Japanese law requires a licensed Japanese teacher to be with you in the class at all times.
I’ve touched on this briefly, but they are HRTs (Homeroom Teachers) in Elementary Schools, and JTEs in Junior High/High Schools (Japanese Teachers of English).
MEXT government guidelines expect all teachers to co-teach with you. After all, you’re here to put the A(Assistant) in ALT, right? Uhm…not necessarily. Most don’t even know what ALT stands for…
As you can expect, not all teachers are created equal. Here’s a bit of a rundown of the sort of characters you can expect to meet.
(NOTE: PLEASE take this with a giant pinch of salt and some good humour! Rolling with the punches comes with the territory.)
The Head Cheerleader. The ideal co-teacher: a supportive figure who always has your back. More often than not they’re a younger person around 25-35 years old who was quite likely to have been taught by an ALT themselves when they were at school. They understand your role well and do everything in their power to make your job easier and keep the kids engaged.
The Disappearing Act. “You say “English class?” I hear “free period!”“ Teachers who seemingly disappear in a puff of smoke as soon as you need them, and use your class as an excuse to take it easy.
The P.A. “Assistant” Language Teacher? Like a Personal Assistant? Hooray! Takes literally any opportunity to fob work off onto you.
The Regina George. Nice to your face, slags you off behind your back. May or may not wear pink on Wednesdays.
The Micro Manager. Very interested and invested in everything you’re doing at school, even if it really shouldn’t concern them. You need construction paper – what for? Do you really need to make all those copies? – 120 copies for 120 students sounds excessive. You want to use the communal computer? OK, but you can’t have the password! You’re in the storage cupboard? Oh, I’m just in here for no reason definitely not checking you’re not stealing anything. Do you know how to use the hole punch? Do you know how to use the copier? Do you know how to turn a laptop on? Gyaaaaaahh…I’m in my 30s, hun.
The Backseat driver. Doesn’t assist in preparing lessons but also has a very specific opinion on how your classes should run. Talks over you, repeats everything you’re saying in Japanese, fucks about with your materials. But run the class myself? Oh no, please. Douzo, gaijin. Douzo.
The Clairvoyant. Doesn’t communicate with what they want you to do. You should just knowwwww. Bring your own crystal ball.
The “I Hate The ALT” one. Finds the ALT’s presence in class annoying and cumbersome yet doesn’t do anything about it. Often sulky and uncooperative.
The “Bestie”. “But that’s not what ___________________ did!” This teacher was BFFs with the previous ALT and wants you to look, talk, walk, prepare activities, perform classes exactly as they did. Usually still in touch with them and gives you updates on what their bestie is up to. No wun currrrrrr.
The Burned One. This teacher previously had a terrible ALT and thinks all foreigners are weird, lazy, unprofessional fuckwits. Sometimes you can win them over, sometimes you can’t. Shouganai!
The USA! USA! USA! one. Doesn’t like ALTs who are not from the USA. Yes, it’s a thing.
The NO WAMMINZ one. Doesn’t like female ALTs. Yes, it’s a thing.
The THAT’S NOT WHAT THE TEXTBOOK SAYS one. ALTs talking in natural, modern English? Nah. Please stick to the jilted, out of date textbook baka gaijin. The textbook never lies. Textbook is love. Textbook is life.
The Dinosaur. Has been teaching English for 30+ years and still using the same old methods. Fuck your interactive activities, ALT-chan. No games. No fun. Stick to drilling and worksheets while the kids die of boredom, please.
Can you think of any more archetypes? Have a funny story about a co-teacher? Leave it in the comments!
I’ve found in my personal experience that there is a wealth of information online about the process of coming to Japan (I wrote about my own experiencehere), but a lot less about what happens when the time comes for you to leave.
As of writing this, this is around the time ALTs are submitting their intentions to stay or leave as it’s coming up to the end of the school year, so I hope this is somewhat helpful.
I remembered to log a lot of what I did with dates, so you can tell from making the decision to actually leaving took six weeks – and this really was a tight schedule. Most people make their decision months in advance. So please heed my warning and take more time than I did to get your life in order.
Nevertheless, this is how it went for me working for a dispatch ALT company. Dates are in day/month order as is standard in the UK.
06/11: Booked flights home to the UK and told my family. Start advertising furniture and appliances for free on Facebook expat groups and our ALT group chat on Line. 08/11: Sent letter of resignation to my company giving the minimum 30 days notice. Received a call in the evening from my manager asking if I’ve thought this through, but he was very kind and understanding as he knew that I was recovering from surgery. Company sends through a ‘leavers pack’ with a bunch of forms to complete and return. 15/11: Tell my teachers I am leaving and advise my final day. Arrange leaving parties with my favourites. 26-27/11: Leaving parties with teachers:
06-10/12: People come to pick the items I’ve been advertising up from my apartment. (IMPORTANT: Work around YOUR schedule, not theirs. If they’re too busy or flake, immediately offer to the next person or make other arrangements ie. take to the thrift shop or dispose.) 08/12: Last day at junior high school. I’m shadowed by my replacement. 09/12:Last day at my elementary school. I’m shadowed again by my replacement. 10/12: Representative from the company comes to survey the apartment for damage. The actual landlord will do an inspection after I move out. Go to city hall with representative to do leaving process. This includes notifying the city that you’ll no longer be a resident, and to set up a proxy to receive my pension/partial tax refund when I return home. There are various resources online about this and it’s way more complicated than it needs to be. 10-12/12: Leaving parties with friends.
13/12: Clear the last of my stuff out of my apartment. Finish packing and forward luggage to airport hotel using Yamato. Gas is turned off in the evening. 14/12: Water is turned off in the morning. Move out of my apartment and catch the shinkansen for a farewell weekend in Tokyo. 15/12: Check into airport hotel at Haneda, reunited with my luggage. 16/12: Residence card and visa are voided at the airport. Fly home.
N.b. one of my suitcases arrived at Newcastle International with only one of it’s four wheels but しょうがない British Airways were pretty great at coughing up for a replacement.
BACK IN THE UK: Receive final pay after two months, minus 20% tax and mandatory apartment cleaning fees. Also receive my sickness benefits from when I was recovering from my operation. Applied for pension/partial tax refund and discussed with proxy still in Japan.
Hi, hi – remember me? I hope you’re doing well, friend.
Being back home for well over a year now I’ve more that acclimatised back into life in the UK – surprisingly better than I thought I would. I’m glad to report that I have a job I love and plan on coming back to Japan to visit in Autumn 2024 – hoorah!
I do enjoy looking back at this little corner of the internet from time to time and I am currently drafting a longer retrospective look back at my time in Japan now I’ve had some distance.
But for now, having a look through my drafts I’ve had some posts that have been sitting there for literal years now, and I figured I might as well post the ones that are still relevant.
So without further ado, here’s what I liked and didn’t like about my years working as an ALT in an elementary and junior high school.
The kids. This is what you’ll hear from 99% of ALTs you’ll speak to. Many a time I’d woken upon the wrong side of the bed and arrived at school grumpy and unmotivated. But as soon as I walked into the classroom and saw my bairns, a little voice in my head said: “I can’t let you down.”
Ask a Japanese student what their favourite thing about school is, and the most common answer is “talking with my friends” – so I worked hard to make sure there was at least one activity in every lesson where they can do just that.
While most of their other subjects are predominantly them are sitting at their desks quietly and vigilantly taking notes, they know English with the ALT is the fun class where they can play games, walk around the classroom doing an activity, watch some videos, listen to some music and – of course – talk to their friends. It makes it all seem worthwhile when you walk into the classroom and are greeted with smiles, cheers and “oh, Miss Carla is here today!”
FREEEEEEDOMMMMM. This depends from company to company, branch to branch, but at my school I wasn’t really micromanaged at all. As long as I turned up on time, made dynamic lessons, kept my head down and at least looked busy between classes I could do whatever I want.
You are the gaijin (Part 1.) As an ALT, you simply aren’t held to the same standards as other teachers – and although it can be hard to always be the ‘outsider’ in school , it does have it’s perks. While most Japanese teachers arrive before 7am and leave at 7pm earliest, you’ll find you can rock up at 8am and leave by 4pm. As previously mentioned, your lessons are the fun ones focusing on speaking and listening skills while providing some context as a native speaker. If the kids don’t do well in their exams – that’s for the Japanese teachers to deal with.
Free time between lessons (Part 1). As you become more experienced as an ALT, you’ll find lesson planning takes up less and less of your time. While of course I liked making sure my lessons were fun and interesting as could be, after a few months I found I could pretty much plan a grade’s classes for the week somewhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours at the very most. As such, you’ll have extra time between lessons and a lot of ALTs spend this time studying Japanese. But as I mentioned before this time is your own. (Just don’t take the piss – “the ALT spends too much time on their phone” is one of the most popular complaints to dispatch companies or BOEs.)
Time off! One of the major gripes people seem to have with teaching is you don’t have a lot of holiday allowance. I believe JETs get less time off, but likely if you’re with dispatch they’ll wangle these off for you. Dispatch ALTs are paid less than JETs, but personally, I preferred to tighten my belt from time to time and be able to actually enjoy Japan instead of rotting away in the teacher’s room on a higher salary.
You’ll get 10 annual leave days – 5 of these are usually chosen by your company and you can choose the other 5. It depends from company to company, branch to branch how eager they’ll be to process your holiday requests, but personally I didn’t have any rejected. Most Japanese teachers don’t use their holiday allowance at all, or save it for sick days. But again, you are held to a different standard being the gaijin, so don’t feel guilty about using them! Just try not to take them around exam time or the beginning or end of term.
If you work in a Japanese school you’ll also get all 16 national holidays off. This is actually more than in the US. Yes we get 28 days paid leave in the UK – 36 including national holidays (“bank holidays”) which I definitely missed, but personally I felt like I had more time off than I expected to explore Japan.
The new songs kinda slap, though – this one was a staple in 6th grade elementary. One girl even learned the chords on the piano and everyone sang it on my last day.
You’re here for a good time, not a long time. Except for a very small minority, teaching in Japan is not a viable career path. While it’s great for a few years, eventually most people go on to bigger and better things – usually back in their home country. The sweet spot tends to be between 2 and 5 years.
Teaching in Japan is pretty great for gap year or two, to gain experience after graduating or even for people like myself on a career break. But unless you’re looking to rise up the ranks in your company, it’s simply not really an option long-term.
Pay. There’s no beating around the bush, ALT work doesn’t pay well. If you budget, you’ll find you can live fairly comfortably – until your second year when you are clouted around the head with residence taxes and mandatory pension premiums. A lot of ALTs end up getting a side-gig.
Not all co-teachers are created equal. ALTs are not allowed to discipline kids, and if you have a JTE or HRT who let the kids run riot you’re on your own tbh. While I had mostly great co-teachers, there were also some who were downright lazy, had absolutely no respect for the work I did and saw my classes as the one they don’t have to do fuck all in – and it was tedious.
All eyes are on you not to fuck up. There is so much pressure to be the perfect, genki gaijin all the time. If you’re having a bad day, you can’t be pissed off and grump at your desk – you have to get up and do your thing with a big smile on your face. One wrong move and your reputation can really take a battering.
Free time between lessons (Part 2) The deskwarming. Oh, the deskwarming! It sounds good on paper, but trust me the novelty wears off after a while. There’s really only so much you can scroll, books you can read and blogs you can draft hehebefore you feel like you’re losing your marbles. You have to make an effort to push yourself sometimes to be productive on days you are waiting for the clock to tick to 4pm.
Repetitive. While no two days are quite the same, teaching can feel pretty formulaic after a while – especially in elementary school where we seemingly played the same 6 games over and over and over. The kids love it of course, but there were times when I could actually feel myself losing brain cells.
I’ve been back in the UK for a few months now and already looking back on my time in Japan. I’ll write a longer retrospective in a little while, but in the meantime I thought you’d like to know about my final days at both of my schools.
Part 1: Goodbye, Junior High School…
For my last lessons at Junior High School, I asked my JTEs if we could keep it casual and was given the go-ahead. I did this quiz for all the grades – so I did the same lesson 12 times (16 including Elementary School, more on that later…) but the kids really got into it.
My JTEs were always pretty strict on sticking to the curriculum, so the rare times I got to stray brought big sighs of relief all around. I think no matter where you are in the world, the phrase “no textbooks today, everyone!” while the TV gets wheeled in gets you a big round of applause.
The class clown in one of the top sets took the opportunity to ask if I liked his new haircut and if I thought he was an ikemen in front of the whole class. I really did dish it back to them, so I pointedly looked him up and down, looked thoughtful, then replied “meh…so-so” while everyone exploded. “No, Miss Carla,” he insisted. “Very sexy hair!”
Every class had written me letters and cards and there was a little presentation at the end of the lesson. They then did a very formal thank you with a deep bow – always a bit jarring when they did this as mere minutes beforehand they were all giving each other noogies and wedgies and the middle finger. But very sweet.
I had one student I’ve taught from 2019 burst into tears. I finally managed to console her, then on a whim I unhooked the Yuri Katsuki gatcha charm from my USB that she admired every day and gave it to her. More tears!
Near the end of the day, the whole school gathered in the gym for a short farewell ceremony and to hand over to the new ALT who had been shadowing me all day. Typical Japan, a lot of pomp and circumstance over nothing at all, but I felt very loved.
I’d also been told 24 hours prior that I had to give a speech, which was really the last thing I needed to sort on top of all the moving stress – but I did my best. “Don’t worry, it just has to be short,” said my co-teacher. “It’s going to have to be!” I replied.
I was incredibly nervous and stumbled a little, but it seemed to get the message across. Here’s what I said in my usual piss-poor broken Japanese.. (I stole most of it from various corners of the internet.)
I am sad that I have to say goodbye to you. You have been kind to me for the past two years, thank you very much. Everyone at ○○ Junior High School was so positive and energetic that it was an absolute joy to come to work every morning. Everybody has been kind and has accepted me.
I wish to thank the principal, vice-principal, and everybody else for all of your help during my two years here. I have become really indebted to all of the teachers as well, especially ○○ sensei and ○○ sensei. No matter how busy you all were, you always found the time to answer any question that I had.
Good luck. I will miss you. Take care. Thank you very much.
The message seemed to get through as I got a big ol’ applause afterwards, and my JTE told me she could some students were leaning forward because they were listening so intently. Bless them.
Unfortunately for the school, I had to leave mid-week as I had a whole bunch of stuff to do before I actually flew home and the teachers had their big meeting so there was no formal goodbye.
I managed to hand out my goodbye presents to the principal, vice-principal, and the JTEs and also take a few quick photos before they said goodbye and they went to the meeting. There was nobody actually in the teacher’s room apart from the janitor who I have a big soft spot for (he was so accommodating when I was recovering from my operation and had some new dietary restrictions) so he actually saw me to the door. I took my shoes from the cupboard in the genkan and put them in my backpack, took one last look at the lobby, gave him a final bow and a wave, and left the junior high school for the last time.
Just like Whitney, I get so emotional, baby, and was surprised that I didn’t cry. “Wow, that wasn’t so bad…” I thought to myself, as I walked to my bus stop.
Cue, the next day…
Part 2: Goodbye, Elementary School…
OK, OK. So ending my contract mid-week wasn’t wholly an accident. I maaaaay have also timed it so I would have my final teaching day co-teaching at the elementary school with my best-friend Haruna.
Usually, at elementary school, we followed the textbook to the letter, but because it was my last ever class, I showed Haruna the lesson I had done at the junior high school and she gave the OK to do a simplified version.
(The new ALT was shadowing me again and I think he was a bit put-out because it was his first time teaching elementary school and I think he wanted to see how a regular class was run. But that ain’t my problem, hun lololol.)
At the end of every class, I was presented with a preciously bundled lot of letters; scrawled “I love yous” and “I like English” among coloured pencilled drawings of Splatoon inklings, Animal Crossing villagers, Among Us crewmates and (rather worryingly given their age) Squid Game pink soldiers. Thanks, guys.
I made the mistake of telling Haruna about my speech from the previous day, so she insisted I give the speech again but just to the teacher’s room since it was after school club activities day and the bairns would be busy. (I’d learned in Japan it’s best to keep your gob shut lest you be dragged into stuff like this, but I had a momentary lapse!)
It seemed to go over pretty well again, and my desk-mate who came to my (secret, shh!) goodbye party told me I spoke very clearly and sincerely.
Haruna had unfortunately missed my big moment as she was dealing with a parent (always means business when hops out of her trackies and puts her suit on…) and she suddenly hurled back into the teacher’s room, disappointed that she’d missed it. So I took her outside the teachers’ room and did the speech again for her. Andddd that’s when the tears started. From both of us. And they didn’t stop.
And so as the clock crept past 4pm, the time finally came for me to leave. I felt my heart in my throat as I packed my chopsticks, diary and mug into my kånken with a sense of finality. My usually messy desk (my friend Matt was appalled when he substituted for me) was empty except the textbooks and post it’s I’d left behind for the new guy.
As I stood up to leave, Haruna suddenly barked “Carla is leaving now!” and to my huge surprise, all the teachers stood up and applauded as I walked through the teacher’s room to leave. I think it was then that I started Kim K-level bawling.
For the final time, I turned, bowed and said お先に失礼します (“Sorry to leave before you”) and everyone replied お疲れ様です (“Thank you for your hard work”) and readers know that I was in bits.
Haruna and some of my favourite teachers followed me to the genkan to see me out of the building, waving and applauding as I walked through the gates and headed to my bus stop.
And that was that. A happy chapter of my life had closed. Now the time had come to leave Japan…but that’s for another post.
Recently some of the kids asked if I’d like to meet their class pets. The class pets:
For some godforsaken reason, it’s somewhat of an annual tradition for Japanese kids to spend the summer raising and caring for these beetles (kabutomushi and kuwagatamush), dutifully feeding them fresh fruits and jellies. Apparently, they’re “cute”.
As I’ve previously mentioned, living a short walk to the downtown area I enjoy eating out at the weekend – but as we all ride Japan’s fourth wave of the ‘rona, I’m still trying to stay home as much as possible and have been ordering in instead.
Also notably, 99% of the time I don’t eat breakfast during weekdays. I know this is really bad and breakfast is so important, but when I have a 5:30am alarm I’d prefer to trade this in for an extra half an hour in bed.
LUNCH: Soup with veggies and pasta shells, currypan and a custard pudding. (¥270)
DINNER: Mondays are really stressful at work so I stopped at the conbini on my way home. Pasta salad with proscuitto, tomatoes and cheese (¥496), karragebo (¥180), rice in tofu (¥213) and kimchi (¥110).
DESSERT: Two kiwi fruits. (Discounted from the supermarket ¥100)
BREAKFAST: Coffee with milk.
LUNCH: Soup with veggies and bean sprouts, two spring rolls and minted pickles. (¥270) (We also had rice but I took mine home as I don’t like to eat a lot of carbs if I have afternoon classes as it brings my energy down.)
DINNER: Aubergines and mushrooms in a sticky Korean-style sauce, the rice from school lunch, miso soup with tofu and the rest of the kimchi.
DESSERT: Discounted fruit salad from the supermarket. (¥250)
SNACKS: Cheese puffs. (¥180)
BREAKFAST: Coffee with milk and a potato croquette (¥120) as I waited at the bus stop.
LUNCH: Creamy soup with mushrooms and pasta, chicken karaage, bread with chocolate sauce. (¥270)
DINNER: Spaghetti with mentaigo (cod roe) sauce
DESSERT: Daim bar (thanks, mam!)
BREAKFAST: Coffee with soy milk.
LUNCH: Creamy soup with pasta and sweetcorn, fried fish, cabbage. (There was also bread but I didn’t eat it) (¥270)
DINNER: I went to KappaSushi for dinner. 7 plates of sushi and a beer. (¥1300)
SNACKS: Cornetto-like ice cream. (Multipack – 5 for ¥350)
BREAKFAST: English breakfast tea with soy milk.
LUNCH: Special bento for the school sports day. (¥800)
DINNER: Cheese and ham baguette sandwich (¥300) and pizza crisps (¥130).
DESSERT: Coconut Pocky. (¥150)
SNACKS: Vanilla mochi ice cream. (¥200)
BREAKFAST: Coffee with soy milk, greek-style yoghurt with granola and honey.
LUNCH: Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake made with cabbage), the rest of the mushrooms and fried aubergine.
DINNER: I ordered a personal-size Dominos pizza and potato wedges. (¥1600)
SNACKS: Another Daim bar! (Thanks again, mam!)
BREAKFAST: I ordered a McDonalds breakfast – sausage egg McMuffin, two hashbrows and an iced latte. (¥960)
LUNCH: Japanese-style curry (¥250, but I already had the sauce in my cupboard) and rice with the rest of the edamame.
DINNER: None. I wasn’t hungry for dinner as my breakfast and lunch were pretty heavy so I just snacked in the evening…
SNACKS: Cheese crisps (¥120), Black Thunder chocolate (my favourite Japanese chocolate!!) (¥100)
I actually enjoyed doing this and want to do something similar in the future!
Carrying on from my post about what I brought to Japan, in this post I’m going to specifically talk about workwear – or more accurately, what I actually wear.
I’ll also just be talking about my experience as a female ALT, but a few of these tips should be useful for guys, too! Also note that my experience is exclusively as an ALT in public schools: if you work as an English teacher eikaiwa such as AEON or ECC then you’ll most likely have to wear a suit every day single day.
Prior to your arrival in Japan, you’ll be advised on the official dress code which is Japanese business wear: a suit, shirt (and tie if you’re a guy), pants (or skirt if you’re a girl) and dress shoes. However on my very first day at school, I was told I didn’t have to wear a suit and could dress down a little. This is somewhere between ‘smart-casual’ and ‘business casual.’
To keep things simple, my work wardrobe is ‘capsule-style’ which basically means that every item can be worn with another. I keep the colour palette very neutral – sticking mostly to monochromes with a little navy blue, grey and baby pink in there.
Some more tips:
No matter what you wear: get clothes that are breathable and that you can move in, especially in elementary school where you’ll be more animated.
Avoid pure polyester, nylon and linen fabrics. I personally prefer a poly/cotton blend as it’s breathable and doesn’t crease easily.
If there’s something you especially love, buy a few of the same piece.
NOTHING form-fitting or low cut. (Neckline should be above the collarbone. Absolutely NO cleavage.)
Khakis are OK but absolutely no jeans.
Teachers can switch to “cool biz” clothes in the summer: While still pretty conservative, you can wear short sleeves and capri/ankle grazer pants. Men don’t have to wear a tie or their suit jacket. As always, this depends from school to school so check with your tantou or vice principal.
Avoid wearing ALL black, it can be seen as a little intimidating.
I personally don’t like skirts and none of my Japanese teachers wear skirts on a day-to-day basis.
Dresses should be fine, but stick to neutral colours, keep the length well below the knee and wear tights/pantyhose.
Skin-tone bras are best as you can wear them under everything. Sports bras are great, too!
No sleeveless shirts – or wear a cardigan on top. Sleeves should be at least halfway down the top of your arm unless it’s “cool biz” season in summer.
Make sure your underwear isn’t too tight and you’re not showing a panty-line.
If you are able, try to invest a little in your work wardrobe. While of course you’ll top it up while you’re in Japan either by shopping locally or buying online it’s one less thing to worry about your first months in Japan.
While you’ll often see Japanese teachers dressed VERY casually – especially in summer: leisurewear, tracksuits, t-shirts, sports shorts etc. this is TOO casual for you and you’ll be expected to dress up more.
Japanese people don’t tend to wear bright, colourful clothes. Try to keep to more neutral, muted colours.
Avoid loud patterns and clothes with text.
Clothes can be VERY expensive in Japan even for basics, so be sure to check out thrift stores. (Thrifting blog coming soon!)
Here’s my capsule wardrobe:
FORMAL 1: (Opening ceremony, closing ceremony, graduation ceremony) Black blazer, slim-fit black trousers, white shirt, dress shoes.
FORMAL 2:(Other formal events: music concert, company training, open school day etc.) Grey blazer, straight grey trousers, white shirt, dress shoes.
REGULAR WEAR: 3 x white spot blouses. 3 x black spot shirts. 1 x pink cardigan 1 x grey cardigan Grey jumper (Autumn/winter) Thick navy jumper (Winter) Comfy slip on shoes. (Honestly I know they’re really uncool, but I can’t recommend Sketchers enough!)
NOT PICTURED: White trainers/sneakers for walking to school. 3 x long-sleeved black and white striped tops 3 x skin-toned vest-tops/singlets (for wearing under tops in winter) Christmas jumper (for December!) Waterproof jacket Thick winter coat with a scarf
Also regarding makeup: it depends from school to school.
I know a fellow ALT who wears a full-paint every day – foundation, powder, eyeliner, lip tint. But my schools are a little more conservative and teachers wear very minimal makeup.
I usually wear a little beige/bronze eyeshadow, mascara, filled brows (overplucking in the early 00s meaning I have like three eyebrow hairs…) and some bb cream/concealer if I have a zit.
Hair must be kept neat and tidy, and if it’s long you’ll have to tie it back into a bun or ponytail. Natural colours only, and should be nearest to your natural shade. (I.e if you have dark hair like me, it’ll be very frowned upon to rock up one day with a new bleached blonde do, and you’ll likely be asked to dye it back.)
Piercings shouldn’t be worn – though some schools are cool with little stud earrings. Jewellery-wise: keep it conservative, but it’s noted that most Japanese teachers won’t wear any jewellery except a watch and perhaps a wedding ring.
Tattoos are incredibly frowned upon in Japan as they have historically been linked to the yakuza. You’ll have to keep them covered up at all times at school, and it’s encouraged if you’ll be anywhere you might bump into your students.
OK, I think that’s covered everything. Pun not intended.
This catchy and adorable children’s choir song from 2013 is having a second wave of popularity in Japanese schools as a rousing ganbarou message in the times of covid.
The chorus is literally: 元気、勇気、ちから – (“genki, yūki, chika-ra” –“energy, courage, power”). Aw.
The theme tune from ‘Play Your Cards Right.’
There’s a short three question quiz during lunch and to announce it, they blast the theme tune from Play Your Cards Right. The show never came to Japan and it’s probably used for something else here, but it makes me think I’m missing a trick by not beginning my classes with “It’s nice to see you, to see you…NICE!” (RIP, Brucey)
They usually play the school song too, which is really cute at my elementary school. Of course can’t post that here for obvious reasons but it also has a lovely message of camaraderie and being proud of the school’s local area. It’s a bop!
Are you preparing your life to be packed into two suitcases and need some advice on what to bring?
Here’s what I brought:
A few things to note:
You probably don’t need to bring as many clothes as I did if you’re a UK size 10-12 or below. You’ll likely be able to shop in most Japanese stores.
If you’re tall, note that a lot of Japanese arm and leg lengths in clothes are shorter than back home.
UNDERWEAR: Bring bras if you’re bigger than a B-cup otherwise you’ll struggle.
SHOES: I’m a UK size 5 in shoes which is pretty average back home, but here I’m at least an XL! Half-sizes are rare. You’ll be fine with Western brands like Adidas, Nike, Converse, Vans etc. but it’s something to keep in mind.
WORKWEAR: You’ll have to wear a suit at training and special events, but REAL TALK at a lot of schools you can dressing more business-casual like the rest of the teachers do, especially elementary schools and kindergartens. I can’t say however what your situation will be like – if in doubt, ask! I do plan on a longer blog post in the future about what an ALT generally wears.
If you forget anything – don’t worry. Online stores like ASOS ships to Japan for a very reasonable price, however if you need to send anything back it’s pretty pricey and you’ll need to pay out of pocket unless the item/s are defective.
4 pairs of jeans (2 black, 2 blue)
6 dresses (3 casual, 2 party, 1 formal)
4 pyjama pants
4 pyjama tops
Plenty of socks, hosiery and underwear.
4 bras (2 black, 1 white 1 nude)
1 pair heeled boots
3 pairs of trainers
3 pairs of flats
2 occasion bags
2 suit jackets (1 black, one grey)
3 white shirts
3 black smart-casual tops.
3 white smart-casual tops.
2 cardigans (1 baby pink, one grey)
6 pairs of smart trousers (3 black, 3 grey)
1 pair smart work shoes
1 pair indoor shoes (Black Sketchers)
Nintendo Switch and games
3DS and games
5 x international plugs
6 sticks of antiperspirant deodrant
2 boxes of tampons
Band aids/blister plasters
2 x USBs
Union Jack flag (For self-introduction lesson and English board)
£5 note (For self-introduction lesson)
Notebook and pen (For note-taking in training)
My teddy bear
Art prints to decorate apartment
Medication, pill boxes and doctor’s letter.
THINGS I’VE BOUGHT IN JAPAN
SIM card for my phone
Folding coffee table
Shelves for bathroom
Pots and pants
INHERITED FROM DEPARTING ALT
Bowls, plates and mugs (though I eventually bought my own)
Washing pole and pegs
Emergency kit for natural disasters
CAME WITH APARTMENT
2 hob burner
Table and 2 chairs
Smart TV on desk
Full length mirror
I think my biggest peice of advice is: try to stick to the essentials. While it’s tempting to want to bring all your home comforts with you, remember that Japanese apartments are much smaller than back home, and you’ll likely not know how much storage you have until you move in.
It’s also easy to accumulate stuff when you arrive here. And while of course you’ll want to make your place as cosy and homely as possible – remember that everything you can’t take back to your home country with you will have to be sold, donated, given away or carted off by the council (for a fee!) when you leave.
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