T Nation

The Japan Thread

I get a lot of questions here and there about Japan and Japan-related topics, so I thought I’d start a thread to try to answer this stuff and provide a resource for people who might want to read up on it. So here it is: your T-Forum resource for all things Nipponese.

I’m going to address teaching a bit here, then talk about other stuff in replies to this thread so as not to take up too much board space…

Anyway. Teaching. I’ve been here since 1992, doing mainly English teaching plus some translation, business consulting, interpretation and so on. Teaching English in Japan can be great or it can be a total drag. Which it becomes for you mainly depends on two things: how much of the language and culture you absorb, and what school you work for.

There are a lot of huge, nation-wide schools here that specialize in teaching English. The top four are Nova, Aeon, Geos and EC Inc. Basically, if you can avoid working for these schools do so. They are profit machines, pure and simple; the management does not like foreigners (who are kind of a necessary evil if you’re going to teach English), and the working conditions are worse than what you’ll find at a smaller school.

The usual pay for a starting English teacher is 250,000 yen/month (the minimum mandated by law), which comes out to about $25,000 per year. While this isn’t too high, it’s also not too bad considering that all you’ll basically have to do is talk. You don’t have to have a degree in linguistics to become a teacher here; any fool who’s got a degree in anything, even if he doesn’t know an adjective from an acorn, can get hired easily. (Not that I’m bitter or anything.) But you do have to have the college degree. Without that, forget it.

If you have an advanced degree in something related to language or language learning, then your best bet is to try for a University position. They are better paid and have better hours, and you get a lot more respect from the people around you. If all you have is a BA, then you should try Berlitz or one of the smaller mom-and-pop English schools that abound here. The other (and best) option is the JET (Japanese Exchange and Teaching) program, which is run by the Ministry of Education. They take thousands of recent grads every year, you’re under their umbrella (which makes getting visas and such a snap), and the pay is considerably better.

Okay, all for now. I’m going to reply to thread with more later.

Japan?s monetary policy

Can you walk into a bank and get a loan for 0% interest? Also what interest do you get on deposits?

Good advice Char, I worked for a small English school bck about 8 yrs ago when I did the teaching thing. Made some good money and few hassles going that route.

And if you work for a larger shool you REALLY gotta be careful about dating those college age students (C’mon, thats what 95% of guys go over there for) heh heh…

But your in Hiroshima right Char, so your missing out on the depraved flesh-fest that is Roppongi, in Tokyo.
Where many women are called “foreigner hunters” 'cause they want some foreign male ass. Talk about a paradise for horndogs. Fear not, for the legends are true (ah, those were the days)

Now how did I get onto this topic…ah yes, must be the bottle of Kendall Jackson merlot.

I’ve lived in that land of paradoxes for more than a coupla years so I’m likely to rant for pages on most subjects here.

When you check out a school, check for the following: Visa assistance; housing assistance; amount of travel involved; whether you’ll be teaching adults or kids; location of the school itself (which city). These are the main items.

If you do decide that you really want to try teaching and living here for real, it may very well be better to actually come to Japan and see what you can find here. Many companies will not hire without the person already being in-country, and other schools won’t hire someone who doesn’t already have a work visa. (This is because there’s a surcharge that they have to pay the government if they hire someone “new” in that sense.)

If you come here, it is true that you can supplement your income by teaching privately. Basically, if you’re really serious about making money and that’s the reason you’re here, you can almost double your salary with private lessons during your off time. However, you will need to do this without letting your school know about it. Most schools have rules that prohibit private teaching. At the same time, so long as you don’t steal students from the school, they usually look the other way. If you do steal students from the school, they will find out about it and you will be fired immediately. Your visa will be revoked and you will be on your own as far as getting home goes. Word up.


I have to say that many cities in Japan function as a sort of Loser Central as far as the gaijin go. Guys who couldn’t get laid on a bet back home come here and all of a sudden find themselves being looked at like they’re movie stars or something. It goes to their heads, and the “Charisma Man” syndrome is rampant.

That said, if you have any game at all and anything to offer, you will find that dating Japanese women is great. I don’t know very many Western men who’ve come over here and not been happy in that respect. The only possible exception to this would be some of the Asian-descent westerners who are often in a sort of limbo as far as dating goes. They’re not “exotically cool” like the white or black guys, and they don’t speak the language perfectly (even though they often look like they should), so they have a harder time getting the women to cut them slack in that area.

Western women who come here don’t generally find themselves satisfied with the dating scene. All the western guys are busy with the local chicks, and the local men are usually too shy to make a move on a western woman. However, I do know several women who’ve done well by taking the initiative and asking Japanese guys out. Once this initial hurdle is passed, things often work out pretty well, as Japanese guys don’t suffer from “Let’s-talk-about-me-itis” as much as western guys, and for their part are happy to have some tall blond chick on their arm that they can show off to their friends. But again, a lot depends on your language skills and how well you can integrate yourself into the culture. Then again, a woman who’s good-looking enough isn’t going to have problems anywhere in the world. :wink:

If you decide to get serious with a Japanese person, you must learn the language. I konw lots of guys (Marines, mostly) who complain about their GF’s parents not liking them. Despite the reputation the Japanese have for being xenophobic, I have to meet a Japanese parent who’s really worried that his or her daughter is going to marry a westerner just because that person is a westerner. However, I do know a lot of parents who’ve looked at the potential fiancee and thought, “How the hell is this guy/gal going to fit in here? S/he doesn’t speak the language, s/he doesn’t know the culture, and s/he’s going to be stuck teaching English for the rest of his/her life.” (This last isn’t as much of a consideration for females, of course.)

While the Japanese government could use quite a bit of lightening up in terms of how they deal with foreigners, on a person-to-person basis I’ve found the Japanese to be, if anything, more tolerant than most Americans. If you come here and make a bonafide effort to fit in, you won’t have any problems.

I have NO information on teaching English in Japan, but I taught tennis there for about two years. And actually gave a couple of English lessons here and there.
Can’t imagine living there until I die, but I wouldn’t mind working there again. Though not as a tennis coach anymore, I’ve moved on to more lucrative things finally.


You told us how much a teacher can get paid, but you haven’t mentioned how expensive it is to live in Japan. That’d be helpful. :wink:


Good points on the “loser gaijin guys” syndrome. I’ve seen plenty of dopey looking fat white guys with a hottie on their arm - witness clubs in Roppongi.

“Charisma Man” is hilarious - a comic strip that rips on the stereotypical clueless western guy.

Stella - it is pretty expensive, but if your outside of Tokyo its not too bad.

The biggest issue will be the quality of life. Odds are an $700 apartment will be the size of your bedroom, if your in Tokyo. Smaller cities are a different story, but there you have other issues to deal with.

Outside of major cities, Japan is essentially a third world country in terms of housing (no central heating, ultra thin walls and cheap construction) and with respect to conveniences you may take for granted.

I should mention that I haven’t been an English teacher for about 7 years, so Char-Dawg is the person to ask on that matter.

up until 6 months ago I was employed by a Japanese company in Tokyo. Being the only foreigner (and only one who spoke English) it did wonders for my language fluency,

but it also went far in giving me a jaded view of life in the megalopolis, being forced to commute and work daily with the drone bees (no more, I’m out).

The biggest piece of advice I would have for anyone thinking of going to Japan is to NOT work at a Japanese-owned business.

Salaries at foreign companies in Japan are FAR better, as are the working conditions & treatment. You won’t have to work the customary gajillion hours of overtime per week (often unpaid).

I know some people who work for Goldman-Sachs, GM, as diplomats etc… and they have good pay, and generally live in a different world from your average salaryman.

and then… some of those same foreigners regard Japanese in less than favorable light - for the very reasons I mentioned above.

Char-Dawg: seems you have a balanced view (xenophobia issue) and are not jaded as many long time eikaiwa teachers tend to become.

I’ve considered doing the JET program, but was wondering - is any Japanese language needed? I’ve heard no, and I certainly have none.

Any advice?

Char-dawg, you’ve posted great info. I have a friend who would love to teach English and work on her aikido, so I’ll be passing your insights along.

But I was wondering if you could fill us in on the weighlifting and bodybuilding scene there. I just ran across a website called Steel Butterflies. It gave me the impression that some of the ladies in Japan are moving some serious weight. Saw some amazing and natural bodies. What’s your take on the lifting scene there?

I’ve heard that the Japanese alphabet(s) are fucked up. I was told that theres 2 alphabets that are like 30-some odd characters long and then a third alphabet with about 1,000 characters in it.

Whoops, nevermind, just read a crapload about it.

What is the gym situation like in Japan?

There are some pretty good gyms to be found.
Golds are by far the best I’ve seen there -and there are quite a few opening this year alone.

The better gyms seem to be in urban areas. Smaller cities seem to have nothing.

Avoid the chains such as Tipness or Xavas (pronounced exxus), which are common chains. absolutely horrible equipment (think 20 yr old Universal machines. can do the whole stack while warming up) and there tend to be alot of guys who like to smoke a pack after their “workout”.

Watch out too for the joining fees (nyukaikin), I’ve seen 'em as high as $2,000. Believe it or not.

The Japanese writing system is not too fucked up, but pretty easy to digest because its all done phonetically. No pronunciation tricks as in English.

There are 2 phonetic systems, hiragana and katakana (used for foreign words).
Example: dubya is bu-shu (or bakayaro)

and then there is kanji, the 50,000 or so Chinese characters… you only need to know 2-300 or so to get by pretty well. Most young Japanese can’t even read older texts.

Wow. Lots of questions.

First, let me say that kuri’s giving some pretty good advice, at least as far as Tokyo goes. I don’t think that the situation is quite as bad as he makes it out to be outside of the Japanese Big Apple, but it is different from what you’ll find in the west. That’s really the key to getting along successfully here - remembering that it’s not America.

Okay, to answer some specific stuff:

bluey: The monetary policy as far as individuals are concerned is that you won’t get a loan from anywhere unless you have a co-signer or are very well established. Basically, it takes about ten years in-country before the Japanese start to take you seriously and believe that you’re not going to run out on them. Hate to say it, but this isn’t their fault; lots and lots of foreigners have defaulted on loans (and other financial obligations) through the simple expedient of leaving the country and returning home. Kind of sucks forthe rest of us (a few people messing it up for everyone), but there you are.

Banks pay something like 0.1 percent “interest” on their accounts. So little that you might as well not have any at all. But with the internet being what it is now, if you have an American account you can transfer your money around without too much problem. So that’s the obvious thing to do.

The JET program: No, you don’t need any Japanese to apply and get accepted for a teaching position. JET has a huge website and is very well-funded by Mombusho (the Ministry of Education), so I’m not going to spend too much time on it here. An internet search will turn up lots of info.

The cost of living: If you’re in Tokyo things can be sky-high. If you’re in other cities it will vary. If you’re out in the countryside you may be able to rent a whole house for $100 a month. So it varies. What kuri said about paying about the same for less space is right on. I personally pay about $800 for a place that’s about half the size of the apartment I had in LA. But the thing is, I find that I don’t have nearly as much crap that I think is “necessary” here, so it doesn’t bother me.

Overall, the cost of living is comparable to the US, because you don’t need a car in the cities. The public transportation system is great, all-pervasive, and very well-developed. Here in Hiroshima I have access (within one minute) to streetcars, taxis and buses, and of course I have my bike. A 12-minute walk will get me to the train station, from which I can go anywhere in the country very quickly. And an hour will get me to the international airport.

If you have a car in the country, it’s still not too bad. If you have a car in the city, however, your expenses will skyrocket. It would cost me about $600/month to keep a car here, and that’s before I ever leave the driveway. But you know what? i don’t have a car, and (except for the rainy season) I don’t miss it. When I was in LA I drove everywhere and would have died without my car, but here it’s just not necessary.


Again, while there are some really sucky gyms around (much along the lines that kuri described), there are also some good ones if you hunt around a bit. If you look at my Hot-Rox pics, those were taken in the gym that I go to. You may be able to see that it’s absolutely crammed with equipment; space is at a premium here. However, it has a cage, dumbells up to 132 lbs., lots of free weights, and an owner who was a former all-Japan bbing champion and will let you do most any weird movement you want without sweating about his insurance costs. And he gives good spots.

He also smokes; I asked him about it once, and he said that it helps keep him cut. I asked him whether he wasn’t concerned about the health risks, and he said that even with all the smoking that goes on here Japanese people still live longer than anyone else in the world, and didn’t I have better things to do than try to give them advice on how to live longer? That pretty much shut me up. :slight_smile:

The training here would make any of us cringe. These guys go all-out, balls-to-the-wall every rep of every set of every workout. Overtraining is a way of life. Every set beyond the warm-ups will entail forced reps to the point where the spotter is doing more than half the work. That’s just the way these guys train. The typical “serious” physique here is small but extremely cut. There are a lot of skinny-fats as well.

The women that are serious about their training also do the same thing. In fact, they usually train with men, using the same weights but having the men help them through the set. Some of them are quite strong. Most, however, are just doing the toning thing and look about like the usual Japanese woman. In other words, you can’t tell that they work out.

Where I am there are virtually no drugs of any type beyond the occasional prohormone. While a few people are very knowledgeable, not too much bbing information from the rest of the world percolates through the language barrier. In many ways, Japan now reminds me of America in the late 70’s and early 80’s, when the fitness boom was just getting started. While the Japanese do a lot of sports in their daily lives, bbing has yet to catch on in a big way. But it’s coming. You can see the signs.

Good financial advice Char, but be aware that few Japanese banks can transfer money electronically (Citibank can).

yeah, lifting is starting to make headways into the public consciousness. starting.

After a Gold’s opened up near my house lasy yr. I joined right away and ditched the smoker’s lair. Quite a few knowledgable folk there, including some pro-wrestlers (ever seen a mullet on a Japanese guy? :).
Few guys juicing there & some are competing in BBlding shows.

But never have seen any women lifting hard (other than my wife of course!)

I think the concept of nutrition has a long way to go in Japan (regarding serious training). The late 70’s analogy is spot on.

Perhaps I was too harsh on the quality of life - but hell, theres aLOT of plywood & sheetmetal homes in my neighborhood - not far out of Tokyo.

There are many beautiful places in the countryside, but I would shudder to think of what $100 a month would get ya.

All in all though its a great experience to live there.

10 years ago it was difficult to find a bank that would transfer money overseas. But now? Most (if not all) the banks here in Hiroshima can do it, so I imagine most other major cities offer the same services. The thing is, it’ll cost you about $70 per transfer. So if you’re going to do it that way, I suggest that you save up and do it once a year. (There are other services as well, if you check into them. Lloyd’s of London, for example, offers a transfer service for 2,000 yen a pop - about 20 bucks - but there are registration requirements and so on.)

Of course, most of the ex-pats here travel home once a year or so, so if that’s the case then it’s much simpler just to take however much cash with you and deposit it yourself when you’re back home.

As for the house, all you have to do is find one that’s unoccupied and see what the owner wants for it. You’re not going to get the Taj Mahal or anything, but there are some nice places that simply aren’t being used - and these will increase as the population falls. In fact, there’s a town out in the boonies here that will give you - for free - the land to build your house on if you’re a couple who is serious about living in the town and having a family there. Again, this is because of the shift away from farming and towards urban life combined with the falling population and they greying of society here. These little towns are desparate to sustain themselves, and are coming up with some pretty inventive ways of going about it.

Why do I get the impression that Char & I are the only ones reading this?

ah, must be the 4th preparations.