In 2006, less than a year after the Big Trip was done, I was back home having left one job only to find myself working as a casual in a factory. I had seen an
ad on the internet for English language tutors and thought that this might be another way to further my travels. The idea was to actually get a job this time, prior to departure and then head off. I did a short course in TESOL (Teaching English
to Speakers of Other Languages) with a private provider. I must admit to doubting my ability to stand up in front of a class and teach anything let alone English. The course may have been short but it was intense. To be in a rather large
group learning how to teach was something I never thought I would do.
However, I successfully completed the course and applied for a few jobs in places I figured would interest me. One prospective employer responded positively and I was soon interviewed for a position. The role was teaching conversational
English in Japan with a company called Nova. This company was apparently a big deal in Japan with schools located in a number of places teaching practical English to students
and professionals. They were looking for degree holders, I fit the bill and was soon offered a position. I had a small going away celebration with family and friends before jetting off to Japan to start my new adventure. At the time I didn’t
want to make it a career just an opportunity to travel and earn some money along the way.
I spent over a month in Japan and the first couple of weeks were just settling in to my new location. Though I flew in to Tokyo’s Narita Airport, I was met by a company
representative and he put me straight on a bus to a small town called Tsukuba. I was met on the other end of this bus ride in this university town by a couple of ex-pats. These ex-pats included a high school teacher from the USA and I was to be
sharing a place with this young bloke. This group of ex-pats I would come to know quite well over my time there.
The teacher had a few tattoos, not quite appreciated in the culture of Japan from what I understand. Tattoos are only worn by members of the Yakuza and other criminal organisations generally,
though they do excuse foreigners in some way. However, he was told to always wear a long sleeved shirt at or around the workplace. There was an Irish guy who really liked to drink and an English girl who was the same. In our little group
there was a Canadian and a Kiwi as well as an Aussie girl who was dating a Japanese guy. We met others along the way but primarily this was the group that I was hanging with.
While I was adjusting to a different culture and slowly organising a few things we had a
number of outings that usually involved drinking local beer and eating in various places. Sometimes we would even go to different towns with an idea in mind only to end up simply eating and drinking usually later in the night as some shifts didn’t
end till then. You could buy beer in convenience stores in Japan and drink from the open containers in public. This was of great interest to the American contingent as it’s an offence back home. I did participate in this and I would
occasionally ride a borrowed bicycle with a beer in hand.
remember one particular night out with this crew where we ended up in a restaurant bar which was quite busy, I was wearing an Iggy Pop t-shirt and we were surrounded by young Japanese who were interested in talking and drinking with us. We ended up intermingled
among the tables drinking steins of beer and talking broken English with these locals. We had to catch a train back to our town and accommodation, it was a great night.
Eventually it came time to participate in the company’s own training and induction program. This was over a few
days and meant that I had to catch an intercity bus to and from the venue. Not knowing any Japanese apart from the odd greeting I was advised to just watch for a particular symbol on screen and get off when that symbol lit up. It was during this
training program that I realised how uneasy I was with being a teacher even with a small group. We were run through a bunch of scenarios and I didn’t really appreciate their methods.
Someone described this company as being the McDonalds of English language teaching in Japan. Basically, the students were paying
to speak with a native English speaker following rigidly a series of workbooks. As I recall, there were 40 minute sessions with the student/s with only a few minutes in between to mark the student/s and prepare for the next session. I didn’t know
how I was going to manage the short prep time in between. I finished the training sessions over this period with a growing sense of unease and re-joined my flatmate and associates for more drinking and eating adventures. Following this, a new roster
arrived and my name was on it, I must admit I got cold feet and the dread had arrived.
I realised at that time teaching was not the role for me and that while this had not been a complete waste of time it was close enough. I talked to my flatmate and others about
my concerns, they were supportive but they just wanted me to continue, I got overwhelmed and rang my folks back home. It was following that phone call that I rapidly exited my contract with the company and booked a flight home. I had a return airfare
ticket so I just amended the return date. Of course, I quickly made arrangements to get out of my accommodation and made my way back to Tokyo. On my last night in town before leaving my little crew had a go at Karaoke in a private room at an establishment
they knew well. We belted out a few numbers, mostly alternative stuff that we were into.
My flatmate put me on the bus the next day with a quick goodbye and I went from there not knowing if I had made the right decision. I stayed in Tokyo at a business
hotel close to the main train station for one night and then I booked a day tour of Tokyo city as well as one to Mount Fuji. I really wanted to see Hiroshima before I left Japan and so I booked a spot on a tour from Kyoto. I took a bullet train
from Tokyo to Kyoto and was amazed how fast those things go. I tried to get video footage of a bullet train going through the station but it was just too fast, I waited for the next one to stop and took footage of that. On the train the announcements
were made in both Japanese and English and they had a digital screen which showed the speed at which the train was going.
I spent my last night in Japan at the Four Seasons hotel in Tokyo as it was the closest to the main train station, I had to be up and out early for a train to the airport
and most of the other hotels around were fully booked. The Four Seasons was so expensive but pretty luxurious so I can’t complain too much. The problem was I didn’t allow myself enough time to really enjoy their facilities. I flew home
via Singapore and Bangkok as transit stops only.
a postscript to this trip: It was not long after my return to Australia that I heard on the news that Nova had gone out of business leaving a bunch of teachers high and dry. It had shut a number of schools and others were bought out by other businesses.
This left a number of staff without income, they had not been paid for a time and some did not have return tickets to their home countries. It must have been difficult for them, I can only hope they found jobs quickly with other institutions or found
a way out.
still not sure if I made the right choice at that time, simply walking away because of a feeling. Looking back I am happy that I got to experience a slice of life in Japan even for that short period. Certainly I am glad to have travelled there
and seen the sights such as Tokyo, Kyoto, Mount Fuji and Hiroshima. I had been impressed with the customer service in Japan but had not liked the experience of having to register as an ‘Alien’. During this trip I experienced Karaoke, Korean
barbeque, drinking Sake and the finer points of eating sushi. The main thing of travelling for me is seeing the sights and meeting good people and I certainly did that. I can’t believe that that was now 10 years ago, I do sometimes
wonder what happened to that particular group of ex-pats.