The 'Land of the Rising Sun' is a welcoming destination for many ESL teachers wanting to find a job teaching English abroad. Teaching in Japan allows teachers to explore a nation known for being the perfect blend of ancient customs and cutting edge technology.
Housing in Japan is generally smaller and very different from homes in the US. The terms used to describe housing also differ. Japan has its own set of housing terms to distinguish between the different styles of housing units available. The letters LDK are used to identify whether the house has a living room (L), dining area (D), and kitchen (K). For example, a 2DK apartment is an apartment with two bedrooms and a dining room with kitchen; whereas 1K is an apartment with one bedroom and a small kitchen. Housing in Japan is typically measured using tatami matting, a traditional style of flooring, which still covers the floors of some rooms in modern apartments. A typical bedroom is six tatami mats in area (~100 sq. ft.). While many modern apartments have Western style bathrooms, combining a small bathtub, shower, and sink, ESL teachers should expect older apartments or buildings to have "squatters" (toilets on the ground). Newer apartments tend to have a bath unit, which includes everything in one room. The bath units are covered with tile or plastic inserts, so foreigners should not expect shower curtains or dividers. In addition, bathtubs are not used for washing, but for soaking and relaxing. They are smaller in length but much deeper than US style tubs and they can be compared to miniature hot tubs. Please see the Bathing Etiquette section for the proper use of the bathtub.
ESL teachers should know that some employers provide dorm style apartments with shared bathrooms and kitchens and separate bedrooms. Typical one-room apartments (bachelor suites) often do not contain a separate bedroom. A futon mat rolled out on the floor is still commonly used for sleeping, which is then folded up and stored in a closet during the day to save space, or hung outside using special clips to air. It is important to note that, except in Hokkaido, apartments are not usually insulated, so space heaters, electric floor mats, and Kotatsu (small tables with built in electric blankets) are used to keep apartments and houses warm.
Similar to accommodations, some contracts may include paid airfare depending on the employer and length of contract. It is common for employers to reimburse teachers for the cost of their airfare after they have fulfilled the contractual agreement, often in the form of a contract completion bonus. This encourages employees to stay the full duration of their contract and protects employers from losing their new staff members prematurely. Therefore, ESL teachers should plan to pay for airfare, at least initially.
Since 2007, the majority of ESL teachers are enrolled in the Japanese Employee Health Insurance system, Shakai Hoken. Although this usually provides subsidized health benefits, it could still be worthwhile for an ESL teacher to have additional coverage from their home country. It is essential to establish what coverage a teacher has, before departing from their home country. For further information regarding Japan's health benefit system, visit http://www.mhlw.go.jp/english/org/policy/p34-35.html.
Technology and Advancement
On the whole, Japan is a technologically advanced country with talking escalators and heated toilet seats. It is the model of efficiency in many ways and so accessing the Internet is fairly easy for ESL teachers. If teachers do not have access at their accommodations (which is rare), there are a few other options for accessing it, which are listed below:
ESL teachers should have no problem accessing the Internet or computers in Japan, as virtually all work places will have Internet access; however, setting up the Internet on your home computer can be a fairly drawn out or lengthy process, especially if you live in a remote area.
ESL teachers may be surprised to hear that most major cities have Costco and specialty food or import stores that supply American foods. As most teachers will not own a vehicle, it is beneficial that Costco will deliver right to one's home and stores are often conveniently located next to train lines. If teachers are living in a smaller, more rural city, large supermarkets such as Costco may not exist but it is likely that they will still be able to find typical American food. It should be noted, however, that buying American food will likely cost considerably more than buying Japanese food and so these purchases will be seen by most teachers as luxury items.
Traveling by taxi is definitely the most expensive mode of transportation, as is the case with most developed countries. Fares are similar in most parts of Japan, and the initial fee is approximately ¥600 - ¥700 for the first 2km. After the initial 2km, it is approximately ¥100 for every 350 meters.
Tips When Traveling By Taxi:
Train and Subway
The train is certainly the most popular mode of transportation among teachers and Japanese nationals alike. It is fast, frequent, and comfortable but can be expensive depending on the type of train and distance traveled. The types of trains vary from small local companies to the bullet train (shinkansen). The Japanese National Tourist Organization (JNTO) provides English timetable booklets, which include general information regarding the train services in Japan and timetables for all major trains. The costs are measured by distance, so, an average cost is difficult to determine.
Another useful website to assist in planning your route around Japan is www.hyperdia.com/en/ which is an English only website that allows users to type in two train/subway stations and it will provide the schedule, traveling options and cost to travel between the two stations.
Subways are very clean, efficient and affordable but can be extremely crowded during rush hour, with staff in Tokyo employed to push people in to the cars. Major routes in major cities have a frequency of one train every two minutes making it one of the most efficient transportation services in the world. The subway is also reasonably priced and ESL teachers can purchase monthly passes giving them unlimited access to stops within their specified route.
The bus can be the most difficult mode of transportation for foreigners. Unlike the train and subway system, timetables and destinations are usually written only in Chinese characters (Kanji) making it a little harder for teachers to work out how to get to where they need. City buses usually operate on one of two systems; in the first, individuals pay a flat fee regardless of distance, and in the second they take a ticket when boarding the bus and pay the driver upon departure based on distance. When travelling long distances, the bus can be a very cost effective option for teachers when compared to the train.
Other Modes of Transportation
Other popular modes of transportation that are available for ESL teachers include:
The bicycle is a very common mode of transportation among Japanese nationals and foreigners alike, due to convenience, speed and cost. If foreigners choose to purchase or rent a bicycle, it is important to remember that it is illegal and dangerous to perform the following actions:
If a teacher is seen conducting any of these actions, the police may stop them.
Some other tips for riding a bicycle are:
These are just some examples of the rules and regulations for bicycle safety. English teachers wanting to travel by bike should ensure that they are familiar with all the regulations and traffic signs.
ESL teachers wanting to operate a motor vehicle must obtain an International Driving Permit from their home country driving association. The International Driving Permit is valid for one year and those staying longer must obtain a Japanese driver's license. Documentation required for a Japanese driver's license includes a resident card, a passport, and a driver's license from their home country. A fee and eye test will also be required. For a more comprehensive list of information on obtaining a Japanese driver's license visit: https://jp.usembassy.gov/services/driving-in-japan/
Japan has many unique customs and etiquette; therefore, prior to departing for Japan, English teachers should take note of the following cultural traditions.
The bow is probably the most commonly known Japanese greeting to those outside of the country. Basic bow etiquette involves men bowing with their hands at their side and women with their hands clasped on their laps. Mastering the bow takes years of practice, but once it is mastered, one may convey a variety of different messages. For example: the longer and deeper the bow, the more respect and dignity is expressed.
Some other examples of commonly practiced customs and etiquette are:
These are some of the more prominent customs and they may vary by region. While teachers should respect their local hosts, foreigners are not expected to be familiar with all of the intricacies of the culture.
Common etiquette involving eating varies tremendously from the USA. Chopsticks are the utensil of choice and learning to eat with them will make your meals much easier while living in Japan. Cutlery, such as forks, knives, and spoons are available in most restaurants but ESL teachers may need to request to use them, as they are typically not provided. English teachers visiting a Japanese home will rarely find cutlery to use during mealtime. Things teachers should know about eating include:
Even though these are common practices in Japan, locals expect foreigners to be unaware of the proper etiquette. However, foreigners should attempt to follow common eating practices as this displays politeness and courtesy.
Chopsticks hold a very special place in the minds of Japanese nationals and so foreigners should take care to observe the following rules when using them:
Bathtubs are solely used for soaking and relaxing, not for washing. This is especially important to bear in mind when bathing at public baths and hot springs (Onsen). Common bathing practices include:
These bathing practices are especially important for ESL teachers in shared accommodations or while living with Japanese families.
The Japanese language is one of the most intriguing and difficult languages to learn because it is written with a combination of three different types of scripts: Kanji (Chinese characters), Hiragana (phonetic script used for writing Japanese), and Katakana (phonetic script used for writing foreign words in Japanese). Some may consider Romaji, the widely used Roman script, to be a fourth script. English teachers should attempt to learn Japanese to help make the transition into daily life a lot easier and to help with the initial culture shock.
Before leaving for Japan, ESL teachers should learn the following Japanese phrases, which will help them during their stay in Japan.
These are just some of the basic phrases English teachers may want to learn in Japanese before arriving in Japan. They should be aware that rural areas tend to have fewer English traffic signs and maps when compared to tourist locations such as Tokyo and so a phrase book will be useful to pack.
Japanese cuisine is one of the highlights for any teacher living in Japan. There are a variety of food choices from sushi and sashimi to okonomiyaki. Popular Japanese cuisine among foreigners includes:
If teachers decide to try these types of foods before going to Japan, they should be aware that they may vary in taste. Do not worry about trying to understand a Japanese menu; often, there are plastic food displays to help with selecting and ordering food which can be of great assistance when first arriving in country.
Other popular concepts with foreigners living in Japan that relate to food and drink are nomi houdai and tabe houdai. These translate to all you can drink and all you can eat and can be a very cost effective way to fill up.
It should be noted that vegetarianism has not caught on in Japan as it has in other countries, and veganism is virtually unheard of. As such, there are often very few vegetarian options on menus, and some items listed as "vegetarian" can still contain animal-based ingredients. It pays to ask questions, or simply prepare meals at home.
English teachers traveling to Japan will soon realize that the country has a very complex climate. The type of weather encountered will depend on the location. Similar to many regions in North America, Japan has four distinct seasons: spring, summer, autumn, and winter.
Spring - Spring is the season of the famous cherry blossoms and probably the most comfortable season for ESL teachers. Temperatures are warm but not too hot, with little rain. Those living along the coastline will experience more precipitation.
Summer - During the summer the weather can be very hot and humid throughout most of the country. The rainy season starts in the southern part of Japan during the early part of summer (May and June) and eventually moves northward. Typhoons also occur during the summer months, where torrential rains and high winds are formed. During typhoon season, coastal provinces along the Pacific Ocean will endure more intense rainfalls and wind.
Autumn - Autumn is similar to spring with relatively warm temperatures and low rainfall. Second only to cherry blossoms, Japan's fall foliage is a sight to see.
Winter - The Japanese have yet to adopt centralized indoor heating and with winter being the coldest season, ESL teachers might have trouble adjusting. In the north and on Japan's seaside, high levels of precipitation and heavy snowfalls occur through the months of December to February. The Pacific side of Japan can be very cold but it experiences less heavy snowfalls.
The 'Ring of Fire' is a zone that surrounds the coastal lines of the Pacific Ocean, which causes earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis. Both Japan and USA's Pacific coastline are considered part of this unstable geographic region; therefore, they experience similar tectonic activity. For further information regarding Japan's natural disasters and emergency tips, please visit http://travel.state.gov/.
One thing Japan does not lack is national holidays. English teachers travelling to Japan should be enticed by the long list provided below.