Is it your dream to teach English in Japan?
The other day I asked if there was an HDMI cable I could use for my self introductions in classes. I never thought I would be having that kind of conversation in Japanese so soon after returning to Japan. I feel like I forgot so much Japanese since I lived here before. But honestly, I don’t know how to literally say that. I used context and English-Japanese a lot to do it. I also learned a new word – to attach or plug something into the computer. It took less than five minutes for a teacher to go find the HDMI cable and it to appear on my desk. And I was almost too scared to ask.
This job is really funny sometimes. It’s really based on attitude and willingness to try. My small ability in Japanese is a huge help as long as I’m not scared to explain around things I don’t know how to say, which is a lot. I find Japanese people are super nice and helpful if they see I’m making an effort. Their hard work rubs off on me and I feel like I’m being lazy if I don’t put in a little effort too. Somehow I’m able to work a lot harder when I live in Japan than when I live in America.
Sometimes I think of this as the “immigrant factor” which is probably a real social phenomenon documented by sociologists, but something I have never read about and have just noticed in everyday life. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, I think that inclination was much more common for the generation my (first generation American) grandparents were in. Maybe there wasn’t any other choice but to start your own business at that time. As Seth Godin said, 100 years ago, no one had a job. I think when you’re new to a country, you can have a fresh perspective on things and see opportunities in a different way. Maybe there’s more motivation to hustle to avoid failing miserably.
This might be a way longer conversation than I have in mind, but I want to ask current foreigners living in Japan (and elsewhere) what they do as side jobs. Because all the long term ALTs / English teachers I’ve met have side jobs. This is most likely a result of needing to provide for a family, because a (technically) part time ALT job isn’t going to pay the bills if you’re supporting a partner and child. It’s probably possible, but definitely not easy or a comfortable life to do so. There are several options for side jobs as a native English speaker in Japan. A part time Eikaiwa job is definitely a popular choice, but I’ve met people who do something like exporting on the side.
The first time I lived in Japan, within two months of arriving, I had a side job – I occasionally worked at an Eikaiwa. Most of the time I only worked at their “International Parties.” All I had to do was show up for a couple hours, eat snacks and drink can chu-hi (my favorite, what’s this?!), and chat with other guests. It was easy money as long as I showed up, and a nice way to meet people who might want to hang out sometime. I also worked there a few times at their conversation cafe which was kind of a tea house format. It was a lot more difficult because you never knew who would show up – sometimes no one, sometimes people who were a little too friendly, sometimes people who had really different levels of English. The point was to get all the guests having a conversation where they were speaking equally, which is impossible even within the same level. It wasn’t hard to find something interesting to talk about, but it still feels a little forced at first.
This time I felt the urge to find a side hustle right away too, but didn’t have much energy to put a lot of effort into it after work. During the spring break, I got an opportunity to work at a small camp in the area for a couple days, which was super fun. I love ESL camps and had never gotten the chance to work at one in Japan before. Now I’m putting more effort into finding students to tutor.
It really depends on the schedule and position you have if your side job is at an Eikaiwa or another hourly position. The time you can work is limited by the primary position you have, especially while on a work visa. Most long term foreigners working in Japan are in Japan with a “Spouse of National” visa status, because they are married to a Japanese national. Some people get a five year work visa or have a different situation. If you have a one year instructor work visa (normal for the first couple years working as an ALT for a dispatch company), that means you are limited by the type of work you can do as well as needing to keep your visa renewed. It’s usually not a problem to renew through your dispatch company if they want you to continue working for them, although there is a fee to change or renew your visa status. If you have a Spouse of National visa, you aren’t limited to working as an English teacher, but you are limited by your ability in Japanese.
With an instructor visa, usually your company wants you to ask for permission before doing any other work. I think it’s mostly so you don’t get into trouble with illegal work, taxes, or bad performance at your primary job.
Most native English speaking foreigners living in Japan work as an ALT or at an Eikaiwa, as an English teacher. There are a handful who work as programmers or translators, etc. but they can pass JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) level N1 or N2 to qualify for that type of work. See this great podcast series for examples of Foreigners living in Japan who aren’t teaching English.
If you are living in Japan and working as English teacher, plus have a side job, what do you do? Why do you have a side job? Do you hope to be able to quit your day job someday?