Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Dare I go back to Japan?


I've been offered a teaching position in Gunma Prefecture northwest of Tokyo and am considering taking it. Japan has loomed so large on my mind for years, and it seems like a good opportunity. Gone are the days when you can be sure of getting a job abroad simply for being foreign or racking up thousands of dollars each month for private lessons.

I guess to answer the question of whether I want to return needs some explanation, for myself and my readers. I was always fascinated by Japan growing up in the US; as the creator of Nintendo, the country provided material for my imagination. It should come as no surprise that void was filled with stereotypical images like ninja (seriously, how many ninja movies came out in the 80s?), sushi, and robots. A similar opportunity to interview with a private language school called AEON just after I graduated, and I took it without much hesitation.

The two years that followed opened my eyes. Not only was Japan my first experience truly living abroad and being cut off from a support network, but it awakened my traveler’s spirit and provided endless inspiration for writing. When I left in 2008, I was definitely ready to go, but I left a massive list of things to do behind. Uniquely Japanese experiences have been floating through my mind ever since I stepped off that ferry into China. Sure, I was able to hop a ferry and fly from Korea to finally climb Mt. Fuji and volunteer after the tsunami, but these were isolated experiences, and not enough to get me back into the mentality of an expat living in Japan.

Why should I go?

Being abroad stimulates me. Gives me material for writing. Provides an environment with delicious food, new places to run, and in this case hot springs. I can finally connect with J-vloggers in Tokyo. I’d be able to cash in my frequent filer miles on United and get a first class international ticket; that has always been high on my list.

Teaching provides an excellent creative outlet. I'm not saying there aren't disadvantages to ESL in Asia, but the chance to heal my soul by being in socially acceptable situations with children is definitely appealing.

Being in Japan would bring things full circle and perhaps provide greater motivation for my book. I could look back as I write about my first time in the country and remember those feelings as I go about it again in a new city. I would be forced into a healthier lifestyle with the Japanese diet and regular soaks in onsen (apparently, Tomioka is a good area for them).

Why should I stay?

Teaching is a dead-end profession in Asia if ever there was one; in my experience, schools are incentivized to search for fresh graduates to keep salaries low and provide fewer ripples with issues like additional benefits and - if I may go conspiracy nut on you - prevent foreign residents from sticking around.

However, that's not the real reason holding me back from going. Japan would bring my life full circle, but it’s very immature of me to consider going in circles rather than moving forward. Teaching abroad isn’t a career path, nor is it likely to yield lasting relationships. Having already lived in Japan, the second time around wouldn’t be as stimulating. I might find that the thrill wears off after a few weeks, if not days, and I’d have invested in an opportunity that wasn’t worth the time. In addition, and this is just entitlement talking, the school doesn't offer severance after completion of the contract or incoming or outgoing airfare. Maybe that’s become standard for Japan these days, but it is a little disheartening.

I'll let you know what I decide soon. I have to give an answer by tomorrow. As for alternatives, I can still fly into New Zealand for a few months, or stick around San Francisco with work assured until the end of the year.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Still Around

Although I haven't had Japan on the brain for some time, I haven't ruled out picking up this blog again. I still follow Japanese news stories. Something may peak. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

I'm Considering It

I am considering coming back to Japan. It's been on my mind so often these past few years I don't think there's anything else for it. Will keep everyone informed.

The Ginger Tree

"…I am not a full-blown teacher shaping the destinies of young Japanese boys and girls; far from it, just a sort of special tutor for the backward ones who are too stupid to be affected in moral matters, or really anything else, by their instructor. I discovered after I had taken it [English teaching] on that I am doing a job for which no one else could be found, and one of the many things that is odd about it are the hours, later afternoon and up to nine p.m."

The Ginger Tree, Oswald Wynd

Although it's not particularly inspiring, I found it quite funny that a book based in pre-war Japan would consider English teaching by foreigners in much the same light as it is present day.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Reasons the World Would be a Worse Place if Japan Ruled the Earth

I finally have some time on my hands now that I'm back in Austin for the summer, so I thought I'd deliver a slightly tongue-in-cheek response to the article 10 Reasons the World Would be a Better Place if Japan Ruled the Earth. Again, this is for the sake of being a contrarian; I actually happen to think the original article was pretty spot-on, but there are definitely things with which I would take issue if Japanese culture was omnipresent.

Order at the Expense of Disorder

It's true, Japanese trains are punctual to a fault, streets are clean, and violent crime is so rare it makes national news. While this may be all well and good to the Japanese, as an American, I was crying out for a little chaos from time to time! In a way, living in Japan was like living inside the mind of someone with OCD: everything had its place, every person a set of phrases to use for every occasion, and if anything should go wrong, it's immediately quarantined and shunned by society (Brave New World, anyone?). Don't get me wrong, these qualities make Japan a very comfortable and desirable place to live. But I remember what it was like leaving and stepping foot on Thai soil for the first time - roads without clear lane markers and dirt spilling over; people dressed sloppily and eating on the streets - and thinking "YES! Finally! Something different!"


One of the first experiences I blogged about in Japan was seeing how a cake was wrapped for take out at a bakery.
...she unleashed her fury on the small black confectionary by trying to suffocate it: first came the plastic covering; then two disposable ice packs; a small plastic fork; a thin cardboard box; a paper bag, designed to fit perfectly over the carboard box; and finally, the coup de gras, a plastic bag with handles. All this for a slice of chocolate cake, half the size of one I'd expect back home for the same price. On top of that, I planned to eat it immediately. Waste upon waste upon waste.
As an American, I see frivolous uses of packaging and resources almost continuously: taking too many napkins, eating too much food or throwing it out (not composting). Japan has its own ways of showing it cares nothing about the environment, from the example above, to its standards on fresh food - bento boxes are tossed out on a daily basis - to using concrete surpluses to pave over rivers.

Sexual Immaturity

I know this is somewhat of a controversial topic, but there are too many examples to just ignore it. Although many Japanese by and large maintain a healthier attitude towards sex than those residing in dominantly Christian nations, the types of sexual deviants make me shutter:

- Tentacle rape
- Schoolgirl fetishes (fake picture)
- Love pillows
- Used panties in vending machines
- Mainstream porn that includes rape and abuse

If these were simply minute interest groups, as small as those interested in something sick like snuff films, I probably wouldn't be concerned. But a lot of Japanese men seem to have explored the above in one way or another. There are more cheap tickets to places in Soapland than to cultural icons... well, maybe the district could be considered a part of Japanese culture.

Lack of Variety

I suppose this is a gripe unique to Americans, but there's such a lack of variety in Japan. Over 90% of the people are ethnically Japanese. It's difficult to find different cuisines with the exception of Japanese and fast food. Even people's behavior is "set": take a whole day to just sit in front of a train station and watch businessman interact; it's the same bow, same exchange of business cards, same phrases.


With the exception of Hokkaido, Japanese homes are often designed for summer, not the winter months. Mold can form on blankets and mattresses in the summertime, which are sometimes hung outside on a daily basis. Using heaters and humidifiers can be so expensive and ineffective that many people use just one room to stay warm (and not always the bedroom); personally, I think Koreans have it better off with floor heat.


Even in Tokyo, there's not exactly much in the way of urban design in Japan. Public "parks" outside of Yoyogi and the area surrounding Osaka Castle are just hard sand with no grass. Power lines remain unburied and clutter rooftops in all areas from Okayama to Okinawa. Very few buildings last longer than twenty years, and the grey box design is still very much in demand.