The majority of English teachers here in Japan are employed either in privately-owned Eikaiwa English conversation schools, or public schools through the JET or similar programs. Teaching at universities is a big deal, though, and signifies better working conditions, higher pay and (possibly) more interesting work.
I recently found a fascinating essay on the Interweb by David C. Aldwinckle that defined Japanese universities and gave some quality advice on working there. Included in that article is the rather shocking statistic that
“there are more tenured foreigners in one single major
American university (George Washington U.) than in
all of Japan’s Nationals put together (Hall 1997, p. 100)!”
If you’re looking for tenure, Japan might not be the place for you.
Basically, there are three types of university in Japan.
So the first thing you want to do before taking on a job is to find out which type of university it is. This will affect both your status as a resident in Japan and your chances of getting tenure (Private universities are more likely to grant tenure to foreigners).
Aldwinckle’s essay also advises asking serious questions about the length and renewability of the contract. That might sound obvious, but many universities place limits on the number of times a contract can be renewed which effectively means you are on a fixed-term position from day one.
I need tenure!
If tenure if your goal, you should ask outright whether it is even possible for a foreigner to attain tenure (sounds backwards, I know, but this is Japan). If the answer is that it is possible, it’s wise to enquire about the number and status of the currently tenured foreign workers.
As with all teaching jobs, you should of course ask about your workload. How many classes will you be expected to teach, and what unspoken responsibilities are beyond that? Marking, evening classes and exam preparation are extra duties that could eat into your time, so make sure you know exactly what you are getting into.
Another key thing to inquire about is benefits and insurance. Unemployment insurance and health insurance should come as standard, but it’s wise to check. Equally, the annual or twice-yearly bonus paid to most Japanese staff should also be heading your way – best to check beforehand. Same goes for retirement pay.
Fight for your right
The essay strongly argues is that you should be able to speak at faculty meetings. Not being able to speak effectively castrates you when it comes to policy-making time and your position is the matter under scrutiny. In fact, Aldwinckle states this point so strongly that he says you should walk out there and then if you are not granted the right to speak at meetings.
5 top tips
If you’re still not sure about your university position, there is this handy 5-point guide that shows you the minimum things you should be looking for.
1) The right to attend, vote and speak at Faculty Meetings
2) Provision of health insurance
3) 5 to 7 classes per week
4) Annual bonus that amounts to equivalent 5 months pay
5) Preferably a three-year minimum contract
Still need more info? I strongly recommend reading the full essay here.