Eikaiwa is Japanese for a private English language school. I’ve been told by several long-term expats in Japan that the eikaiwa business here boomed around the 1980s ~ 1990s.
For someone such as myself who is still somewhat new to the eikaiwa industry, I find it fascinating to think that it could have been even more popular before than what it is right now. Currently there are more English teaching jobs available in Japan than there are (qualified) teachers to accept those positions.
I had taught English before coming to Japan, my previous experience being mostly from China. After a year teaching in China, where I felt like a white monkey shrieking obscurities could have easily done my job, I thought teaching in Japan would be a breeze, a wonderfully comfortable experience in a professional environment.
Everything in Japan seemed so highly regulated with abundance of rules and the grip of bureaucracy being firm on everything, the thought didn’t even cross my mind that I might struggle with dodgy companies.
Well, I was wrong. Dead wrong.
I did not have a clue that there would be so many notorious companies in Japan to look out for. The sense of security Japan had created for me was all false. I soon discovered as I interviewed with many companies that many indeed are not professional at all, they merely hold on to the image of professionalism to lure in the unaware prey.
I have been interviewed by people working for eikaiwas who barely speak English and are only interested in knowing how soon I can travel to their school to begin work. I have talked to eikaiwa owners who told me that “we’ll talk about that when you get here” when I inquired about the payment for a full-time position in their company. I was interviewed by a Western recruiter and after our first, brief interview he immediately sent me an email asking whether I could fly across the country the following day to start their training program – surely I could make such an important decision in a minute.
These are only a few examples of what have happened to me personally and if they do not sound very dubious perhaps you might be more impressed with the following.
I was hired to work in a company which was American owned. I found out later that during their 24 years in business only one teacher had ever finished their 12 month contract. Rest had disappeared (ran away without telling a soul), some had actually resigned and a very small percentage had been dismissed. Then there was a suicide. A colleague of mine decided to take her own life. Some might argue that her job had nothing to do with it… However I was present when her last email was read – one which clearly revealed how deeply distressed she was due to pressure at work. This experience shocked me to my core.
After the suicide incident in this particular establishment I lasted five months working for a stark raving madman who was starting to bring my own mental health to crumbles. The sheer unprofessional behavior of the management was incredible, so much so that I had a hard time convincing myself that such a thing could happen in such a civilized country as Japan.
After my traumatizing experience I was obsessed to share my story with other expats I met. I soon found out that the horrors of the eikaiwa business in Japan are plentiful and more common than the good experiences. Abusive managers, unpaid salaries, unbearable working conditions – the list was dark and depressive.
For a while it felt like there were no decent eikaiwas in Japan and no matter what I did I would end up working for an incompetent egomaniac as a slave in a joyless, soul depriving factory.
Luckily I can say with my hand on my heart that there are indeed good eikaiwas around Japan. Though they are hard to find.
Here are a few simple “do’s and don’ts” on how to find decent employment in the eikaiwa industry.
- Have at least a Bachelor’s Degree, most preferably accompanied with a teaching certificate such as a TEFL or CELTA.
- Preferably be located in Japan when applying for jobs as many companies prefer to see candidates face-to-face after an initial Skype interview.
- Be wary if a company seems to be in a hurry to hire you and are rushing you to make a quick decision about accepting a position.
- Use a website such as www.gaijinpot.com but steer clear from craigslist.org
- Always research the school online: either use Google or visit a website such as www.glassdoor.com.
- Never consider job offers from agencies without either talking to a representative from a school or visiting the facilities first.
- Do not consider positions that come with an apartment unless you are aware that having your home tied to your work could be a massive disadvantage down the road.
- Never sign a contract if you are not sure of all of its contents. It is surprising how many eikaiwas include flamboyantly unfair clauses in their contracts.
- Do not accept a position if you have a strange feeling about it. Trust your instinct.
- Don’t get desperate. It will not help.
All in all the eikaiwa industry is a spiderweb of dangers and confusion to newcomers but if you pay attention and tread carefully, it is possible to find an employer who will offer you a chance to stay in Japan and actually enjoy the experience.
And lastly to all those seeking employment in Japan: stay positive and keep trying, it will be worth it.