Japan Times on the Eroding Eikaiwa Salary

One from the other day.

Informative article if you don’t know about the topic. A lot of stories in Japan, though, get to be the same story. Again and again.

Unlike the genre of Japan articles that get made fun of so much in the expat blogosphere—you know, the $25 watermelon ones—what goes on in English teaching in Japan is usually spot-on reporting. English teaching is a revolving door in Japan; the wages keep getting squeezed more and more; part-time work replaces more proper, full-time work; things were much better for English teachers in the late 1980’s.

The higher end work, like Berlitz back-in-the-day, and the JET Programme, keeps being squeezed out by the low-money service provider, or the high-volume, low-margin provider.

The Japanese never organize to create a teaching corps for English, where people are encouraged to make the teaching a career, and so there is always a watering-down of talent. Japanese who try to learn English are often stuck re-doing Chapter One with yet another set of friendly gaijin faces who were flown in.

The serious English teaching is offered to the well-connected in Japan. It is English for the classes, not for the masses.

I’ve thrown out my policy prescriptions here over the last several years, for what they’re worth. I’ve been out of Japan 18 months, and I doubt very much has changed–anything, really–about the unregulated nature of the occupation. The Japan Times seems to indicate that the trends got even worse. Surely, not all the foreigners who taught English left Japan. And, even if they did for a while in 2011, a new set of foreigners was shipped in. One door closes, another one opens.

The Tokyo Union and the General Union are always on top of the issue, but their policy is to say, “join the union”. They seem to agree more with me, nowadays, that one way to improve the situation is to insist that the middlemen in these teaching jobs make sure that the Eikaiwa workers are covered for pension and health care. No more under the table. What this does is squeeze the finder’s fee element of placing a foreigner in a job, which incents everyone to keep the worker in it a little longer. It also makes it more likely that the fly-in teacher will take the job more seriously, for longer.

The underbidding is then not so severe, as well. If the 4 million contract has 3 million going to salary and benefits, how much lower does a headhunter want to go? But if it’s 4 million, and the headhunter keeps 2 million, it’s more likely the headhunter is going to squeeze the fly-in worker where he can.

The situation is a huge potential embarrassment for Japan, and it hurts a lot of really nice Japanese who want to learn English with the help of a native speaker. It’s not a good feeling to always be stuck on Chapter One. The current situation really compels that result.