Having the right connections

Almost all single family homes in Japan have a place that is called the “genkan”. This is located right inside the front door. It is usually considered a connection between the outside and the inside of the house. As most Japanese don’t wear their shoes inside of the house, the genkan is a place where you would find a shoe box or shoe closet, so that you can remove your footwear before proceeding further. There are indoor slippers, which you usually slip on, but these are almost always never taken beyond the genkan boundary.

The genkan, a zone that is inside and yet outside.

In Japan, as in most places, having the right connections certainly is useful in finding information that can lead to a job. While taking my last semester classes at Temple University Japan, I started to diligently look for an English teaching job at a university. According to my colleague, who has lived in Japan for more than 25 years, in the early 1990s during the Japanese bubble economy (see Christopher Wood’s, The Bubble Economy: Japan’s Extraordinary Speculative Boom of the ’80s and the Dramatic Bust of the ’90s), the English teaching jobs were plentiful and the pay was respectably high. Those days are now mostly over and with more competition from foreigners coming into the country, one must now possess a graduate degree and have some command of the Japanese language if one wishes to teach at the university level.

It is with those requirements in which I was entering the job market. My classmates, who were also graduating with me, now were my competition. Having been living in Japan less than most of them, I was at a bit of a disadvantage since they had a greater network of people. At the time I graduated, a local university had suddenly offered ten English instructor positions to the general public. This seemed like a golden opportunity since there were less than ten of my classmates graduating but little did I expect that others, from throughout the country and with more teaching experience, would be trying to pounce upon this as well. Needless to say, I didn’t get a position.

Everything seemed a bit bleak since most other universities were offering only part-time positions. Fortunately, a classmate of mine, who was already working at a university, informed me about a job opening at his university. After submitting my curriculum vitae (CV) to those responsible for the hiring, I was informed about the interview process. The part that made me anxious was that it was going to be done partially in Japanese and my Japanese level wasn’t very good. Even with studying, Minna no Nihongo, that is used throughout many Japanese language learning centers, I wasn’t confident enough in my Japanese ability to use it in the context of higher education.

I can’t really remember the questions that were in English, although it probably dealt with methodology, pedagogy and research, because I was wrought with anticipation for the Japanese section. I do remember being asked two questions in Japanese, in which I tried my best to answer, but I guess the interviewees knowing that I really wasn’t able to provide a reasonable response stopped after two. Perhaps they had asked about apples and I replied about oranges.

A few days later, I was surprised that the university had offered me a teaching position. Maybe I had answered about apples. And so with the right connection, my university teaching career began.

Next up – The university experience begins.


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