Sunday, March 30, 2003
I've started promoting my Teaching in Japan page this week and have had loads of hits. The article's going to be published on ELT News. Bring me traffic. MarkCity - the city with no congestion charge.

A future Nova employee from America wrote to me with a looooong list of questions about life, love and the price of ADSL connections in Japan. For the benefit of anyone else who's thinking of going to Japan, here's the Q and A:

I have a friend who taught with NOVA for a year and loved it, however I have also heard some negative things as well - especially on the Teaching in Japan Discussion forum. I heard from one person that NOVA put a limit on how many shift swaps that you are allowed to do. Is this true?

Firstly, yes, there are lots of people who work for Nova and hate it, but a lot of them are people who have never had to work before and find it outrageous that they're expected to turn up on time and actually work for a living. It can be hard work, it can be a slog, the training is short, the company has loads of daft rules (yes, it is true about shift swaps - 2 a month if it's for your benefit, + 2 more if it's someone else's request), and the amount of holiday you get is terrible. BUT it can also be great fun, you have a lot of freedom to be creative, most of the students are lovely, the lifestyle is great if you like going out a lot, and teaching kids is great fun too. I'm sure some teachers would tell you different, but I'm definitely glad I did it, and I'd go back. Happily.

A concern of mine is how much money I will be able to save per month. I cannot seem to find info on this. How much are things like (food, gym, internet connection at home, cell phone, apt, yoga, etc.)? Is it really feasible to live off of 250,000 yen per month and be able to save money?

Japan is very expensive, but we were able to save quite a bit of money (much more than we would have saved in the UK) - and we went out a lot, bought pretty much whatever we wanted (well, within reason!), joined the gym, had cellphones, broadband at home and had two vacations. However, a friend of mine was there for longer than me and didn't save a penny. It depends on how sensible you are. One thing: the American teachers at my school always complained a lot about having no money while the Brits and Aussies were usually quite happy with the wages. I think the US is a lot cheaper and maybe you're used to having more disposable income? Remember, after 3 months your wages go up to about 280,000 yen. Income tax is only 6%. You will survive!

Cellphones cost about 4-5000 yen per month. Nova will offer you a Tu-ka phone when you get there. That's what I had - it's OK, nothing fancy, but alright if you just want to send texts and make calls. A lot of teachers have J-phones, which have inbuilt cameras. Better than Tu-ka but you have to wait a couple of weeks to get one because you need your gaijin card. You can use it to send email too. Actually, you were supposed to be able to send emails from the Tu-ka phones too but the instructions were in Japanese. Although it might just have been me being a bit crap, because I can't work out how to send emails from my British phone either.

To get broadband you first need to rent a phone line from NTT (about 3000 yen a month) and then sign up with an ISP. I used OCN - about 4000 yen a month. There are no free ISPs in Japan. I would definitely recommend getting broadband - but it will be slow if you live more than 2km from the exchange. This company sorted it all out for me: Asist. They're currently running a campaign where sign-up and the first three months are free.

The gym costs between 5,000 - 10,000 yen per month, depending on when you go. I have no idea how much yoga costs!

Were you able to travel at all throughout SE Asia (Thailand)? How expensive is it to do that? I want to live in Osaka (a bit smaller than Tokyo I gather). Where did you live? Do you know much about Osaka?

Yes, we went to Thailand for 2 weeks (it was beautiful! - see photo albums on left). We also spent 5 days in Kyoto. Everyone I know out there went on lots of trips - Thailand, China, Saipan, skiiing in other parts of Japan... Thailand is very cheap and flights are reasonable if you use discount travel agents. Osaka is quite a lot smaller than Tokyo but is supposed to be friendly (I've never been there - well, went through it once...) There must be city guides online.

I am a veggie also. Is it really that hard to be a veggie? Can you purchase stuff to cook at home? I thought that tofu was in mad abundance over there.

It is tough being a veggie, but only where eating out is concerned. The supermarkets are full of vegetables, tofu, noodles, etc. Tokyo has a few veggie restaurants, as does Kyoto (v close to Osaka). Most Japanese people think veggies are weird and it's impossible to buy a sandwich, for example, that doesn't contain meat. Have you read my page about being veggie in Japan? My veggie guide is very Tokyo-centric, I'm afraid. But I have a friend who lives near Osaka and is a very strict veggie, and he survives.

How do the Japanese treat foreigners? My boyfriend will not be accompanying me on this long trip and has been telling me that I will be treated as an outcast in society (perhaps cause he doesn't want me to go) - just wondering if this is true.

No - you won't be treated as an outcast. Japan's big cities are full of foreigners. You will be stared at sometimes and occasionally people will shift away from you on the train (I've written about this before - see the archives for my 'controversial' complaints about race in Japan). But if you work for Nova you'll have a big support group of foreign friends to bitch and moan to, and you're bound to make Japanese friends. I personally think that Japanese people are among the nicest on earth. Easy-going, good-humoured, polite and welcoming. And Japan is one of the safest countries in the world. You can walk around at midnight and feel completely at ease.