Finally, I am back in the saddle. After a 6-month hiatus in the UK – during which time I continued teaching online – I now have a new assignment and a new adventure in a brand new country to me – Japan.
Getting the job was quite straightforward – with 2 years teaching in provincial Russia, I now have a CV that could walk me into most English schools around the world, and I’m no longer wary of the more competitive big city markets. Having said that, I was undecided where to go next and applied for jobs in Spain, the Czech Republic, Chile and was offered a position in the Maldives, which I decided wasn’t quite right for me.
What drew me to Japan? Primarily it was the challenge, the need to face my fears. I used to have a recurring dream of being lost in Tokyo, unable to speak the language or find anyone who spoke English, and completely confused by the different culture. On the other hand Japanese culture is fascinating, a blend of ancient traditions and hi-tech craziness. Even as a child I would watch (dubbed) Japanese shows like Monkey and Battle of the Planets and I’ve since developed a taste for Ghibli-style animation.
My only hesitation was that the positions available were not due to start until May, and I was living without an income for all those months. After some technical hitches I eventually found a way to do some online paid teaching, which helped (I was also living rent-free with family which helped much more). Short-term teaching jobs are difficult to find – there was one well-paid one in one of the Gulf states with dates that would have bridged the gap perfectly, but unfortunately someone else beat me to that one.
I had to make some arrangements anyway – I needed a visa, which meant I needed a Certificate of Eligibility, which meant I had to send all my certificates to Japan to be scrutinised. Then I had to make two trips to Edinburgh (closer than London but still an inconvenient journey!) to submit my visa application at the Japanese Consulate and later collect my passport.
As for flights, I found a good priced Alitalia deal going from Heathrow to Rome to Milan to Tokyo, with 2 check-in bags of up to 23kg included – much better than KLM’s excess-baggage rip-off (I still haven’t had my money back for that). In the end, leaning on my experience from my last emigration, I travelled a lot lighter and only actually used one suitcase for check-in, with a few heavier items in my carry-on luggage.
I set off on Saturday at 3pm, and arrived in Tokyo on Monday at 10:35 (02:35 UK time, right in the middle of the Game of Thrones finale!). Customs and immigration were far more straightforward than I had been led to believe – I was asked to wait a few minutes while they checked my visa but then I was more or less waved straight through. I had a hotel booked but the room wouldn’t be ready until 15:00 so I was shattered by the time I got there. Luckily I had a full day as a buffer before I was required to report for training with the school.
As for my first impressions of Japan – well, that will be my next post.