My Best Teaching Is One-on-One


Of course, I team teach and do special lessons, etc.


But my best work in the classroom is after the lesson is over --
going one-on-one,
helping individual students with their assignments.


It's kind of like with computer programs, walking the client through hands-on.
The job isn't really done until the customer is using the program.


Friday, September 23, 2016

Grammar Rules in Japan

Yeah, it's one of my pet peeves -- a hobby horse that I probably should not be riding.
[peeve => しゃくの種、じれ、腹立ち]
[hobby horse => 木馬、棒馬 ride => 十八番を出す]

But my daughter is burning her candle on both ends, and in the middle, working on her homework. This is not healthy. I can't be specific here. If I say what it's doing to her, she'll be even more upset with me, so I'll just note that these are not theoretical health issues.
[burn one's candle on both ends => 深夜も早朝も努めて無理する]
[theoretical issues => 理論上つまり実世から離れた問題]

In all of this, she says she has too much homework to read any of the English books I suggest to her, like The Wizard of Oz. You know, these are the very books that would teach her, naturally, the patterns she is so trying so hard to memorize as rules.
[naturally => 自然に]
[memorize as rules => 法則として覚える]

And to what purpose?

One example of what she wakes up at three in the morning to study:
Either my parents or my grandmother (_______________________) my class.
And the answers she's supposed to choose from include
  1. visit
  2. has visited
  3. is visiting
  4. are visiting
At the risk of running afoul of the intellectual property police, I've copied that exactly. (If I let "Intellectual property" issues limit my ability to be specific here, all I can do is let off steam, and that helps no one.)
[at the risk of => 危険犯して]
[run afoul => 引っかかる、問題に絡む]

Did you get the "right" answer?
  1. Nope. "Visit", in plain form, would be an expression of a rule or custom.
  2. Nope. Of course not. The Japanese does preclude past tense.
  3. Yep. This is the one the book declares correct, by the "nearness" rule.
  4. Nope. See, (3), above.
My responses:
  1. This is not really precluded by the Japanese, although I could suppose they tried really hard. It needs more context to rule this one out.
    (And maybe they should have said, "parents' day class", really.)
  2. No argument, except that the use of Japanese demonstrates my point about context. 
  3. Nearness. Sigh. See below.
  4. Ibid. Mind you, many Americans would expect the parents to be the ones coming. In Japan, a grandmother is more likely to come than both parents, and about equally as likely as either parent alone.
[context => 周りの状況(前後の言葉や文章、文脈)]

The nearness rule is not absolute.

Determining the number of compound subjects is only trivial when it is trivial.
[number of compound subjects => 複合主語の数]

That is to say, it is not always trivial. This one is not trivial, and if they are going to include it they should discuss it more fully.

Some experts insist that "either" should be treated as singular when one of the options are singular, which would also produce (3) above.
[treat as => としてあつかう]

But others recommend emphasizing the expected option. (Native Japanese may still expect the grandmother. Hah.)

The teachers whose opinions I respected the most recommended avoiding the number problem:
Either my parents or my grandmother will be visiting the parents' day class.
This has the extra advantage of implying the reason for stating the option, that the decision of which should come has not been made.
[avoid => 避ける、回避する]
[has the advantage of => 得点になる、いいところがある]
[stating the option => 選択肢を明白にする]
[the decision of which should come => どちらが来るかを決めること]
[the decision has not been made => まだ決まっていない]

"Is/are visiting" would be more natural without an option in the subject.
[without an option => 選択肢なし(の場合)]

For all sorts of reasons, "will be visiting" is much better than any of the options given. But it is not discussed, because it would distract from the number issues they insist they must become pedantic about.
[for all sorts of reasons => それぞれの訳を考えて、そもそも]
[become pedantic about => ルールについて細かくなる]

(I'm imputing a motive. That's an error in logic. I know.)
[impute a motive => 人の動機を勝手に決める]

Which brings us to the real problem. Japanese non-native authors are trying too hard to make up examples of obscure grammar principles that should really resolve themselves with experience. No native English speaker except specialists care about this kind of rule.
[should resolve themselves => 自然と解決できる]

Moreover, making the decision of which to use requires consideration of style, and style should not be taught and tested as if it were grammar.
[style のことを言葉上の身振りとしましょう。]

The reason Japanese speakers of English get so hung up on number is because they don't have enough experience reading native English prose -- prose like The Wizard of Oz and other such books that I have bought for my children.

This "textbook" is just chock full of disconnected examples like this of esoteric (and not exactly uncontested) grammar rules that the students are supposed to be memorizing for the tests. All those examples in an assigned textbook constitutes a huge weight in homework.
[constitutes a huge weight => 巨大な重圧をなす]

That weight of homework prevents her from studying real English.

Again I have to ask -- To what purpose?

The college entrance tests are a one-shot trial, and she has no desire to go to a top-name school that takes only the top one percent. Those tests would be meaningless to her if it weren't for peer pressure.
[one-shot => 一度のみの、使い捨て]

She could be reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in English, but, no, she has to memorize the rules in this book instead.

Here is the problem I see with such books: there is no connection between all the examples. It's disconnected prose. There is no way to have context for it, and therefore there is no way for the examples to have any real meaning that the students can remember.

If they were seeing these examples elsewhere, then they could remember the meanings (to a certain extent). But they are too busy to get the context.
[to a certain extent => ある程度]
[too busy to get => 忙しすぎて手に入れられない]

They are too busy to get the very context that they need to remember what they are studying.
[the very context they need to remember => 覚えるに不可欠の文脈]

What would I suggest instead?

Well, I'm not getting very far with it yet, but I'm trying to re-write a Japanese traditional story called "Woman of the Snow" as a longer story with a more satisfying (meaningful) storyline and ending. (That is, satisfying and meaningful to me. Heh.) If I have the time and strength to do it, I'll annotate the way I have annotated this rant.
[not getting very far => まだそれほど進んでいない]
[satisfying and meaningful ending => 満足して納得できるできるオチ]
[the way I have annotated this rant => このわめきのことばに注釈を打ったと同じように(ただし、時間がないのでこの投稿の注釈は結構手を抜いている。ごめんね。)]

The level of annotation and the level of prose could be adjusted for the students -- I could write a version for elementary students, another for junior high school students, and another for adults.
[level => 度合い]

This is the kind of thing the Japanese students need as textbooks.
[the kind of thing => のようなもの]
[as textbooks => 教科書として]

The best way to understand a target language is in context. The way these books of nothing but examples present the examples without context is sufficient reason to discard such books as textbooks.
[understand in context => 周りの状況や言葉があって理解する]
[books of nothing but examples => 例文以外になにもない書物]
[sufficient reason to discard as => として手から外すに十分な訳]

This is not strike one, it's an infield fly in pro ball. By my rules, it's out of there. Send it to the dugout. If it doesn't go willingly, eject it from the game.

I go too far. These books are, I suppose, better than nothing. If only they were optional, that is, they would be better than nothing.
[better than nothing => なにもないよりはまし]
[If the were optional => 随事だったら]

My rules don't rule.

Grammar rules in Japan.

Deep sigh.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Yamato Nadeshiko (Nadeshiko Desukara)

Asahi Broadcasting's radio drama, Nadeshiko Desukara (ナデシコですから), had an arch over the last week or so that I wanted to comment on.

I added some to the rant on Japanese language listening materials where I mentioned the program. Since I posted that rant, I have discovered the concept of Yamato Nadeshiko (大和撫子), the Japanese ideal wife.

That is, I discovered that the concept had a name.

So I now understand what the radio program is all about, I suppose.

By the way, there's a blog for the show, which will help with getting some of the cultural background worked out.

And while I'm here, I'll note that, for the past week or so, the show has been especially oriented towards extended family in Japanese culture. And the last couple or three days has been oriented towards the stylized romance of the perfect couple.

In America, Yuuichiro's mother would be a stereotypical overbearing witch of an interfering mother-in-law. Borderline harassment. Maybe grounds for divorce.

In Japan, her type is said to be a mother-in-law who cares, teaching her very patiently how to be Yamato Nadishiko, the ideal Japanese housewife the authors seem to have named her after.

Not all Japanese families are like this, but if you think you want to marry into Japanese culture, you must prepare yourself for it. Figure out, if you can, your significant other's attitude towards this level of functional integration, and assume that your attitudes won't get the sympathy you expect, ever.

If you can't deal with that and you aren't yet married, seriously consider backing out.

For instance, in the 49th episode, Youichiro finally suggests moving away from his parents. An American husband would have built the new couple's house at least an hour away from his parents house in the first place. At least, a smart husband would have. We learned our lesson from the Bunkers.

In yesterday's episode (54), Nadeshiko confessed to her brother-in-law that her motivation is to be, essentially, Yamato Nadishiko, the ideal, not Youichiro's wife. Sure, this is in the context of her decision to forgive Youichiro of his supposed infidelity, but, even that forgiveness, at three months into the marriage, is in keeping with the ideal.

In today's episode, he tells her she doesn't have to stay up making his lunch for the next day. This is after his giving her an early birthday present in yesterday's episode.

(That present was what he had sought help in choosing from a young, pretty, member of the office staff. And he and the staff member were seen by Nadeshiko's friend. Which led to Nadeshiko thinking he was having an affair.)

So, today's episode -- It's one in the morning.

She opts for being the perfect wife and making his lunch, the aisai bentou (愛妻弁当、 loving wife's homemade lunch) that she makes him every day.

I don't know what the Japanese man prefers in such a situation, but I think the average man thinks nothing of the price of buying lunch.

Maybe some western men would have preferred the aisai bentou. I think I would have preferred my wife to be sleeping beside me. Sure, I like food. My wife is a wonderful cook. I appreciate the homemade lunch. I'll appreciate all the day's she made it for me even if she never makes me another.

I prefer the time we can spend together, even it it's just sleeping time.

Somehow, I have to figure out how to explain that to my wife.

So little time together, especially in the Japanese world of service overtime being common sense, and the foreign worker having to bring the work home because he has to compete that much harder.

Thursday, September 8, 2016


I was getting ready to post some negative comments about Samuel Clemens's Roughing It, and I remembered that I sometimes think I shouldn't waste so much energies on negatives

Why is it that negatives seem to get better press?

Or do they just get more press, because it seems easier to get motivated past the friction when writing about stuff we don't like?

And why would it be that negatives tend more to push me, in particular to post blogposts.

Uhm, to post rants.


Well, until I typed the word "rant", I was thinking about my positive states of mind.

When I'm happy, I tend to be too busy being happy to stop to rant. Or too busy to post non-rant blogposts, even.

And maybe that's not such a good thing.


Well, anyway, what was that rant about Roughing It?

Roughing It is a very fanciful account of some of his journeys, embellished with rumor and tall tales that he made the effort of gilding even further.

He was having fun.

We should read it for fun, if we read it, and remember that some of his misunderstandings were deliberate -- maybe even meant as reverse psychology. (He talks about that sometimes in his writings.)

If we take his sendup of sacred things seriously, it is we who mistreat sacred things.

So never mind. The comments I was thinking of were not really necessary, anyway.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Characterization Chapters of My Economics 101 Novel Are Getting There

Practically a tweet.

I found myself all tangled up in the plot of my on-line novel, Economics 101.

So I wrote a bunch of chapters trying to show how they got there. I've finished the first draft of those chapters, and I think I made it fit together:


Monday, August 15, 2016

Walking is dangerous. 歩くのも危ない。

Got hit by a car on the way in to the station for work today.

Fortunately, it was just the side mirror hitting my arm below my elbow.

And it was an auto-retracting mirror, so I barely felt it.
サイドミラーは自動収縮(自動屈み? :-p )あまり意識しなかった。

Just a bump, and thinking it was odd as I watched the car pass me.

When it was about ten meters in front of me, I noticed the side mirror was folded in, and began to realize what had happened.

No time to get excited or angry.

When it got to the station about a hundred meters in front of me, I watched a young girl, maybe high school or college age, get out of the back.

And the car drove on.

Am I misogynistic to think the driver was probably the girl's mother?

Odds about 60% - 80%, I'd say.

Anyway, the driver didn't wait for me, did not come back to apologize.

Just drove on.

Probably got home and wondered why the mirror was folded in.

I need to be more careful when I walk to the station, walk a little further in on the left shoulder.

The world is not completely safe.

Was never meant to be.

Monday, August 8, 2016

For Japanese Listening Practice

People ask me how I study Japanese.

The real question seems to be how they can study Japanese or English.

Cultural immersion.

It is really difficult to motivate yourself to do the mental heavy lifting when you are not immersing yourself in the culture.

One thing I do not recommend as a means of cultural immersion is cross-cultural marriage. That topic deserves a separate blog post or four. (Or more. Have I not blogged about that, yet? Hehehehnoheh.)

But, obviously, if you are marrying into the target culture to learn the target language, you are either lying to yourself (a bad start for a marriage) or you have your priorities exactly backwards (even worse).

Don't do that. It hurts.

Get your priorities straight and be honest with yourself, or you don't have a chance.

Marriage is hard enough when you do it right. Doing it out of your culture and getting the fundamentals wrong is just going to be a load of hurt that you and the other person don't need to be carrying in addition to the usual burdens. If you are going to insist on marrying outside your culture, at least be honest with yourself, and if your priorities are not helping your partner find happiness, back out of it while you can.

And if you can't back out, change your priorities. NOW!

(Marrying cross-culture is hard enough when you do it for good and valid reasons.)

Likewise, I do not really recommend working in the culture. It's also painful, unless you can get an internship or similar arrangement where you know that most of the people you are working with will be resigned to you're not being able to keep up.

Or if you have a specialty that none of your foreign culture co-workers have, and they are not interested in fighting with you about it.

I don't recommend against working in the foreign culture, but I have to warn you that it gets painful at times. Really painful.

This was about recommending something for listening practice.

I don't watch TV. I can't stand it, and my wife is not particularly fond of it anyway.

If you can stand watching Japanese TV, it can help with the listening.

(Ditto, English/American/etc. TV for people study English.)

On the one hand, the visual helps the comprehension. On the other hand, it can get you to one plateau, but after you get to a certain level you start depending on the visual instead of using your ears.

Reading in the target language helps immensely. Without the written language, you don't really learn what you should be listening for.

Newspaper is good, but difficult, and somewhat stilted towards, well, news format.

Scriptures are good if you have some, but tend to focus on religious language.

Novels are great, if you can stand the plot. If you are in a target country, find a nearby library and browse from the stacks. If you think you might find one interesting, borrow it.

If you can't finish it in by the due date, maybe it's not interesting enough to drive you past the temptation to look up every other word. So, definitely don't recheck it out more than once.

Novels are great specifically because you have the target words and phrases in context.


I could have sworn I had blogged about having read コスプレ幽霊 紅蓮女 (Kosupure Yuurei Guren Onna) when preparing to take the JPLT.



(... Not counting certain avant garde novels in which the author deliberately subverts the context. Those take a fair amount of skill and you aren't wondering how to study if you have that kind of skill.)

Grammar books are terrible. Well, if they provide one-page readings and longer, that's an improvement over raw lists of vocabulary, of idiomatic expressions, or even of sentences out of context.

Those kinds of books are easy to write, so lots of people write such books and lots of companies publish them. They aren't completely useless, but they are not very useful. And if you don't quickly get yourself beyond them, they become worse than useless. They drag you down.

(Apologies to unnamed friends, but that's how it is.)

I have seen one set of such collections, done correctly, by a professor named 田尻 (Tajiri), if I remember right. It's not perfect, by any means, but it is first, short, and second, illustrated. A short list of English words and phrases is reasonably easy to absorb. Appropriate illustrations can give enough context to remember the words and phrases by.

(Yes, the above paragraph is dense and incomplete. There's a lot of learning theory packed into it, and I did not really intend to talk about theory here.)


My wife is an avid listener to talk shows. When she was staying with my cousin (Hi, Cuz!), she used to turn on a talk show before she went to bed. She'd wake up and turn it off after an hour. At first, it was incomprehensible to her. After about a month, she woke up to turn it off, and was thinking, what a stupid thing to waste time talking about. And then it hit her. Her listening comprehension had significantly improved over that month.

Sure, radio was not all she was doing, but it does help.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on my attitude that day), her custom of listening to radio talk shows is deeply embedded in her daily habits.

That means we listen to Dojo Yozo and his friends every morning, five days a week.

Sometimes I get really sick of it. It can really interfere with family communication. But it's good for my Japanese, and it keeps me somewhat current on the news. (I used to read slashdot for news, but I don't have time to stay that current, not any more. Oh, well. And that also interfered with communication. [JMR201609090820: There used to be a, but they changed the name, and the format, a bit. ] :-/ )

She mixes in the NHK language programs, too, which is not just useful for her and the kids, but also helps my Japanese comprehension. Try it sometime, you may see why.

ABC Radio Osaka, which is the company that runs Dojo Yozo's program, has (temporarily, I understand) picked up a new daily radio drama.

It's fairly tame.

One problem with either radio or TV is that the producers of the show, in their efforts to draw an audience, often reach to things that shock and offend. Not just stretch the mind, but shock and offend.

Another problem, maybe just for me, is that once you have read, seen, and heard a certain amount of popular literature, you get sick of what it's selling.

I'm not talking about the commercial messages or the buried commercial references. I'm saying that I don't appreciate the tastes of the editorial boards that select popular literature for publishing.

Anyway, ABC Radio has picked up a radio drama called Nadeshiko Desukara.

The story is basically about a girl named Nadeshiko.

(... After the soccer team or the flower, maybe? -- If you can't read the Japanese, the Japanese wikipedia article on dianthus has a link to an English article. Once you are on wikipedia. The soccer team should be easy to look up in English, if you are not already familiar with them.


Woops. Now I find what it really refers to: Yamato Nadishiko, one of the names of the idealized Japanese woman.

No idea how long this editorial will be available from The Japan Times, which often has unreliable editorials, but it does make solid reference to certain of the cultural frustrations a non-Japanese partner in a marriage relationship will face. ] )

Nadeshiko, the protagonist, gets herself hired by a fictional radio program. (Think Mary Tyler Moore in Japanese? Maybe.) And she has a romance.

Fluff. Cotton candy.

But if you are needing listening practice material, that's all to the good. Lots of stereotyped cultural references and simple ways to talk about them.

Simple, with context. And you know in advance that it is over-simplified and unrealistic, so you don't have to fight the value judgments too much.


Thinking about over-simplifying TV shows --, not just Mary Tyler Moore, but All in the Family, Mash, Married with Children, Dharma and Greg, The Simpsons, Peanuts (in its day), Singing in the Rain, Zanadu.... This deserves its own rant sometime, when I have more time.

"Fluff" is not, strictly speaking, a pejorative.

Stereotyped literature can help us figure things out.

Today's episode touched on a deep problem in Japanese society that they are trying to get a grip on -- lifetime career security vs. people's needs to live their own lives separate from the company.


You can get the previous week's programs on the official channel, linked from the program's home page.

(And, don't tell anybody, but someone is uploading the episodes to youtube. You should be able to find them with a simple search. Maybe they'll publish the whole program as a CD collection or on iTunes/Amazon/whatever, but, for now, they are accessible and you can listen again to pick up the stuff you miss the first time through.)


Oh! Wait!

I just checked again. You don't have to go to youtube. At least, not right now.

All of the past episodes are currently on the official channel page.

Might be useful.


Oh, darn!

It's back to just the last week on the official channel page.

Too bad Firefox on this old Linux box won't open those, cause I'm wanting to review the last week. (Debian box. Needs to be updated.)

Hope they don't shut down youtube just yet.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Teaching English in Japan -- Good job? Bad job?

My sister passed a question on to me from someone she knows at church. Maybe it's time I wrote this post:

He asked me about a particular company who had apparently initiated negotiations with him about one kind of job and then switched to talking about English teaching jobs.

At least, that's the way I read her question.

Bait and switch? Maybe.

Or he may have already failed the first stage evaluation for the job they were initially talking about, and now they are (as they see it) offering him an alternative.

Is there a difference between that and bait-and-switch? Maybe.

Lack of communication can make other problems worse.

So I sent him a link to some company evaluation sites that had comments on that company and some English language pages for the company he was talking with.

I won't link them here.

If you are interested, use your imagination in your web searches and you should find a few such evaluation sites pretty quickly.

Well, not necessarily. My initial tries led me other places. But I found this tidbit that you might want to read:

The interesting part is about the laws concerning "non-regular" workers.

Side-tour on working in Japan in general:

The reform mentioned in that article has not immediately improved things. At present, it's just making more rules and hoops to jump through.

That's Standard Operating Procedure for institutionalized "solutions", of course.

From the moment you say the word "system", at best, the solution can only work properly for the non-existent average target individual. That principle holds true at least as much in Japan as in other countries.

Japanese society seems to be particularly good at fostering "systematic" solutions, which people then pervert to their own needs. What makes this all work is that no one really complains unless the abuse of the system becomes particularly bad.

And, somehow, most Japanese people are willing to look for a way to make the best of things and make things work. It's part of their everyday lives -- Red tape that you have to find your way through is just another fact of life.

Further side-tour:

As a foreigner working in Japan, you should expect both glass ceilings and glass walls, limits you don't understand that get in the way of moving in any interesting direction.

When you work outside your culture, you should expect limits you can't understand.

Borrowing that metaphor, doors through the glass walls are there, but you have to feel your way around to them and hope they lead in a useful, or at least interesting direction.

Attempts to break through the walls are viewed with amusement and interest. Sometimes they try to help you, but be pleasantly surprised if they actually do. But don't be surprised if you then find yourself in a twisty passage with walls you can't see and no clue which direction will take you closer to your goal.

Attempts to break the walls down are not taken kindly. If the walls fall down, so do the glass ceilings, and they think that's dangerous.

Opportunities for foreigners to work in Japan should be considered "glass boxes" that they have made a bunch of. And they are expecting to find foreigners willing to jump into those boxes, stay there for the duration of the contract, and leave politely when they are done.

If the foreigner does anything especially productive while he's there, that's great. Unless the productivity threatens them in their own glass box. The most important thing is that the box is left clean, ready for the next foreigner to jump into.

I guess that's too much metaphor.

That little side tour is kind of important to non-Japanese people thinking about working in Japan.

Advice for foreigners considering working temporarily in Japan:

There are no especially good companies to work for.

Every company hiring foreigners shades the truth about the job, the responsibilities, the environment, the accommodations, etc. There is a language wall that they will use to their advantage, if they can. 

The contracts are usually transliterations from the Japanese, and the English version is going to be hard to pin them to. The Japanese version is the one that counts.

So don't expect too much. You probably won't find working in Japan to take you directly to your goals. That's also true of working in your home country, but expect truly serious side-tours. Plan to enjoy the ride on the side-tours if you come.

Choosing a company to work for is a bit of a gamble. By all means, listen to what they say and read whatever they give you to read. Find their web site and read anything you can on it.

And also read the company evaluation sites and blogs, if you can find them.

Try something like
for your search terms.

Take the reviews with a grain of salt, whether they are pro or con. People who post reviews are usually those whose experiences are somewhat unusual, whether for legitimate reasons or otherwise.

I used to work for a company called W5SS. They apparently got bought out and absorbed into another company, and I've lost track of them.

They weren't especially bad, and they had people who were willing to work with the employees. That may have been one of the reasons they don't exist any more.

The current economy is too cutthroat. That's true anywhere, and it's true here.

Working without the safety net of an intermediary company is also possible, but you need to be willing to spend a lot of time networking. You need friends to help you find the next job, because, no matter how well you fit in at first, the competition for the job you're doing is terrible. It seems to be a cultural thing.

If nobody is maneuvering for your job, it must be a job that nobody thinks is worth doing. And if that's the case, your co-workers are eventually going to hound management into laying you off as not performing valuable work.

Some personal observations that you might want to consider when you interpret what I wrote above:

I don't network well, and I'm seriously not into tooting my own horn. I'm allergic to tobacco smoke and I don't drink, so I don't attend the company parties where most of the publicizing the worth of the job you are doing is done.

(When I do attend them, I just make things worse for myself. I do not brag well.

And I'm sober. When drunk people talk about work, I'm not talking about what they are talking about.)

I did not grow up here. Trying to learn their culture was an exercise in returning to kindergarten as a thirty-something adult. I did not pass the class.

It would have helped if I had been interested in Japanese martial arts, wadaiko, shakuhachi, or even Nihon buyo. Actually, I was and am interested, but I've always been most driven by things no one else is interested in. That was true in the States, and it didn't change when I moved to Japan.

Bullet points, some of which I have not really mentioned above:

  • Don't expect to stay more than a few years.
  • Network! 
  • But don't party too hard. Hard drugs may be hard to find, but there are plenty of ways to destroy yourself here, and plenty of people willing to make a profit from your self-destructive tendencies.
  • Make Japan your hobby, at least while you are here. 
  • Find a particular thing about Japan to be interested in, but don't make it too obscure.
  • Try to learn Japanese, but don't waste your time trying too hard. 
  • Keep your head up. 
  • Read your contract and try to understand it. (Don't try too hard, but at least try.)
  • Expect the non-optimal. Be willing to accept small losses, and maybe even some big ones.
  • Don't expect moving to Japan to be a fix for your personal problems.
(About that last thing -- personal problems are the flip-side of talents. Working in Japan may help, temporarily, to bring the talent part to the fore. But you will ultimately have to deal with what you are, wherever you live.)

Some specific things about teaching English in Japan:

There's a huge roadblock here.

Assume that what they mean when they say "teach English" is, at some level, "entertain, but with an English or other foreign flavor".

They (the Japanese people tasked with teaching English) have this thing called English that most of them don't really understand. (Ask how many of them have read any English novels at all.)
It's hard.

Therefore the students must find it hard.

Therefore they must make it fun.

Foreigners on TV seem to make it look fun.

Therefore, we hire foreigners and "language specialists", to give the kids some fun to offset the misery.
You can work your way around this roadblock, but expect to find your best allies among the Japanese staff occasionally turning into your worst enemies. Forgive them and find something to apologize for and they'll usually still be good allies.

Don't burn too many bridges as you go.

And, this may surprise you, but that roadblock is not necessarily an evil thing. I won't try to explain here. It takes some common experience to be able to talk about it, but that roadblock can actually be useful, if you find ways around it for individual students and teachers.

If you decide to certify to teach in Japan, it may be possible. I have heard of foreigners who have done so. I was told, when I asked at age 44, that the age limit for the tests in Osaka is age 45.


If I had known at age 35 what I know now, I might have foregone trying to work in the computer industry and just tried really hard to get into a graduate program in education in a Japanese university.

But then I would have been stuck doing what the Japanese teachers have to do, which turns out to be working long hours doing the parents' jobs for them.
Why are Japanese fathers so busy working that they have no time to raise their own kids?

What am I asking? Raising the kids is what the grandparents do! And just a little bit what the moms do, except that the moms farm it off on the schools.

Silly me.

Grand summary:

If you want to work in Japan, plan on making it an adventure.

If you have family coming with you, make sure they are okay with having an adventure.

But remember that adventures are just more of a new kind of experience -- maybe there's a new kind of fun to be had, but it's mostly a lot of drudgery in a new environment.

What? Does that sound like life in Japan is pretty much like life everywhere else?