Special Considerations for Teachers in Japan

Special Considerations for Teachers in Japan
Japan is a modern, safe, and comfortable country to live and work in with a high standard of
living. However, it’s not without its limitations. When considering moving to Japan to teach
English (or for whatever reason), it’s important to consider all the factors that are important to
your life. Let’s take a look at a few special considerations worth remembering:

(1) The dominant language of Japan is – no surprise here – Japanese. You need to learn

You may have heard that all Japanese are required to study at least some English in school, as
a part of the public education system. That’s true, but do NOT take that to mean everyone here
can understand some simple English. A common experience here is being unable to
communicate even with the most simple English – some Japanese have a sort of mental block
to hearing English, or maybe simply are not willing to even attempt understanding it. (Another
annoying thing is the tendency for them to not understand Japanese being spoken by a
foreigner, as they simply assume the words are some kind of strange-sounding English!) It’s
definitely advisable to at least practice a bit of the language before coming here, even if you will
be speaking English for your work.

(2) It’s not easy for people on a strict diet.

Strict vegetarians and vegans do not have it easy here. For the Japanese, fish is not “meat”…
and fish is in just about everything here. Soup stock, marinated seaweed, salad dressing, tofus
sauces… fish can show up anywhere and in anything. The same goes for those who must avoid
pork, which is extremely common in the Japanese diet to the point that a lot of ground ‘beef’ in
Japan (and thus, hamburg) actually is a pork-beef blend.

(3) It’s also not easy for the wheelchair-bound.

Although accessibility is improving nationally, the reality is that it’s not at all easy to get around
in a wheelchair in Japan. Stairs are a standard and while there often is a ramp or elevator option
it can be pretty far out of the way. I’ve personally even seen a building where the elevator only
stopped on the stair landings between floors! The streets and pavement tend to be uneven and
feature lots of small curbs, half-steps, and other obstacles which can make access tough.

(4) You’ll do a lot of walking and standing (and maybe bicycling).

If you’re not very mobile in life, living and working here can be a bit of a shock. With cars out of
the picture for most, your daily commute is largely walking, and standing. You’re not always
guaranteed a seat on the train (it can be difficult to get one in places like Tokyo during rush
hour) so you may be standing for the duration of your ride. Getting to the store will be on your
own 2 feet and maybe a bicycle, and usually involves at least a few steps or stairs. This one can
be a good or bad thing, depending on the person, but it’s worth noting that if you get winded
easily you won’t have any place to sit down more often than not.

(5) It can be expensive and/or difficult to get the comforts of home.

Japan enjoys being its own little closed economy, and as a result it’s not always easy to acquire
some of the things you want, need, or miss from life back home. Postal rates between Japan
and the rest of the world are pretty heavy for anything other than a greeting card, so shipping is
going to be painful. If there’s something you just can’t live without, it may be worth it to stock up
and bring it with you!