CHAPTER 1: The Waiting Game

If you thought getting a Job in Japan was tough, I dare you to try it during a pandemic. Since applying and getting the teaching position a year ago, I find myself anxiously waiting for a visa, a visa that may never come. The only obstacle now standing in my path is COVID as Japan enters its third state of emergency to quell its growth before the 2020(now 2021) Tokyo Olympics. Before proceeding, I want to assure readers that the purpose of this blog is to not just vent my frustrations and that I do plan to educate and inform teachers, adventurers and travel enthusiasts on living, life and work in the land of the rising sun(if I ever get there).

So first things first, how did I apply? After my fair share of googling, I stumbled onto a website called gaijinpot.com, the purpose of which is to help foreigners find a job and travel to Japan. The site works as a third-party source for companies looking to hire foreigners for various job positions not limited to teaching. Note to potential applicants: If the teaching position you are looking for requires you to teach English, then your application may be rejected if you have not spent your formative years in an English-speaking country as was the case for me as I had spent my childhood and teen years in Egypt, despite English being my first language, having gone to an English medium school and holding a US passport. After bouncing around between job interviews and rejecting one tempting offer from a recruiter to help me lie on my application, I came across a company, who, to my luck, had a much more open-minded policy to international applicants. The path from then to the state of limbo now occupying my existence was as follows:

Step 1: The group interview
The first thing that came to mind was to laugh as I entered the call with nine other equally confused and distressed applicants who ranged from highly qualified to one interviewee pleading with the group to wait fifteen minutes as he was still driving home. Microphones didn’t work well; cameras were failing to turn on, the chaos was palpable. My best suggestion in this stage would be to formally overdress to make sure you stood out from those who had just rolled out of bed. The purpose of the group interview was to thin out the herd, so avoid making yourself an easy target. Next, the interviewer asked questions in groups and quizzed us individually on different classroom scenarios; if put in this situation, volunteer to speak first to avoid sounding repetitive or derivative from the first answers, which will all more or less sound the same.

Step 2: Individual interviews
Once selected to proceed to the next stage, the next call was the one-on-one interview with the recruiter. At this stage, I was tasked to give demo lessons on the spot, so I highly recommend preparing and practicing mock lessons beforehand to be sharp and confident when the time comes. If I had one regret after the interview, it was not learning a little Japanese. The interviewer’s shocked face on the matter seemed to mirror my own as we stared blankly at each other before proceeding to the next question. In my defense, there was no mention of it on the job application; it must have been one of those unwritten requirements like knowing Microsoft Word or coming in on a Sunday. In any case, I didn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

Step 3: Acceptance and the never-ending paperwork
After being hired and given a contract to sign, I was tasked with what felt like a never-ending list of documents to send. Although not unusual, what I did find peculiar was the attention to detail required in the applications. At one point, I was instructed to list the years and months I graduated every grade from kindergarten to high school. I could roughly estimate the years, but the months seemed impossible as I attended different schools throughout my life. Not feeling it would be of grave concern to the hiring committee, I left it blank, and to my surprise, they came after me. The application process gave me the impression of a highly ritualistic culture, valuing the process more than the result. My position on the matter was strengthened after being given my Hanko, official stamps used instead of signatures to process paperwork. Why such a technologically advanced country would require its citizens to carry ink stamps can only mean a deep connection to tradition, which may also explain why they are a largely cash-based society.

Step 4: Visa and COVID
The Japanese government will then issue you a COE(Certificate of Eligibility) which you then take to your local embassy/consulate. The COE is just a piece of paper from the Ministry of Justice stating that you have been approved to work and live there. Typically after handing in the required documents, you would be issued your visa within a week. I am coming up on my 4th week now due to the lockdown.

Step 5: Flight to Japan?
Fingers crossed that it all works out; otherwise, this may be the shortest blog in history. All the best Gaijin Readers!

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