Teaching English in Japan is a trap. That is, it’s a trap in the sense that it can be very, very difficult to get out of for people who want to stay in Japan but don’t want to continue teaching English. Some manage it, just as I am determined to do, but vastly more people fail to do so, either giving up and leaving Japan entirely or indefinitely languishing in one dead-end teaching job after another.
Initially, the lure of teaching is that it’s a relatively easy way to go abroad if you’re a native English speaker or someone with near-native language ability. It has allowed me to live in Korea, Taiwan, China, and now Japan, and for that I am grateful. These have been wonderful, highly enriching experiences.
However, I want to have an actual career, the sort that can grow and progress. Three simultaneous jobs that still have me living paycheck-to-paycheck is not a career, and it has no future. It is a situation that prohibits growth and prevents achievement of normal life aspirations like having a family or buying a house.
I depend on my job for my legal residence and work permission in Japan. That work permission specifically allows only one type of work. If I want to engage in any additional types of work, outside of teaching English, I have to request special permission from the government, which they may or may not approve, and which is limited to a single additional type of work only.
Granted, I would have an easier time of trying to transition to other types of employment if I had any desire to work for a large corporation, in which case I could just get another regular day job.
However, working nine-to-five for consecutive decades while your health and youth drain away, hoping to enjoy yourself in a retirement that you may not live to see is not a rational way to spend your life, no matter how usual a thing it may have become in society. It’s utter insanity.
But that’s also just the dominant system that exists, and no matter how stupid and unfair I find the immigration system, or how ridiculous I find the standard career model we follow by default, that’s just what is and my not liking it will change nothing. Like it or not, the constraints that exist are the constraints within which I have to work.
Exiting the English-teaching game to freelance or become an entrepreneur is a much more difficult thing than just getting a different full-time job, especially if you lack one of the visas that eliminates work restrictions and/or aren’t sitting on substantial piles of cash.
I am tired to death of teaching English. I hate it more by the day, and that’s sincere, not overstatement. I am burned out and then some, my past enthusiasm now a sad pile of cold ash withering in the corner. If it weren’t for the fact that I like the people I work with and I like the kids I teach, I’d have run for the hills a while ago.
Still, I remain enthusiastic about Japan and about building a career here based on creative work and entrepreneurship. There is a way out of this maddening loop, and I will find it. When you go halfway around the world to do your life’s work, you don’t let bureaucracy and exploitative businesses practices keep you from doing what you went there to do.
As long as I live, I will keep pushing. Failure is part of the path you follow, and the more difficult the path, the more likely failure along the way is. That’s something you just have to accept. It doesn’t change the overall goal, though.
It gets exhausting, at times becoming an incredible struggle. And when that happens, you rest a bit and try again, repeating as long as necessary to achieve the goal.
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