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My Story: advice of sorts

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  • My Story: advice of sorts

    So I have some advice on coming to Japan based upon my own experiences, this advice wont apply to everyone but I will do my best to cater to all interests. First an introduction:
    I came to Japan two years ago and worked at a conversation school for a while and then moved on to work at an international school teaching English literature. So I love Japan but there are many pitfalls for the unwary, I hope my advice can help you.

    So I live in Tokyo and it is without a doubt one of the most expensive places to live in the world. Now you can live cheaply here, but then again you can live cheaply anywhere if you are determined enough.
    I think the biggest costs are: (a) Rent; (b) Food; and (c) Entertainment. I will deal with each in turn.
    APARTMENTS: so if you come with one of the large conversation schools then they will set you up ok. You will share your apartment with others and you normally wont have to pay any key money. AEON are best with rent subsidies and NOVA will usually charge around 60-70,000 yen per month. BUT...this does mean that you are effectively tied and bound to the company, if you leave them then you are evicted. Also, you dont get to choose your roommates so you are playing Russian Roullete with potential wierdos, perverts, drunkards and lunatics sleeping under the same roof as you! Remember, when one roomate leaves some new guy/gal immediately occupies the space so this "uncertaintity" is constant.

    If you do choose to get your own place you will at least be independent from company control and at least have your own space. is expensive with large deposits that need to be paid. I recommend "Leopalace21" as they dont require a "gaurantor" (a persoanl Japanese sponsor to vouchsafe and insure your liability) and you pay a membership fee rather than key money. At Leopalace you will pay around 200,000 up front (a one off fee, and then you can change location whenever you please) and your rent will be 58,000 per month (for a small place) or around 80-90,000 for a larger place. This is a good deal as it gives you a lot of mobility if you wanna change jobs.

    Some people can eat cheaply, usually by focusing on 100 yen shops and making pack lunches for work. I had difficulty doing this because: (a) Except for fresh vegetables the quality of 100 yen shop food is NOT good, I am not the sort of person who can eat nasty food on a daily basis; (b) My first job (at a large conversation school) worked me so hard, with unsociable hours, that I was often too tired and shellshocked to prepare pack lunches and so usually (like 80 percent of my co-workers) ate from local convenience stores and restaurants during our lunch/meal breaks. So I worked 1pm to 9pm: I personally believe that those kinds of hours just encourage most people to eat out: disagree if you like but honestly, most people I knew (even seasoned veterans of Japan) spent a LOT of cash eating out cos they were working through traditional meal times.
    So now that that I have "normal" working hours (8.20-4pm) I found that my food costs were a LOT lower because: (a) My employer has a subsidised canteen; and (b)I prepare my main meal at home, and I (now) have time to go shopping for discounted fish and meat every day after work.
    I think that if you work unsociable hours then (if you are like me) this means higher food costs. Right now I spend about 30,000 yen a month on food and I eat "good quality" food every day, but when I was working at the conversation school it was more like 50-60,000!

    It is expensive to go drinking and clubbing in Japan. There are cheap places to be found but they are the exception rather than the rule. Now if you are teetotal or if you come to Japan with close friends, a partner, with Japanese contacts or with some unique time-consuming (and non-alcohol based) hobby then your entertainment costs may be low.
    If you come here alone, if your like to "party" and if your are in your twenties then I can safely say that your entertainment costs will probably be high. My old company had a non-socialisation policy so we were not allowed to see students outside work. Combine that with (a) our unsociable hours; and (b) culture shock; and (c) a job that works you hard and the outcome was obvious: almost 80 percent of my coworkers hit the bars after work, no kidding. Your only "friends" are your co-workers and its 9.45 by the time you got home, showered and changed clothes, you dont have work until 1pm next day and you twiddle your thumbs...only the bars are open and your mobile is ringing, its your co-workers and they want you come on down to the bar to moan about work, get drunk, maybe snog someone and generally relax and let off steam.
    Bars will eat up most of your disposable income at these maybe you will get out of that rut, but if you are staying in Japan for only a year then chances are you will get out of this "rut" too late to make any real savings.
    If you make some Japanese friends, are in a relationship or have some hobby then you can get out of that rut sooner rather than later but most folk I worked with were drinkers.

    Now I am a bit of a party animal but mys costs are now a LOT lower now that: (a) I work sociable hours with weekends off and generous vacations; (b) I have a long-term partner; (c) I have Japaense friends who are not co-workers; and (d) I have time to pursue hobbies and interests after work.

    So for me, well I decided early on that I was gonna stay in Japan long-term, but if I was staying for a year I would probably have had some good drunken nights out and maybe about 400,000 yen saved (on a conversation school salary that is) to take home. But remember, I do like to party.

    Personally speaking, given that I decided to stay long-term I quickly decided that I would NOT like to work for a large conversation school because there working conditions were pretty dire, especially the unsociable hours and the serious lack of vacation time. Then again, some of my (admittedly alchoholic friends) love those "unsociable hours" (1pm-9pm) cos it means they can go drinking EVERY NIGHT. If you dont want to be a bar hound, if you wanna have vacation times and reasonable working hours then you need to come through JET and not one of the large conversation schools. Now this is a VERY controversial thing to say but overrall I have usually found JET people to be more "well adjusted" and "sane" types than the people found in the conversation schools, thats just my own personal observation.

    Lastly, if you really want to come prepared for a long haul and land one of the better jobs then I recommend you get yourself properly qualified before you come: do a postgraduate in something like education, TEFL, English, Linguistics. I came with pretty good qualifications so i was able to change to a better job quite easily. If that extra year or two of study is expensive then take out another bank loan as your higher salary and better working conditions will easily justify those extra costs. I seriously recommend this to you if are thinking about Japan as a place for a more "long term" career.

    Hope this helps.


  • #2
    Re: My Story: advice of sorts

    About 99% of what you wrote is old news. Not all of it is correct, but I think the differences are just individual-dependent and not worth arguing over.

    Except... no matter what your work schedule is, you can always make "pack lunches" on the weekend and freeze them. No need to make them every day.

    Also, I have no experience with LeoPalace, but just how is it that you avoid key money costs if you have to pay 200,000 yen up front anyway?

    And, finally, not all conversation schools have poor vacation time. I used to work for one, and I had a week off for Golden Week, a week off during Obon, and 2 weeks off (or more) during the Xmas/New Year's holiday, plus the dozen national holidays off. Yeah, it's not like the vacation you get at a high school or university, but let's face it. Over a month off (with pay) is more than you'd get back in your home country when you start a job!


    • #3
      Re: My Story: advice of sorts

      Hahaha! You thing we've got it rough? The people are feel sorry for is the Japanese nationals. My host brother was 23, working for a finance firm, living at home.....and dreamed about taking 2 consecutive days off a week. The average work day for him was 7am-9pm, and that doesn't include time spent commuting. To top it all off, he even had to work over New Years.......!! It was awful.....and this is pretty consistent with most of the recent Japanese grads that I know! Gaijin....we've got it easy in this country!


      • #4
        Re: My Story: advice of sorts

        Well some@of it is old news but some of it contains the kind of avice that I would have like before coming to Japan.

        On conversation schools: of course you will find exceptions to the rule but I am talking about the larger conversation schools. The point of my advice was: if you want a better salary and working conditions, and if you want a career, then get qualified BEFORE coming to Japan or you will be stuck with the conversation schools. This is good advice.

        The 200,000 yen is NOT key money: 120,000 is a one off membership fee to Leopalace; you pay your first month rent; some insurance; and some cleaning costs. It is important to stress this because when you change apartment with Leopalace you dont have to pay your membership fee again, with a private landlord you would have to pay key money EVERY time you change apartment.

        I hope this clears things up.


        • #5
          Re: My Story: advice of sorts

          I I almost forgot to say something about vacations:

          most, but not all, highschools give the following vacation times: summer= 6 weeks; Christmas=3 weeks; Spring=2 weeks. If you are lucky (like me) then those vacation times are paid and you will also have an additional 10 days personal leave.

          Dont forget that you also get ALL public and national holidays, which roughly amount to about 3 weeks worth of holidays.

          And there is more: you will usually teach no more than 20 lessons per week and you will get days (sports; festivals; school trips) when you dont hav to teach.

          I HAVE NEVER HEARD OF ANY CONVERSATION SCHOOL OFFERRING THOSE KINDS OF PERKS. When I worked at a conversation school I taught 40 lessons per week, no public or national holidays and only 10 days vacation time per year. I also had to work Christmas day and New Year.

          So before coming to Japan to need to think about what sort iof working life would suit you best. Personally I would say: "AVOID the conversation schools".


          • #6
            NOVA GROUP anyone?


            I am considering


            • #7
              Re: My Story: advice of sorts

              I think sunnee lives in New York.


              • #8
                Re: My Story: advice of sorts

                thats all good advice, i think as learning from other's experiences are alot more useful than some people think. Cheers Smelkor