The myth of easy money made at Japanese English schools

Shinagawa Tokyo Surprisingly the myth of being able to make easy money as an English teacher in Japan is still alive. Although this seems to have been true during the bubble period in Japan, nowadays it is much more challenging to make a living – I am not even talking about a decent living – in Japan based solely on an English teacher salary. While the situation outside of the big cities might be better with lower costs of living, considering the local cost for daily life, there is not much left at the end of the month. Understand me right, living and working in Japan is a wonderful experience and I recommend it highly to anyone, but I would never recommend it for financial purpose. Many tend to forget that the living costs in Japan are similar for example to Zurich or New York, but the salary ranges are different. Comparing to the salaries that I have experienced and know for example in Switzerland or then the USA, in general the Japanese salaries are much lower here, even at the better paying foreign companies. Furthermore I see quite a gap of the salaries paid in Japan for foreign workers that work within the language teaching business or then specialists that have found their local professional niche. For those interested or potentially even considering the step into a new life as an English teacher in Japan, I highly recommend to consider your motivation for coming over to Japan. Although I am still not a big fan of the newspaper Japan Times, recently I must say the quality of the articles are wonderful. Enjoy the honest insights to the Japanese English teaching business in details here.

I hope you enjoy as much as I did the article by Craig Currie-Robson.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Japanese guy, western girlfriend: The guide for happiness

signal in Kuala Lumpur Recently I had been asked by a local publisher why I had chosen to write a guide (Japanese Man Looking For A Foreign Girlfriend: 17 Rules For Happiness) about having an international relationship in regard to Japan. In addition the question came up what I personally see as the biggest weakness for a Japanese man in a relationship with a foreign woman. I thought these are reasonable questions and would like to share with you my thoughts.
First of all, let me point out my intention for this guide is very simple: I would like to see more happy local or international couples in Japan or around the world. Unlike in many other countries, I believe Japanese men are facing quite a lot of societal and cultural pressure to be the provider for a girlfriend or a family. Personally I see the difference then in a relationship with a foreign woman that the pressure of being the sole provider falls most likely away. The relationship is much more based on a partnership with equal rights and duties. Considering then that for most Japanese men the dream of having a work life balance is out of reach, I think a different kind of relationship can give Japanese men a new perspective of how much more comfortable and fulfilling their future could be.
Moving on to the second point of the potentially biggest weakness of Japanese men in a relationship: Knowing themselves! I have seldom heard about a man that he is perceived as being secure enough to know how to express and fulfill his dreams, understanding his weak spots whether it is with his personality or lifestyle, plus having made up his mind on how he has planned to spend his future. Most likely Japanese men have not considered this part of self development connected with dating or a successful long term relationship. With the 17 rules my goal is to give some guidance on what can make any Japanese more successful with women. Of course the books covers more than just the mentioned topics above. I believe a fun approach to dating, combined with real advice is the key for success.
Let me point out that I wrote this book not based on stereotyping neither the Japanese nor the foreign side. For those curious to know more, check out the link to Amazon.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Japanese business are looking for guidance from abroad

For sure I had to read the news on Nikkei Shimbun twice, because I could not believe my eyes. One of the most traditional, slow-moving company that I know in Japan is opening up and welcoming the opinions of non-Japanese decision makers. Based on the Nikkei article it seems that Hitachi is planning to incorporate the opinions of non-Japanese executives in the decision-making process for high level headquarters decisions. For sure I had never expected that in my wildest dreams. The planned foreign input is so far based on intra-company feedback. I wonder whether bigger Japanese companies become serious to open up to the global market, or whether it might be just a response to all the events that occurred at Olympus?
Starting this month Hitachi will hold quarterly sessions where non-Japanese executives from overseas subsidiaries will offer suggestions on how the company should change to achieve global growth. Soon the first Global Session will take place and feature Jack Domme the CEO of U.S. data storage subsidiary Hitachi Data Systems Corp. Based on the article of Nikkei Shimbun the goal is to increase their international sales from 41% (2012) with a modest increase to 50% in fiscal 2015. From the figure provided by Nikkei Shimbun the growth in sales does not seem aggressive to me, but we do not know how actually this year’s sales trend for Hitachi is.
Personally I hope this opinion sharing and opening up for new ideas will help Hitachi or then other companies in Japan to refocus on their strength. These days only a few companies can survive with solely selling into a local market. Let’s see whether other leading Japanese companies will follow the lead from Hitachi.

Brought to you by an excited Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Looking at Japan from a different angle

Usually I do not make any recommendation on books in regard to Japan, but it is time to make an exception. What impressed me most about both books I am going to recommend is that they have been written quite a while ago, but are still so true in 2012. Although I hear daily in the media about Japanese society changing, becoming more transparent and open, Japanese companies embracing global business styles…at the end I wonder how much has really changed. Based on my personal experience for more than 10 years living and working here, apart from the March 11 event with the Fukushima disaster, it is difficult to see noteworthy changes, which is good from my perspective. Otherwise if Japan had become globalized and easily understood from the outside, there would be no reason for me to continue this blog 😉 Japan is still a mystery for a big part of the world.
The first book I would like to focus on is “Freakonomics”, which was first published in the U.S. in 2005 and based on the Freakonomics website went on to sell more than 4 million copies around the world, in 35 languages. The authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner bring interesting moral and economic issues to the light. Most likely it will redefine the way you view the modern world, or at least it did for me. One of the covered topics is in regard to sumo wrestlers and yaocho (yaocho is the Japanese word for match-fixing). For those who have not read the book or not seen the movie, have a look at this link:

The Numbers in Sumo Cheating: Freakonomics Movie

The second book worth reading is “Beating Japan” from Francis McInerney, Sean White. The book was written 1993 during the time when the US feared that Japan might take over a big part of the global business. The essence of the book is that the world has not to be so worried, unless Japan starts to radically change and overcome some economic limitations. Quote from the book:

“The Japanese are in a tough spot: they need the loyalty of foreign customers, but have firm hold on them. To get closer to their customer, they must overcome significant cultural differences. At the same time, the Japanese economic engine is running out of steam: the industries that powered its postwar recovery are mature or in decline. New competition is emerging elsewhere in Asia eager to imitate the Japanese and gobble up the markets they fought so hard to win. A breakthrough source of export energy is needed to keep the engine in high gear. Japan has not found that source.”

In my daily life I come across many Japanese, who yearn for change, but at the same time are looking for someone who can create a path for them and guide them. Only in very few cases I have come across people here, who bravely dash forward into the unknown. I guess the fear of the unknown is still much higher than the pain of the present. Personally I see this behavior as positive, because for me the mystery of Japan is still ongoing. Maybe one day I understand Japan a bit better 😉

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Did it get so bad that we have to rely on a mayor stopping alcohol consumption?

Although business culture in Europe is known for alcohol consumption during work hours – for example at business lunches or dinners – I have seen and experienced some heavy alcohol consumption in Asia. Japan might not be the top on the list in Asia with a consumption according to Wikipedia of 7.83 liter per head (Korea: 11.80 liter, Thailand: 6.36, China: 4.21 liter, Singapore: 0.55 liter, or then in comparison Switzerland 10.56 liter, USA 8.44 liter), but still the custom of having alcoholic beverages together with business partners and co-workers is quite common. Due to the economic downturn and the decrease of the pocket-money of the “average salaryman”, for sure less alcohol is consumed now than in the past.
Surprisingly this week according to Mainichi Shimbun the mayor of Fukuoka (Soichiro Takashima) ordered a month-long ban on alcohol drinking for all city officials outside their homes. Recently there has been an increase of alcohol-related incidents involving a city firefighter and a vice principal of an elementary school. Based on the Mainichi Shimbun article a member of the Fukuoka City Fire Department was arrested on suspicion of stealing a vehicle in February after drinking alcohol, plus then in April, the vice principal of a municipal elementary school was busted for allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol. The goal of this rather unusual strict action is to force city officials to undergo a “shock therapy” so that citizens’ trust can be restored by changing the bad climate of drinking over the years. Based on the comments on local Asahi TV the “problem age range” of the city employees, who had caused annoyance to others under high alcohol influence seem to be in their 50s.
Based on my personal experience in a professional setting I have seen Japanese men or women, getting so drunk that they passed out on the floor of the restaurant as the worst example or end up drinking so much that they were unable to finish a Japanese sentence on their own. Of course this did not happen a lot, but definitely much more in Japan than in any country I have worked or visited on business. Personally I have seen employees in any age range or position getting so drunk that they barely knew anymore what they said. While higher alcohol consumption was so far culturally commonly accepted, it seems to me changes are seen now with the local governments.
Another example of toughening up local governmental officials: The mayor of Osaka (Toru Hashimoto) ordered recently a survey of tattoo ownership among the 30,000 employees, after complaints that a welfare officer had intimidated children by showing off his ink work. Based on the article in the Guardian the government is even now considering whether to ask these employees – most work in waste disposal and public transport – to have their tattoos erased, or even to find another job.
While I see people under the influence of alcohol not being able to function professionally, I wonder though whether having a hidden tattoo will actually influence job performance.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Do you know a friendlier country than Japan?

I need to share with you a cute short story of my daily work experience in Japan. Sometimes it is very difficult to explain what makes working in Japan truly interesting, from time to time challenging to overcome the cultural gaps or sometimes tiring due to the incompatibility to foreign business approaches. Today I came across a good example that shows Japanese professional earnestness to perfection. To my complete surprise I have received an email back from one of my business contacts in Japan in English. Actually so far I had never had any communication with him in English. The topic of the email: He had replied to my automatic out of office reply.

Dear Sibylle san

Thank you for your email. I know your schedule.
Already I have sent an email to your colleague about a product related question.


Mister Veryfriendly

From time to time the Japanese approach to business efficiency really amazes me. From my perspective redundant activities like the above are quite common, but I guess some of my business counter partners have more time at their hand than I do. My goal is to cut my overtime hours short, but I guess some Japanese professionals have a different perspective on time and money.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

How much do Japanese spend for the start of new life?

The start of April is a very special period in Japan. Every year by this time of the year newly graduates are entering working life or still at most universities new students start their studies from April. Therefore it is not surprising that many households are newly set up. A recent survey with Nikkei Shimbun (questioned 600 people, half male and half female) about their experienced cost, when they had to get their first household electronic goods and all the furniture. About 8% had not actually experienced the step of setting up their own home. Plus a rather high percentage with 18% had no idea how much they had actually spent.

Total amount spent less than JPY 10,000: 10%
More than JPY 10,001 – 30,000: 16%
More than JPY 30,001 – 50,000: 19%
More than JPY 50,001 – 100,000: 24%
More than JPY 100,001: 5%

To be honest, I wonder how those 10% of the respondents could organize a new home with less than JPY 10,000. I remember that when I had set up my own space in Tokyo, although I had tried to save some money by buying a lot of second-hand household goods, but I still ended up with a total amount close to JPY 100,000.
When I compare this sum to the costs I had as a student in Switzerland or then as a working adult in Los Angeles in the US, the amount of JPY 100,000 still seems unbelievably low. Although Tokyo is perceived as a very expensive city in global comparison, from my personal experience, I believe compared to larger cities in Switzerland or US the basic living costs are not so high in Tokyo. I would even argue the challenge lies in Japan that the salaries are rather low compared to the other places I have worked and lived.
In your case, do you remember how much you had spent on your first place that you called home? Looking forward to hearing from your experience,

Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)