This blog is long overdue, as I was going to write about the reasons I was ready to leave Japan, before I left Japan. But, now that I’ve been back home for almost a month, I’ll write about why I left Japan. Living in Japan was an amazing experience for me and I definitely do not regret taking that opportunity at all. But, after almost 2 years there, I found myself really unhappy and I was more than ready to come home. I absolutely loved living in Japan, it’s a country unlike any other, and I probably would even consider living there again in the future. So, most of my reasons for leaving are more to do with the job I had, where I am with myself and my life, rather than the country, itself.
The biggest factor in me leaving Japan is how extremely unhappy I was with my job. I know some people that just love being an ALT and enjoy going to work every day. But for me, I just absolutely hated it. At no point in the year and a half I was teaching, did I ever look forward to going to work. Every morning when I woke up, I absolutely dreaded going to work. Part of it is me–I just don’t think my personality is fit to be a teacher. And part of it is the job, itself. I’ll talk about that part first.
I can only speak from my personal experience, but I have a feeling much of the other ALTs feel the same way when I say that being an ALT fucking sucks. However, I also have a feeling that ALTs with the JET Program have/had it a lot better than I did, as I was working for a private company.
Some of the biggest qualms I had with my company were: the lack of training provided in the beginning, the lack of support throughout my contract, and most importantly, the lack of pay.
I actually had probably more training when I first arrived in Japan than most of the other ALTs in my company, as I had almost a week of training at the Tokyo head office and then another few days of training in Osaka, after I got my placement. Yeah, I had no idea where in Japan I’d be living when I initially flew out there. I think that’s a pretty common scenario, though. Anyways, after that short training period of a handful of demo lessons and game examples, do you think I felt, even in the least bit, prepared to be a teacher?! Hellllll no. I had absolutely no teaching experience, no education in teaching, and I just moved to another country! Side note: isn’t is strange that no type of teaching experience/education is required to become an ALT? Thank god for me none is required but it’s no wonder Japanese people still can’t speak English after being taught it in school since the elementary level (since the junior high level for those that are adults now).
After training was over, they literally gave me a list of schools I was assigned to (I had 3 elementary schools), their addresses, my starting date and schedule, and sent me on my way! BY MYSELF. I had an apartment to move into, a bank account to open, and a phone to buy. ALL BY MYSELF, with very limited Japanese speaking ability. I know you’re probably thinking, “Well, your employer really isn’t responsible for you in that way.” BUT NAH, THESE GUYS WERE. We were told we would be completely supported in getting our lives set up in Japan in all the necessary aspects (at least I remember being told that, anyway). And with being fresh out of college, having my first big girl job, and having just moved to a foreign country, ‘overwhelmed’ is a huge understatement to describe how I felt at the time. Luckily, my mama and aunty flew over to help me get settled and provided me invaluable moral support when I was feeing overwhelmed and didn’t have anyone to turn to.
But getting back on track here, yeah, I could’ve used a lot more support from my company when I first moved, and that sentiment continued throughout the rest of my employment. I became used to not even asking them for help and just figuring things out myself. There’s a silver lining in that, though–I became independent really quickly. While that’s all good and shit, it was pretty discouraging working for a company that I felt never really valued me in any way. Meh, water under the bridge, yeah? It all just enforces my desire to find a job I enjoy at a company that treats me well. Can I say…be my own boss? I know I’ll treat myself well.
And then, there’s the job, itself. Every day was just such a guessing game and I hated it. On most days, when I got to school, I had no idea what I was doing that day or what my schedule was. Every school was different and every teacher was different in regards to what they wanted me to do in class. Some teachers wanted me to teach the entire lesson and they’d do absolutely nothing. I had to lesson plan (which I had no training on) and prepare all of the props/materials on my own time. And some teachers wanted me to just stand there, ready to only demonstrate proper pronunciation, while they teach the entire lesson. But, no one ever told me what they wanted. Nah, I always had to feel out the situation and sometimes be completely wrong. Japanese signals and body language are completely different than those is America, so it would’ve really been helpful if they just talked to me! Sometimes I just really didn’t know what the hell was going on in class and I just stood there, as the interesting American, ready to field any and all stereotypical questions about foreigners that were thrown at me. It wasn’t that bad, those types of teachers made my job really easy for me, but those days really gave me no sense of satisfaction and left me feeling kind of… well… useless. There was no sense of direction, no feedback on anything I did, and barely any communication between me and most of the teachers. What’s a girl to do? I sat at my desk, watched the clock, and counted down the minutes until I could run out of there as fast as I could. That was literally my life every day.
Now, let’s talk about the pay. I’ll go into full detail on this, fully disclose my income and expenses, and convert everything into USD with today’s conversion rate (even though it may be different than what it was when I was living there, still a good indication, though), so you all can truly understand how much of a struggle it was. The pay is absolutely terrible. Not just bad, it’s terrible. I got paid ¥230,000/month ($2,020.66). I knew it would be this amount before jumping on a plane and signing a contract, but I failed to take into account everything that was deducted from my paycheck every month: health insurance, pension, employment insurance, income tax, and rent.
Let’s just talk about the gross amount for now. ¥230,000 ($2,020.66) for a full-time position. Well, that’s what most ALT dispatch companies call it–”full-time.” BUT, my actual working time per week was 29.5 hours, even though I was at school from before 8 until 4. At a normal job, with an hour lunch break, an 8-4 schedule would come out to 35 working hours per week. My official hours were 8:15-4:00 and with a 45-min lunch break (that’s what it said on my schedule, but it was actually more with lunch, lunch recess, and cleaning time), that’s a 7-hr. working day, making it a 35-hr. work week. So why did my contract say I only work 29.5 hours? You know those little 5-10 min breaks between classes, or any other little breaks I may have had, were not counted towards my working hours, even if I was at school and was most likely preparing for my next class during that time. I didn’t get paid hourly, and even if I did, 5.5 hours a week isn’t a HUGE difference, but it would have still made a difference! But, the main reason I brought it up, is because my company, along with many other private ALT dispatch companies, calculate working hours in that way to get out of shit like giving you benefits (I don’t know exactly what kind). Yup. They do that. Kind of shady, yeah? So, because my employer didn’t provide me with health insurance, I had to pay for National Health Insurance, which wasn’t cheap! Having to wake up at 5:45, leave my house at 7:15, and not get home until around 5 every day left me a little pissed that my compensation clearly didn’t reflect even the amount of time I was actually at work.
Here’s a list of what was taken out of my paycheck every month:
National Health Insurance: ¥11,868 ($104.27)
Pension: ¥21,818 ($191.68)
Employment Insurance: ¥966 ($8.49)
Income Tax: ¥4,600 ($40.39)
Rent: ¥72,265 ($634.57)
So, that left me with ¥118,483 ($1,040.42) of spending money. My transportation expenses to and from school were all completely reimbursed, so that wasn’t an issue. But, ¥118,483?! After buying groceries and all the other necessary shit one needs to live, not much is left to have fun and explore the great country that Japan is! There was no way I could have done much while being able to save. Oh and I forgot to mention, I arrived in Japan in the middle of August, started working on September 1st, but didn’t get my first full paycheck until the middle of October (and other branches of my company didn’t get theirs until the end of October). So I had to arrive in Japan with enough money to pay for all the start-up costs (3 months of rent up front!) and support myself for 2 months. Struggle town for most, but luckily I arrived with more than enough money (thanks to my awesome parents). I quickly blew through it with picking things up for my apartment, going out and seeing Osaka, and just enjoying the novelty of living somewhere completely new. But after that, pretty much a paycheck to paycheck lifestyle, and no one likes that!
The pension fee (which is compulsory) is what hurt me the most. I definitely was not expecting to have to pay ¥21,818 ($191.68) every month for that. One may be able to qualify for an exemption and not be required to contribute monthly, but I never made the effort to figure that out. Even though that monthly pension payment hurt me then, I am now able to claim most of it back, as I moved out of the country and gave up my resident status. Haven’t done it yet though, so that’s still money I’m missing. I could have definitely used that extra ¥21,818 a month and ¥21,818 for 18 months is ¥392,724 ($3,448.58)!! It just really wasn’t an expense I accounted for and it made my monthly pay a lot less than I was expecting.
Okay, moving on. Now, let’s talk about me.
Some of you may be thinking that having a shit job probably isn’t the worst thing in the world, especially when living in someplace as great as Japan, right? And that would totally be the case if every other part of my life in Japan was filled with happiness, but it really wasn’t. I was just so lonely and unhappy being there, especially in my last few months.
This just really comes down to what I need in my life to be happy, and that’s something different to everyone. But being in Japan, completely alone, really helped me to learn what I want in my life to be happy. I never thought of myself as someone who needed other people to make me happy and I actually really enjoy and need time to myself. But, I found out that I do need other people in my life to be happy. I don’t need to constantly go out with friends, but I do need a solid few people that I can go to when I want someone to talk to, people I can be completely myself around, and people that just make me feel… you know… loved. Is that needy? Doesn’t that just sound really needy? Well, I’m sorry, but ya girl can get needy sometimes!
Facetime/Skype and text messaging were great to keep in touch with my friends and family back home, but it was just sad that I didn’t have anyone there for me where I actually lived. I mean, yeah, I had friends in Japan, but I always had to plan way ahead in advance to see them and with most of them, it felt like such an effort to keep the friendship alive. An effort that I couldn’t be bothered making. Sorry bout it. I guess I just missed the closeness and comfort that I had with friends from back home, and I couldn’t find that in Japan.
I know that as we all get older, it generally gets harder to see friends because we’re all busy with our jobs, families, etc., but I still feel like I need that close group of people that I really connect with and can be completely myself around, to be happy. I really am so lucky to have an amazing boyfriend that let me talk and talk and talk his ear off every day while I was in Japan (and even now), even if it was over Skype, otherwise I would’ve went crazy not having anyone to talk to! Sometimes, you just need someone to talk about your good days and bad days with, and someone just to make you feel cared about. Admitting I need emotional support from others is not something I could have easily done before. But alas, here I am, sounding needy as fuck, and I ain’t even mad about it.
Exactly two days ago, I had a huge breakdown about how much I miss Japan and my life there. I miss everything from riding the train every day, to seeing Japanese written everywhere, to being forced to hear and speak Japanese everywhere I went, to being able to hop on a train to Osaka and shop to my heart’s content, to being able to drink in public on my walk home. And my lovely boyfriend listened to me as I whined about how hard of a time I’m having adjusting back to the Hawaii life and how I don’t want to work yet and blah blah blah. I had a huge ‘woe is me’ moment and now, as I’m sitting here writing this, I am so happy that I’m no longer teaching in Japan. Although, I do really miss all the shopping in Osaka. I would definitely go back just for that.
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