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My Japan Story

Updated: Oct 3, 2021

You know, I've owned several blogs in the past... none of them quite as "official" as this, but I don't always remember what I've written in the past, and what I haven't for this blog. And I just realized that I've never gotten around to writing how I got here. So I wanted to take a bit of time today to retell my boring story.

It all started in 2013. Officially anyway. The idea of coming to Japan had always been ingrained in me since high school. Other than being a total weeb of course. And no doubt denying it - that was a contributing factor. I loved SMAP and jpop (still do), watched anime, sat through hours and hours of sappy Japanese drama... you get it.

But no, really. How?

In high school, let's just say I was pretty book smart but I wasn't... smart smart. I was that girl who hates Science... and wanted nothing to do with it once I got to 10th Grade. Because in Canada, all courses except English & one Maths, become electives. So I didn't NEED to take Science if I didn't need to...

And 16 year old me was all "YAY NO MORE SCI--- oh wait, I'm Asian. I can't be an Asian failure. All Asians take Science. I need to take Science. So let's not dishonor my family take the most difficult Science of all three!!"


Yep. I know.

But it turned out that my Physics teacher had taught in Japan for 7 years before coming back to Canada to become a Science teacher. So he talked A LOT about Japan. A few of the guys who also liked anime would call our Physics teacher "sensei" (wasn't me, I swear). It was such a crazy coincidence, because it was around that same time that I had seriously considered going to work in Japan. And since then, I had been subconsciously working towards this goal.

When 2013 came, I had been working at my University for a few years. I had just graduated, but had been hired on directly as a contract worker since they liked my work. But since the job really was for University students only, they had warned me that there wasn't much else they could do. Once the contract was over in 2014, they could no longer re-hire me. And I had to think about my next steps.

I started working towards Japan. It was just in time for JET applications. I worked hard to get the applications in on time for the 2014 cohort. At the same time, I also reached out to Interac and AEON around November as backup.

I heard back from JET. I had passed the application process and was invited to an interview in Toronto. Long story short there, I was outright rejected after the interview.

So no, I was never a JET candidate.

Luckily for me, because I had started the application process for Interac around the same time, I also heard back from them just around the time I was rejected by JET. I don't remember what happened with AEON... but ultimately, I chose to put my hopes and dreams into Interac. I passed their interview, and was shipped off to Japan on August 2014.

My first (and last) assignment with Interac was 7 months in Sakai City. In Osaka prefecture.

(my first photos in Japan)

I couldn't have asked for a better placement. I had requested to be in Kansai, and got one just 30 minutes away from Osaka city. All in all, it was...... an experience. I won't say much... but the school I worked for was what they deemed an "experimental" school. They were trying various methods of classroom arrangements and teaching materials at the school, and let's just say it wasn't a school that was prepared to do these things. Outside of work, there was A LOT of childish drama amongst the foreign teachers (those of you who have been through it, you know what I'm talking about), but I've made some lifelong friends out of this cohort. I've also met people who I never, ever wanted to see again and would probably stab them in the gut---

I'm kidding.

(or not)

For the next assignment, Interac was going to send me down to the middle of nowhere Wakayama. It wasn't dramatic. I mean, I honestly just told them I wanted to stay in Osaka, they didn't listen and gave me Wakayama anyway. So I jumped ship.

And so... for the next two years I worked under ALTIA Central. I remained in Osaka prefecture. It was also... an experience, but less of it. I worked for multiple schools there over the course of two years. The students were mostly fantastic, and all the teachers I worked with were even better. I also had about 4 months of holiday on this contract... which as you may know, can be a blessing or a curse.

It was a blessing because I had 4 months to travel, see Japan or just relax if I wanted to. And I did that a lot! I traveled a lot around Kansai by train, and even had a chance to visit other prefectures too.

But it was also curse... because of money. ALTIA did pay monthly, regardless of whether you worked or not, but the monthly salary is lower than the average salary of others. I wasn't living in Osaka proper, and wasn't able to find decent part-time work to supplement the low pay. And by middle of my second year, I really struggled.

Admittedly, I had made some poor choices around that time. I was getting over my first break up in Japan, and spent money during and after the relationship on things I thought I was able to afford but actually couldn't. I also got hit with housing-related issues that required money to solve. On top of that, my health was deteriorating - which also needed money to... well, to get better.

It honestly had to be the lowest and hardest point of my life so far.

Eventually around November, I was able to find a stable after school program type thing on Saturdays to supplement my income. I took odd English teaching jobs here and there. One of them was an English Camp gig. It was for a few days, meals and boarding included.

I hadn't known then, but this gig was to become the turning point of this whole fiasco I had gotten myself into.

The Camp was affiliated with a private school, and it was ran by three direct hire ALTs that had worked there. One of the ALTs, who was in charge of hiring for the Camp, had taken a liking towards my attitude and personality. During the camp, he off-handedly mentioned that his ALT contract was ending and since I was an ALT, he thought I would be a good fit for the school. Thinking he was just commenting on my work ethic, I thanked him and continued on doing Camp things. You know how it is.

After the Camp, I really hadn't thought much of it.

It wasn't until I had received an email from the ALT again in February that I had remembered his school was looking. He told me that if I was interested, I should contact the school and he'll drop my name with his school's vice principal. And from there, the rest of it was history.

I've been working at this school as a direct hire for some time now.

But just like my predecessor whom I took over for (and in absolute debt to), my time with this school is almost coming to an end. To say I feel anxious if almost an understatement. The world of ALT teaching is changing... a lot. Lots of direct hire jobs are being eaten up by greedy dispatch companies. Schools want to save money, and redirect hiring responsibilities to third parties. While it's not hard to get a job in Japan, it's hard to get a job with decent pay and decent benefits (if any at all). Most of us who are young, single and healthy can get by well with the average monthly rates... but I think with COVID19, more people should start thinking more about their money. For example with health: What happens if I fall seriously ill? Do I have enough money to be hospitalized, or receive long term care in Japan? Do I even know how much it costs?

Anyway, that's my Japan story thus far.

I know I sort of left it on a... sour note. I'm terrible at ending stories. But I think ending it on a bit of a cruel reality is somewhat poetic? I don't know. Haha. Really though, that's sort of the reality of this job, and I feel more people should understand that - especially for aspiring teachers. Not to discourage anyone from coming, but I do think that so many people come here thinking it's all fun and games... until its not. And then it's too late.

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