Location: 焼き肉 渋谷

Jeffrey quite literally break-danced his way through his job interview to teach English in Japan. After arriving, dazed and confused, he went through all of the highs and lows of culture shock.

He was driven by a strong sense of community and loyalty to his town and school during his English-teaching career. He was fortunate enough to experience the true “inaka,” or countryside, of Japan, where he made great friends that have lasted to this day.

After teaching for 4 years he propelled himself into intense self-study and a commitment to build a career in Japan. His part time job led to a full time job and an exciting opportunity to build a language-learning business in Japan.

Here are some excerpts from our conversation!

What was the JET application and interview like? 

There was an essay, references, a huge form, and a bunch of background checks to qualify for the Certificate of Eligibility.

A little bit of back story to preface how the interview went: My friend and I were members of TURBO (Tufts University Radical Breakdance Organization), and we’d been able to join a crew during study abroad and participate in a few shows and battles. The Hokuriku is actually becoming quite the up and coming b-boy area. I’d written that I was the Treasurer of this breakdance club on my resume so the moment I step into the JET interview, the interviewer says, “Hey, are you the break dance guy? Show us something!”

I was wearing my friends suit and was worried I’d rip it, but decided to go for it anyways. I did a little toprock, went to the floor, and ended up kicking the table and knocking some things over. The interviewers really liked it.

That’s ridiculous.

After 4 years on JET, you realize how common it is to be put on the spot as a teacher, either by questions from students or when being asked to do something outside of your comfort zone by other teachers. “So and so has to drive a sick kid home so sit in on this math class after lunch.” That kind of thing. So being able to react calmly, adapt, and do what you have to do is a good litmus test for the job!

Why did you decide to teach JET for 4 years?

After the 1st year of JET I was more confident in my teaching and wanted to see what I was capable of in that 2nd year. I also really liked my students and coworkers and wanted to keep working with all of them.

There was also a yearly festival in the city next to mine, the Saito Kofun Matsuri. It’s a festival to commemorate the meeting of Ninigi-no-mikoto who is the grandson of Amaterasu the sun god and Sakyua-hime and the story leading up to the birth of their three sons.

You spend 2 months training multiple times a week for the different dances, participating in PR activities, and preparing the grounds for the festival. There were 5 main aspects to the performance:

  1. Male warriors who dance with swords and then burning staffs.
  2. Female courtiers to the princess who dance with silk vales and finger instruments.
  3. Long-staff guys who dance giant poles cut from bamboo trees with flaming baskets attached to the end.
  4. Three princess who hold torches in each hand.

What did you do after JET? How did you find a job?

I was looking for a job the final year of JET, mostly translation-related positions, and actually got quite a few interviews. The problem was, companies were really adamant about having final interviews onsite in Tokyo. There were multiple times when I’d fly out there, the interview would go great, and then things wouldn’t work out because they wanted me to start immediately, even though I’d made it clear from the start that my contract was until August of that year. I wasted a lot of money flying out for those interviews.

Honestly, applying for jobs at older companies that don’t support Skype interviews/remote work is NOT worth it. I don’t recommend it.

I still didn’t have a job during the last 2 months of JET, but I decided to just enjoy my final 2 months. I then moved to Tokyo and started looking for work.

Any advice you have for foreigners who are starting out in Japan or interested in moving here?

Find a Japanese native to help with your visa. Don’t try and do it all by yourself unless your super confident in your language skills.

I was lucky because I spoke Japanese and had dealt with the bureaucracy related to immigration for 4 years. There were times when they were quite unreasonable and would tell me “No” when the answer was actually “Yes”. Fortunately, I’d prepared quite thoroughly and was able to transfer to my current visa. Remember, they’re dealing with thousands of people a day and don’t have time to completely research each separate case. Preparation and language skills are a must. People should also be aware of the characteristics companies in Japan often look for in applicants.

What characteristics are those?

For example, at Lang-8, all of my coworkers are Japanese and non-native speakers of English. We don’t want a big boisterous personality with tons of great ideas and questions about how each part of the company is run. At this stage in our lifecycle, we need people who can get things done without asking questions each step of the way. We look for self-starters who will Google things and figure them out for themselves.

I sat in on an interview with a foreigner once who was a really qualified candidate for the position he was applying for. His resume was super impressive and he had an amazing portfolio. Afterwards, I spoke with our designer, and she immediately rejected him as a possible candidate because she didn’t think he’d be able to follow directions and do the work we actually needed done, which is generally not the most glamorous or creative tasks.

So before applying to a company, ask yourself if you’re the right kind of person for their stage of growth. Do you need a higher salary or are you willing to trade certain perks for the opportunity to work on a cool product (in Japan!)

Was there any 1 particular book or video that had an influence on you?

Yes. The Ruby on Rails Tutorial by Michael Hartl. It takes you through the entire process of building a working web app and pushing it to production.

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