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