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How do you spell "adventure" and "money?"
Teach English in Japan, an American says

Blast Osaka Bureau

SHIRAHAMA, JAPAN -- Two years ago, after receiving rejection slips from every newspaper from New York to Tacoma in my bid to jump-start a newspaper career, I was feeling pretty discouraged about future prospects in my chosen field of journalism.

Woodward and Bernstein were only 26 or 27 when they brought down President Nixon writing for the Washington Post. Meanwhile, fast approaching my 25th birthday, I couldn't seem to rustle up an internship at the Palooka Herald.

So after five grueling, self-financed years of university education, I realized my options were quickly dwindling.

I knew I could stay in San Francisco and continue my student job at a big investment bank downtown. But the thought of a few more years fixing printers and coding WordPerfect for the Mike Milkens and Carl Icahns of the future didn't sound very thrilling.

So I decided on another option -- teaching English in Japan. I had minored in Japanese at San Francisco State and spent a few months working in Kobe as an undergraduate. I had always had an interest in Japanese food and culture. I also knew from an old girlfriend who taught in Tokyo for four years: if you wanted the opportunity to make a lot of money and have an international experience and travel the world without any special qualifications, Japan was a place you could do it.

Teaching English in Japan is a bizarre industry and subculture which has evolved since the country's economic boom 10 years ago. In the mid-1980s, the Japan's economy was growing 5 to 10 percent per year, creating expendable income and leisure opportunities for a country that had been desperately poor after World War II. These circumstances, plus a push from the Japanese government to employ foreigners to teach English in the schools, created a huge demand for native English speakers to work in Japan.

Despite a prolonged recession, English teaching in Japan remains a strange and lucrative trade. The strangest thing is that English teachers in Japan rarely have or need any training in teaching or linguistics. English teaching in Japan rarely requires expertise in grammar or educational theory.

In fact, teaching English often ends up being whatever the teacher wants it to be -- asking the students about their weekend or playing "hangman" on a blackboard. Usually, it just means speaking English to Japanese. So that practically any person in the United States could do the job.

Another surprise, in addition to the ease with which this "profession" can be entered is the amount of money that can be earned. Even in poorer parts of Japan, the going rate for English conversation is about $35 per hour. Despite the high cost of living here, this can still yield substantial savings. In urban centers of Japan, enterprising young Americans work themselves non-stop, saving for graduate school or an early retirement. One man I know living in Kobe earned more than $100,000 in one year teaching 7 days a week - high school in the day, private lessons at night, community centers and senior citizen homes on the weekends.

In my own tour of duty here, I have decided to focus on studying Japanese and enjoying my experience instead of making tons of money.

Still, life here has been inexplicably luxurious. My job is with a Japanese Board of Education in a beach town south of the Osaka metropolis. This has meant a light class load plus lots of rest and recreation on the beach and in local hot springs. There are a lot places I thought I might be at age 26, but this isn't one of them.