Ok, so, you decided: you want to become a teacher in Japan. I think that you are already aware of the following truth, but becoming a teacher in Japan is far from easy. Getting a tenured job in Japan as a teacher is no piece of cake.
Before the recruitment examination itself, there are some obstacles that may prevent you from achieving your dream. By knowing them in advance, you will be able to set up a strategy that will allow you to guard yourself from disappointments.
Here is a list of these main obstacles:
– The Japanese language –
You will compete with people whose mother language is Japanese, and a teacher has to be able to do all the administrative work: recommendation letters for students, writing to their parents, writing reports regarding his activities and so on. I think that you understand the problem.
So, before even thinking to take and pass the recruitment examination, you will have to devote yourself to years of Japanese learning. Of course, nobody will ask you to come to Japan being bilingual, but you will have to estimate what level of Japanese proficiency will allow you to overcome each hurdle on the road that leads you to your goal. One of the most difficult things then is to estimate which level of proficiency you will need for each step.
To give you an idea, I think it is really tough to hope to get into a university in Japan and successfully attend classes in Japanese (and write reports in Japanese!) without a level between the N2 or N1 level of proficiency. Well, closer to the N1 to be accurate. For example, you will have to read the Course of Study in Japanese, the Japanese Constitution, or even read research in Japanese…
The good news is that even if the Japanese language is not the easiest language to learn, you CAN learn it.
– The culture –
It will be no surprise to you if I say that the Japanese culture has its own particularities and that these particularities are probably greatly different from your own culture.
I think that the most important thing is to not spend time reading books about Japanese history, art or whatever, at the risk of wasting your time at learning snatches of Japanese culture that will not help you to achieve your goal. Well, I’m hearing here some scandalized cries: “WHAAAT?! Not willing to learn the TRUE Japanese culture?!”. The situation is kind of simple: you cannot learn everything. Of course, it’s wonderful to have read all Zeami’s great plays, to be able to speak about Date’s battles or to know all the Japanese Prime Ministers’ names. But the knowledge you must learn is so vast, and your time so limited, that you will have to make choices. If you envisage to get somewhere, that’s it.
If I might add something else, what we call “culture” is not only a list of facts to learn by rote memorization. It’s an astute understanding of the society where you live and a sharp understanding of human relations that occur among the persons living in this society. How to not make a blunder, how to not offend your interlocutor, knowing what to say, when and how to say it, knowing all the social rituals… Your success won’t only be based on your factual knowledge, or academic success in Japanese studies, but will be the positive outcome of your ability in easily adapting yourself to a new environment. For example, you will have to know how to observe a situation, the people and their interactions, how to analyze them and how to take an appropriate action regarding the information you could grasp from the situation. And it’s much harder than you might think it is. You’re doing it instinctively in your own environment, because you’re used to it, having spent years in it. When you go to a foreign country, you become like a little child again who is in need of learning all the social rules one more time. It’s on this matter that you will have to concentrate your efforts, even if you have to put away the academic knowledge for some time. You don’t have to put it away forever, but it shouldn’t be the main target of your efforts.
Please, let me be clear regarding a very important point: you SHOULD NOT ignore this knowledge, as this factual knowledge is the very essence of the contemporary Japanese society. But you will have to be able to discern which kind of knowledge is essential to be learned in order to achieve your goal, and which is not. A part of this knowledge should be learned ASAP, the rest of it may be learned later.
– The money –
Ok, here we’re putting the finger where it hurts. Maybe you’re used to a nearly free of charge university system (I’m French, so I am), maybe you’re not. Anyway, you will need money for university fees. How much?
At the least, you will need 50 man (50, 0000 yen) for a single year of study at a public university. For a private university? Much more. Double or triple. So, for a public university, you’ll need 4 x 50 man = 200 man (2 million yen). And if you add Master degree fees, you’ll have to spend 3 million yens to get a specialized teaching license.
Or maybe you can try to save money. How would you be able to do that? For example, at Iwate University, I could directly get into a Master’s program. I attend Master program classes, while attending undergraduate classes at the same time to get the basic teaching license. Consequently, I’ll get a basic teaching license and a specialized teaching license in 3 years instead of 6, which means I’ll have to pay for only 3 years instead of 6. I will save time and money. But you have to know that it’s not possible in each university. So, it’s important for you to choose the right university.
And last but not least…
– Yourself –
Oh, yeah. Your main obstacle will be yourself. You’ll be your worst enemy.
You have to understand the tremendous amount of work that awaits you. A lot of sacrifices await you on the horizon if you want to achieve your dream. You’ll have to spend less time on leisure activities and less money on things that are not necessary to your everyday life. So, you’ll have to ask yourself: “Am I ready to make all these sacrifices?”, “Do I REALLY want to become a teacher in Japan?”. Even if you say “yes” to these questions, it’s very hard to control oneself on an everyday basis. You’ll want to go to the famous “Otome Road”, buying anime goods in Akihabara or eating fancy foods (sushi!) and doing regular trips to Nara and Kyoto’s shrines… All the things you can do only in Japan and that might be the very reasons why you want to live in Japan. You see the trap, here?
There ensues an interesting conundrum: why live in Japan if we have to deprive ourselves of things we like or want? Why deprive ourselves for years for the sole purpose of having a (slim) chance to teach in Japan for the long term?
My answer is: if you REALLY want to become a teacher in Japan for the long term (I mean, a tenured teacher with a teaching license), you won’t feel any deprivation, any frustration for not being able to spend your money on anime goods, fancy fashion clothes or trips. Nor will you feel the need to spend your time and your energy on your hobbies, because teaching and learning WILL BE your hobbies. Or even if you feel it (well, I feel it sometimes), you’ll be able to overcome it.
And don’t forget procrastination. I have a serious problem of procrastination, though I’m trying to remedy it by using some useful techniques. I’m far from getting a grip on it, but I will someday.
Not too depressed? I hope not.