Welcome to Hiroshima!
Welcome to one of the most beautiful parts of Japan, Hiroshima Prefecture! In order to help you ease into a new job, a new culture, and a new way of life, we have a number of tips and tricks given from previous JETs.
Random Facts and Advice
Starting Off on the Right Foot
Fact: As much as 65% of communication is non-verbal.
This is comforting if you are less than fluent in Japanese. Body language and gestures can go a long way in helping you making yourself understood. Just remember that this works for negative body language as well. People will understand if you are in a bad mood whether you say anything or not. You will often be watched, and people will use your actions as a gauge to determine how to approach you. Use this to your advantage; project the person whom you want people to see.
What is it? In Japan, it is interpreted as being on time (which means 5 minutes EARLY), doing the job you are given without complaining, leaving at home your personal life and stories of your weekend adventures, and showing up well-groomed and dressed appropriately. Try doing things in the office even if you haven’t been asked to do them. Activities such as eating lunch with your students and helping out during cleaning time show you are a team player and willing to do more than just the bare minimum required of you.
Japanese attitudes toward attendance are different from Western ones. Your physical presence is as important as what you actually do. Remember this when you feel your time would be better used performing another task rather than attending a meeting that does not concern you. Attendance in itself is very important.
You have heard that Japan is a group-oriented society. Your “uniform” is a visual representation of your membership to the group in which you have been placed. To add to this, you are a NEW teacher and a civil servant, hence you should appear as such. The liberties in presentation taken by elder teachers are not necessarily liberties to which you are entitled. (These choices of “more casual appearance” made by veteran teachers may often be an irritant to your employers.) In most cases, Cool Biz (short-sleeved shirt season) starts in the beginning of June and ends with August, so be sure to keep that in mind if you come from a country with a climate that is colder than hot and humid Hiroshima. You will find most co-workers will view you with greater respect if you appear “respectable” and professional. This holds especially true if you cannot speak with non-English-speaking teachers, as their only means to judge you are visual.
Etiquette, Titles, and Hierarchy
Respect for social hierarchy is very important in Japan. Unless told otherwise, you should address Japanese people by their last names and “san” or “sensei.” Even your students are used to being called by their last names, even by their close friends. There is also great importance placed on consensus building. Try not to do things too directly, but rather to make requests via the hierarchy. (For example, if someone requests that you participate in an activity, ask them to send an official letter or official phone call to your supervisor or principal before you say “yes.”) It sounds like a pain, but it will help you avoid stepping on any toes. The word “nemawashi” is used to refer to this type of behavior – checking with everyone important BEFORE you unilaterally make a decision or take an action.
Alcohol plays a large role in Japanese society. Here, there is nothing wrong with getting drunk with coworkers and bosses; in fact, it is considered a healthy way to build relationships. Do not feel like you have to drink if you are not comfortable with it, but do not be surprised when all the usually quiet people in your office let their hair down after one beer. Also, do not be surprised that it is not discussed next day at work, outside of greeting each other with a “kinō, otsukaresama deshita” (basically, “Thanks for yesterday”).
If you feel you are being harassed or treated inappropriately, do not be afraid to let everyone know that this is NOT acceptable. Push the person away and/or physically remove yourself from their presence. If alcohol is involved, other people nearby may excuse the inappropriate behavior; all the more reason to protect yourself. If such behavior continues or escalates, know that Japanese laws protecting employees from sexual, power, or other forms of harassment apply to foreign workers as well. The law is on your side, so do not stay silent.
Your contract specifies when you are required to work, but many times your employer will schedule staff-related social gatherings outside of these hours. You will inevitably feel obligated to attend. To most Japanese people, such gatherings are essential to build relationships and deal with problems in a relaxed environment (sometimes through excessive drinking). Just remember – it is your choice how often you attend such gatherings. You may also be invited to visit co-workers’ homes or to have a few drinks on a Friday evening. This can be their attempt to make sure you are adjusting well to your new life, and he/she may try to comfort you with excessive invitations. These are truly the best ways to get to know your co-workers on a personal level, but if you want to avoid this, let your office know about things you are planning and about your personal schedule. If you simply refuse their invitation without discussing why, they may never extend another. Therefore, it is up to you to show them your interest in being social with them, especially when turning down an invitation.
Other information to prepare you for your first few days can be found in the JET Survival Guide.