Geography and Weather
One of Japan's many beautiful temples
Japan is made up of over 3,000 islands but the main islands (from north to south) are: Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. South of Kyushu are the Ryukyu Islands which make up the Japanese Archipelago.
You are right to think that Japan's cities are densely populated, but approximately 75% of Japan is actually made up of mountains and forests. This beautiful scenery adds a wonderful contrast between city and rural life and allows for some exhilarating outdoor activities.
Japan's climate varies markedly from north to south. The north is temperate and the south is sub tropical. The further north you move the colder the winters become and cooler the summers. The further south you move, the warmer the winters become and the hotter the summers.
Japanese is spoken in Japan, and essentially nowhere else. While Japanese is distinctly different to Chinese and Korean, Japanese has been influenced by a number of different languages, including Chinese.
There are 3 writing systems in Japanese. Kanji is the most difficult to learn as there are over 2,000 characters to learn, but the two others (hiragana and katakana) are much easier to master, with only 50 symbols each.
Contrary to popular belief, spoken Japanese is actually a very learnable language. It takes time and practice and while your teaching job must come first, it is definitely an achievable goal if you are in Japan for a year or longer.
On arriving in Japan, many teachers start a language exchange program with a local Japanese person. It is a great way to meet people and learn the new language for free. Alternatively, there are a number of schools where you can pay for lessons. If you are not interested in learning Japanese there is no big problem, but you should certainly try to learn a few key words and phrases as it will make your day to day life much easier and enjoyable.
The words geisha, sumo, ninja and samurai probably spring to mind when someone mentions Japan, but there is much more to Japan's culture than this.
Japanese culture has developed greatly over the years and there is an exciting fusion between Japan's traditional culture and its modern day culture. The Japanese are a truly multicultural race and they embraced the cultures found elsewhere in Asia, Europe and North America.
A typical Japanese apartment
In view of the high initial cost of renting accommodation in Japan, and the fact that living and working in Japan for the first time can seem a daunting enough experience for new, non-Japanese speaking arrivals without the additional worry of having to find somewhere to live, our schools offer to provide, as a welfare service for all newly arrived expatriate staff who request it, basic and simply furnished accommodation.
Most teachers live in individual self-contained apartments. Space is at a premium and apartments are much smaller and more closely spaced than you may be used to. As a result of this and the often lightweight building materials used, Japanese are very noise conscious, particularly in the evenings. Sensitivity to this problem is essential for all tenants.
A typical apartment will have a kitchen and bathroom and one or possibly two living/bedrooms. Teachers are guaranteed running hot water and are provided with a cooker, washing machine, and refrigerator together with cooking utensils, crockery and cutlery. Most apartments have showers and all have baths. Some apartments have traditional tatami mat rooms while others have wooden flooring. Tatami is reed matting and has great symbolic value as a link to the past in Japan. Unfortunately it is not very hard wearing and must be treated with a great deal of care, this means not wearing anything other than socks when walking on it and definitely not placing heavy furniture directly on it.
As a result, prior to your arrival, the TA staff will cover the tatami with a carpet to protect against damage and noise and this should remain for the duration of your stay in the apartment. Whether teachers have wooden floors, tatami or both, they are provided with vacuum cleaners.
Apartments are usually located within 30 minutes walking distance of the nearest train station and teachers will usually find other teachers living in the same town if not the same building.
Teachers do not have the option of choosing apartments on arrival, but will instead have an apartment allocated.
“They say the Japanese sushi tastes so much better in Japan...they’re not wrong!”Derek Herbert, TEFL teacher in Japan
The Japanese have very good reason to love their food. Famed for its presentation, superior taste, freshness and health promoting qualities, it is no wonder that Japanese food has been so successful all around the globe.
If you think that Japanese food is limited to raw fish, then you are in for a big surprise. While it is easy to spend a month's salary on a fantastic meal, there is no need to panic as great affordable food is the staple daily diet for everyone.
Here are a few of the most tasty and available foods.
Assorted nigiri sushi
Sashimi and Sushi
Sashimi consists of thin slices of raw fish or other seafood served with spicy Japanese horseradish (wasabi). Sushi also includes cooked seafood, vegetables and egg. Cheap sushi is available at supermarkets and at restaurants.
This dish is a bowl of rice covered with one of a variety of toppings such as beef, chicken, egg, deep-fried shrimp or deep-fried pork. It is normally served with soup and pickles and at a very reasonable price.
Seafood or vegetables dipped in batter and deep-fried. Tempura normally comes with rice or noodles and soup.
A tasty stew of vegetables and beef with noodles.
Thin slices of beef, seafood and vegetables cooked in a soup.
A tasty savory pancake made with vegetables, meat or seafood.
Yakitoriya are usually laid-back places where the food is more of a snack to accompany some beer. Typically, kebabs (meat or vegetable) are cooked over charcoal fire.
Cost of Living
Despite the sensationalised stories of Japan’s high cost economy, life in Japan can be lived to the full without breaking the bank. As in any country, people have to budget to live within their means and frequent days/nights out in the trendy districts of Tokyo will soon leave a hole in any budget. However, most teachers are able to save despite a full social life and without resorting to a rice and water diet!
Some items (such as fruit) may seem crazily expensive. But other items are cheaper in Japan than the UK. There are also similar low cost shops in Japan to those found in your home country. Japan easily sees off the UK’s ‘Pound Land’ with its 100yen shops (roughly 45 pence at the current exchange rate!).
These are just some of the benefits of the bursting of Japan’s economic bubble and subsequent recession (from which Japan is now beginning to emerge). Low inflation and more reasonable prices!
To make life easier our schools reimburse commuting costs – which is a fantastic benefit. It is also quite easy to control your daily costs once you have some local knowledge. Simply knowing where the best places to eat, shop or meet with friends will save you a significant amount of money.
We will happily provide you with detailed information on typical costs and give you clear guidance on how much you could expect to save, based on your interests, income and location within Japan.
No vaccinations are required for Japan. However, it is always wise to check that you are up to date with tetanus, and jabs are advisable if you are planning to travel in Asia during holidays. Tap water is drinkable, and is about as appealing as it is in Britain.
The school offers a health insurance scheme to which all new teachers and many current belong. Before you come to Japan it is strongly advisable to take out traveller’s insurance to cover your ticket, your baggage and your health during your journey. The health insurance covers you from the moment you arrive in Japan.
If you need any special medicine, try to bring as much as you can. It is probably available here but might be difficult to get hold of, and anyway basic medicines are much cheaper in the UK. If you have a prescribed medicine make sure your doctor spells out exactly what it is (in very clear handwriting). This would help a Japanese doctor recognise it.