I have decided to cross-post a comment I made on the “Jason’s Random Thoughts” blog. He wrote a post laying out the decidedly grim options for unemployed eikaiwa teachers who want to find a way to stay in the country by working outside the eikaiwa industry.
Comment by Adamu:
You seem ready to blame the decline of eikaiwa on the financial crisis, but while a decline in personal consumption will not help struggling schools, people began writing Nova’s obituary back in mid-2006. Put very broadly, there is an excess supply of eikaiwa teachers here and demand has clearly peaked and is now falling off. The adjustment of supply to meet the real demand is no doubt painful for a lot of the workers, but at the same time the years of easy money produced some very bloated companies, NOVA probably the worst among them. Now only the best schools will survive but in the end consumers will be better off.
For years, those involved in the Eikaiwa industry took it for granted that the Japanese public was a money-well, always willing and eager to sit in front of a white face and pay him to speak in his native tongue. But the industry has changed and teachers can no longer dip into the well. Having eikaiwa as a free ride may have been a good opportunity and life experience for many, but in the end I don’t think it does people or society at large much of a service. You are paid to act as a human tape recorder without much in the way of skills, and the service itself is about as effective as weight-loss clinics (a good tool for the motivated minority but a ripoff for everyone else). Now that you dont have that job anymore you are seeing just how content-free the job was. You mention experience working in a foreign environment, but I saw no clear description of any real practical experience gained.
This was an interesting essay, but maybe you should have been honest with your readers and written “Am I Prepared” instead of “Are YOU Prepared”. It would have given much more focus to the essay since you offer advice willy-nilly to a group of people that probably has a very diverse array of skills and experience, while you are you and actually “know your strengths” and weaknesses. And as someone who’s obviously very candid, your readers probably have a lot to gain by following your experiences.
You make a fairly thorough assessment of the prospects for a former Eikaiwa teacher who wants to stay in Japan at all costs but have little skills or experience to offer. But the prospects sound REALLY grim. Looking at what is out there, it is obvious that there is FAR greater opportunity to be had back home rather than struggle as a gas station attendant in a foreign country. Far from “taking living in Japan to the next level” these options seem singularly unambitious and really pretty sad. I hope you can aim higher.
First I would like to ask — is being in Japan at all times forever an end in itself? And even if you do want to be in Japan for the long term, how could you ever be satisfied working at the functional equivalent of a janitor just because it’s in a country you like? For the short term you may need to make ends meet, but sweet Jesus you have got to think bigger.
It seems like getting sent home might be a blessing in disguise for you just so you won’t have to slave in jobs that are even more dead-end than teaching English. Now might be a good time to stop and think about your real strengths and weaknesses as a person, not just as a “gaijin.” And besides, being away from Japan geographically doesn’t necessarily mean cutting ties altogether. The Japanese Internet is huge and allows you to access basically the full spectrum of culture and discourse. While you are off pursuing self-development you can keep track of the Asahi or even the Family Mart website if that’s your thing.
On his blog, Debito has posted his advice from 2001 and it still basically holds, though the examples could be updated. Ken Worsley from Japan Economy News is an interesting case of someone who turned from English teaching to entrepreneurship, but the clear thing distinguishing him from many is that he’s quite talented. There just is no escaping that.
It is interesting to see that positions like convenience store clerk, gas station attendant, and even electronics salesman are now open to foreigners, even American-looking white guys. That phenomenon was all but non-existent seven years ago.
Nice to see you mentioned translation, which is a much more viable option for the people you are apparently writing for (it also happens to the job I do “in a regular office building”). If your language skills are tight enough you can make decent money as a translator, even if you just do it freelance (though IMO 2-kyu is pretty worthless. You need much better than 1kyu to be successful). Employment agencies like Tempstaff can help you with details of what you need to do to land that kind of work. Of course, the driver of translation demand is somewhat connected to that of eikaiwa — it depends on Japanese people having sub-standard English skills. If somehow the Japanese education system gets it right, the demand for translation might fall as competition among translators rises.
I also have to seriously doubt whether “hundreds of thousands” of people have really been fired from eikaiwa schools and face the decision of whether to stay or go. Government statistics seem to show that the number of teachers at private-sector language schools peaked at 15,000 or so, and the numbers now are somewhere just under 10,000. NOVA only employed 4000 teachers and it once boasted that it was the biggest employer of foreign nationals in the private sector. Add to that number the JET program, which accepts about 5,000 people each year, meaning that at any given time there might be as many as 20,000 on JET contracts (though in reality it is probably far less). Then there are the local school district ALT programs and unregistered English teachers/schools, but I don’t see the number topping 100,000. If you want to talk six figures, maybe it would be more accurate to say the decline of the eikaiwa industry has forced hundreds of thousands worldwide to reconsider even attempting a career teaching English in Japan, not to mention future generations for whom it will be basically out of the question.