I worked for a madman for more than a decade. Fourteen years, actually, which is a record for that company, and pretty long for an ESL teacher in Japan. I stuck it out for so long because I liked my work, I liked where I was working, and because the money was good. During the 1990s as the Japanese economy wallowed in predictable depression the exchange rate between the Japanese yen and other world currencies was excellent. I could afford to get married and have children. I could afford to travel. Those days are gone, but I feel happier with my job now than at any time during the last decade.
A point finally came when my old boss became impossible to work for. His mental illness was worsening and his custom of deliberately interfering with his employee’s work and creating a suffocating work environment was alienating all his employees - Japanese and foreign. In retrospect, I have little doubt that he told my school that I left over a matter of money. He has to give some reason to the school explain my departure, and the money motive is easy for Japanese to digest, although it is the opposite of the truth. My new job pays considerably less than the old one. But a point was reached when the depressing realization that there was no future drove me out. I knew there was no future the day my boss met me and said, “There is no future. I cannot keep you.”
Here is a list of points written by my old boss and used as a guide to screen job applicants. I have written about this list before, but now I reproduce it completely:
Information for recruiting teachers
To recruit the best qualified English teachers we have to a void to hire the following tapes.
1. Who are not eligible of qualifications.
2. Colored teachers. (Black, Brown, Asian faced)
3. Handicapped teachers (Walking difficulties, over-weighted, blind)
4. Either one of the couple. (One of them)
5. Too many of employments in the past.
6. Different job experiences in the past.
7. Who have nagative mood.
8. Too much of affable personality.
9. Who have hard temper which can’t be patient.
10. Less patience which cause complaining often
11. Who have sneaky eyes. (Psycologycally)
12. Who have strong interest for religion and Politics
13. Who are aiming at only money.
14. Who have too high expectation for schools and students.
15. Who were working at the rival companies.
16. Who had a trouble at the former company.
17. Who have a chronicle or experienced a difficult disease in the past.
18. Who don’t have a stable adress.
19. Who have a large debt from the past.
20. Who don’t have morality.
21. Who don’t have self-supporting sprit.
22. Who have serious family probems.
23. Who have sprit personality. (schizophrenic)
24. Who don’t deserve as a teacher.
To consider fairness for a moment, it has to be remembered that this man was operating a business, and the bottom line was money. It was useless for him to hire foreign English teachers that he knew his Japanese client schools would not accept. The above points might seem arbitrary and the creatures of madness, but each one reflects a real problem that arose over the years with foreign teachers working in Japanese schools. For example, Japanese do not like married couples teaching in the same school, and they do not like ‘flawed’ people (i.e. physically handicapped people), and they do not like people of color (black, Asian faced), and they do not like people with especially strong opinions about things (religion, politics), and they do not like it if one’s private problems (illness, debt) are visible in one’s daily public life, and they do not like free spirits (people who change jobs or addresses, people with an independent streak). In a culture like this my boss had to consider whom he was able to employ.
At the same time, the (private) schools where I worked were also businesses that have their own bottom line to consider. Student enrolment is falling as the teenage population of Japan shrinks. Some schools are facing closure, so there is stiff competition to recruit students and pressure to keep costs - like the cost of hiring a native English speaker to teach English conversation - low. Qualifications, skill, experience, technique, dedication, reliability, honesty, promptness, popularity and proven ability are all for nothing.
In Canada it is a reasonable expectation among employees that the longer one works at a job the better one becomes at it and the better the working conditions become: raises, paid holidays, promotion at work, etc. But as an ESL teacher in Japan the job did not get better year after year. It quite noticeably got worse, and now that I have finally left it I have been told privately by Japanese office staff that the boss deliberately tried to make working conditions more difficult in order to drive out longer staying teachers (who cost more money) in order to save on expenses. He preferred teachers to resign of they own volition rather than confronting them. Confrontation is very un-Japanese. Oh, well.