Teaching English in Japan

KYOTO, Japan – Susan de Ono-Laset, with her foreign-sounding surname, is as Filipino as anyone can be. She hails from San Pablo, Laguna, buys a bento meal of mongo and fried chicken from a Filipino bar in Nagoya, and lays out a futon in her downtown flat for a stranger (me) introduced by a common friend by e-mail.

In reaction to this dialogue, Lopez says that the Japanese government mandated the learning of English in grades 5 and 6.  

The private sector in Japan has forged ahead. In 2012, the company that owns the global clothes store Uniqlo made English its official language for business. It joined big companies like Rakuten, Japan’s leading online retailer, and Nissan in blazing this trail.

Discrimination

There are issues to thresh out, though, in treading this new path, in encouraging Filipinos to come over and partly colonize the Japanese tongue. 

First is the attitude toward non-native English speakers. As Susan’s experience shows, discrimination against her and other non-native speakers has somewhat ebbed. In the past, she fought a lonely battle. While teaching part-time in a conversation school, she was asked to tell her students that she was not from the Philippines. She quit right there and then. 

In another incident, she was interviewed over the phone and got the job. When Susan showed up, the employer was miffed, apparently expecting a foreigner. After making her wait for what seemed like eternity, Susan was told that the class was cancelled and that they would call her. Of course, the call never came.

Today, the signs are still there. “The sad part is non-native speakers are hired at a lower salary bracket. Apart from that, they are usually assigned to far-flung areas where native speakers refuse to go,” Susan says. 

Related to this is the manner of hiring. “English teachers are hired by employment agencies or hakken kaishas,” Susan explains. “It’s almost impossible to get directly hired by a regular school. Hakken kaishas supply ALTs or assistant language teachers to public and private schools under the Japanese Board of Education (BOE). The hakken kaisha is paid by the BOE so there is no employer-employee relationship between the teachers and the BOE. Most teachers are hired on a contractual basis so they do not get health or pension benefits.”

JPEPA?

It would be a long shot to include the hiring of English teachers in the JPEPA or Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement. “It may be difficult as changes in a treaty will need Senate concurrence,” our labor attaché in Tokyo Luz Talento says in an e-mail. “I am sure the Japanese side will view this proposal as an amendment to the treaty since only nurses and caregivers are covered in the movement of nationals at the moment.”

Talento, however, points out that they are able to “process the entry of English teachers to Japan under the skilled visa.”

In the 1970s, Filipino bands, mostly male, entertained Japan with jazz and rock and roll music. This gave way to female entertainers and bar hostesses in the 1980s but was heavily curtailed starting about 2004 when the US listed Japan as a country that trafficked women in forced labor. After the signing of the JPEPA in 2006, employment of nurses and caregivers was given a vigorous push.

Given the confluence of events — the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the stepped-up tourism drive, the radical step of some companies to adopt English as their official language — a new opportunity could come the way of our young English teachers. – Rappler.com