“ Become qualified to teach english in Japan. „
Recently I found an advertisement in a newspaper looking to hire people to work as an English teacher in Japan. With the minimum requirement being a degree, I quickly sent off my application together with a 500 word essay on why I want to teach English in Japan. Following this I received an email asking me to attend their interview session and to prepare a 5 minute English lesson together with a 30 minute lesson plan for the interview.
The interview takes place in a hotel conference room together with up to 50 other candidates. Upon arriving, it becomes clear that while some genuinely want to teach English in Japan, many openly admit that the job itself is not that appealing, just an easy way to move to Japan.
The first few hours of the interview consist of listening to the recruiters about the job involved and a video about working at Aeon. This follows with an introduction to the learning materials used in classes, different types of schools, housing, working conditions and hours. Everyone is asked to stand up and actively take part roleplaying English lesson dialogues. This involved swapping between different partners in the room, using gestures, acting happy. It seems at this point the recruiters actively watch everyone in the room to see how they interact with new people.
Before lunch break everyone is assigned to join a group of up to 10 people later in the day. Each group is alloted a specific hour. During this hour each individual must submit their 30 minute lesson plan and teach the previously prepered 5 minute plan to the other candidates in the room. Once lessons are completed, a grammar test follows with other questions regarding living and working in Japan as an English teacher.
The video shown in the first half of the day consists mainly of Australian and American employees. Such Aeon employees come accross as extremely enthusiastic, happy, bubbly and approachable. One Aeon employee even admits to never having been abroad before working at Aeon. The video will stress the difficulties of working in Japan while also showing the benefits of experiencing Japanese culture. The main difficulty being stressed is the language barrier. Anything from shopping to reading labels and instructions all written in the complex Japanese Kanji is seen as a major hurdle, especially for those with medical conditions and allergies.
While some applicants may have studied Japanese to a basic level, few have a grasp beyond the basics. Aeon state that Japanese ability is a plus but in reality anyone seen as having a high proficiency level may be considered unsuitable. Often, Japanese will use linguistic misunderstandings as a way to find an excuse for any form of conflict. Also, the schools are supposed to provide an English only immersion environment for students. A teacher with good Japanese abilities could result in problems.
At the end of the interview each applicant is handed an envelop. Inside states whether they have been invited for a personal one hour interview the following day.
One frustrating part is, Aeon will never tell applicants why they failed. In the event of failure they encourage to apply again. Aeon simply state that they look for people who are suited to their program.
Japan has a history of isolation with little contact with foreigners, especially westerners. Most Japanese people outside large cities have never met a westerner let alone spoken to one, as a result huge stereotypes exist in Japan.
The first stereotype being, westerners do not speak Japanese but if they do it is very child like. Generally this can be said to be true, in most cases westerners have a very amateurish grasp of Japanese if they indeed do speak the language. However, any westerner that can speak with complete fluency and native level literacy will be seen with suspicion. Japanese is difficult even for Japanese so gaijin(foreigners) generally should not be seen to be able to master the language.
The second stereotype being that any foreigner should act like a Disney Land employee, a big smile on their face and using expressions such as "Hey how ya doin' buddy". Since there are few foreigners in Japan most Japanese people see learning English as a hobby to simply pass the time, a bit like learning to play the piano. Few have any real interest in learning the language to a proficient level since most prefer to read Japanese manga, watch Japanese TV and listen to Japanese music. When work is over, most just want to have some fun and unwind at an Eikawa (English language) school and speak to their gaijin teacher friend. This is probably why having a teacher fitting this stereotype is so important.
Japanese often say that foreign English teachers in Japan are only there to pick up Japanese women. Many of those attending the interview even admitted to their real motives.
Overall for anyone with little to no Japanese knowledge, not bothered about the teaching profession who wants to simply go to Japan doing something applying to Aeon may be worth considering.
However, for anyone with a genuine interest in the country, culture and the language being handed a letter stating that you are unsuitable for the role while the person sitting next to you who openly stated their lack of interest in teaching is offered the job, can be unsettling experience.