So you made it to these hallowed shores of tentacle monsters and underwear vending machines. You covered my tips in the five-part “Getting a Teaching Job in Japan” series and now you’re sitting back, lounging in a bath full of Pocky.
How do you wow your employers and clients so that you can maintain your lifestyle in this wacky land of the rising sun?
I mentioned this a bit in the last post, but let me restate it:
A lot of people come over here in a patchwork quilt of a suit. Wearing green plaid pants, wacky hiking shoes, a tweed blazer with patches on it, purple shirt, and yellow tie isn’t going to get you anywhere. Who normally wears suits like that?
First Impressions are huge here, so if you look sharp and look like you’re here to do business, you’ll do just fine.
Another slightly unique idea in the realm of dress is to dress for your clients:
Where I work, we teach a lot of businesses, sometimes to people wearing overalls and coveralls. Those “down and dirty” guys feel a bit put off when they enter a classroom and have a man in a suit (not Man-in-Suit!) lording over them. I’ve seen a few teachers borrow some company coveralls, grab a helmet, and dress to their level. The students really warm up to it, although I’d recommend coming in your regular pristine wear and changing.
Dressing like your clients really helps them accept you and feel comfortable.
If you come to Japan dressed like a clown, it’d be perfectly acceptable for you to teach clowns…
There are a lot of cultures out there where time doesn’t matter. Just across the pond, if you tell a Korean to be somewhere at 7, they have an extremely loose interpretation of 7 and will perhaps show up at 9.
That’s not true in Japan. People are exacting in their timing and arrival. They’re usually not off by more than about 30 seconds plus or minus.
They don’t come early because they don’t want to catch you off guard. They don’t want to be late because that might offend.
I was recently hosting a party at a restaurant where I went outside about 5 minutes before the “stated arrival time” and there were just about 20 Japanese people standing outside waiting for the clock to strike the proper time.
You will crash and burn if you miss classes or come late.
Here’s a recent conversation I had with a client:
Student: “We really like you?”
Me: “Oh really, why is that? Is it because of my teaching style?”
Student: “No, we really like you because you come.”
I’ve seen some recent blog posts on this topic that covered the prospective dangers from the teacher’s point of view. This isn’t even the biggest danger.
Listen, I come from America. In America, we often seek some kind of mutual copacetic end to a relationship. This leads to about 6 months of pain and suffering, drunken encounters, retarded text messages, and general foolishness. At the end of that, sometimes those people emerge as friends, sometimes not.
In that situation, maybe that student would continue taking lessons from the teacher they slept with. Maybe they’d just switch teachers (for lessons, not sex…although maybe revenge sex).
Japanese people are a more cynical and (secretly) emotional bunch. When they rip off a band-aide, they rip that shit off in one fell swoop, not slowly trying to tear it off while wincing in pain.
You’re going to find that the person you slept with changed their cellular number and basically disappeared off the face of the earth.
From this standpoint, if you’re working for a company and sleeping with all the customers in failed mini-relationships, you’re going to find yourself absolutely destroying your company’s business. Eventually they’re bound to sniff out what’s going on.
Listen, in Japan, nothing makes sense. You’ll often find yourself trying to make logical sense of the culture, people, and country.
It’s absolutely hopeless to try and make sense of it all.
You’ll try to understand why it’s rude to use a cell phone on a train as an airplane buzzes overhead with loudspeakers blaring, trying to get you to shop at the local mall.
You’ll wonder how people who work 16 hours a day accomplish less than French workers who work 7 hours, and how a government that does nothing somehow brought a country to be the 2nd most wealthy in the world.
Nothing makes sense here, and yet it somehow all works out. Don’t ask questions. Just smile and laugh at the nonsensical nature of it all.
Keep an open mind too. You’re going to come here, and you’re going to see all the weird and wacky differences and you’re going to feel resistant to it all.
“Why the hell do they sweep with that wacky broom that looks like Bear Grylls made it in the wild? My country’s brooms are so much better!”
I’ve seen more than a few ‘high-minded’ teachers come over here and decide to educate their students on why their country and ideas are so much better than Japan’s.
That didn’t work out so well.
When people travel, it’s perfectly normal for them to spend a day picking out “omiyage,” or small gifts to give to relatives, coworkers, and friends after their travels. Even when Japanse go as little as an hour away, they usually come back with something for others.
Do they expect you to do the same?
No, not really, you’re foreign and they know you play by different rules.
Will they absolutely love you if you do it?
Am I saying you should bribe your students with gifts?
Yes, Yes I am. They’re basically bribing you too.
Besides, it’s fairly win-win. I’ve had a lot of teachers that make grand statements to their students like “I don’t do your Omiyage thing, so I won’t bring you anything when I travel.”
Just jump in! If you’ve got a class of 5 people and you occasionally bring a little something to share in class with them, they’ll do the same. This is going to land you at least 5x your initial investment, usually more.
They’ll like you more for your sense to try out Japanese culture and enjoy the travel stories that come with your present, and will do the same back to you.
I have loads of students that invite me to stuff. Unless I really can’t go, I always make an effort. I don’t always want to go to an elementary school sports festival, but it’s good business.
In Japan, your job exists beyond the hours of work.
You’re always working even when you’re not. When students invite you out, it’s part of the student-teacher relationship and a way of solidifying relationships. You can be one of those folks who declines to do everything your students want, but A) you’ll miss out on a lot of interesting things and B) you’ll be keeping the students distant from you.
Japanese people can’t drink a lot (unless they’re Kochi people), but they do drink often. Drinking after work with coworkers is a continuation of work. It help reduce stress and cement relationships as the alcohol greases the release of what people really think.
When clients take you out to drink, it’s half to have a good time, but it’s also so they can drink a bit and tell you more about how they feel, as well as hopefully getting you drunk enough to hear a bit more about you.
I can actually say that drinking with clients has helped renew contracts as well as land new ones.
It’s an integral part of Japanese culture and an integral part of business relationships.
If you don’t drink, it’s ok. If you’re a women it’s fairly accepted, as many women don’t drink here. They’re often too busy managing their silly, drunk male coworkers at the end of the night.
Although I encounter a fair share of Japanese men who can’t drink or won’t, their expectations are that foreign men drink and can drink a lot.
As such, they will normally attempt to ply you with alcohol.
If you don’t drink, they will be accommodating enough. A good excuse is to be a driver, as the Japanese are very serious about not drinking a drop of liquor before driving.
But If you are a drinker, do expect that there might be a few more days of your life where you’re sharing a few drinks with colleagues, clients, and friends after work.
(That’s it for this week, hope you enjoy the new direction for the series!)