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My future, and Japan...

hybrid3415

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I've visited this forum many times in the past, often as a fly on the wall soaking in advice rather than getting involved in discussions. The same names seem to appear in most threads who I like to think are the "Godfathers" of this forum (Glenski and Mike Cash to name but two) so I know that by coming here, I'll be getting some home truths.

I actually came to this forum roughly a year ago asking for people to help me win a competition (a weekend trip to Japan) my hopes riding on "Facebook likes", in a bid to fulfil my dream of visiting Japan. I ended up coming second place, being awarded Japanese restaurant vouchers. However, more determined than ever to visit Japan, I decided to get an extra job, and eventually fund a 3 week visit to Japan earlier this year.

The aims of this trip were twofold;
1.) Experience a tiny slice of what Japan has to offer, and try to understand things I'd only read in textbooks.
2.) The viability of working and living in Japan.

While in Japan, I made a conscious effort to try and spot the big Eikaiwa names so that I could research them in depth upon returning to the UK. As you can imagine, the main ones included: GABA, ECC, and AEON.

Returning home, I made applications to GABA, ECC, and JET. I'd applied to JET two years ago, but didn't make it to the interview stage (Unfortunately due to the large number of applicants, they're unable to provide individual feedback) however I applied again last year regardless of this. I attended a seminar for GABA and while their representative was very lovely and painted the company in a wonderful light, I couldn't help but find myself drawn to the "pyramid" shapes and low wages. More recently I applied to ECC and managed to pass the initial phone interview, only to not pass the group interview grammar test (Do you know what a sommelier is? No you're not allowed to use Google...)

Which brings me up to my current situation. I'm not a 16 year old Naruto obsessed fan who wants to live in Japan for the wacky lifestyles portrayed in Western media. I'm a 28 year old, highly motivated, keen to learn individual who wants to have a career he can be proud of. Now I know people on these forums refer to the companies I've listed as "language flipping" comparing them to that of working in McDonalds. But on the flip side of that (pun not intended) I have friends in Japan that have used these companies for a year and then found their own work.

What viable options do I really have, other than scraping the barrel for a year before moving on to better things? That's also assuming that a better job would present itself after a year. I'm in the process of completing a 120 hour TEFL course which I'm quite enjoying, but as an ALT will I be utilised to my fullest potential? Is Eikaiwa the only option for a foreigner with my abilities? Glenski, you've been in Japan probably longer than I've been alive by the sounds of it, how did you "break through"?

This is a fairly serious point in my life. I've recently obtained a mortgage which has allowed me to get my hands on ¥522,000, enough to fund my first two or three months in Japan when the time comes to move.

Any advice, jabs, sarcasm, or questions are welcome. I will try my best to answer them so that you're able to offer a better poke in the right direction.
 
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Mike Cash

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I'm a truck driver with a hick town high school education and without Google I knew that a sommelier is a wine steward. What that has to do with grammar is beyond me, though.

If you've been reading us for the last year and a half, you've already seen all the general advice I have to offer....repeated several times. Is there something specific I can help you with?

You ask us what your options are with your abilities, but I can't find where you told us what then are. It makes it difficult to answer.
 
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What viable options do I really have, other than scraping the barrel for a year before moving on to better things?
Well, what do you bring to the bargaining table?
  • work skills
  • education
  • language skills
  • contacts
  • achievements
Most non-teaching opportunities require a fairly high level of Japanese, both written and spoken. This is usually a deal breaker for people who don't want to teach English, and people really need to get over that barrier before going off about things being "unfair" or something.



I decided to get an extra job, and eventually fund a 3 week visit to Japan earlier this year.

The aims of this trip were twofold;
1.) Experience a tiny slice of what Japan has to offer, and try to understand things I'd only read in textbooks.
2.) The viability of working and living in Japan.

While in Japan, I made a conscious effort to try and spot the big Eikaiwa names so that I could research them in depth upon returning to the UK. As you can imagine, the main ones included: GABA, ECC, and AEON.
Mentioning GABA makes me laugh and cry at the same time because of its low reputation. Seeing only eikaiwa names makes me roll my eyes over your mention of "viability of working". Are eikaiwas the only option you pursued in those 3 weeks?

More recently I applied to ECC and managed to pass the initial phone interview, only to not pass the group interview grammar test (Do you know what a sommelier is? No you're not allowed to use Google...)
I don't have to use Google, but you make it sound as if that one word broke the back of the whole test. The "grammar" test is only partly a vocabulary knowledge exam, and usually the words are related to teaching EFL/ESL. Sommelier is not. If you can't pass a grammar test designed by ECC, you must have had a seriously weak education in grammar. That's a slam on your education, not you, as I've learned over the past few years that the US and UK are not teaching what they used to in my "godfather" youth. And from what I see on Internet posts everywhere and in conversations with teacher wannabes, it not only shows, but it's a crying shame.

I'm a 28 year old, highly motivated, keen to learn individual who wants to have a career he can be proud of. ... I have friends in Japan that have used these companies for a year and then found their own work.
So, what do you want? What did your friends want & get, and how did they finagle that? I suspect they had what the employers wanted, or soon got it. Internships are one way to get a foot in the door, so don't think that eikaiwa work is the only way, but you'll still have to meet certain minimum requirements.

I'm in the process of completing a 120 hour TEFL course which I'm quite enjoying, but as an ALT will I be utilised to my fullest potential?
Stories will vary, and complainers are the most vocal group, so it's not fair to say all / most posts show a true situation. The point is, do you even know what the "fullest potential" means in Japan, from the Japanese POV? Start there. I suggest talking to the teachers on the ESL Cafe.

Is Eikaiwa the only option for a foreigner with my abilities? Glenski, you've been in Japan probably longer than I've been alive by the sounds of it, how did you "break through"?
Without trying to sound smug or condescending, I probably had far more under my belt then than you do now. I had worked in Tokyo for 5-6 months for a US company setting up a branch office. It was a biotech field, not teaching, but one of my main roles was to train Japanese scientists on the equipment they intended to purchase, and that meant using English. (I and the others who'd been sent here were fresh hires with zero J language training.)

More than 10 years later I had done some night classes in the US to learn a bit of the language, and I had made a 3-week trip solo to 21 cities in Japan, then wrote them up for an online magazine (now defunct). Due to downsizing, I was forced to look for work, thought I'd give Japan a try, but even though teaching my native language seemed simple enough (based only on the fact that I write and speak well and have always gotten high grades in my HS English classes, in those godfather days when it was actually taught well), I realized that I should get some training first. So, I got a certificate after taking day and night courses for half a year. I scoured the Internet for 6-10 months, which was in its infancy in those days of yore, to learn what the hell was actually out there in the way of opportunities, fears, living conditions, promises, problems, legal issues, etc.

I landed a job (around 40) that paid my airfare and rent, a monumentally rare thing, to teach eikaiwa in a culture center. Despite my certificate, I learned most of how to teach on the job through trial and error. The thing is, I had a relatively good working environment, with 2 other coworkers who were pretty serious about teaching and who were older than most newbies here (one in his 30s, one my age, both with a few years of teaching in Japan). I applied myself seriously to learning how to properly teach, not just kill time in the classroom. When that string of contracts had run their course in 3-4 years, I landed a PT job at a private HS, and since I had just gotten married, I needed more money than that to survive, so I supplemented my income with private lessons (amounting to half my monthly salary). A year later, they renewed my contract but as a full-timer for 3 more years. The policy of the academy wouldn't permit even a well-liked and dedicated teacher such as myself to stay longer. Japanese teachers, foreign teachers, students, and even the principal did not want me to leave, but I had no choice.

I used my master's background in science to land a university job where the school actually advertised for someone with teaching experience and a master's in science, not education. It was a national uni, which at the time was undergoing governmental changes to become a "university corporation" like all the others, and that meant that in the next year I was tenured. Been there ever since. My eikaiwa and HS experience weren't the only things going for me. I'd been making a few presentations and publishing EFL papers online in those HS days, and I had journal publications in my science field. My age also seemed to work in my favor, as did my extensive background in scientific proofreading (a requirement for the uni job that all foreign teachers have for no extra pay). During my HS days, I also landed a side job as copyeditor for a scientific journal that published twice a year. It was no easy feat to land the uni job. I'd sent out about 3 dozen resumes. At the time I'd also reluctantly looked at another private HS (reluctantly because HS work is terribly grueling for FT staff, with 20-22 lessons per week, tons of meetings that suck away your time, and mandatory club attendance or dorm duty that also eat away at your valuable prep time). They were ready to hire me when I heard from the uni.

Any advice, jabs, sarcasm, or questions are welcome. I will try my best to answer them so that you're able to offer a better poke in the right direction.
  • Know what it is you want.
  • Get the requirements.
  • Regardless of whether you seem to need Japanese, learn it and never stop.
  • Always keep your eyes open and work within and outside of the "gaijin bubble" of networking contacts.
P.S. Mike has been here longer than me. I came in 1998.
 

hybrid3415

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Mike! Thank you for your reply. Apologies for my vague initial post, hopefully I can get a little more in depth...

I'm a truck driver with a hick town high school education and without Google I knew that a sommelier is a wine steward. What that has to do with grammar is beyond me, though.
That was the point I was trying to get at. I knew what a sommelier was, however that knowledge came to me from working behind a bar for three years. The applicants I spoke to after the test hadn't the foggiest of what a sommelier was, or how it related to grammar when I told them the answer. I think I was more upset that the company would base their entire opinion of my abilities, upon an hour long grammar test, with fragments of little or no relevance. There was no opportunity for me to give my example of a lesson, or even speak to someone in a one on one interview to get to know me as a person. Besides, no teacher in the world is perfect. They're not guardians of language. Teaching should be about engaging pupils with exciting and well prepared lesson plans which explain the source material.

If you've been reading us for the last year and a half, you've already seen all the general advice I have to offer....repeated several times. Is there something specific I can help you with?
Ha, this is very true. I don't know what I was expecting without giving you a straight question. I've seen you guys offer some decent advice in the past, and I've also seen the consequences of the people that ignore that advice and fall flat on their arses. I recall a post a while ago of a guy fresh out of university, wanting to fly to Japan on a whim and work for GABA. Needless to say, he was a fine example of what lack of preparation can result in.

As far as my abilities and skill sets go, I have a degree in Photography, two years of freelance employment under my belt (doing photography), three years of working behind a bar (up to the level of assistant manager) and roughly three years of retail (as part time to pay the bills during the quiet photography months). Essentially a useless skill set to bring to a foreign county, but I'd like to think each job and skill I have, I can bring small crumbs of experience to the table i.e. customer facing roles, organisation skills, the pressure of running a freelance business. So I guess my specific question would be; realistically is there any other option for me, other than to train to become an Eikaiwa teacher?

Glenski, firstly I'd like to thank you for such an in depth response. I've been thinking about your post while at work today.

Well, what do you bring to the bargaining table?
  • work skills
  • education
  • language skills
  • contacts
  • achievements
Work skills and education I've briefly outlined above. In terms of academic teaching and language skills, my English language skill never went further than GCSE (Although I did bring home an A in literature and a B in language). My Japanese language skill is completely self taught from multiple sources including; the usual textbooks (Japanese for busy people, Learn hiragana and katakana, Basic Japanese, e.t.c.) Rosetta Stone (good for the basics, but terrible for sounding natural) JapanesePod101 (a great website with interactive quizzes, however the material didn't stick) more recently "Memrise" (an app which uses spaced repetition) and obviously, speaking to Japanese people (although I'm quickly learning that Japanese people are terrible at explaining Japanese). I have a small number of English contacts currently in Japan that have worked for companies like Interac and GABA, in combination with some very good Japanese friends I've met via language exchange websites (and met with during my three week trip this year)

Achievements; nothing I'd consider noteworthy. This is where I think my problem is, a feeling of almost being 30 and not having achieved anything of value. I'd love to have an impact on someone's life through teaching. Everyone has that ONE teacher they remember from high school, the one that helped them through the most difficult of problems. This affects people's lives. Even if it's something as trivial as that moment, when a Japanese child finally understands the difference between present and past tense, and it "clicks". I want that sense of accomplishment, that achievement of saying "I did that."

Mentioning GABA makes me laugh and cry at the same time because of its low reputation. Seeing only eikaiwa names makes me roll my eyes over your mention of "viability of working". Are eikaiwas the only option you pursued in those 3 weeks?
I agree, and unfortunately eikaiwas were the only option I pursued during those 3 weeks. It was only after attending a GABA seminar, I realised that just because they have a big name in flashing lights splashed around Japan, it doesn't mean they're a "better" company. But does this mean I could've pursued other possibilities during those 3 weeks? Judging by the comments later on in your reply, I'd probably doubt it.

If you can't pass a grammar test designed by ECC, you must have had a seriously weak education in grammar. That's a slam on your education, not you, as I've learned over the past few years that the US and UK are not teaching what they used to in my "godfather" youth.
Don't worry, no offence taken. It is indeed a comment on my education. Looking back (as we all do at some point) I wish I'd taken English at A-Level and beyond, but sadly I wanted to be an artist. English studies in general take a back seat behind reading the occasional book in my spare time. When I do study English language, it's often from pedantic books which nit-pick at the correct use of English. My current choice is "My grammar and I (Or should that be "Me"?): Old-School ways to sharpen your English" by Caroline Taggart

Internships are one way to get a foot in the door, so don't think that eikaiwa work is the only way, but you'll still have to meet certain minimum requirements.
This I wasn't aware of. I assume I can find out more about internships in Japan on Dave's ESL cafe? Or is there a better website I should be looking at? (I get the feeling gaijinpot.com is going to be the answer)

Without trying to sound smug or condescending, I probably had far more under my belt then than you do now. (Insert history of The Godfather)
I genuinely enjoyed reading about how you started out and where you ended up. It's given me hope that there really is another world of work for foreigners besides eikaiwa. Okay, sure, you had a lot more experience and (useful) skills under your belt. But it was also reassuring to see that you landed an eikaiwa job at 40, in a nice working environment and supportive staff that cared about teaching. It makes a change from all the doom and gloom I read about on "Glassdoor.com"

  • Know what it is you want.
  • Get the requirements.
  • Regardless of whether you seem to need Japanese, learn it and never stop.
  • Always keep your eyes open and work within and outside of the "gaijin bubble" of networking contacts.
I'll continue to study Japanese on a daily basis to try and go from "Basic" to "Conversational" to see what doors that will open. I've been looking to get some form of experience in schools here in the UK, although sadly it seems there are a lot more government regulations and red tape, which schools just aren't prepared to do unless you're becoming a full time teacher. I'm trying to get experience in other ways though, including private lessons via Skype, and writing lessons plans on random topics people throw at me.

P.S. Mike has been here longer than me. I came in 1998.
Damn!
 
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I knew what a sommelier was, however that knowledge came to me from working behind a bar for three years. The applicants I spoke to after the test hadn't the foggiest of what a sommelier was, or how it related to grammar when I told them the answer. I think I was more upset that the company would base their entire opinion of my abilities, upon an hour long grammar test, with fragments of little or no relevance. There was no opportunity for me to give my example of a lesson, or even speak to someone in a one on one interview to get to know me as a person.
Places like ECC give a grammar test first just to test the candidates' basic knowledge of grammar and EFL/ESL terminology. If they pass muster (including a watchful eye on one's general attitude and personality, including what you said and did during their company presentation on what they do), then there is a panel interview and a chance to perform a demo lesson, so there you go! You weren't being graded solely on sommelier or just that one exam.

Besides, no teacher in the world is perfect. They're not guardians of language. Teaching should be about engaging pupils with exciting and well prepared lesson plans which explain the source material.
Afraid I'm going to have to disagree in a big way here, although I will grant that nobody is perfect. No teacher can be expected to have all knowledge of their field at their immediate beck and (re)call, but you need to understand something beyond that here.
1) Asian students are taught to treat their teachers as gods. Dominant, one-way in their teaching (i.e., questions in class are not expected, and statements made by the teacher are certainly never challenged), and all-knowing.
2) Even if you find yourself in a situation where students approach you after/before a lesson and ask about a grammar point or pronunciation or nuance (the usual cases), you either need to have this information off the top of your head, or provide it ASAP by the next lesson. Your credibility is at stake.

re: your skill set in photography
Essentially a useless skill set to bring to a foreign county, but I'd like to think each job and skill I have, I can bring small crumbs of experience to the table i.e. customer facing roles, organisation skills, the pressure of running a freelance business. So I guess my specific question would be; realistically is there any other option for me, other than to train to become an Eikaiwa teacher?
I would say that being organized is very important, but little else is actually applicable. Many come here and spout similar "skills", thinking that being a scuba teacher in their home country means they know how to handle students in a foreign language situation, for example. Uh, no. Think positive, yes, but learn what you really have to offer, because that's very likely going to be a question asked at an interview, and you need to explain more (and certainly honestly, because people can smell B.S. a mile away).

My Japanese language skill is completely self taught
Nothing wrong with that, but it still sounds as if you are fairly low on the ladder. Have you taken any JLPT or equivalent test to rank yourself with a number that people here can use to more accurately judge your ability?

speaking to Japanese people (although I'm quickly learning that Japanese people are terrible at explaining Japanese)
No surprise. With regard to English, most native speakers suffer the same drawback unless they have actually been taught/trained how to do that.

Achievements; nothing I'd consider noteworthy.
Actually, I think self-studying of Japanese might qualify even if it's a low level at the moment, simply because you seem to have drawn from a variety of sources. Don't knock yourself for that. Initiative shows, especially if there is very little other opportunity to learn the language where you live. Other achievements may not be obvious to you (publishing English research is obvious, publishing a portfolio of your pics may not be so obvious, but it is something, for example).

When I do study English language, it's often from pedantic books which nit-pick at the correct use of English.
So, you are somewhat sincere and serious after all in looking into being an English teacher. Go to the ESL Cafe and ask for more advice on what to read to self-train yourself (Michael Swan's reference text Practical English Usage should be mentioned, although it is just a reference, not a training manual). And look more into how to get a teaching/English certificate if you really are that serious. Of course, if you merely want to use teaching as a foot in the door to other careers, you'll have to gauge how economical that is.

unfortunately eikaiwas were the only option I pursued during those 3 weeks....But does this mean I could've pursued other possibilities during those 3 weeks? Judging by the comments later on in your reply, I'd probably doubt it.
Depends. If you had planned ahead, you might have looked into internships or landing a working holiday visa or something similar, then made contact with potential employers before you left home to arrange an interview. If memory serves, Brits under 30 are eligible for the WHV, and that requires no college degree and no employer to guarantee the visa (unlike a regular work visa).

I assume I can find out more about internships in Japan on Dave's ESL cafe? Or is there a better website I should be looking at? (I get the feeling gaijinpot.com is going to be the answer)
GaijinPot is rife with flamers and bozos. Be very careful on that site. The Cafe when I last visited over a year ago is hit and miss but still the best place for English teachers to check out. It's not all that useful for other types of careers. Just do a Google search. Here is a list I posted a few years ago on GP (not sure if all links are still valid):
http://tjp.washington.edu/main/internships
http://www.temple.edu/studyabroad/pr...ternships.html
http://www.internabroad.com/listings.../listing/49431
http://japankarateintern.blogspot.com/
http://www.eas.caltech.edu/summer/ja...hip/index.html
http://web.mit.edu/misti/mit-japan/s...s/internships/
http://www.four-h.purdue.edu/interna...pan_intern.htm
http://www.jobs.agilent.com/students/japan.html
http://all.umn.edu/japanese_language/internship.html
http://www.nippon-kan.org/studentcol...nternship.html
http://www.us.emb-japan.go.jp/jicc/JICCintern.pdf
http://www.jhip.org/
http://japan.osu.edu/applications/saitama.pdf
http://www.studyabroadlinks.com/sear...ams/index.html
http://www.japanjobsguide.com/dir/internship/index.html
http://www.jaims.org/MBA/MBA_Internship.html
http://www.4icj.com/jp/11-internship...level-jobs.htm
http://www.nambufound.com/default.html
http://www.lexlrf.org/exchange/Job_Description.pdf
http://www.pazjapan.org/Internships.htm
http://ask.metafilter.com/90477/Advi...nship-in-Japan
 

Mike Cash

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I think I was more upset that the company would base their entire opinion of my abilities, upon an hour long grammar test, with fragments of little or no relevance. There was no opportunity for me to give my example of a lesson, or even speak to someone in a one on one interview to get to know me as a person. Besides, no teacher in the world is perfect. They're not guardians of language. Teaching should be about engaging pupils with exciting and well prepared lesson plans which explain the source material.
You'll forgive me if I come across as blunt throughout this reply, I hope.

First major point to focus on here....you're talking about a COMPANY. Don't overlook the significance of that. They're a BUSINESS, looking to separate as many customers as possible from as much of their money as possible. They don't give two sh!ts about teaching, learning, or language. Those things are just the PRETEXT....not the PRODUCT. What they sell is hopes and dreams and face time with a foreigner. What they deliver, in the vast majority of cases, is very little indeed. Japanese people are perfectly willing to take the blame for failure to advance in English ability upon themselves, without considering that it may be a matter of cruddy faux "education" and not some inborn inability to learn a foreign language. This tendency opens up the field to hucksters and charlatans, and they dominate the field.

They don't give a damn what YOU think teaching should be. Those with a serious desire to impart useful knowledge should get some professional training/qualifications, and avoid the Eikaiwa scam mills like the plague.

They may have rejected you for something as simple as your appearance, your age, or your gender.

As far as my abilities and skill sets go, I have a degree in Photography, two years of freelance employment under my belt (doing photography), three years of working behind a bar (up to the level of assistant manager) and roughly three years of retail (as part time to pay the bills during the quiet photography months). Essentially a useless skill set to bring to a foreign county, but I'd like to think each job and skill I have, I can bring small crumbs of experience to the table i.e. customer facing roles, organisation skills, the pressure of running a freelance business. So I guess my specific question would be; realistically is there any other option for me, other than to train to become an Eikaiwa teacher?
As you no doubt are painfully aware, with the advent of digital photography it has become very hard to make a living as a photographer; EVERYBODY who buys an entry-level DSLR and a superzoom kit lens imagines they can make a living doing it, and it seems like most of them try.

I think you may need clarity on this whole English teaching thing.

There is serious, academic teaching of English...with expectations of demonstrated ability as objectively measurable by actual improvement of students' skill levels. Usually taught to students who have an actual need to develop English skills, who work hard, and expect the teacher to know his onions. This is the TESL/TEFL field, and careers may be had in it in many parts of the world. Jobs like that require specialized education and qualifications and, at least in Japan, are few and far between. Openings are rare.

There is Eikaiwa...which is pretending to teach English to people who are pretending to learn it. You will never find a more apt or concise description of the job than that. It is a job field dominated by freshly graduated singles who, for the most part, want to come fart about in Japan for a year or two before returning to "the world" and getting on with their real lives. People who come here actually wanting to teach and imagining they're going to be real teachers in real schools conducting real classes providing real education get incredibly frustrated by the make-believe world of Eikaiwa.

It isn't the sort of thing people make careers out of. They don't want to and the companies don't want them to. When you came here and looked at the scam mills, what was the proportion of teachers you saw who were in their 30s? 40s? 50s? The industry has been around for many decades, yet the "teachers" are overwhelmingly in their early twenties. What does this tell you about the potential and/or the desirability of basing a long-term life in Japan on employment by the Eikaiwa pirates? They have predominantly early twenties labor for several reasons:

  • They're more physically attractive
  • They're more eager to come here
  • They're available in abundance
  • They're easy to replace (disposable)
  • They're ignorant of labor laws
  • They're ignorant of Japan (many students prefer that)
  • They'll usually leave of their own accord (many students prefer a turnover of fresh faces)
  • They're easy to screw on pay, benefits, housing, you name it
I have met and have had mail from numerous foreigners who have fallen into the Eikaiwa pit, having come here prepared to do nothing else and having not prepared themselves to do anything else while they were here, who have found themselves in their thirties or forties STUCK in Eikaiwa and in circumstances where leaving Japan was not an option. They're miserable, with the misery compounded by hopelessness of ever escaping Eikaiwa. They ask how I was able to get out of it. While I have sympathy for them, it generally turns out they have farted away the years firmly ensconced inside the gaijin bubble, failing to develop any language skills or literacy, depending on the school staff or a spouse or child to lead them around and wipe their figurative noses for them.

Those with a passion and a talent for teaching and who can open their own school or gather sufficient private students can have a long, satisfying, and rewarding stay in Japan. There are many who have done that. I am happy for them. Trying to do that within the confines of the Eikaiwa industry is highly unlikely. The older you get, the less employable you are. The longer you've been here, the less employable you are. The prospect of trying to build a career or of trying to raise a family on a never-ending succession of one-year contracts in such an environment can't be terribly good for one's ulcers.

This is why I always hammer on the point of coming here with MARKETABLE JOB SKILLS. Using an Eikaiwa job to get one's foot in the door, to get on the ground to facilitate searching for the next opportunity, is perfectly fine. The system is there and perfectly willing to exploit you, so there's no reason you shouldn't exploit it in return. Anybody seriously contemplating coming here for more than a year or two stay and who doesn't arrive with an OPTION for employment other than Eikaiwa in their pocket is a fool. Anybody seriously contemplating living here for more than a year or two and who doesn't arrive with or develop while they are here the same sort of linguistic ability (and LITERACY) that they would take for granted of immigrants to their own home country is a damned fool.

Achievements; nothing I'd consider noteworthy. This is where I think my problem is, a feeling of almost being 30 and not having achieved anything of value.
Interestingly, this is also about the age that people who have come here in their early twenties and ridden the Eikaiwa contract renewal pony around the fairground a few too many times suddenly wake up and fear that life has gotten in the car and gone home without them. They fear they are becoming increasingly unemployable back home, and this brings a crashing realization that, "Oh my God! I might be stuck doing this crap!" It is when one feels that one's OPTIONS are disappearing that things get scary. Another time many long-term foreigners (sadly, in this country that seems to mean anything over three years) look to pack up and escape back to "the world" is when their children reach school age.

I'd love to have an impact on someone's life through teaching. Everyone has that ONE teacher they remember from high school, the one that helped them through the most difficult of problems. This affects people's lives. Even if it's something as trivial as that moment, when a Japanese child finally understands the difference between present and past tense, and it "clicks". I want that sense of accomplishment, that achievement of saying "I did that."
That is a noble sentiment. Train to be a real teacher at a real school teaching real classes with real expectations of real performance. Very little even remotely resembling education takes place at Eikaiwa. Students, for the most part, have been told by sales staff that they will automagically absorb English by sitting in front of a native speaker and that they needn't bother themselves with that pesky old grammar that they remember practically nothing of, despite ostensibly having studied it for six years in school. Students, for the most part, do little to no studying at home, little to no preparation for class, little to no review of what you cover, and retain astonishingly little of what you thought you had taught. You can bust your brains out trying to get a point across and a week later have the same student sit in front of you and swear up and down they have no recollection of ever having heard of it before. Repeat ad infinitum. The only saving feature is that you know you will never be held accountable for their failure to learn, retain, or be able to apply anything, whether by staff or by the students themselves. People with a genuine passion for imparting knowledge are universally the most frustrated teachers at the Eikaiwa. People marking time until payday and here for a lark don't give a damn and aren't bothered by it. Eikaiwa short-term in your twenties is flipping language burgers. The prospect of doing it for thirty years or more is about as appealing as a job shoveling sand uphill.

English studies in general take a back seat behind reading the occasional book in my spare time. When I do study English language, it's often from pedantic books which nit-pick at the correct use of English
Back in the days when I lived by whoring out my gaijinity, I was appalled by the utter lack of English knowledge on the part of the "teachers" I worked with. I will never forget one who mere seconds before walking into a class to teach a lesson centered on pronouns asked me, "Hey, Mike, what's a pronoun?"

How long a person has been here...the number itself...means nothing and is a reliable indicator of nothing. Simply being here is not an accomplishment. It is like being the tallest kid in the second grade....sit there long enough and anybody can do it.

I recently met a man, I think he was an American, and overheard his wife telling some other people he had been here thirteen years. Later on, it came up again when I was in the conversation (I didn't ask...I never ask) and he said he had been here ten years. I knew this didn't jibe with what I had overheard earlier, but I didn't say anything. His wife did, though. She immediately corrected him, saying he had been here thirteen years. He said that his Japanese was such utter sh!t that he was embarrassed to admit how long he has been here and shaved the facts in the interest of plausibility. He wasn't being falsely modest, either. Once he had said "Konnichiwa" and "Hajimemashite", he was done and his Japanese speaking cupboard was bare.

Saw another guy on television recently, a retired United States Navy Master Chief Petty Officer who first came to Japan 42 years ago, has been married to a Japanese woman 36 years, has lived here continuously for the last 21 years....and his Japanese ability is about on a par with the guy mentioned in the above paragraph.

The only being in the world more totally isolated from knowledge of or interaction with its surroundings or with less accountability for being able to take care of itself than a gaijin in the bulletproof gaijin bubble is an unborn child in its mother's womb. Once born, though, the infant requires less work and a$$-wiping on the part of those tasked with taking care of it.

Foreigners love to establish their pecking order, cow others, and bolster their statements by telling each other how long they've been here. I'm here to tell you it means nothing whatsoever, that Japan and Japanese ability isn't a contest, that some of the most ignorant uninformed crap you will ever hear about Japan can spill from the pie holes of people here for decades, and that when anybody pulls that nonsense on you, you should spot it for the BS it is and tell them to bugger off.
 
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While Mike has hit the nail on the head in most places, I think I should point out a tiny amount of clarification.

There is serious, academic teaching of English...with expectations of demonstrated ability as objectively measurable by actual improvement of students' skill levels. Usually taught to students who have an actual need to develop English skills, who work hard, and expect the teacher to know his onions. This is the TESL/TEFL field, and careers may be had in it in many parts of the world. Jobs like that require specialized education and qualifications and, at least in Japan, are few and far between. Openings are rare.
Many people think that university teaching is a pinnacle of good education/career for English teaching. Well, it is to those who actually devote considerable effort to it. There are many who treat it like eikaiwa, and that legacy just dribbles on. So, as we say in Japan, case by case.

Academic teaching can also mean corporate (business) English, whether one is actually inside a company teaching fellow co-workers as part of his job, or one is farmed out to a company from an agency that actually provides legit teaching/training services to companies. Lots of the corporate world here is blind to the actual needs of English in the reality of globalization. Those companies think they can get by with zero English or scant little, and they have no future prospects or plans that entail foreign customers. Stupid when it turns out to be the opposite (and no, not all companies will need English, but the ones who will are stupid). Then there are the companies, usually small to mid-size that are stuck with no concept of how to teach it to their employees and can't afford to get teachers or subsidize eikaiwa/business English classes to their employees. Finally, there are those companies (most, I'm finding in my research) who see the need, such as establishing a branch office overseas, yet who don't give a damn about an employee's study abroad experience (I don't understand that) or their current English ability (beyond passing the mundane TOEIC at around 600-700, unsuitable for conducting business, but so be it). What they do is throw the employee to the wolves and let them choose how to prepare for language and culture abroad on their own, often after they land on foreign shores. A guy I know who trained employees in Japan before they were sent abroad has reported that most of them were given the nod to move in 1-3 months before they moved, hardly enough time to prepare for the language challenge.

Those with a passion and a talent for teaching and who can open their own school or gather sufficient private students can have a long, satisfying, and rewarding stay in Japan. There are many who have done that.
Yes, many, but perhaps far more who fail. Two reasons come to mind.
1) Poor business sense.
2) Lack of students/high competition.
A third reason might be related to #1, in that many (as Mike explained so well) don't have enough Japanese to market themselves. Flyers in English don't sell classes as well as flyers in Japanese.
Related to #2, picture yourself in a medium to small city. You may be one of relatively few foreigners, but you're competing with those who are already established, who the locals have met or seen, and who probably know the language. Even if you know enough and have a good mind for marketing, the numbers of students are still low. Currently, the push is on for younger and younger kids to learn, and it's parents who do the pushing, not educators.

To everything else he wrote, I'd have to just say ditto. Eikaiwa may be a foot or toe in the doorway, but come with a plan/strategy to move up in the teaching food chain, or out of it ASAP.
 
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Lots of good and detailed advice. I am assuming that you have a degree, so I would suggest of your dream is to come here, then take what ever job you can get that gets your feet on the ground. If you have been lurking here for a year, you will know that entry jobs in eikaiwa have their ups and downs, but it gets you in the country and in a position to find out if this is where you want to be and a chance to start looking of the life and job that you want.

if you have a job before you arrive, then you will not need to use much of your start up money. I would take a jopb "blind" myself, as long as it had housing arrangements (no key money, etc) and spend a year larding the ropes and working on Japanese language skills.

Best entry job IMO is the JET program
 
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