I defended my PhD and graduated in March, 2019. Such a stressful month. Why? Because my student visa was valid till April 2nd, 2019, and I had to change my visa status to be able to continue working in Japan (Application for Change of Status of Residence).
As a student in Japan you can work up to 28 hours a week. You need to apply for “Permission to Engage in Activity other than that Permitted under the Status of Residence Previously Granted,” which is technically a work permit. The application process is pretty straightforward and you just need to fill out a form. That is why I could legally start working part-time at several universities and at an English conversation school (eikaiwa) in Kansai area from 2017.
I am planning to blog about my experiences as a PhD student in Applied Linguistics at Osaka University, Graduate School of Language and Culture. I preferred to write about my job-hunting experiences first because most of the tips I was given or found were not really helpful. I do not think many folx will find my blogpost helpful, but the thing is this blogpost is for few English teachers who have a similar situation like mine to see I could, so can they.
If you see it, you can be it!
First, I would like to start with two confessions:
- I have never been turned down for a job in Japan because I am labeled as a “non-native” speaker. I have applied for jobs via email and have never heard back. I have applied for jobs and was not hired, but I have never been told that it is because I am a “non-native” speaker. Not in my face. Not yet.
- When I came to Japan, I was racially naive, unaware, and ignorant. For example, I thought white is a racial slur. I was a big fan of “Diversity” and “Inclusion” or mottoes like “We all belong to one human race” without critically thinking about them through a racial lens. So, I, as a WOC, maintained the status quo by being a white supremacy tool. Moreover, I used to overemphasize that I am not Arab, which I realized that it was a racist way to identify myself. Now, I am reading on race and I want to be an antiracist because as Ibram X. Kendi states, “You are either racist or antiracist. There is nothing in between.” I will blog about my racial awakening later. For now, I’d like to share another quote from How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.
Finding ELT Positions in Japan
According to Johnson and Dillon (1996),
Connections (jinmyaku) are important in any culture but in many cases seem to be a necessity in Japan. The best positions are usually not advertised in journals or newspapers, rather they are acquired by word-of-mouth. Basically, the chances of getting a good job are directly proportional to the quality of your connections.
Paul Raine (2012) is also quite honest about finding university English teaching positions in Japan:
The most common and effective way of finding university English teaching positions in Japan is through the referrals of friends and acquaintances. Indeed, many universities never need to advertise positions, relying instead on a surprisingly close-knit network of their current employees, employees acquaintances, employee’s acquaintances’ friends and… you get the picture. If job searching for university English teaching positions in Japan could be summed up in three words, they would be: network, network, network.
Teaching English at Japanese universities is a very rewarding profession, and English teaching careers are available to those with the motivation and means to undertake the qualifications required. If you are a passionate educator with an inclination toward academic research, then teaching at Japanese universities will definitely provide you with a wealth of opportunities. But be prepared to change jobs frequently, and network extensively if you want to stay ahead of the game.
James McCrostie (2010) believes:
It is no longer enough to simply pay your JALT and JACET membership fees—you also have to get involved with meetings, conferences, editing journals and similar volunteer service. Getting involved also helps one to make connections. Knowing someone never hurts in the current atmosphere of brutal competition.
Something which is missing in these articles written by white male “native” speakers is the fact that the ELT network in Japan is either Japanese dominated or white, male, middle/upper class, “native” English speakers dominated, which makes the job hunting process for non-white, female, non-Japanese, working class “non-native” speakers very challenging.
You need to be Japanese or you need to have what Nelson Flores (2017) calls white qualifications to be able to connect and network. Moreover, networking gets really hard if you do not drink alcohol and are not part of the nominication—from nomu the verb for to drink and communication—culture here in Japan. You can read on nominication culture here.
If white “native” speakers are dealing with “brutal competition” in James McCrostie’s terms, non-white, non-Japanese, “non-native” English speakers are dealing with racism, and if you are a white “native” speaker and complain about racism in Japan, I highly recommend you to read this oldie but goodie: “racism” vs. racism
The sadder news is that lots of times the job ads even on portals like JREC-IN are for formality. The recruiters already know who they want to hire. To formalize the process, they advertise the position. Once I withdrew my job application because of this reason. I was approached by a participant at an ELT conference. They asked if I am interested in teaching part-time at their university. I said, yes. They then advertised the job position. They were so shocked why many folx were applying.
As I confessed, I was racially unaware when I came to Japan. If I could go back in time and give myself some advice on networking, this would be it:
1. Avoid predominantly white ELT organizations.
They are not meant for you. You are constantly otherized, you have to deal with loads of microaggressions (euphemism for racism), and this can lead to racial trauma. Read on othering at http://conference.otheringandbelonging.org/
If a SIG or a group for Scholars/Teachers of Color exists within the organization (e.g., KOTESOL People of Color Teachers SIG), joining the organization to get involved in those spaces is not a bad idea.
2. Avoid predominantly Japanese ELT organizations.
Again, they are not meant for you. You still need to “fit in” and deal with loads of racism as racism is not just a white phenomenon.
3. Find networks that are meant for you.
Because you do not need to “fit in”. Fitting in is not belonging. Stick to SIETAR Japan and join a union.
4. Educate yourself on microaggressions and racial harassment, and learn how to respond to them. Check this out: https://womenofcolorinelt.wordpress.com/microaggressions/
5. Your circle of support can be small but very strong.
6. Remember: After all, you are alone on this journey.
“Native Speakers” Only Ads
You see many “native speakers” only ads even when you are looking for university English teaching positions in Japan (e.g., click here: “The Kyoto Sangyo University Common Education Center is looking for native English speakers”).
If you check TEFL Equity website, you will find information on how to tackle native speakerism in ELT. It is often recommended that highlight your strengths, apply, and do not be put off by the “native speakers” only ads.
I no longer find this way of tackling native speakerism empowering because it sounds like we are fixing “non-native” teachers instead of fixing injustice and inequity.
In Adrian Holiday’s terms, native speakerism is ELT’s neo-racism. In his blogpost,
Ostensibly, ‘native speaker’ means someone who grew up in an English speaking country and has essentially spoken the language from birth, but in reality it has often been used synonymously with being a White speaker from an English speaking country.
The preference for “native” speakers in ELT, which too often means white “native” speakers, is the white supremacy in the ELT industry. So, in our equity efforts, we need to focus on eliminating racist conditions, not on fixing marginalized teachers.
Another blogpost that I am planning to write is about equity vs equality and how these two terms are being used interchangeably leading to an illusion of equity in ELT. For now, I would like to share a quote by Paul Gorski (2019) based on his article, “Avoiding Racial Equity Detours”:
It is not about fixing marginalized people, it is about fixing the conditions that marginalize people.
I applied for a “native” speaker only job ad once and I will never do that again because if it is not meant for me, I do not want it. I do not want to work with folx who do not understand or do not want to understand how hurtful, painful, exclusionary their job ads are. If you get a job through a racist, discriminatory job ad, you will most probably work at a toxic workplace.
Recently, “non-native” speakers from any nationality are encouraged to apply especially for university ELT positions in Japan. To be honest, it feels good to see such job ads; however, I highly recommend you to be careful as these are part of “Diversity” and “Inclusion” efforts to “globalize”, “internationalize”, and “diversify” Japan, and chances are, you will experience tokenism. From a racial perspective, tokenism is the practice of using People of Color to create the appearance of “diversity”, and that is why tokenism is a form of racism. Here is a narrative that can shed light on this concept:
To get more familiar with the concept of tokenism, please refer to this post: 8 Ways People of Color are Tokenized in Nonprofits
You might ask, how can I make sure that I am not going to be a token hire? How can I avoid tokenism?
Ask questions! For example,
- Is your university/school a safe place for Teachers of Color?
- How do you deal with racial harassment?
- Does your university pay “native” and “non-native” teachers equally?
- Am I the only non-Japanese, “non-native” teacher at your department/school?
- Why do you hire “non-native” teachers?
How I Found my ELT Jobs in Japan
Like many folx, I found all my ELT jobs in Japan through my connections, and they are all white and “native” speakers. It feels like I need to be approved by a “native” speaker. When I am introduced by a “native” speaker, I simply start working without even being interviewed.
My first university job experience started this way:
It was a semester of racial harassment and bullying, and you can check these two links to see how it ended:
My first ever university job experience in Japan was disappointing, but I learned that as a WOC (Woman of Color: a term I learned from a Pakistani American friend here in Japan. Check here to learn about the history of this political term), I need to protect myself. I learned that I should not apply for any job ad out there without knowing about the workplace. I started talking to few folx in my small yet strong circle of support about my challenges, and they helped me find safe workplaces.
Visa Application: Designated Activities or Professor Visa?
As I wrote at the beginning of this post, March 2019 was very stressful. It was time to apply for working visa in Japan.
The first thing that I did was to talk to some folx who are involved in JALT Job Information Center (JIC). They told me that they do not know about visa requirements because most of them are married to Japanese citizens and have Spouse Visa. They also acknowledged that there is some discrimination if you are from a certain country such as Iran. They suggested that I should go to the Immigration Bureau and talk to the immigration consultants there.
Next, I contacted the universities to ask about visa sponsorship. One university said, yes, we will provide it for you and the other one said, “our school would not be able to provide visa sponsorship for a part-time instructor.”
I then went to Support Office for International Students and Scholars, Osaka University many times. I also went to Osaka Regional Immigration Bureau twice (the immigration consultants there do not speak English) and asked which kind of visa I should apply. I brought all my documents and explained my situation:
- I will continue teaching part-time at Kobe City University of Foreign Studies (6 classes per week)
- I will start teaching part-time at the University of Hyogo (2 classes per week)
- I will continue teaching part-time at an eikaiwa (6-7 fifty minute classes per week)
- One of the universities will provide visa sponsorship and the other one does not.
- My boss at the eikaiwa is willing to fill out any necessary form.
- I have applied for a full time position at Baika Women’s University (got rejected), Kwansei University (still waiting for the result), and Konan University (still waiting for the result)
We checked List of Statuses of Residence together both at the Support Office and the Immigration Bureau and I was told that I need to apply for Designated Activities (特定活動) visa for the purpose of continuing job hunting in Japan and I need to wait till my graduation day (March 25th, 2019). The length of the initial Designated Activities Visa is 6 months and it can be renewed.
I started collecting all the documents and filling out the forms for Designated Activities visa. I included all the documents that proved that I am in the middle of my job hunting (e.g., rejection letters, emails). It was mid February, everything was ready, and I was just waiting for my graduation day. I have learned from experience that I need to double check everything. That is why I went to the Support Office again, and I was not sure how to answer a question on one of the the visa application forms. They called the Immigration Bureau to find the answer and they suddenly told me that I should apply for Professor (教授) visa because if I apply for Designated Activities visa, I cannot work as a part-time lecturer!!!
It was a big shock to me because I did not have much time and one of the universities had told me that they do not provide visa sponsorship.
Another source of stress was that “native” part-timers usually teach 20-25 university classes per week (I have no idea how they can do that) and I only had 8 university classes and 6-7 eikaiwa classes, which meant my monthly salary would be around 270,000 yen.
I tried to apply for more part-time positions that I happened to know about through personal Facebook pages of some of my friends and colleagues (this is a common way to advertise part-time ELT university positions!). In the meantime, I started preparing the documents for the Professor visa. I noticed that the sponsorship form looks more like confirming that this teacher has a one-year part-time contract at our university and her annual salary is XXX yen. So, I contacted the university that told me they do not provide visa sponsorship for part-timers and shared the file with them. They said they will fill it out for me!
Here is the link to the form (last page: For organization):
It is worth noting that this is the only question which is related to language education on the form and there is nothing about native speakerism:
Total period of receiving the foreign language education when you teach the foreign language
Also, unlike UK or Canadian visa forms, there is no question about your previous visa refusals or about your travel history. As Bathsheba Okwenje (2019) says,
There is the toll of a possible rejection – a rejection which will affect every subsequent visa application for the rest of your life, because whether you have previously been denied a visa is a specific question on applications. This rejection becomes yet another obstacle to overcome, another area for you to prove that you are indeed worthy of travel and of being in a country that is not your own.
If I am not mistaken, this kind of visa application is known as self-sponsorship among “native” teachers in Japan who need to apply for visa, but I never heard this from the immigration consultants at the Immigration Bureau or I never saw this on the visa application forms.
Finally, I applied for the Professor visa with only 8 university classes (2 on Tuesdays, 4 on Wednesdays, and 2 on Fridays) and 6-7 eikaiwa classes (on Wednesdays). I could not find more part-time university jobs. My application for Kwainsei University full-time position got rejected and I never heard back from Konan University (if you are a recruiter, please consider that some folx can show rejection letters as a proof of their job hunting). I paid only 4000 yen for the visa application, which is pretty cheap compared to UK or Canadian visa application fees. The immigration staff checked all my documents to make sure that everything is OK. In general, the application submission process went smoothly, and I was eventually granted the Professor visa.
Note: I have decided to confront my perfectionism and imposter syndrome and I am planning to blog more. I do not have time to proofread. So, I embrace all my mistakes and typos, which might also be perceived as mistakes. To me, they are the sign that I write in another language: My mother tongue ❤