Teaching in Japan: Nagoya

For teaching in Japan some Japanese managers tend to prefer Canadians over Americans. Others are the other way around having had some bad experience with Canadians

by Kevin Burns

So it is really important to leave a good impression!

My new friends Jeff and Brian were good company, often having spirited hockey games in the kitchen with the cockroaches.

The roaches being black, almost looked like miniature pucks, and we would cheer as Jeff shot them out the door.

“He scores!”

They were very good hockey players for Californians!

Do they have roach hockey in the USA?

It really should be an Olympic sport, especially if they are going to include the luge! Be honest,when was the last time you luged? My friend back home is a real “luger.” I won’t mention his name though for fear of his being ostracized.

Teaching in Japan – Gomi & Cults in the Tokai City of Concrete

My friend Doug (17 years my senior), had bragged of furnishing his whole apartment with garbage, during his stint in Japan. Maybe that was why I preferred not to introduce him to close friends. Not without a warning anyway.

“I’m going to introduce you to my friend Doug, (you know the one who brags about garbage?)”

Doug had worked for a famous securities firm in Tokyo for a couple of years called Nikko Shoken. He was the editor of their English newsletter and the company English teacher.

Teaching in Japan – Doug goes to Bangkok

He had left for Thailand after that commenting, “The Japanese are some of the most tight-assed people in the world.”

I got the impression that he didn’t like them much.

Because of my big friend’s love of Japanese trash, we decided to try our luck.

It was tough though as there were other professional gomi divers out to do the same. How dare they! This is my neighborhood and my trash, I thought.

A couple of Japanese guys went around in a van and often took the pickings before we could get there.

Some people are good. Some people are really, really good at what they do, and think of the stories they will tell their grand-kids….”Son I still remember that day at the trash heap…it didn`t even smell –much,….boy what a haul we took that day, with the sun shining down, and the promise of victory…”

“Son I still remember that day I approached the trash mound in Mizuho-ku,…not a soul was stirring except me as I had just found an unbroken coffee mug…..”

Apart from free porno magazines we didn’t find much of value.

About the porno magazines–

I just read the articles. Uhmm,….

Brian and I did find two beautiful pots, that turned out to be the old Japanese hibachi, or heaters. I now use them as pots for plants. I am still surprised that someone had thrown them away!

Teaching in Japan – Jeff`s Secret

One day Jeff came to my place and first having me promise not to breath a word about what he was going to say, he told me his story.

Soon after Jeff started working at his school, he noticed that all of the secretaries spent long hours at their desks studying Korean. When Jeff asked why they were studying the language, they replied that they would soon move to Korea and get married. Every few months it seemed, a new group of secretaries would start work, to replace the others who had left for Seoul. This bothered Jeff. What was going on?

He was convinced his school was owned by a cult. He wasn’t very comfortable with the thought of working for a cult owned school. Neither was I!

The concern that people in my city were doing things to goats or the thought of a group of hooded members taking Jeff away in the middle of the night, entered my thoughts. Did Jeff owe me any money? I had better get him to pay up soon!

I quickly thought of cockroach hockey games to take my mind off of this nightmare Jeff was in. I locked the door after he left.

Teaching in Japan

Teaching in Japan – Without a Telephone, No One Can Hear You Scream! Fall 1989

To get a phone at this time, you had to fork over about 800 dollars US. I couldn’t afford it! Now you can get a reasonably priced cell phone, but back then there weren’t any.

We communicated on horseback by messenger and sometimes themessages didn`t get through. (Sorry gotta stop drinking beer as I type–that was my great, great-grandfather back in Scotland.)

Teaching in Japan – I gotta Fever

I lie here in my apartment in Nagoya, staring at the ceiling. It is scary running a temperature when you are all alone in a foreign country.

If this isn’t just the flu, I don’t even have a phone to call an ambulance. I realize in my pyrexic daze that I don’t know what to say in Japanese, had I had a phone. I might be able to get across my address with my poor pronunciation, and if they are smart enough to assume I’m in trouble and not making a crank call, they might send someone.

If I do need to call, I’ll have to stagger or crawl to the public phone down the street.

Although it’s freezing, I am hot. Central heating is virtually unknown in Japan (even in 2010). I have two small electric heaters to heat my whole apartment (not that I need them tonight).

In the morning, I see my breath inside my apartment. Which is another new experience for me! I can see the stars outside as I don’t even have curtains. I am not alone in feeling it is often warmer outside than it is inside my place.

My first impression of the biggest city in Aichi Prefecture is of a grey concrete city of no dicernable personality. It is depressingly ugly. So ugly in fact that I feel the need to talk about it with the other foreigners I’ve met, just to be sure that I am not being too negative about it. Am I going through culture shock I ask myself?


It’s funny, few people will ever admit they are going through culture shock. It seems to be a very embarrassing topic for many people-as if they would have to admit to some flaw of character.

Yet I am not ashamed and feel a need to talk about this ugly city.

My foreign friends agree though, that Nagoya is one of the ugliest cities they have ever been to. The consensus amongst us seems to be that because Nagoya was rebuilt in a big hurry after the war, money was scarce and during the 40’s and 50’s concrete was in vogue. So you get this butt-ugly city called Nagoya with many 5-10 story, concrete, shoe box buildings. There isn’t much foliage to interrupt the endless box-like flow towards downtown.

Yet I walk around, and their are vestiges of beauty. There are delightful old Japanese houses with traditional style gardens including bonsai trees. The river near my apartment is tree lined with cherry trees and I contemplate a Spring of beautiful pink cherry blossoms floating down on me. Thankfully Nagoya is nicer than first appearances.The neighborhoods are its’ saving grace.

Teaching in Japan – English School

I work for a small school near my apartment. They have sponsored me for my visa along with another school. My boss, Mark from Maine, is fond of four letter words in both English and Japanese, talking about how he would like to “do it with that little high school girl…” and he is fond of cutting gold fish with scissors, hoping his piranas will attack them.

Teaching in Japan – This is the man I work for…

And you thought a job at Walmart was bad!

Almost as if to spite Mark, the piranas never do attack; and look bored in fact.

I am called “squeamish” when I protest his ritual of cutting the goldfish. Maine; is that where many people are in-bred?

I can’t remember. (We didn`t have Wikipedia at that time.)

I also work for another school. It is a women’s two year college coupled with a language school. There we use a method similar to Berlitz. It is quite a classy school to work for.

Unfortunately, most of the students are not very serious about their studies,and seem content to pass the time until the day they get married.

Passing the time is endemic to education in Japan! It is a huge problem. A problem of: My butt is now in the chair educate me, or at worst: entertain me.

This is a Japan-wide problem. Pontiffs can elaborate the most interesting educational theories about why Japanese are no longer top of the heap in education, and how to change all that; However I think most of the answer lieswith the social problems here-absentee fathers (fathers who are either gone, or work too much), absentee parents (at the pachinko parlor or elsewhere), or stress in the home over money or other problems.

Japan has changed! It is no longer the (innocent if crazy bubble economy-place) I came to back in 1989.

The suicide rate for Japan is surprisingly high. I have known or known of many people who have taken their own lives unfortunately.

We are in need of the help of Dornyei or Brophy as the problem seems pretty basic to me–it is a lack of motivation and you see it in all levels of Japanese education. There are many people just passing the time.

No fire, no spunk, no motivation to them. You would even notice it at basketball practice.

What a waste of human potential it is at times, and believe me when I say it happens at the top schools in Japan too. I have taught at some of them.

One thing I will say is this: that not being able to fail students in junior high leads to failure in motivation until the end of schooling for too many students in Japan. While I am not a fan of testing. Students should be failed for poorwork or lethargy in junior high and higher levels of education.

Passing everyone doesn`t work!

Teaching in Japan at a Women`s College

If you are a young teacher in your early twenties working there to some extent is like being a kid in a candy store. There are a bevy of beautiful, elligable young women, but for a young teacher, they are off limits of course.

Though unfortunately, some teachers do sample the candy. And one is dismissed for his dalliance with a student.

Teaching in Japan

I am advised by Craig, the Scottish head of the English Department,to “…have the students call you Mr. Burns. You being a young teacher, I think it is important that you keep some distance from the young women students we have here. If they call you Kevin, they will feel closer to you.

“What’s wrong with that? I secretly conspire. But I agreed with Craig, Mr. Burns it was. I looked but didn’t touch.

My lightbulb back in my empty apartment was the only screwing I did. (Don`t mean to brag!)

Every English School has a personality, as does every class in fact. Both are shaped by the teachers and students,and in the case of a school, the office staff as well.

I was a friendly, small town Canadian guy, coming to live and work in Japan for the first time. It was rough at first to say the least. I like talking with everyone. But not everyoneenjoys talking.

To come to Japan takes guts. You have to leave your friends and family back home, you no longer have the social supports you did in your hometown.

From scratch you have to make a new life for yourself, and other people of course,may not want to be a part of “KEVIN”S NEW LIFE IN JAPAN!–the maudlin game show announcer wailed.

“So Jack are you going to watch the Superbowl on Sunday?”–I asked hoping to start a conversation.

“Of course I am!” He practically yelled in disgust.

I soon learned that I reminded Jack of someone he knew during the war–perhaps someone he had wanted to strangle with his bare hands.

Teaching in Japan

I never broached the Superbowl topic again. I wanted tosee my 27th birthday!

Jack was high strung and had just gone through a painful divorce. Can’t imagine why–what a delightful personality. He was working twelve hours a day, six days a week. Can you say, “on edge?”

I asked a mutual friend, “What’s up with Jack?” She said, “He finds you too friendly.”

I becamed decidedly unfriendly–I backed off

I took to wearing turtle necks in case Jack lost it–hoping somehow the material would help me to slip out of his sanguinary hands.

It worked. He lightened up and started talking to me more. He turned out to be a pretty good guy once you got to know him.

Most importantly, I lived to see my 27th birthday.

Some names have been changed to protect anonymity.

But their real names are:

No can`t do that!

Teaching in Japan – I Will Never, Ever Touch The English Department Director Again!

Nagoya, Japan

From almost the first day of working at the college I was warned,

“Don’t ever touch Craig.”

Even Craig himself had warned me. There were stories of full-grown teachers, being spanked over Craig’s lap for transgressing his personal space.

“You’re joking?” I said one day to Cathy.

She wasn’t.

Teaching in Japan – Danger

Being a pretty touchy guy, it is hard for me not to pat someone on the shoulder or give someone a playful, light punch on the arm.

Craig seemed harmless to me, he came from the country of my mother, and we got along well.

He sometimes took me out for beer and steak at his expense. What wasn’t there to like?

One day in a humorous mood, as I am apt to be, I tickled Craig as I walked by. Next thing I knew, I was grabbed from behind, punched very hard in the shoulder, spun around, and had an English Director, screaming in my face in Scottish brogue about how I should never, ever touch him again!

Teaching in Japan

In a daze I continued to the staff room my heart pounding. The man had a definite problem that really required counseling.

Everyone knew it, but Craig I surmise had never paid for a doctor.

Some people don`t like to be touched but to be violent over it.That is entirely another matter.

This man I had considered to be a friend was totally changed for me. I felt I had to be on guard around him,always having to remember to never, ever touch him for fear of being physically assaulted.

Teaching in Japan

I never entertained taking him to court, but instead felt sorry for him. He was single and I imagined this phobia about being touched was caused by some kind of child abuse many years before. But I never found out the reason why.

Craig very sweetly apologized to me the next day, but also said that he had warned me. I had forgotten the warning.

I never would again. Neither would Brenda, the fellow Canadian who had been spanked over her boss’s knee a year earlier. After bawling during this episode, she would never forget the warnings either.

Teaching in Japan – Culture Shock

As the weeks turned into months, my culture shock eased. Nagoya became more interesting and more bearable to look at. New colleagues arrived and they made work more interesting. Kim Robinson from Boston was a breath of fresh air and so was Margaret from Australia. We had a great time joking aroundand chumming around the city.

Jeff, Brian and I joined a multicultural soccer team and this helped fill the hours too. There was dancing at some of the crazy night-clubs of Sakae-cho and barbecue parties in the countryside.

Teaching in Japan – I missed my family and friends back home, but I was making a new life.

Ikumi, a beautiful 27 year old woman I had met during my days working for Columbia College kept coming out to visit meand taking me places, showing me her beautiful country. She had gorgeous almond eyes, a cute laugh and smile, and was one of the most exotic women I had ever met. She had a sense of humor too and she was smart.

Teaching in Japan

I went out to visit her a few times in her hometown of Minami Ashigara, in Kanagawa. She owned a small boutique, could speak English well, and was the top tennis player of her area.

Being a tennis nut myself, I felt I had met my match. As a child, I had always felt I should go to Japan, maybe Ikumi was the reason why?

Teaching in Japan

After a trip together to Thailand in December, (partly to visit my gomi (garbage) loving friend Dog—oops Doug.)I felt I should move out to be with her, and set my mind to doing so. It would be hard starting over yet again, butthe thought of being near her was exciting.

Teaching in Japan

At the other smaller school I taught for, the Hannibal Lecter of goldfish, (my boss Mark), perhaps due to karmic retribution,didn`t have enough student to employ me. So I picked up more hours at the college which was fine by me. I don`t like watching animals suffe

About kintaro63

Writer and teacher in Japan
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