Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Truth About AEON: Part IV

Naturally, I had many questions at the information session and in the days following my official acceptance into AEON. After all, Japan was an unknown to me: a new world, with trials and tribulations. Who knows what life will hold for me in the land of the rising sun? The recruiter was helpful with most of these concerns, but you should benefit from my experience as well – here are some of my first questions about Japan. Again, if you don't see something that you would like to ask about, feel free...

My First Questions

Location, Location, Location

You do have quite a bit of flexibility in choosing where you'd like to be posted. In fact, if both your time schedule and location is up in the air, you can pretty much go wherever whenever you want. If you're particular to a certain time, AEON may give you a few choices for teachers departing around that date. If you're looking for a certain date and place (e.g. Tokyo in the summer), you might have to wait a few months longer than others.

Other than a city name, general statistics you could find on Wikipedia, and information about the student population of your particular school, you receive absolutely no useful facts. No websites to consult. No one to contact in the area – AEON doesn't give you the departing teacher's phone or email, regardless of whether the teacher is willing to talk or not. If your recruiter hasn't been to the school or lived in the area, he can't tell you any more. I found this particularly frustrating, since I couldn't find the kind of information I wanted online – running trails, gyms, touristy places in town, international centers, internet access, maps or listings of businesses in the area...

If you're in one of the larger cities of Japan, this really shouldn't be a problem. Once I had lived here a few months and been privy to the best internet websites, I had no problems... still, I didn't know what to look for back home... it would have been nice for AEON to clue me in just a little.

Exclusivity

AEON has you sign a contract which states that you will work for the company alone during your time in Japan – in other words, you cannot pursue other part-time or contract teaching positions. This is not illegal, just annoying. According to Japanese law, you are entirely within your rights to work however many jobs you'd like under a visa (applicable to the visa status, of course), regardless of the visa sponsor; AEON cannot revoke your visa for violating your employment contract. But they can fire you, and are still operating within the law.

My main question here was about conducting business online – selling things over eBay, trading stocks, etc. AEON has no problem with this. In fact, once I arrived in Japan, I was unofficially told that many teachers still work on the side... let's face it, no company can track their employees 24/7.

Work Schedule

You'll either be working Monday through Friday or Tuesday through Saturday. Tues-Sat is more common, especially if you're at a school that teaches children; Saturday is usually the best day for parents to send their children to an eikaiwa. As a result, Saturday will be your busiest day, starting at either 10, 11 AM and ending at 8 PM. Other days you'll start at 12, 1 PM, having a few classes and off time, and end at 9 PM.

I would have liked to have known the exact working schedule for my school, but I later found out this wasn't possible so far beforehand... classes are added, removed, changed, and the entire schedule is redone in October and April. You do receive your full schedule once you arrive in Japan during training.

What to Bring

This depends on your country of origin, of course, but I was most curious about any products that were lacking in Japan that I might miss. Foods, toiletries, movies, books, etc.

DVDs in Japan are coded to Region 2 – not Region 1 like the US. Some DVD players can operate with both types, but your computer's DVD drive might not be able to switch (or if it can, it might be for only a limited number of times).

I have talked about western chain restaurants you can find in Japan.

English sections in bookstores are plentiful – if you know a Kinokuniya in your area, it has one.

I was concerned about brand name items in stores; food that I was already familiar with. Import stores are easy enough to find in Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima, Sapporo, and Nagasaki (and even a few in Kagoshima), but they're not everywhere, and you can't always expect to have access to the same foods you've come to enjoy every day. If you're bent on this, I'd recommend the Foreign Buyers' Club.

I'd buy most of the clothes you need back home, especially your business suits (AEON recommends you have three). In general, I haven't had too many problems finding clothes my size over here, as a 6'1", 181 cm tall American man. But, there have been issues with my size 11.5 feet; you can find plain white and black shoes, but don't expect a lot of variety when you're looking for shoes over 28 cm long. Eventually I just asked some friends to mail me some Timberlands from America. My best advice to you – buy two new pairs of shoes that you can slip on/off easily for work and off time; you have no idea how often you'll be required to remove your shoes at the threshold of a business; it's embarrassing if you take too long.

Power

The good old electrical kind. Japanese alternating current operates at the same frequency as American power, 60 Hz, at 100 V. If you have any American-built electrical appliance or computer, it will work just fine in Japan. The outlets are the same too, so you don't need any converter.

Travel in Japan

You cannot arrive early in Japan on a tourist visa to take advantage of a JR Rail Pass and travel about the country (unless, of course, you happen to be a native English speaking Japanese citizen) – AEON has you tied to your working visa the moment you step through immigration.

Internet

Back in Austin, I could successfully navigate my way through Time Warner Cable's internet services to set up a month-by-month internet connection for only $30/month. In Japan, I knew nothing about the companies, the services, the issues with connecting a foreign computer to a Japanese LAN line.

I don't believe there are any compatibility issues as far as the internet is concerned – to quote, the internet is the internet is the internet is the internet. No matter in which country you reside.

As for the companies providing internet services? There are several with English assistance.

But the best one I found by far is NTT's fiber optic internet service:

NTT English line
0120-463-364

They were doing a special deal when I signed on, so I only had to pay for monthly service (no installation). However, no matter what service you choose, it takes time to install your connection over here. It could be over a month. Be patient.

Should I buy a computer in Japan?

...rather than hauling one from my country? In general, I would say no. The prices aren't so different for computers, but the keyboards are set up a little bit differently (just ask anyone who's had to look for the @ or ' keys), and you'll probably have to pay extra for an English operating system, if you can find one. If you really expect to type a lot in Japanese, though, it might not be a bad idea.

The Language

I believe AEON downplays the important of Japanese in your school; true, you may have a manager who speaks English fluently without a trace of an accent and never have to worry about Japanese at work. But you could also have a manager who barely speaks 100 words of English and needs an interpreter to tell you anything... messages get lost, confusion occurs (and of course, your coworkers make fun of you, thinking you can't understand them).

I think you should at least get started on a six-month course before you come to Japan. It's going to be much easier for you to pick it up once you enter the country – focus on colloquial and business Japanese. Learn hiragana and katakana as best you can. Try to study the first hundred kanji.

Outside Behavior

AEON placed a great deal of emphasis about representing the company, even in your off hours. This really had me questioning just how much time I really had to myself to travel, relax, act in my own fashion. The truth is this time is entirely your own, and you are free to walk about the country unshaven and sleep on a park bench for all the company cares, as long as you return to work promptly the next day.

The Truth About AEON: Part I
The Truth About AEON: Part II
The Truth About AEON: Part III
The Truth About AEON: Part IV
The Truth About AEON: Part V
The Truth About AEON: Part VI
The Truth About AEON: Part VII

8 comments:

Dan said...

Very interesting and well-written series of blogs. Keep up the fine
work.

In my experience, the only reason to buy a computer in Japan is to use Japanese software. Standard Windows (my experience) can read Japanese filenames, but cannot open these files. In the lab where I did my postdoc, there were several specialized Japanese software packages that I would have liked to install on my US laptop, but Windows couldn't read
them. Something about 2-bit (Japanese) versus 1-bit (English) encoding, I believe.

However, if you install the Windows Japanese language package (again, my experience), you'll have no problem reading and writing Japanese using your English software.

Just my two yen's worth,

Dan

My son! said...

This is really important, all around. Good work.

Shari said...

As regards using American appliances, there is a slight difference in voltage (100 in Japan vs. 110 in the U.S.) which will cause certain appliances to have problems. For instance, digital clock radios will run improperly as will hair dryers. I wouldn't recommend bringing any household stuff but I would recommend your own computer equipment, particularly if you can't read Japanese well enough to use a Japanese OS.

Mac users, incidentally, are much better off than PC users when it comes to using Japanese. I can install and run any Japanese software and open and read almost all Japanese files on the Mac. Mac OS X also has built in Japanese input whereas PCs can be much fussier. I can't install any Japanese software on my PC aside from the odd driver.

So, if you expect to type a lot of Japanese, I'd seriously consider a Mac as you can have the best of both worlds linguistically (you can also install any language OS on the fly as well as swap between the Windows and Mac OS).

Anonymous said...

I would like to comment on Aeon's somewhat dubious vacation policy.

The five paid days off to which foreign teaching staff are entitled as per their contracts are actually, to quite a high degree, time off in lieu rather than paid vacation. If a teacher takes a day off on a regular school day, they still have to make up the classes which would have taken place on that day. How is that paid time off? It is just re-scheduling.

Additionally, if a teacher on a 29.5hr contract only works for four days in any given week, they are then required to work for 26hrs that week. I think Aeon needs a new calculator, as four-fifths of 29.5 is significantly less than 26, methinks. Combined with the class rescheduling, this is a double whammy for the teacher trying to take their holiday entitlement.

Is this in line with the law? I doubt it. Aeon takes advantage of foreign teachers' ignorance of Japanese law and unwillingness to rock the boat.

Don't even get me started on the randomness of the Blackout Calendar!

Ken said...

I was going to leave a comment along the lines of Shari's - basically, East Japan is 50Hz/100V and West Japan is 60Hz/100V.

Concerning computers, there are ways around absolutely everything with the Japanese language in Windows...even opening files with Japanese names, etc. Sometimes it takes a bit of googling to get the solution, but they've all been worked out.

Getting English software is easy: online shops in Japan.

J said...

"You do have quite a bit of flexibility in choosing where you'd like to be posted. In fact, if both your time schedule and location is up in the air, you can pretty much go wherever whenever you want."

Not so in my day. I was informed my request would be taken into consideration, but it was far from a guarantee. Case-in-point, I requested to be sent to Nagoya: I had my training in Okayama and was assigned there permanently.


"DVDs in Japan are coded to Region 2 – not Region 1 like the US. Some DVD players can operate with both types, but your computer's DVD drive might not be able to switch (or if it can, it might be for only a limited number of times)."

Programs such as Region Free DVD can easily solve that problem on your computer and disable the limit on region switching. For TV-based DVD viewing, U.S. residents can bring over an Oppo, Denon, Samsung or any number of region-free players that can be plugged into your wall socket and be instantly ready to go.

Anonymous said...

I want to comment about the exclusivity clause. The clause, although not illegal, CANNOT be enforced and you CANNOT be fired for working somewhere else, as long as your second job does not interfere with your performance on your primary job. If they decide not to renew your contract because you were working somewhere else, they need to be specific about how that affected your perfomance on your primary job, otherwise it is an illegal dismissal. I know this first-hand because my employer tried to say they fired me in part because I had a side business. The alligation carried no weight in the eyes of the judge. There are other cases you can read up on regarding this issue, I believe on the Tokyo Bar Association's website.

ターナー said...

Excellent, I'll start looking for more information on that.