10 Tips to Help You Blitz The Teacher Interview in Japan

I currently live in the UK but I taught English in Japan and Australia for over 12 years so I’m well aware of just how stressful the teacher interview in Japan can be, especially if you know very little about Japan and the Japanese culture. These 10 tips will help to prepare you for success and turn you into the ideal candidate.

Photo courtesy of AEON Corporation, a leading chain of English conversation teaching companies in Japan

Photo courtesy of AEON Corporation, a leading chain of English conversation teaching companies in Japan

1. Smile and don’t be shy

Your prospective employer will be looking for someone who is outgoing and friendly. You need to show the interviewer you have the right personality to teach students and impart knowledge in a group and/or private lesson situation.

Even though some of your future Japanese students will be very timid and sometimes unwilling to get involved during the lessons (despite the fact they’ve paid a lot of money to participate) you need to prove you can stand up confidently in front of a group of strangers, gain their trust, and teach an enjoyable and interesting lesson that leaves a pleasing and lasting impression.

Remember, a winning smile and a positive attitude about teaching and living in Japan will win over your prospective employer even if you’ve had no experience teaching in the past. Think about the teachers you liked at school and what qualities they had and how you can adopt those qualities for your job as a teacher.

2. Don’t be negative about past employers and don’t joke or use sarcasm

Westerners can make a big mistake in interviews or when they’re doing business with the Japanese if they use sarcasm or a joke to break the ice. If you’re asked why you want to teach in Japan DO NOT say something along the lines of Because of the money! Hahaha! or I want to live in Japan because I love Japanese food and I can see you do too! Hahaha! or I left my last job because my boss was an idiot!

If you’re not sure whether you should say something and if you’re afraid it might be misinterpreted or cause offense then don’t say it.

3. Show you know something about Japan and the Japanese culture

If you don’t know anything about the Land of the Rising Sun you should start reading about Japan, the Japanese culture and the area where you’re planning to teach as soon as possible.

There’s a lot of information about life in Japan on the internet so read as many articles as you can to prove you’re savvy and switched on. You could also buy a guide book to Japan if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to learn the basics about the culture, the customs, the country and even simple Japanese phrases.

4. Explain why you’re interested in Japan

Japanese employers will want to know as much about you as possible so it’s okay to talk about why you decided to work in Japan in the first place. If you’ve had a homestay experience in Japan you could say something nice about your homestay family. If you have Japanese friends you could talk about what you’ve learnt about Japan from them. It’s also okay to say you like anime or manga but just mention it and don’t go into detail.

5. Show an interest in learning Japanese

You don’t need to learn the Japanese language to work in Japan but it will help you a lot if you do. If you really want to impress your prospective employer you could incorporate some Japanese language into the interview even if it’s basic, but remember to speak in polite Japanese.

A simple introduction hajimemashite, Renae to moushimasu, douzo yoroshiku onegai itashimasu (hello, my name is Renae, nice to meet you) is a great way to start the interview. If this is too much for you to remember then a simple doumo arigatou gozaimashita (thank you very much) at the end of the interview should suffice.

Photo courtesy of AEON Corporation, a leading chain of English conversation teaching companies in Japan

Photo courtesy of AEON Corporation, a leading chain of English conversation teaching companies in Japan

6. Dress appropriately

We all know it’s important to look professional for interviews but some people with a creative streak think it’s fine to express their individuality in a subtle way. This might be okay for jobs in your home country but there’s really no room for individuality at interviews in Japan. Dress in a black or navy conservative suit and make sure it’s clean and not shabby-looking. Don’t wear dangly earrings, just simple gold or silver studs, and obviously remove any facial or tongue piercings.

Pay attention to the small details like a ladder in your pantyhose because it will be noticed and frowned upon. Always wear polished black shoes but nothing too trendy or unusual. Never wear stilettos. Don’t wear revealing clothing and don’t show up with blue or pink hair. Natural hair and makeup is best.

7. Be punctual

Punctuality and timing are incredibly important and arriving late for the interview, even by five minutes, could mean you won’t get the job. Arrive ten minutes early. No sooner and no later. If the interview is in Japan make sure you find the location for the interview beforehand so you don’t get lost and arrive late on the day. There are no excuses for lateness in Japan. Punctuality is so important in Japan train companies will give you a delay certificate at the station for you to show your boss if the train is running later than five minutes so you have a legitimate excuse for not arriving at work on time!

8. If a Westerner interviews you don’t assume he or she is different from a Japanese interviewer

If you show up for your interview and the interviewer is a Westerner and not a Japanese person can you forget everything on this list, laugh your way through the interview and impress them with sassy banter? No way!

The Westerner interviewing you has probably spent a considerable amount of time in Japan and working for this company. They’ve been chosen to conduct the interview because they’re a good role model and they know exactly who the company wants to employ.

If you’re now slightly confused and unsure about what they expect it’s quite simple – they’re looking for someone hard-working, happy, articulate, kind, well-groomed, enthusiastic, a team player, flexible, smart, punctual and manageable – be that person.

9. Be prepared to teach

You may have to give an English lesson during the interview so keep this in mind and prepare yourself mentally for this. They won’t expect you to teach anything too difficult and it will be a short lesson so keep calm and don’t panic. Don’t ramble on too much and make sure you express your enthusiasm in a professional manner.

10. Prove you’re prepared to move to Japan and commit to this job

If you’re attending an interview to teach in Japan the company obviously expects you to show some kind of serious commitment. You’ll need about ¥5,000,00 in savings in your bank account, you should have an up-to-date passport, you’ll have made enquiries about your visa, you’ll have spoken to your family and friends about your move, you won’t be in the middle of a residential lease agreement or a car lease, and you’ll be in the process of tying up all the loose ends in your home country.

If you have this all organized you’ll be mentally prepared to nail the interview and make a commitment to your employer in Japan. Don’t stress out too much about the interview. If you follow the above tips you’ll definitely leave a great impression and you’ll seem like the perfect candidate for the job.

 

 

 

A Delightful Short Story from The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon

The Pillow Book by Sei Shonogan book coverI’m currently reading The Pillow Book, a 10th century Japanese diary from the Heian period. This book is a fascinating journal written by a poet and author called Sei Shōnagon, a court lady who served Empress Consort Teishi just over 1,000 years ago. Through her observations and musings, Shōnagon has provided incredible insight into court life at this time in Japan.

On pages 198-199 there’s a captivating short story within the book I thought everyone would enjoy reading because it’s just so charming. It also gives readers a fantastic example of why The Pillow Book is so well-known and very popular as a piece of literature and an important historical document.

The witty story below is very cleverly written and imaginative and the communications between the Chinese and Japanese emperors clearly make a statement about the political tension between Japan and China during the Heian period at the time of writing.

Please enjoy . . .
“Once upon a time there lived an Emperor who cared only for young people, and killed everyone once they turned forty. People fled and went into hiding in distant lands, and no one over forty was left in the capital. There was at that time a Captain, a brilliant and popular man, whose parents were both nearing seventy years of age. The parents were in terror for their lives, seeing that even people as young as forty were forbidden in the capital. But the Captain was a man of great filial piety. He declared that he couldn’t bear not to see them at least once a day, so rather than send them to live in a distant land he instead secretly dug a hole in the earth under his house, where he built a room. There he settled them, calling in constantly to see that all was well, and he gave out to the court and to the people at large that they had disappeared. Why should it have mattered to the Emperor as long as they stayed shut up in the house, I wonder? What a horrible age it must have been. The parents can’t have been from the upper echelons, with a Captain as a son. He was a very wise man, this Captain, a man of great knowledge, and though he was young he had a fine reputation and a most penetrating mind, so it seems the Emperor held him in the highest regard.

Now the Emperor of China was trying to get the better of this Emperor and seize his country, and he kept menacing him by engaging him in disputes and tests of knowledge. One day, he sent him a piece of planed wood about two feet long, beautifully sleek and shiny and rounded at the edges, with the question, ‘Which is the base and which is the head?’ There was no way of telling the answer to this, and the Emperor was greatly perplexed, but the Captain, feeling sorry for him in his quandary, secretly took the problem to his old father. ‘All His EmperorMajesty needs to do is go to a swift-flowing river, stand on the bank and throw the wood in sideways. The end that turns and heads downstream will be the top,’ his father instructed. The Captain then went to the Emperor and, pretending that the idea was his own, offered to carry out the plan. So he and his companions went and threw the wood into the river as instructed; they indicated the end that had turned downstream as the top, and sent it back to China, and apparently it was indeed correct.

On another occasion the Chinese Emperor sent two snakes of exactly the same length, roughly two feet long, with the question, ‘Which is male and which is female?’ This too was impossible to judge. Our Captain then went again to his father and asked what to do. ‘Line them up,’ said his father, ‘and put a straight stick against their tails. The one that doesn’t move its tail will be the female.’ The Captain went back to the palace and did just this, and sure enough one moved its tail and one didn’t, so they were marked accordingly and sent back.

A long time passed, and then the Chinese Emperor sent a tiny twisted jewel which had seven curves and a central hole running through it, and an opening at the two ends. ‘Thread this and return it to me,’ was the instruction. ‘We can all do this here.’ All the court nobles and senior courtiers, and everybody else as well, declared that even the cleverest craftsman would be defeated by this task. So the Captain went again to his father and told him the problem. ‘Catch two large ants,’ the old man said, ‘tie a thin thread round their abdomens, then attach a slightly thicker thread to this. Then smear the other end of the jewel with honey.’ The Captain passed this advice on to the Emperor, then followed the instructions, and when the ants were put into the hole they smelt the honey, and emerged from the other end in no time. When the threaded jewel was sent back to the Chinese Emperor, he acknowledged that Japan was indeed a clever country, and never did such things again.

The Emperor was deeply impressed with the Captain’s sagacity, and inquired what he could do for him or what rank he wished to receive as a reward. The Captain replied, ‘I wish for no rank or title. I only beg that my old parents who have hidden themselves away be discovered and allowed to live in the capital again.’ ‘Nothing could be simpler,’ the Emperor replied, and he forthwith decreed that they could return. When all the other aged parents learned of this, they too were overjoyed. The Emperor elevated the Captain to court noble and made him Minister.”

The translation of The Pillow Book by Meredith McKinney definitely brings the journal to life so if you like the short story above you’re bound to enjoy the rest of the book which is available in paperbook or eBook from Amazon.

21 Enchanting Cherry Blossom Quotes from The Tale of Genji

The Tale of Genji or 源氏物語, Genji Monogatari in Japanese is a very famous book written by a noblewoman and lady-in-waiting called Murasaki Shikibu during the Heian period (794 to 1185). Every Japanese person has read at least a part of this book and studied it at some point in their lives but it’s also been recognised as a valuable and significant piece of literature in the West and it’s often included on the reading list for Japanese studies at universities overseas.

Sakura at Nishi Koen, Chou-Ku, Fukuoka-Shi, Japan, April 2004.
I read the translation by Royall Tyler and I can say, hand on heart, The Tale of Genji is the most romantic book I’ve ever read. Not only that, every story within the story was an absolute pleasure to read despite the fact this book has 1,224 pages. If you’re wondering whether this book is worth reading, I can promise you this world-renowned literary masterpiece will gently caress your imagination and carry you away to a time and a place where both your mind and your soul will be equally charmed and enchanted.

Genji

I consider myself to be a 桜人 (sakurabito), an old word that became popular in the 11th century to describe people who love cherry blossoms, so you can imagine just how much the poems and the descriptions of cherry blossoms and plum blossoms throughout the book really appealed to me.

Cherry blossoms represent the transient nature of life. Unfortunately, my father passed away from mesothelioma (a type of cancer caused from exposure to asbestos) in his mid-fifties, so I learned at an early age that death is inevitable, life is very precious and we need to appreciate our short time on this beautiful Earth. Cherry blossoms are a fleeting joy and many of the themes throughout The Tale of Genji are an example of this bittersweet impermanence. This reflection on passing whims and placing value on what is really important to us certainly gives you pause for thought.

The perfect time to read these cherry blossom quotes would be at a hanami party (cherry blossom viewing party) with friends as you sip on plum wine or sake, eat Japanese delicacies and look up at the surrounding blossoms.

I really hope you enjoy each one of the cherry blossom and plum blossom quotes below and if they appeal to you as much as they captivated me then you’ll really love reading The Tale of Genji.

1. “The cherry blossom season was over, but two of His Excellency’s trees must have consented to wait, for they were in late and glorious bloom.”

Lovely sakura

2. “Mist trailed through a garden pale beneath thinning branches, to merge here and there with the blossoms and yield a scene more beautiful than any autumn night.”

3. “Quite apart from these weighty hopes of mine, I should like to indulge in the pleasures of the seasons—the blossoms, the autumn leaves, the changing skies. People have long weighed the flowering woods in spring against the lovely hues of the autumn moors, and no one seems ever to have shown which one clearly deserves to be preferred. I hear that in China they say nothing equals the brocade of spring flowers, while in Yamato speech we prefer the poignancy of autumn, but my eyes are seduced by each in turn, and I cannot distinguish favorites among the colors of their blossoms or the songs of their birds. I have in mind to fill a garden, however small, with enough flowering spring trees to convey the mood of the season, or to transplant autumn grasses there and, with them, the crickets whose song is so wasted in the fields, and then to give all this to a lady for her pleasure.”

4. “How poorly mere words convey the exquisite beauty of the gardens of his ladies! The one before the spring quarter, where the scent of plum blossoms mingled with the fragrance within the blinds.”

5. “While the blossom-scented evening breeze at last coaxed the plums in Genji’s garden into bloom”

6. “Willows trailed bright green fronds and blossoms cast ineffable perfumes upon the air. The cherries that were gone elsewhere smiled here in all their beauty, and the wisteria twined about the galleries opened into deep-hued clusters”

7. “Over grape-colored gathered trousers he wore a cherry blossom train-robe, very long behind, and the easy poise of his bearing left a brilliant impression. Meanwhile, His Grace of Rokujō in a cherry blossom dress cloak of light Chinese twill over a plum-red gown, displayed a casually imperial grace more indescribable than ever.”

8. “She made a figure so beautiful and so perfect in size that she seemed to perfume all the air around her and, to express it in terms of flowers, to put even cherry blossoms to shame.”

Heian kimono. Photo courtesy of The Kyoto Project

Heian kimono. Photo courtesy of The Kyoto Project

9. “A sprinkling of snow fell to confirm that spring was not far away and plum buds swelled on the bough.”

Snowy cherryblossom

10. “When mist prettily veiled the trees in flower and others yet to bloom, a warbler appeared in that favorite red plum tree, singing splendidly”

11. “Elsewhere the single-petaled cherry blossoms fell, the doubles faded, mountain cherries bloomed, and the wisteria colored, but she had known precisely which flowers blossom early and which late, and she had planted them accordingly for their many colors, so that in her garden they all yielded their richest beauty in their time.”

 

 

12. “O that I had sleeve enough to cover the wide sky! No wind should then take the flowers that blossom in spring.”

13. “There are flowers on my cherry tree! I will not let them fall, ever! We must put up a curtain all round them—that way the wind will not get at them!” the little Prince announced very proudly. The sweet look on his face made Genji smile. “That is a much better idea than trying to find someone with sleeves wide enough to cover the sky,”

14. “It is true, as they say, that the blossoms of spring are all the more precious because they bloom so briefly.”

15. “Beneath a sky veiled far and wide by the mists of spring, some cherry trees were shedding their petals while others were just coming into bloom, and one admired along the river a lovely prospect of wind-tossed willows reflected in the stream. His Highness of War, unaccustomed to such sights, was struck with wonder and found the scene very hard to leave.”

cherry blossom branch

16. “He ordered a beautifully flowering branch picked and had it presented by a handsome privy page in his service. The note said, “I have come to you seeking in all their beauty mountain cherry flowers, and I myself have plucked a spray to set in my hair.”

17. “The blossoms were at their height, and the spring haze made a lovely view in all directions, inspiring them to compose verse after verse in Chinese and Japanese;”

18. “How I should love just to be with you always like this, enjoying with one heart the moon or the blossoms and sharing observations on this passing world.”

plum blossom

19. “Yes, the cherry trees put this truth very plainly: none of the glory of blossoms and autumn leaves lasts long in this fleeting world.”

20. “The red plum in the garden was so lovely in color and scent that even the warblers seemed unable to pass by without a song,”

21.“Soon all will be gone, who loved them, and leave to storms this mountain village where the plum tree in full bloom with its scent calls back the past.”

 

 

5 Japanese Values Westerners Could Adopt

As the 2020 Tokyo Olympics draw closer, Japan and the Japanese culture are garnering more and more attention in the West. Lots of students are learning Japanese at school and university, many young people enjoy reading manga or watching anime, others like to practise martial arts, and Japanese restaurants are opening in cities all over the world because everyone wants to eat delicious and healthy Japanese food.

The desire to visit Japan is often an extension of what young people have enjoyed growing up and they’ve developed their passion for Japan even further through social media channels. But why do so many people rave about Japan and why do so many Westerners decide to stay and live in this country for many years when the culture and the language are so different from their own? The answer may simply be their appreciation of Japanese values and how these values impress Westerners who spend time in Japan, even if they’re just visiting the country for a couple of weeks as a tourist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below are five values deeply ingrained into Japanese society. Each value makes an important contribution to the Japanese culture and everyone’s day-to-day life in Japan. Although some Japanese people would argue you need to be Japanese to truly appreciate these values, it’s still possible for Westerners to try and adopt them or simply acknowledge them in order to improve their communication skills and to cope in their daily lives. These principles and moral standards can also help Westerners to understand their own culture and why people behave in a certain way in their home country.

1. Mottainai (waste not, want not) deals with waste without regret. This Japanese word is gaining international recognition, partly due to the very popular children’s book Mottainai Grandma by Mariko Shinju, a bilingual book that teaches children to be resourceful and to think about the impact waste has on the universe.

One way stores and companies in Japan are adopting mottainai is by upcycling products and turning them into covetable items with market appeal. The NHK World TV program Tokyo Eye 2020 recently featured a retailer called Seal Omotesando Honten. This fashion and apparel shop upcycles scrapped tire inner tubes and turns them into stylish and unique men’s bags and accessories.

Hopefully, this company’s success will encourage other Western entrepreneurs and well-known companies to look at different ways to upcycle and rethink waste in the future in countries outside of Japan.

Seal Omotesando Honten in Tokyo. Photo courtesy of NHK World TV.

Seal Omotesando Honten in Tokyo. Photo courtesy of NHK World TV.

2. Omoiyari is to notice and be considerate of others. I was really impressed by the kindness I received from the Japanese people when I taught English in Japan. When I was ill my students brought me medicine and made me delicious and healthy meals, my Japanese friends organized parties and hilarious karaoke nights when I was lonely and missing home, and strangers went out of their way to help me when I lost my way and I couldn’t find my destination. I can remember one Japanese lady I asked randomly in the street for directions in Ginza who actually led me to an eikawa school I couldn’t find, even though it took ten minutes out of her time. What struck me the most was the fact she was delighted to do this and she showed no signs of frustration or exasperation.

 Sadly, I was working in an office in the UK and a young man in his early twenties on our team had unfortunately had an accident playing sport and he’d broken his leg. The doctor had told him his leg would probably need to be amputated. Three days a week, he’d arrive at work and only two other people on our team of twenty would ask him how he was feeling or show any concern, even though he would limp into work on crutches for several months looking utterly defeated.

Westerners are often accused of being confrontational and competitive. Obviously, we need to stand up for the values we believe in but we should embrace omoiyari and take more time to think of others. It’s actually very rewarding to reach out to others and help them if you can. It doesn’t need to be a grand gesture, it just needs to come from the heart. Even a friendly smile could make someone’s day!

3. Honne vs. tatemae are true feelings versus opinions and behavior we express in public. Westerners sometimes complain about the way Japanese people use tatemae or wear a mask to hide their true feelings in order to cover up their honne or real feelings and how this can be frustrating and leave a person feeling isolated and confused. However, some Japanese people say Westerners could benefit from using more tatemae in their lives and less honne. Just consider some of the reality programs dominating TV these days in Western countries. I’m sure you’ll agree some Westerners really need to rein in their opinions and stop flaunting themselves physically and emotionally on television for the whole nation to see.

Western celebrities in the public eye who may have been praised in the past can be condemned to obscurity because of criticism and miscommunication on social media. If we were to express more positive honne and show more tatemae when we feel negative toward someone or something, especially on public forums, maybe life wouldn’t be so difficult for everyone, especially the young who sometimes feel very vulnerable when they’re online in a world where there are no boundaries.

4. Omotenashi – The Japanese company Kanebo Cosmetics defines omotenashi on their website as “the Japanese way of treating a guest. It blends a welcoming spirit with warmth, understanding, and above all respect. The concept is all encompassing.” We’ll certainly see this word omotenashi used a lot more in the media in the run up to the 2020 Olympics, although this interpretation of Japanese hospitality can sometimes be overused and written out of context. Nevertheless, omotenashi is definitely one of the values many tourists will appreciate and remember after they’ve visited Japan.

Omotenashi Japan

Retailers and restaurateurs from countries all over the world could benefit from a visit to Japan to develop a better understanding of omotenashi which they could customize to improve the customer service experience at their own establishments in their home countries.

 

 

5. Iki is inherently a stylish and fashionable aesthetic that represents everyday Japan. This value became popular in the late eighteenth century with the middle and lower classes during the Edo period, but it’s still an active part of the Japanese vocabulary today.

Books by Haruki Murakami are said to embody the spirit of iki. His characters and plot structures are transparent and straightforward, his writing style is neither poetic nor full of underlying themes, and there’s an obvious appreciation of natural beauty and behavior.

Kuki Shūzō was the first person to publish a comprehensive study of iki in The Structure of “Iki” (Iki no kōzō) in 1930. This research indicated iki has three elements: sensual allure, pride, and a sophisticated indifference toward one’s own attractiveness and capabilities in every aspect of life.

It’s not easy to apply iki to the Western world but one woman who comes close to representing this value is Kate Middleton before she became a royal. Her hair and makeup were always Kate Middletonnatural, she had the everyday qualities that attracted Prince William, she had a slim physique, her style was never garish, superficial or coarse, she was neither common nor overly transcendental, and her sensual allure was always understated and discreet. All these attributes personify the principles associated with iki. Many Western and Japanese mothers would probably be very proud to have a daughter who behaves and looks like Kate Middleton in their private and public life.