Surviving Japan(as a foreigner): The Office, Part 1


“If you don’t prioritize your life someone else will.”

– Greg McKeown

This is my fifth year living and working in Japan. For the first four I worked for an American company which pimps out English teachers to schools all across Japan. Although the people that I reported to were American (or British), the people that I worked directly with were Japanese teachers and school administrators. Strange as it may seem, seeing these people everyday, didn’t mean that I had to work with them if I chose not to. In fact many of my meetings with the Japanese teachers to plan out classes, and discuss lesson schedules were against our company’s policy. Nevertheless I wanted to plant myself into my environment and make a good relationship with the people that I worked with on a day-to-day basis.

That ‘rebellion’ (along with a few other things) lead to me eventually leaving that company and working directly for the Board of Education in the city that I was stationed at.  I’ve spent the last year working as a Japanese government employee, civil servant type guy.  I work in schools, and also in the city hall office of the “Teachers Management Division.”

During my time here I’ve learned a lot about surviving as a foreigner in the Japanese workplace; what the expectations are, what the limitations are, and how to make the best positive impact on the workplace and your coworkers. Being on the fringe has also given me a great window into what it’s like to work as a (Japanese) teacher, or office worker in Japan. Both of which I’m glad that I will never have to do.

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10 Things I learned teaching English in Japan

Original post date: 26 May 2015

“I’m only going to teach for a year, while I look for something else to support my visa…”

I’ve heard these words from a bunch of English teachers here in Japan, I even said them myself as I settled to my first few months on the job. I had no teaching experience, any my degree in design wasn’t going to do me much good (so I thought), but I met the requirements, I had a degree, and I was willing to give it my best shot. I’m now in my fifth year of working as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher), and it’s been an interesting time so far.

I’ve gotten a bit of criticism from “Non-ALT” expats living in Japan, as this job is seen as a haven for anything goes slacker-types who just want to prop up their working visas. And although in many instances I feel like that is true, I also think that there’s a lot to be gained from the experience. Like with anything, you have to put in the effort if you want to create value in something.

I’ve learned quite a bit over the past few years, so here’s a list of the top ten that come to mind.

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