Is Japan the Life Changing Experience I need?
January 3, 2007 7:06 PM   Subscribe

Help me decide if teaching English in Japan is the experience I need. (see inside.)

Lately, I've been feeling like my life isn't going anywhere or doing anything, like I'm just living my days working and sitting about. I need something drastically different to shake me out of this.

I love to travel and have spent a little time abroad in France and England, and I'm considering one of the many English education programs in Japan. I've done a great deal of research on the JET Programme, as well as AEON, GEOS, and Nova programs. My current thinking is that I'll apply to one of the chain schools for a few months while I wait to apply to JET for the 2008 year. (I missed the 2007 deadline.) I also already have a secondary teaching certificate in English and psychology.

While I have a LOT of specific questions about everything from internet speeds to what to bring along and where to live, this is not my main concern. (I've scoured a lot of posts on and, etc.)

I need your help to decide if this is the life changing move that I think I need. For those of you who are alumni of JET or the big three schools, did you feel that your life gained new meaning by doing a program like this? What about those of you living in Japan now? I already know there will be language barriers and culture shock (considering I'm a 5'10" brunette!), but I want to know if it changed your life, your attitude, your career, your lifestyle, etc.

If you have any recommended sites or books or anything that might give me some guidance, I would love you all dearly.
posted by santojulieta to Travel & Transportation around Japan (6 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a good site with a strange perspective. outpost9
posted by Iron Rat at 7:16 PM on January 3, 2007

I taught at a university, not any of the programs you mention, but I will say that it was one of the best experiences in my life. Living in Japan is not always a picnic--it's kind of exhausting being so conspicuous all the time--but it's always interesting.

Japan or not, I really think everyone needs to spend at least a year of their life in a different country. It gives you a much better appreciation of your own culture, as well as letting you get to know a new culture.

Feel free to email me (my username at gmail) if you would like to discuss it further.
posted by exceptinsects at 7:34 PM on January 3, 2007

While I found English teaching to not be the thing for me (to the stage of totally loathing it) moving to Japan was good, and I'm still here 10 years after first deciding to move here on a bit of a whim.

It's good to live in another country for a while, it gives you a unique perspective on your own.

Japan is quite an easy place to live, although everyone has their frustrating days, the ones when you just get tired of people looking at you because you are different and some of the ridiculous things people say (ie "Oh you've lived here ten years! Can you use chopsticks?") - learning how to let off steam is important.
posted by gomichild at 9:10 PM on January 3, 2007

I did the Jet Programme 1/2 way through law school, and then went over and taught through a private company for about 8 months before becoming a lawyer. I had been to Japan before JET, and studied Japanese at university, so it wasn't a much of a culture shock thing (more of a rural shock - I lived/worked in a small town of 5,000 or so on a small island halfway to Okinawa).

While at the private company, I lived in a suburb of Tokyo, and taught at public schools in Tokyo (they had a contract) and private clients of the company.

I don't know if Nova, Geos etc. have improved in the decade+ since I was on JET, but back then their reputation was crappy - restrictive contracts, poor holidays, punitive policies on leaving among other things. Also, their pay scales were hardly competitive.

If you are planning on going there anyways, don't bother with JET - the main benefits of JET are that they arrange the visas, housing and flight for you to Japan. If you are getting there on your own, arranging a visa through the school or company you sign with, and have found a place to live, you'll find that you can often make as good if not better money privately, and you'll also likely have more of an ability to get individual tutoring students, which is where the real money lies. Also, with JET, you will not have a lot of choice of where you go - which is never an issue privately - you live where you want.

Certainly Japan was a specific draw for me (an interest sparked in my teen years), and ultimately, a friendship from JET led to me meeting my wife, so I'd definitely say it has been life changing!

Loads of links here on finding jobs - depends a LOT on where you want to be. Unless things have changed drastically, and someone with more recent experience may be able to assist in that regard, you can make your way to Japan as a tourist, hunt around for your perfect job, get them to sponsor your work visa, you hop over to Korea for a couple of days, and boom, you are making a nice living being a human parrot.

Your profile doesn't say where you are from, but I take from your question's wording that you are a native English speaker (a definite plus). Being a 5'10" brunette shouldn't hurt your job prospects either...

Good luck, and if I can assist further, my email's in my profile.
posted by birdsquared at 9:12 PM on January 3, 2007

santojulieta, I was in a similar situation to yourself in late 2003; I was in a job I didn't enjoy, and in a depressed job market with IT skills that were not widely used outside my existing job.
That provided the impetus to get me to look outside my industry and I signed up with Nova and spent 18 months in Japan.

I had a fantastic time and have absolutely no regrets. It also helped me clarify what I wanted out of my IT career as well.

I think your location will have a big impact on your experience.
Newer schools may have only two or three teachers and this can feel quite isolating. (I also heard this from some ALTs at regional high schools).

I lived in a regional city where the most teachers we had working on any day was 12. The working and social relationships were excellent and our area manager and head teachers were very professional. We also had good teaching relationships with students as we saw them often enough to properly track their progress and make some attempt to tailor lessons to their ability and needs. I enjoyed teaching and it was very satisfying to see students improve and progress.

From what I saw/heard, working in a big school in a place like Tokyo or Osaka is very different with much larger student numbers and potentially 40+ teachers on at any time.

The NOVA teaching system is very 'by the numbers' and this can be frustrating, but with their current textbooks is not particularly difficult. The kids program is universally derided and for good reason. Some of my friends worked at private schools that were better than Nova (ie proper lesson planning, regular lessons with the same students), some worse. You will find that out once you are there and talk to other teachers.

Also look at South Korea - one of my friends moved on from Japan to there and is having a great time. She finds it more welcoming and inclusive to foreigners than Japan.

Feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions or want to read through my blog archive.
posted by cwhitfcd at 10:45 PM on January 3, 2007

I never taught in Japan but did live there for many years. I would say to go for it, because it's a hell of an experience. All of my years there were great. I'm a tall long haired white guy that hates anime, is allergic to shellfish & most seafoods, and certainly isn't a Japan-o-phile, but I loved every single day that I was there. The people, the sites, the foods.. everything. Looking at nifty electronic gadgets with manuals that you can't read is loads of fun. The culture & the art is great too. Sometimes you'll be walking around and you'll stumble across a small shrine built into the side of a brich retaining wall.

I apologize for babbling. I still say "go for it." Oh, and about internet speeds? They bitchslap anything that you can get here in the US. I have an old school friend that's paying about $40/mo for a 100mbit fiber feed. He gets some of the most amazing download speeds I've ever seen.

Now don't take this the wrong way, but being a 5'10" brunette might get you some attention. Some of it will be rather curious. It may work to your advantage. I had a tall blonde Norwegian friend that was paid nearly $300 for a 1/2 day of walking around a cruise ship that was there being displayed for businessmen. All she had to do was walk around and pretend to take photos. The camera had no film. (She also noted that nobody made any lewd or obscene gestures or comments, but a few people wanted their photos taken with her.)

I can't stress it enough - go for it. There' s a world of difference between visiting Japan and living there.
posted by drstein at 11:23 AM on January 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

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