Living In Japan Without Teaching English

Last night at 2:30 AM, another of my gaijin friends left Japan.  What can I do to keep them here?  He got on a plane with his family back to New Zealand where he will open a convenience store (what I guess they call a ‘dairy’).  He figures that it will be more fulfilling than a career as an eikaiwa teacher.

There were serious reasons why he quit actually.  There was a ridiculous complaint that was totally unrelated to teaching leveled at him by an unsatisfied customer (oops… I mean student) and his superiors stuck up for him.  Kind of.  Well, they defended him, reassured the complainer that he’s a good teacher, and then put him on The List.

I remember The List.  I got put on it myself once at least.  It was at a small eikaiwa where I taught many years ago.  They put you on The List after a student complains and they stick out their neck for you.  Then they find all kinds of fault with how you dress, how you teach, whether you smile enough or not, whether or not you look tired, and generally everything else about your personal habits and/or teaching.  Although they never gave you any guidelines for how to teach at their school, you’re breaking them all.

So, he left the school, puttered around a while contemplating his next eikaiwa job, and then realized that sitting behind a cash register would be a better life. 

It’s tough because I know a lot of foreigners who love Japan and really want to live here.  But what if you don’t like teaching English?  What if you can’t handle the madness of eikaiwa?

In my case, I can’t follow rules and I’m utterly and completely unemployable.  My last job proved that.  That’s why I became a writer.  But for other folks who want to live in Japan but don’t want to be eigo sensei, I thought I’d offer some ideas.

Master The Crap Out Of Japanese

If you can perfect the earth’s hardest language and speak it exactly like a native, you can get any job you want to.  That is, as long as on top of your stellar Japanese language ability you’re also skilled at something or you know key people.  Language in Japan is about so much more than just words.  There’s an intricate etiquette for absolutely everything, so you’d have to learn all of that too.  Then, you’re a shoe in.  Good luck!

Downside: Now you have to ride the world’s most crowded train for 2 hours each morning and 2 hours each night and spend all day in a grey office taking orders from grey old men.  And you might get laid off.

Manage Other Poor Sucker Eigo Sensei’s

If you’re pretty good at the eigo sensei game and your superiors like you, it’s easy to climb the ranks.  With such high turnover and so few who are unwilling to stick it out, management positions at English schools are virtually up for grabs.  When I quit Nova after having worked there 6 months, they were trying to get me to take a management position!  I was like, ‘Sorry, I’m actually quitting.’ 

Downside: Although you don’t have to teach so much, you’re still stuck in the eikaiwa business.

Live In Tokyo

There are actually lots of opportunities to work non-teaching jobs if you live in Tokyo.  I know lots of people who work for international companies that have Tokyo offices.  There are IT companies, travel agencies… well okay, mostly IT companies and travel agencies that I’ve heard of.  You may still teach English part (or half) of the time, but it would be a job that makes sense and has a future.

Downside: You have to be good at something.

Stock Shelves At Costco

No irony intended here.  I was contemplating it before I decided that I’d either write or starve.  As much as I hate that place, I just pictured myself stocking shelves silently and not having to talk all day long.  I have a friend who works there and they hire non-Japanese with little (or maybe zero) language ability.  He said he even has co-workers that gave up higher paying English teaching jobs to work there.

Downside: The pay is low for starters and it’s actually hard work.

Live Off Your Wife/Husband

If you’re married to a Japanese national, you can always just let them do all the work.  If you don’t speak Japanese, they probably do everything for you anyway (it’s humor, folks!).  I’ve known a good number of Westerners that couldn’t hold a job to save their lives, even in eikaiwa.  They could get drunk and miss work, or disappear for a while and get sacked, and their Japanese better half would bring home the bacon.

Downside: It’s kind of bad form.

Work Online

This is how I escaped a life of ‘Heads Shoulders Knees and Toes’ and no raises ever.  I know a whole bunch of people in Japan who write, do Internet marketing, or offer some kind of technical services online as freelancers.  It’s a tough hustle, but if you’re determined, there’s a lot of opportunity.

Downsides: You’ll need to sort out your own visa and also figure out how to get money sent here.  Oh, and the dollar to yen exchange rate sucks.  Bad.

Import This And Export That

I don’t know much about this but I know several people that do import-export.  I used to know a guy who was an imported car dealer.  This is something to check out if you’re interested.  I think it helps though if you can speak Japanese and if you live in Tokyo.

Downside: You need to be good at sales and have a little entrepreneurial spirit.  Experience helps too.

Make ‘Em Laugh

If the whole being-a-stereotype-of foreigners bit doesn’t bother you about eikaiwa, you can always be on TV.  All you have to do is act like a foreign gorilla and talk about your country all the time.  You can also be a model even if you’re not good looking.  From what I understand, Japan is full of opportunities for folks who want to work in the entertainment industry.  There’s also Disneyland as well (I live in Chiba).

Downside: You have to make an idiot of yourself publicly, which is really not so terrible, especially if the pay is awesome.

On the other hand, here’s an even better way to escape eikaiwa.  Get a Permanent Resident visa and piece together a bunch of part-time jobs and private students.  Get a yochien here, a business class there, and a few one-on-one lessons with students of all ages.  You’ll have lots of variety in your teaching and you’ll make way more money.  You can pick and choose when, where, and whom you teach.  Most eikaiwa’s cheat you out of benefits and insurance anyway, so you’re not losing anything there.  Best of all, you’re your own boss and you can tell any crappy employers to shove it.

Downside: You’ll become unemployable like me.

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