日本FLASHBACK: Keepin' It Real - Teaching at an Eikaiwa Part 1

9.8.11 ShaSha LaPerf 7 Comments

Many people know about JET, but I don't think many people talk to much about their experiences with eikaiwa. For those of you that don't know, an eikaiwa is an English conversation school. There were a few black women that worked at the eikaiwa I worked for (in different locations, I only met them once or twice in person). I think eikaiwa are usually off people's radars so I wanted to talk the real deal about my experiences working with two different eikaiwa. Now keep in mind this is from 2004-2007 so I don't know if there have been any drastic changes in the the eikaiwa life. But this story is just a base, everyone will probably have different experiences.  Like I said in a previous post, if black women are looking to get out the county, teaching abroad is a great way to go. But I also want you to know some of the things you may get into. This story is also pretty long, so I'm breaking it up into parts. So here's the first one:

For my first two years in Japan, I worked at an eikaiwa called AEON.  When I was in Japan, the "big 3" eikaiwa were AEON, GEOS, and NOVA. AEON is still going strong but GEOs and NOVA went down hard. Now I think other companies like Shane's English School, ECC, and Berlitz are popular choices.

There are quite a few differences between JET and eikaiwa. For one, JET is a government sponsored program where foreigners are sent to work at actual schools in Japan. Eikaiwa are English companies; people pay to go to them. With an eikaiwa you have much smaller classes and the age ranges are more varied. Your school may celebrate such holidays as Christmas and Halloween, but you miss out on celebrating Japanese school events like Sports Day. The pay is also less at an eikaiwa compared to JET. You definitely won't be poor and it (was) pretty easy to get bonuses. You get housing and benefits if you work at a large eikaiwa company. I had a 2 bedroom apartment that was fully furnished and about a 15 minute walk from my job. But you simply don't get paid as much as JETs.

On the flipside, you're more likely to work in a large city like Tokyo or Osaka because eikaiwa are in demand. I lucked up and ended up in Kawagoe, a city with about 300K people and about 40 minutes away from Tokyo on the train. With JET, you're mostly likely be in a rural area. Not super far from a large city, but Hiroshima may not be a hop, skip, or jump away. I was accepted into both JET and AEON, but chose AEON because Kawagoe was so close to Tokyo. Honestly it's much easier to get a job at an eikaiwa than it is to get into JET because there's such an abundance of them. When I decided to leave AEON, it only took me a month to find a new job at a small school by using foreigner work message boards. At an eikaiwa you'll most likely work later in the morning until later in the evening and will work on the weekend (basically at times that people have free time to come). This wasn't that big of a deal to me since I had Sunday and Monday off and I used Monday to go get my braids done.

There is a stigma attached to being an eikaiwa teacher though. A lot of eikaiwa are notorious for not-so-good business practices, crazy managers, and lower standards in hiring teachers. They're about money, and teaching is secondary. NOVA had ridiculously high turnover rates and left a lot of teachers screwed when they went down. Some "teachers" were clearly there to just get laid by Japanese women. And some others seemed to actually hate Japan, but didn't want to be in their home countries for whatever reason. For the most part, I didn't have issues with AEON's business standards and didn't meet a lot of asshole teachers (LO but I didn't really hang around a lot of teachers anyway).

AEON's interview process was a bit complex compared to the one I did with JET. With JET I was asked a few question while I smiled like an idiot and pretending the real reason I wanted to go to Japan was because I actually cared about teaching (LOL actually my plan was to go to Japan and marry Kawabata from CHEMISTRY). With AEON I had to give an actual (prepared) demonstration lesson in front of other the interviewers and interviewees. Then I was asked back for a second interview, which I did an impromptu lesson for. Weeks later, I recieved a call telling me I was going to be teaching at AEON Amity.

So AEON and AEON Amity are a little different. With AEON, you teach adults and children. But you were also expected to sell books and other materials to students. With Amity, you teach only children and the managers did the selling. Again this was a few years ago, so I don't know if this has changed. I do remember being asked to go flier a few neighborhoods which I wasn't happy about. I'm a tall black woman; I wasn't interested in skulking around a bunch of residental areas.

Anyway, I only had months to get my items ready, my passport, visa, a plane ticket ($600...man I miss those days) and of course, money! I knew I would get paid monthly and I needed about $2000. I ended up taking out a loan at the bank. I DO NOT recommend this to anyone!!! I did pay off my loan quickly, BUT it was a pain in the ass paying from Japan.

When I arrived in Japan, I was actually in Okayama and not Kawagoe. Before I could teach, I had to go through two weeks of training. When I got to Kyoto airport, I was greeted by AEON Amity staff. The incoming teachers were asked to try to come to Kyoto at about the same time to make it easy to get everyone. We all hopped on a train and made our way to Okayama.

I was a ball of excitment and fear. A lot of stuff was spinning in my head: "Oh shit! I'm in fuckin JAPAN! Real Japanese people! I can't remember my Japanese, why didn't I study more? Is that McDonald's? Did I bring enough clothes?"

We finally arrived at the training center in Okayama where I met a few other teachers. Most were from the US, though one or two were from Austrailia. I remember being pretty wounded up when it came to bed time and jet lag hit in big time in the morning. The sun came up at about five am, which also threw me for a loop (It was July when I went).

So training was underway a day or two later. We had to wear suits as we learned about AEON's training methods. This wouldn't have been so bad had it not been fucking hot and humid. I didn't know the humidity would be so bad. I was still in my perm days and my hair was a mess within a day or two. As a teacher at an eikaiwa, you actually put little effort into making lesson plans; most of the stuff is already done for you. So we had to figure out how teach these lessons in the right time slot and for various ages (6 mos. to 18 years old).

When we had downtime from training, my coworkers and I headed out throughout the city, going to internet cafes, the mall, and seeing some famous sites around the city. At the mall I had a moment of hilarity when a group of Japanese middle school girls mistook me for a basketball player. LOL they were so disappointed when they found out I was just a teacher! I'd also had the foresight to sign up for a pen pal program before I left so I got in touch with them and let them know when I was arriving in the Tokyo/Saitama area.

So it was a busy two weeks, with little time to really get over jet lag. I was loaded with what I thought would be the keys for me becoming a great teacher. I was looking forward to meeting students and making my way to Kawagoe.

But I soon found out that I needed a lot more than a manual and a smile to get me through class...

Part 2 coming soon...


  1. Awesome post! At this moment I am almost done with gathering all my visa documents, and I am looking for ESL teaching positions. I am mainly focusing on South Korea, but I'm also looking at positions in Japan, so this post has been really helpful! Especially since I want to work in a hagwon or eikaiwa for my first year or two, then try to work in a public school.

    About taking a loan out before leaving, I'm glad you stated what you did, because I was really considering doing that! Now, I think I should just save what I can and pray it will be enough to survive on.

    Can't wait until the next post!

  2. I knew many people that went there to teach and one of my friends went there to work in the nursing field. I'm trying trying to be more fluent in French but if I went to Japan, I would like go there to be more sophisticated with the language and/or be a translator. I've read where a lot of Americans are seeking jobs in Dubai, Korea, Japan and China. One of my nephews want to study Chinese. I told him to go for it as it is ( besides Japanese and Spanish) are the top languages to learn, especially for the business.

    Initially, I didn't believe what they said about the Japanese and the basketball thing. Another friend of mine who is working for the French consulate and studied in Morocco was telling me about an uncle of hers that visited Japan. Her uncle is tall and said that the people gathered around him wanting to take pictures with him and asked was he a basketball star? I got tickled when I heard about it. Her uncle told them that he was working as a engineer. He wasn't offended about it. He thought that it was cute.

  3. @Afromorena: One thing I didn't account for were exchange rates and international money orders. When I was in Japan, they were NOT big on cards: credit, debit, or check cards. So I had to pay my loan with money orders. I was shelling out about an extra $50-100 a month because of exchange rates and getting the money order itself. Seeing as the loan was only for about $2000 it wasn't worth it. On top of that I was also paying student loans AND my own credit card bill. So I was putting a lot of money into those as well. :(

    @M: It's funny, when generally when you apply for teaching jobs in Japan, they discourage you to speak any Japanese. In fact knowing too much about Japan can be looked down upon because the "foreigner" factor is an important aspect of teaching (this is specifically for eikaiwa and JET...may not apply if you work at other schools). Sometimes you fall into a "wacky foreigner! routine (which I'm gonna write about later)." There are some quite a few jobs that expect you to be fluent/native level in the language depending on the field.

    I was just amused when the girls came to us. Apparently I was oblivious because it was my coworker that noticed them following us and asked them to come over. I'm almost six feet tall so even here in the states people ask me about B-ball. So I wasn't too bothered when they asked me. LOL honestly I would have been more bothered if they'd asked me to braid their hair or something.

  4. Shasha,

    I got cha . I was thinking about learning a foreign language because I don't want to end up being in someone's country and not knowing what I'm reading and/or understanding what I'm doing going etc while I'm there.I basically want to learn it as an " in case" thing and I just like learning about cultures/languages in general.With French/Spanish, they discouraged us from speaking English so that we could speak the languages more fluently. It was difficult,but I enjoyed those minute long conversations I had with other. Franophone/Spanish speakers.

    I'm only 5'6" so I don't think I would get those basketball questions if I went to Japan. That's the funny thing, I've always thought that they had the taller people( besides India and China) so it kind of shocks me when the Japanese ask that question.Again, I wouldn't be offended if they did. Yes, I would be offended of someone asked me about braiding their hair,but I think I would also be offended if someone associates my blackness with hip-hop culture because people always associates it with thuggery and as a Black woman and many other Black people, that is not what we all know. If this came up, I would politely educate them about real Black culture.

  5. Learning the language is definitely helpful. I studied Japanese in school for two years before going to Japan, but when I had my interviews for both AEON and JET I didn't bring it up unless they did. And I couldn't speak Japanese in the classrooms, because the students would want to speak Japanese to you instead of English. LOL I did have some students that would speak Japanese before/after class so I actually learned some things from them!

    the younger generation of Japanese people are taller but it seems mostly true for men. Average height for women is still about 5'1" or 5'2." I think even most female J-models are in the 5'6"-5'7" range. I wasn't bothered about the people asking me about hip-hop and what not depending. Some people were genuinely interested in knowing about black culture outside of BET videos and I considered them cool peoples. But others were happy with just knowing "You Got Served" and decided they weren't worth my energy. I had no time for people that didn't want to put their own effort into learning anything new.

  6. I came across your blog.."I can't even remember how" but your experience in Japan sounds almost the same as most teacher's in Korea. Especially working for a "hagwon" vs working for a public school. Although I think Koreans are a bit more ignorant when it comes to foreigners in general.. even white people are a luxury here let alone seeing my black self walking down the street (even downtown), but when I went to Japan I barely got any looks, I was kinda of upset. :(.. Anyway, I read your part two about the kids and man.. its ON POINT..I teach English to 1-3 year olds so my kids are learning to walk in class.
    I also speak Korean but am told not to speak to the kids (but who cares I do it sometimes).. Anywho.. I could compare this all day.. I will keep reading your posts, they're interesting..

  7. @ Cookie: what part of Japan were you in? In Tokyo, people didn't really seem to care too much about my skin color because it is a pretty international place. I feel the same way about places like Kyoto and Osaka too. It was in smaller cities like Kawagoe and Okayama where I felt more of the "holy shit, a black girl!" feelings. You're not the first person I've heard say the reactions to blacks in Korea is much stronger than Japan. We need to get more black women traveling to make our presence known!!!

    I have friends that are teaching in Korea now, but I think through EPIK which I'm assuming is a bit similar to JET. But if a hagwon is anything like eikaiwa I feel you're pain, LOL! You have to use so much energy with the little ones, but you totally melt when you seem them learning to walk and talk for the first time while you're around. LOL you don't have anything to do with it and it's not your child, but the feeling is like, "he just walked in my class! That's my boy!"