‘In America, we don’t do that’.
‘In England, we do it like this’.
Most of us ex-pats are prone to mythologizing the mother/fatherland at times, whether it’s the greenness of the countryside, or the pros and cons of work back home.
If you want to stay long-term in Japan, though, and if you want to succeed at your job, it’s essential to learn how things are done here. This applies to the respective countries of TEFLites throughout the world.
There are good and bad points to the Japanese work culture, though, some of which will affect you as a teacher.
Pro: do a good job alongside your colleagues
There are several things I like about the working environment in Japan. I like service with a smile (check out the beaming grin on any conbini staff for proof of this). I like how diligently jobs are carried out (neatness and order is essential in Japan). Both of these things are written about quite a lot by other people.
A more rewarding factor is that a job well done earns the respect of your colleagues and your students. The working environment is geared towards to doing a good job, working hard together and reaping the rewards of your hard work. All of this makes for a positive atmosphere at work, which is as much as you can hope for.
Con: work some serious unpaid overtime
The excellent Let’s Japan.org recently carried a rather disturbing article about the death of a McDonald’s store manager. It wasn’t even the food that did it. He had basically worked himself to death.
The story shows, albeit in a hyperbolic sense, the culture of overtime in Japan. Employees are expected to put in extra hours that generally go unpaid. What is given by way of recompense is an end of year bonus, but whether this even begins to cover the amount of work put in depends on the generosity of your employer.
English teachers are a fairly clear-cut example of this expectation. Most teachers are contracted for a 25-hour working week. This, however, covers only your teaching hours. There’s a lot more time to take into consideration, such as lesson planning, preparing materials, extra-curricular activities etc. What’s more, some employers have used the 25-hour contract to get out of paying health insurance (a 25-hour contract may not be considered full-time in Japan, so the employer is not obliged to pay HI).
Get used to it
It’s getting used to such facets of the culture that will make or break your life in another country, if you ask me.
What experiences do you have of working in other cultures? Share your thoughts below!