This is part four of a series of posts by one of my university friends, Graham Moore. He is currently teaching English in Japan, and has agreed to write about the experience for my blog. All of the posts are available under the ‘EFL in Osaka‘ category.
Phase 6: Let’s get down to business
Visa, house, bank and phone in hand – I was ready to find work!
Service: Osaka Employment Service Center for Foreigners
This was the first place I knew about from the UK. But my second big gripe with Japan is that this place is staggeringly useless. Despite advertising “English speaking staff available”, there was a single man whose English was intermediate at best and everyone else didn’t speak a word of it. Really? I’m not demanding that everyone in Japan speak fluent English, but there are a few places I would expect it, a presumably government-funded employment centre for foreigners advertising the linguistic prowess of its staff being one of them. I had to register; there were helpful guides written in Chinese and Portuguese, but none in English. Really? I mean, realllly???
Once I finally commanded the attention of the only staff member who could speak any English at all, things got even less impressive. I wanted to search for an English teaching position in a school, something I know there is high demand for in Osaka. He was able to find and print out ONE job advert (written entirely in Japanese). Realllllllyyyyy?????? I called the number multiple times on different days and got no reply. I never went to the Employment Center again.
Websites: Freelance tuition
In a country where learning English is in high demand and doing so costs a premium, many students find hiring a personal tutor more cost- and time-efficient, and many teachers find it likewise. There are many websites that allow students to find teachers: my-sensei.com, hello-sensei.com, 121sensei.com and findstudents.net to name a few. In Tokyo, craiglist.jp is also a popular choice, though the Osaka version is somewhat bare.
All of these websites follow a similar format. Fill in your personal details, contact information, previous teaching experience, interests, teaching style and specialities, areas near to you (in particular, accessible train lines and nearby stations) and your fee. Tutoring fees range enormously: from ￥100-15,000 (or more) per hour, with ￥2,000 being the average starting price.
Filling in each form slowly chips away at your patience, as does the need to refresh your profile weekly to ensure its visibility, but these websites are (usually) free to use and getting your face on as many websites as possible will give you a better pool of students. Unfortunately, like everything, this is a competitive market and students are obviously going to hire more experienced teachers, and word-of-mouth is far more important here. I only got a few contacts over multiple months – my lack of teaching experience and lack of commitment in refreshing my profile likely stymied my chances.
Website: Kansai Flea Market
Kansai is a region in the middle of Japan containing, among others, the cities of Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe. To the amusement of many Westerners, this region is also known as Kinki.
This was not the first website I found for job-hunting in Japan, but it is the one that gave me the most interviews. Many of the adverts were sketchy in detail, and I must say, even somewhat dodgy-sounding…
Despite the suspicion this was some sort of code for Yakuza recruitment, I applied. It was an English teaching job but basically none of the other information was true.
…however a decent number of ads interested me. My first jobs in Japan were conversation cafes.
At conversation cafes, clients pay a minimal fee (by Japanese standards) to chat to natural English speakers for 1-5 hours, while enjoying a soft drink or two. Most clients are already somewhat proficient at English, at least able to speak in basic sentences, while many are quite literate. Some use conversation cafes as a means of language exposure, some use it to make sure their skills don’t go rusty, some just like chatting to foreigners! Topics can be about anything and everything, whatever the client and host find as common ground or as a topic of interest. You are not expected to necessarily teach them, but you can write words, show pictures, draw diagrams as you see fit. No fancy work clothes, just casual clothes are fine. And it is probably one of the easiest jobs in the world – all you do is talk and listen!
The pay is understandably low; ￥1000 (£6) per hour, paid in cash, and you are unlikely to work more than 10 hours per week, if that. Also, given that you are not employed, or even contracted, there are no additional benefits like insurance or pension. There is possible room for development; some cafes do teaching classes as well, presumably made available to those with more suitable backgrounds, or who have managed to work a substantial number of shifts, but generally it’s a dead-end job.
Leafcup is a nation-wide group of conversation cafes. Criteria for staff is absolutely minimal; if you can speak English and are not an illegal immigrant, you can work there. It is basically a walk-in job; I had no interview beyond a chat with the cafe manager in the middle of one of their international parties.
The hours, however, are terrible. You have no scheduled work times; the cafe will periodically email you (maybe once or twice a week) to ask if you are available to work a shift on a particular day at a particular time, and you need to reply quickly before it is offered to someone else. Occasionally they will send out mass emails for shifts or notifications of cancelled shifts and it is a first-reply-first-served basis. I lived very close-by and I could seize these impromptu shifts easily, but even so, I probably worked an average of less than one shift per week.
I would still recommend anyone looking for work (ANY work) in Japan with nothing already lined up to become a Leafcup instructor as soon as they land. No hours are expected of you beyond what you accept (and it’s super easy to cancel a shift), so it will not interfere with your job hunting and if nothing else, it is a very easy way to network (especially at the international parties held every other Saturday) and depending on your ultimate work schedule, an extra ￥2000 for a laid-back evening’s work may not be a bad thing.
In the middle of Osaka’s shopping district is a little conversation cafe with a small but loyal group of customers. Unlike Leafcup, PE is not a chain and it does not appear to have any hierarchy beyond the owner, a cheerful young woman named Maho. The interview was the best of any I had ever had. She asked me to do a trial two-hour chat to see how I did, and was impressed with my clear voice and the range of topics covered. I shrugged off my nerves after a few minutes and enjoyed the whole thing. She asked me to start as soon as I could. Best of all, I got paid for the interview!
And thus began my first major commitment in Osaka. As PE has a smaller pool of staff, there was an immediate need for me to work longer hours. Indeed, during May 2014, there were only three staff members, including myself, and I was the only foreigner. In practice, this still only meant 3-5 hours, 3-4 days a week (and still only ￥1000 per hour), but it was a start.
At my work station, in my work clothes. Observe the lack of fume cupboards and lab coat.
PE’s atmosphere is much friendlier than Leafcup’s; the small, cosy room, the sofas, tree-trunk design tables and 1980s pop music playing in the background contrast to Leafcup’s hard chairs and largely empty space. PE also allows chat hosts to help themselves to snacks and free drinks, something that Leafcup chat hosts are generally forbidden from doing; this small difference is a great comfort when talking continuously for 5 hours on a hot, humid, Japanese summer day.
The clientele are pretty much what I was hoping for; working professionals at any age between 23-83. And all have their reasons for wanting to learn; some want to better understand English TV shows and movies, some need it to further their careers, some (actually, many) enjoy travelling and can do so with greater ease with some English under their belts. Some just like to do it as a hobby; I’ve met many retirees who are keeping themselves occupied despite their age, showing you’re never too old to try something new.
The only possible downside is that it is only open weekend afternoons and weekday evenings, reducing the number of potential shifts one can work. Also, Maho insists that you do not work for any other conversation cafe in addition to PE. As such I did my best to keep my occasional shift at Leafcup quiet, a feat sometimes jeopardised when a shared client would appear and loudly proclaim “Hey! I saw you at Leafcup yesterday!”
As much as I enjoy(ed) working at PE, the wages were simply not enough to cover my living costs, and I still had too much free time. I needed to find some additional income.
Cafe: Plus Color
Near Utsubo Park, Osaka, is another conversation cafe that is incredibly hard to find and I barely got to my interview in time. They operate in the afternoons as well as the evenings, meaning I could potentially work a shift at PC before doing my usual shift at PE. The interview at PC was somewhat more formal than either of the other two conversation cafes and the atmosphere somewhat more stark. Possibly because of my insistence that I could only work afternoon shifts, I was unsuccessful in my application.
Eikawa: Marvin’s School
A small studio between Osaka and Kobe, and one of the most aggravating interviews I ever had. I replied to their offer of an interview… which apparently they did not receive and I arrived at the school unexpected. Fortunately, they didn’t turn me away. Unfortunately, they asked me to teach a class. Wait, they had virtually no idea who I was and they weren’t even anticipating my arrival and they asked me to teach a class with almost no preparation. Reaaaaaalllllllyyyy??????????? This wasn’t a conversation cafe, this was a school! In the end, I did a half-baked lesson based on the differences between US and UK English, which gave the two clients plenty of information but I’m not sure how useful it was. Marvin’s School offered me a shift but their interview method of “throw you in the deep end with no arm-bands” didn’t instil great faith in me. I didn’t bother to follow up.
GaijinPot is a forum and personalised ads site for work and accommodation, and probably the best known of its kind. There aren’t as many ads as KFM, but the jobs advertised are somewhat more professional. If you are a happy job-hunter, you can create a resume online and and allow companies to contact you, and likewise search through ads and apply to job positions directly. Filtering the search options to “Entry Level”, “Kansai Region Only” and “Japanese Beginner Level” dramatically reduced the number of potential jobs for me. Among the ones that interested me were video game translator and tester (though the pay was very poor) and a couple of teaching positions.
NOVA is an eikawa mired in bad reputation and indeed went bankrupt a few years ago. They reformed, though smaller than before, and given that a common joke among EFL teachers in Japan is that NOVA stands for No Vacation, I was hesitant to apply for them. One of my friends, a former NOVA employee, confirms their shifty reputation; he claims to have been screwed over by his contract (the exact details of which have slipped my mind) and spoke of their policy of giving a ¥200 bonus for every lesson taught, which is nullified if you are late for ONE lesson, potentially costing a teacher a big chunk of their rightfully earned salary. Some former students have likewise complained about their teaching methods. Thankfully, as desperate as I was for a job, I never applied for NOVA.
The final phase in Graham’s adventures coming soon…