- I love the kids because they DON'T do the whole tatemae/honne thing; they only know how to be themselves. The teachers for the most part are the same way--they got into this career field to teach, not to appease. YMMV however, ne? Here's my comment from Danny's site:

You're doing what a lot of us are trying to do here man. It's the reason my other like-minded ex-pat friends and I started a magazine here in Nagoya== We are ronin journalists without a cause... So we started a company try to do it ourselves. I'd like to repost this on our magazine's blog if I may-- http://www.ranmagazine.com

send me a DM via twitter to @starrwulfe if it's ok. And good luck. I share the same sentiments as you about the whole industry here in Japan-- I avoided it as long as I could for nearly 10 years, but when my main job's contract expired without recourse, I became an ALT... I work for one of the more reputable, transparent companies here, but I still could stand to be making more ¥.

Posted via web from ...all about starrwulfe...

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