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90 Day Geisha

I’d finally unlocked the key to karaoke’s heart; it wasn’t about showing off, being good or bad. It was an impersonal group activity that allowed emotional expression behind the safeguard of someone else’s words. Hidden behind a song familiar to everyone, you could be as personal as you wanted. That was why it was never an issue whether someone sang or not. It wasn’t about yes or no, but rather it depended on the mood.

Chelsea Haywood, 90 Day Geisha

The story of a foreigner trying her luck in the hostessing world of Roppongi. I tip my hat to her describing 90 days’ worth of experiences in such rich detail. In fact, I’m amazed such a “transformation” could occur in such a short period of time.

Most of the foreign hostesses working in Japan come from eastern Europe and other Asian countries, but there are a handful of Americans, Canadians, and Brits who are as intrigued as Chelsea was by the idea of a “paid attractive conversationalist”. She starts out with the intention of staying and working as long as her tourist visa allowed her in Japan, and develops a better understanding of the Japanese male psyche than any English teacher could hope to reach. Follow along with her experiences wrestling with her feelings over one particularly appealing customer while considering her own husband, and discover just what it takes to be a modern-day geisha: do you know? I sure don’t.

I’m in Dallas for a while, and my dad loves his movies. Anything with lots of blood or lots of baseball is fair game; if Rambo had had the brilliant idea of rescuing his friend from the Russians by distracting them with a barrage of fastballs I think he’d be in heaven. Looking over his shoulder one time too many, I noticed an usual sight: Tom Selleck talking to Japanese ball players… in the early 90s. Of course this happened a lot twenty years ago: American player is considered “washed out” or “wants a change”, and sends himself over to Japan to try a different club. In 1992, I was ten, and not exactly paying attention to the latest Selleck movies (Alladin, I believe). Now, I have a second chance.

“Over here, I’m gaijin, same as you.”
“It’s like being a black guy back home, only there’s less of us.”

A movie that echoes You Gotta Have Wa almost word for word”:

– The Yomiyuri Giants have their own rules
– The interpreters choose what’s best to save face
– The press don’t appreciate ups and downs over a season
– Japanese teams have pre-game routines and drills most foreigners find completely unnecessary

And other Japanese truths:

– Don’t underestimate a masseuse. She can inflict considerable pain.

I kind of like Mr. Baseball because unlike many movies of the day, it doesn’t really throw out any big stereotypes of Japan. Tom Selleck’s character is the one making the big adjustments, and the Japanese around him do a few of his “gaijin tricks” for fun, e.g. lighting shoes on fire, chewing sunflower seeds. One big thing: I really doubt someone would scream at chopsticks being placed up in a bowl.

I’m stateside for a few months after spending the last of my money in New Zealand. Therefore, what else should I try to do but return to a country with a high cost of living (but probably more jobs, too)?

Back to Japan and Gaijinpot job searches. Ideally, I’d like to be placed in Hokkaido or Tohoku, but something in me wants to try life in Tokyo. Maybe it wouldn’t help my Japanese skills, being in a big city clearly so used to dealing with foreigners, but in terms of employment, I’d have more flexibility with freelance jobs, and a better chance at staying connected with my other interests: international travel, acting, and writing.

There still remained the problem of a working visa.

I had given up my Japanese residency in June 2008, when I disembarked at Osaka International Ferry Terminal (how many working visa holders have left by ferry, I wonder?) for Shanghai. No chance of simply picking up where I left off. I’d have to find a new company, interview over Skype, and begin the ritual paperwork process. And where, one might ask, is my attention focused?

Gaba One-to-One English looked appealing at first; they seem to be one of the only language schools that let teachers set their own schedules and still offer visas (as sponsorship requires 250,000 Yen/month salary and a minimum number of working hours). I did a preliminary interview via Skype this evening after sending in my resume and came up with the following:

1. The school is more of a tutoring company. You post your profile with your interests and specialties, and students sign up for one-on-one “classes” of their choosing. This is an advantage to students: they get exactly what they pay for.

2. Gaba is not for those who enjoy playing by the rules. They place teachers as independent contractors (itaru gyomu) and thus “circumvent” certain areas expected by those wanting to work in Japan.

– Transportation is NOT paid
– They do not provide Employee Health Insurance and Pension; of course, you need to sign up for the National Health Insurance and Pension as a matter of law
– No paid training
– No paid holidays
– Housing is your responsibility (in other words, key money)
– If a student cancels within 24 hours, you are still paid for the class, but you must wait in the designated area rather than leaving or working in the office. In other words, they want you to waste your time for money.

Check out this table on the Gaba Union page for comparisons with eikaiwa.

3. Despite what you see on other forums, Gaba does offer visa sponsorship. They usually have working holiday visa holders come in on 6-month contracts, but when an American comes in, they can offer consecutive contracts to fulfill the government requirement. Still a little sketchy.

4. I’ll probably still opt to work there. Gaba is the only place I know that will offer both flexibility and visa sponsorship. Since I’ll be listed as an independent contractor on my work visa, I can legally work anywhere else (though I heard the company asks you sign a contract stating they are your primary source of income… would probably be true in any case). I can completely understand job seekers not wanting to apply here, though (one man’s interview). Are there any Gaba teachers reading this who took the company up on their offer, ditched, and applied to a more stable eikaiwa? Just curious. I’d love to hear from some Gaba teachers currently in the Kanto region.

Gaba General Union

Read this blog and thought the school had a good point on taboo topics in an ESL class: War, Religion, Age, Politics, Sex, Culture.

Happy new year! Thanks to my new Amazon kindle, I have successfully completed Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein, an American reporter who was on the police beat in Japan for nearly twenty years. Threatened by yakuza, taken into the underbelly of Japanese society, exploring the darker side of kabukicho (well, I suppose it’s all pretty dark if your eyes are open), this is a great read.

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