Thursday, February 26, 2009

Life in Japan #1: My Job

In the Japanese office in which I work there are eight people of whom I am afraid. Each of those eight people is afraid of twelve people in addition to the other seven, for a total of one hundred and four people who are afraid of or feared by at least one other person...

Ha, ha, just kidding. I work for the Kriasho Corporation, a chain of eikaiwa, (English conversation schools) with 300 branches across Japan where adults and children come in once or twice a week for a fifty minute English lesson. Kriasho schools employ both Japanese and native English speaking teachers, with most of their classes taught solely in English. The corporation prints its own textbooks and trains its own teachers. Most schools average about four hundred students and are open from noon to nine PM, with classes ranging from private lessons to group lessons capped at twelve. Foreign teachers are not required to know Japanese and work thirty-six hour weeks while teaching anywhere from twenty-four to twenty-eight lessons per week.

My school is in Kofu, a small city about two hours west of Tokyo, on the fifth floor of this building:

It’s the one front with the HOTEL sign mounted on top. The smaller building to the right is a pachinko parlor that I have not yet dared to enter, and the bigger building to the left is Yamako Department store across the square from the train station (not pictured).

As you may be able to tell from the picture, Kriasho Kofu, like most things in Japan, is quite small. Outside the main lobby are eight classrooms, each about half the size of a Bennington single, and a teacher’s room crammed with lesson materials and office equipment. You can view pictures on the website , though be warned that it’s in Japanese. (The fourth tab from the left is the Staff page, which is helpful for when I can’t remember my coworkers’ names.) The staff includes a manager, an assistant manager, two full-time Japanese teachers, five part-time Japanese teachers, and one other native English speaking teacher.

Kriasho Kofu’s size extends to its student population as well. One hundred seventy adults and twenty-six kids attend Kofu school, about half the size of the other Kriasho East Japan schools my training mates are teaching at. Most of my classes are only one or two students, and my largest so far has been five. (This has made it much easier to get settled in.) I teach classes ranging from low-intermediate to advanced, plus one advanced class for middle-school students, two elementary school classes, and one preschool class. I have met many people and remembered few names.

The Kriasho East Japan Corporation handbook also specifically prohibits me from releasing any information on my blog, personal website, or social networking page regarding Kriasho business practices or personal student information; as well as any words or pictures that depict the company, its staff members, or students in a potentially offensive, embarrassing, or otherwise negative way. (I’d quote that section of the manual here, but I’m not allowed to reproduce that either, in whole or in part.) The consequences for such infractions include suspensions, pay cuts, immediate dismissals, or worse: a talking-to.

(“They can’t deport you though,” Marcel explained as we sipped eight-hundred yen glasses of draft beer at the foreigner bar in Omiya made up to look like a British pub where Japanese businessmen gathered after a long week of work and cigarette-smoking Brits chatted idly on high stools. “That’s one power they don’t have.”

“What do you mean?”

“South Korea’s much lot stricter,” Marcel said with all the experience of his two years teaching there. “Working visas are given under sponsorship of a Korean company, and are only good for one year. If they fire you, or if you get caught taking private lessons as a violation of your employment, you lose your visa and they can deport you. But in Japan, the rules are different. Our entry visas are good for three years regardless of whether you’re employed. That’s why so many teachers were able to stay when NOVA went under. If we quit or lose our jobs, we can just find someplace else to teach.”)

Because of this blogging rule, I probably won’t be talking much about work here and will instead focus on other aspects of my adventures in Japan. Any anecdotes that do make it into this blog will be heavily obfuscated, with all names changed or blanked out as with my tutoring and substitute teaching entries—because now what I post online could have far more serious consequences than just the crazy cigarette-smoking Amber waiting to accost me in the shadows outside Commons.

Here are some other resources if you’d like to read further:

Kriasho's Recruiting page
Kriasho Kofu’s website (for all the skimmers)
Jobs in Japan – Choosing a school
Just some article I found

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