Japan: Pros and Cons

April 22, 2012

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I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve been thinking about returning to Japan as an English teacher. And while I consider a pros and cons list the sign of a mind too confused and weak to truly appreciate his situation (should be able to work it out in his head), I couldn’t help but turn my mental ramblings into a blog for any repatriated expats out there who might be considering going back to Japan.

Why would I consider going back? Teaching is a profession that allows one to see the results of his labors. And despite all the flaws of English education in Japan, it still comes down to the fact that I have information I can pass on to students. Not only that, but living abroad usually allows me the time to explore my other passions with greater fervor (running, writing, traveling) and discover new ones.

Pros

A Job
That’s right. Something as simple as a full-time job with benefits, which is not the easiest thing to find in the US these days. Ideally, I believe I’d want to be based in the US working as a consultant for a company involved in cultural exchange or travel to Asia. I have found a few of these positions, but in many cases, my fading Japanese skills have held me back.

Improve Language Skills
I know from personal experience it’s not as simple as landing in Narita and instantly recognizing kanji, but being fully immersed and understanding some of the pitfalls I encountered the first time I tried to learn Japanese will certainly help. Not to mention, should I decide to return to the states or pursue something more involved with Japanese culture, I’ll have a better grasp of the language.

Hosting Couchsurfers
Depending on my living situation, I should be able to host surfers and get more involved. I had only just discovered Couchsurfing when I left Kagoshima in 2008. By then, I had received a few requests, but my foot was already out the door. Hopefully, I’ll be able to form more connections with local groups and surfers.

Back out in the World
I don’t exactly look to Nomadic Matt as a travel or writing inspiration, but he did put into words something I’ve been feeling since my return.

I feel less connected to the rest of the world. I feel like I’m living in a bubble. That all the events happening outside of America aren’t even registering here. It’s like I can’t get anywhere whenever I want. It’s like I am cut off from the world.

I spent the last few months of my trip in Cambodia while I wrote my book. But even there, in one place, I felt like the world was connected to me. That at any given time, I could go anywhere. I don’t feel that here. I feel like the outside world is more than just a flight or bus ride away. That to get out I have to break free of this invisible barrier that doesn’t exist overseas.

I don’t know exactly what it is about returning to the US that has me feeling so disconnected, but when I’m situated abroad, I feel more inspired to check the news, get outside, and generally just learn more.

Feeling Special… Again
This one comes down to pure ego. In San Francisco, I’m just another 29-year-old white guy. In Japan, I’m that unique foreigner; there aren’t too many of us.

All the Weirdness of Japan
Manga, pachinko, horseback archery, Engrish, capsule hotels, etc. There’s always something to surprise me in the land of the rising sun.

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Cons

The job
Teaching English isn’t challenging… to me, anyway. Teaching in Asia will not lead one anywhere except towards other teaching jobs in Asia. I thought careers were as cut and dry as “I don’t want to be doing THAT in (ten) years”… now I’m not so sure.

Delaying Life
I’m still a proponent of the idea that living in Asia is a way for expats to avoid life in their respective countries. Teaching English is usually an escape, not a career. Again, delaying developing a career, building a life, finding a partner.

Being an Outsider
Just as I feel special abroad, so too do I feel like the eternal outsider. I’ve written about how I didn’t want bitterness to rise up inside my chest after so many years abroad, but now I’m thinking this would be a result of my attitude, not my environment.

Lack of Food
I love my pizza, Italian, Mexican, baked, fried, tossed, whipped, covered with sugar, and a cherry on top. America has an infinite number of choices when it comes to deciding what to eat. Japan has a handful.

Same Salary
The exchange rate has decreased by 33% since I left Japan (currently 81-82 Yen/dollar; it was over 120 in 2008). While I can understand why this may have contributed to eikaiwa owners offering less than what was the standard 255,000 Yen/month when I was in Japan, it’s a little disheartening for me to accept the same salary after a few more years’ experience teaching in Asia. I can essentially make the same money working as a freelancer here in California, but I would enjoy a better lifestyle abroad.

What would you do?

2 Responses to Japan: Pros and Cons

  1. Danielle on April 22, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    Hey Turner!

    I’m honored to be included in your list of repatriated expats to turn to. I know exactly what you’re thinking because I’ve already been there a couple times… and both times I chose to leave the US. I really relate to everything you said. I knew I would find myself in this situation if I didn’t force myself to make it work after arriving home (I’m still working on this since I haven’t even gotten settled yet), and the way I did it was by buying a brand new car with Dave. We have to stay now, at least for a little while. I struggle with the idea that in Asia I can have a good paying job with benefits AND respect. That’s not easy to find as a 25 year old vagabond in the US.

    But you’re right, as an expat you will always be an outsider and you have to work extra hard to stay peppy and make sure you don’t become bitter. And yes, I think continuously heading back to Asia to teach can be a way to delay “real life”. But Japan is awesome. I haven’t worked there, but I’ve always wanted to. I would say only go if you make serious promises to yourself. Set goals you must follow through on and make sure that you are working toward something that will help prevent you from ending up like this next time you come home.

    One thing I’ve noticed though, is that the more time you spend abroad, the harder it is to assimilate in America. You can’t be really at home abroad or in the US then. It’s so difficult to quiet that inner voice that wants to just pack and leave. I admit that if I didn’t have Dave, I would probably be planning another trip abroad. So I guess if I were in your shoes, I would probably choose Japan. It’s hard to say no if Japan is calling…. but I will say this, the more challenging option is staying in America. Perhaps you might be more rewarded in the end by staying a little longer and really trying to make it work.

    Does that help? We’ll be passing through San Fran the first weekend in May. I hope we can meet up!

    Cheers!

  2. Bill on May 8, 2012 at 6:00 am

    Re: “I’m still a proponent of the idea that living in Asia is a way for expats to avoid life in their respective countries. Teaching English is usually an escape, not a career. Again, delaying developing a career, building a life, finding a partner.”

    Has it ever occurred to you that many expats came here with the intention of staying and “building a life, finding a partner.”? Teaching English in Japan for some of us is a career choice and for others a stopgap before putting their ability to read, write, and speak Japanese to some practical use.

    As for not being accepted, we are accepted, for what we are: foreigners. That is what we are and any attempt to see yourself as anything other than that is merely an exercise in self delusion. I find your convistion that foreigners in Japan are somehow unique ludicrous (” I’m that unique foreigner; there aren’t too many of us.”) Actually there are hundreds of thousands of us. You have sometimes referred to yourself as being treated as a “celebrity” when in Japan. I have yet to find a long-term resident of this country who has experienced the degree of adulation that seems to have come your way. So in that respect perhaps you are indeed unique.

    You suggest that your “fading Japanese skills” are holding you back from working as a consultant. If you are as conversant as your website suggests (you offer your services as a translator)then all you have to do to maintain your familiarity with the language is to read it as often as possible. Japanese newspapers, books, and magazines are readily available.

    I am sorry if my comments appear negative, but my intention is to encourage you to look a little more closely at yourself rather than construct excuses for why you have been unable to attain the degree of success in this country that you appear to desire.

    Best regards,

    Bill

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