Monday, August 31, 2015

Landed first real second stage interview for a non-English teaching job

This round I landed my first real second stage for a non-English teaching job. I wanted to write a bit about the experience while it is still fresh in my mind. While I did not end up with the job, I learned a good deal about the process (and that I did not want to work there myself) .

First, the process through which I was asked. I received an e-mail from a gentleman in their 総務 group telling me that the following "この度は本学の教員応募にご応募いただきまして誠にありがとうございます。さて、慎重に審議いたしました結果、第二次選考(模擬授業)へ進めさせていただきたく、ご通知申し上げます。" The e-mail was highly structured and related the range of dates that were available for interviewing which was a two week range "土日祝を除く" (excluding weekends and holidays). The e-mail told me my interview would have two components: a mock class of fifteen minutes (模擬授業:15分程度) and questions and answers for twenty minutes (質疑応答:20分程度). Moreover, it told me which of the class descriptions to prepare for. On this point, it was strangely detailed in asking for "講義計画のうち中間期(14週完結の講義のうち7、8週目)当たりの授業(ハイライト)を想定した模擬授業でお願いいたします。対象は、学部生を想定してください。" As I understand that, it wants a highlight class that is targeted to undergraduate students which occurs as the 7th or 8th week. I guess this is news to me, because I don't design my classes around this sort of time schedule. Maybe this is standard Japanese practice in teaching?


I responded soon after with the days for my best availability and was told to go the University's city at my own expense for the earliest of the possible days. (Be careful of that if you need time to prepare!)

It took me quite some time to prepare the powerpoint (required) for the 模擬授業 and I requested help from a friend to get the Japanese right. So it took me several hours to figure out the right balance. I decided to what I believed was a bare minimum ethics course knowing how poorly they teach content on the average here including only a skeleton of the interesting questions Kant's ethics addresses. I also tried to anticipate some of their questions and think of what sort of ethics classes they want me to teach.

I'll begin by saying that it all was a failure.

There were four guys in the room. I was treated like a guest but also ordered as to when to do different parts of the material. One gentleman was prompt and spoke good English having studied abroad at an ivy league school. The other gentleman was the president of the school (or CEO? it's hard to say considering the school is for profit). A third gentleman joined who didn't know English as well (he was that attack dog for the most part), and a fourth gentleman who worked for the education section sat back (I don't think he was teaching staff).

First, I spoke with the timely gentleman and had a good rapport. He hadn't been told whether I was going to present in English or Japanese. The attack dog when he arrived said since I submitted paperwork in Japanese that I should do it in Japanese. Before starting the powerpoint, their boss arrived and told me to introduce myself -- which I did (though hadn't thought to prepare for) -- with a one minute speech about my educational life story. In retrospect, I should have (a) anticipated this question, (b) had a response that emphasized business experience, and (c) practiced that response.

Second, I presented the PowerPoint in Japanese. Based on their responses, I went somewhat quickly to avoid over-using their time [next time don't worry on that point]. I did succeed in present the PowerPoint's basic contents  in Japanese, so that's a good start. Where things went wrong, however, is that I did (a) too quickly and (b) too circumspectly. I had assumed that the people I was presenting to [who I received no information about in advance] understood the importance of ethics and were hiring with that in mind. Instead after I made the presentation, the first comment from one of the was that he did not understand it. This comment was later echoed. I was told it was too technical, because it was not Michael Sandel. And that students are interested in injustice.

The questions were also not quite what I expected:

倫理はどのように私たちの学生に役に立つ. (I was probably asked this question several times). My lack of a good answer shows that I did not sufficiently prepare. I am guessing this is a pretty standard question in business schools for humanities or ethics. I suggested a two-pronged answer. Prong-one is the easy part: it's required, so it's kind of irrelevant how you feel about it. Prong-two is the one that seems to show how much distance there is between my thought process and theirs: being human is not about being useful, it's about being human.

I was also asked to explain what I studied: which is human relationships and how they help to undergird human selves and the "selves",etc. of social entities. [fair enough].

I was asked questions about a prize I won for a paper (prize money was only 100 bucks, but the prize offerer is famous).

They also said they had never seen teaching like that before and questioned my competency as a teacher. They asked what sort of teaching reviews I have had while in Japan. They said all schools must keep them as a legal requirement. This is not entirely true at my school (教員 are required to get reviews from one class each semester). I wouldn't be surprised if I'm not well-liked because I do bother teaching actual content.

I was also asked about how I would handle a critical thinking class. I explained how I had handled them in America and in Japan to internationals and in Japan to Japanese. I don't think they get that this is an especial weakness of Japanese students rather than a gross inability on my part to teach critical thinking. But on second thought, that might be right under a certain analysis. For the international students and Americans whom I've successfully taught, I'm really just formalizing something already in their heads. For the Japanese students, I have to put it in their heads, formalize it, and give them power to imagine. The latter is a way harder task.

From all of these factors, I'm pretty sure that I failed the interview, but what do I know about the Japanese education employment sector?


Japanese Universities, like their American counterparts, have committees. In my original position as the English department's 特任講師, I was not eligible to serve on committees due to the dedicated nature of the role. Since changing positions, I have been on two committees: the 国際交流・協力 committee and the committee for my program.

The committee duties for the two are similar in some respects and different in others. First, the two share that we get all the documents printed and provided by an admin staff. Second, the admin staff in both cases are from 学務グループ but it's a different admin staff for each person.

The program committee is very strongly top-down. We receive orders, and that's what we need to do. While there are topics in the meeting, it is rare for the topic to be a point of discussion. It's also quite common for the meeting to involve a document dump -- where a large number of Japanese-language documents appear in the nick-of-time.

The international exchange and cooperation committee is, in those respects, significantly better. We have some input into what will happen. But the are also some limitations. A further problem for me as a non-Japanese member of the committee is that I'm not always sure what my role is on the committee. By that, I don't mean that I don't understand what it is to be a part of the committee. What I mean is that sometimes there are just kind of gaps where we are waiting to see who will volunteer and I am not sure if I should do so or not.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Being "さん"-ed

Academic life in Japan includes both cultural misunderstandings and intentional slights. Despite having a PhD, I recently experienced the following phenomenon (I'm JA in the below quote):


Can you spot the problem? The problem is that while K先生 is referred to as 先生. The author of the e-mail intentionally calls me JAさん.

One differences is that I am 特任 and K is 常勤 (meaning I will only be at this university a limited number of years whereas K is full-time employed for fill). Moreover, I switched roles in November which lowered me from 教職員 to 特別研究員. But this should not matter on a normal analysis since I am still teaching university courses, still have a PhD, and still publish...

This action is an intentional slight -- there's no other reading of that. In e-mails about a month earlier, she did not engage in this sort of intentional slighting. I thought it was just me, but I ran it past several people. And no in fact it is quite rude and completely intentional.

What would motivate an office worker to do this? My best hypothesis is that she dislikes something about the foreigners working there. One possibility is that she is angry we make more than her. Or maybe she is angry that we do not work overtime the way she does -- though in fact I do work overtime. She is a 事務員 working in her own country -- with an undergraduate degree. I'm working abroad intentionally...

Thursday, July 10, 2014

After you've gotten your letter about JP Bank's Yucho Direct Service

JP Bank (Yucho) does offer online banking. It's a pain the butt to setup the first time. I am going to assume you've already filled out the form and gotten your thick packet that includes a folded page with some codes. In the middle is the 初回ログインネットサービス ("first time login service") which is  jumble of capital letters and numbers. You will need this the first time you login. At the bottom of the folded sheet, there's a new number that you will need every time you login, your お客様番号 ("customer number") which is  a series of 4-4-5 numbers.

You will begin by clicking on "ログイン" from This will take you to a pointless intermediate page. Scroll down and click "ログイン画面に進む" (advance to login page). On the next page, you will see some really horrific web page design. In the middle, you'll see お客様番号 and a box for 4-4-5 numbers. Fill that in with your info and click "次へ." You will then be prompted to enter your "ログインパスワード" which is on  the middle of your page.

Since this is your first time logging in, you will be asked to change your password and setup some security questions ("初めてログインされたお客さまは、「インターネット利用者カード」と共にお送りしました初回入力時に入力するログインパスワードの変更および、画像と合言葉の登録が必要です。まずは、「パスワード変更」をクリックしてください"). Here's where the real fun will begin...

On the next page, there are several boxes.  In the top one ("初回ログイン時に入力するパスワード
(インターネットサービス") enter the first-time login password (middle of the cardboard sheet you got). In the next two boxes, enter your password. It must contain at least two English letters and numbers. It must be between 6 and 12 characters. It is case-sensitive (as is the first password they gave you). All of these should be entered as normal Western text (you'll see why I mention this in a moment). In the last box, enter your code that you used when you signed up (申込書に記入したインターネット用暗証番号(注2)). It should be between 6 and 12 characters. Then click "次へ" If you did this right, you will next see "ログインパスワードの変更が完了しました。"

Then click "次へ". Then click it again. Now, you will pick an image. You can take one of those 10 or you can click "別の画像を検索する" to see another random 10. Ultimately, pick one and click "次へ".

The next page is a lot of fun. These are your security questions. But note well -- you need to write them in full-width characters. Have you ever seen English that looks like this? This is what you need it to look like. Or you can enter things in Japanese. All entries must be less than 10 characters in length. Click 次へ. If you did it right, your options will change. First, you should copy that info down. Then click 戻すif is something is wrong OR click 登録する to record your data. You should get a box saying that an e-mail will be sent etc, etc,. Click "OK."

You will now be asked to enter your e-mail address. First screen is just explanation. Click 次へ. On the next screen (enter it normal-style in both boxes) and click 次へ. The click ワンタイムパスワード発行. Then click it again. Now wait for an e-mail. Then enter the part that follows: "ワンタイムパスワード". It should be a number; mine was six digits. Then you will be asked to enter your code that was in the very first form you filled out (the 6-12 digit one) with the prompt "インターネット用暗証番号". Do so and click "実行する." A box will appear asking if you are okay with registering that e-mail address, press OK.

Then click "メインメニュー" and you're in!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Orientation Process at a Japanese University

Now being gainfully employed means that I am busier in different ways than before. Japanese university employment is different than an American university employment in many respects. The process and paperwork are more complicated. It's not about language it's about culture. First things first. You will experience as 辞令交付式 where you are read and handed a letter that means you're an employee. Afterwords, there's an explanatory meeting. Most was relatively uninteresting, but it turns out they renewed a number of systems just in time for the new school year. Also one of the three 総務 people had obviously just started the job the same day but had to sit in the meeting. Moreover, the biggest set of questions related to using 研究費 for trips and what to do if part of the trip is personal and part business. Also, there's a weird rule: flextime but you're supposed to show up at least once on campus.

Mostly what you get from the meetings is forms. Mounds of forms.

I had to fill out all of the following in the first days of employment:

Documents you do see at American Universities
(1) Tax form regarding deductions (normal enough)
(2) (緊急連絡先 ) Emergency contact form  (odd detail: not my wife's info -- my own info)
(3) 振込申請書 for payroll (to receive direct deposits)

Maybe, (4) 通学費 - deduction for commuting. Less than 2km = none. Between 2km and 4km with a car is 2000円/month. It goes up if you're further than that. Nothing for a bike. Cost of commuting for buses.

Documents you don't
(1) Enrollment form for national pension plan for employees of public national universities
(2) Enrollment form for semi-governmental accident insurance both long and short term [2 forms] (文部科学省共済組合)
(3) Request for IP address for my computer (which will expire in 8 days when XP support ends).
(4) 振込申請書 for things other than payroll [I don't really know why ... but there were two different ones]

Documents I didn't have but others did [because I am employed as a 特任講師 rather than 準教授 or 常勤講師]
(1) 別居手当 - if you have to live apart from your family you get $.
(2) 扶養手当 - you get money for each dependent. Odd formulas: about 12000円/month for your wife. 6500 for non-wife living with you unless you're unmarried in which case it's about 10500円. 6500/kid or parent living with. but a bonus of 5000/month if they are a teenager.
(3) housing allowance - minimum of 1万 if your apartment is less than 2万7千円. Maxes out at about 2万 something if your apartment is over 5.5万

I'm missing a few, but to state it simply the wages they earn are weirdly configured. I probably earn more without all the weird 手当て and bonuses they get figured in.

Also, you need to write out everything in the forms by hand -- and there's often a furigana row to boot. Needless to say lots of fun. Also, I cannot recommend enough having a frixion pen (which I did not). If your Japanese isn't roughly as good as mine (I missed 1級 by 4 points in December), then it would be nearly impossible to fill out the forms and understand the 内訳(explanation) that you are told about your job things.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Applying for The Highly Skilled Professional Visa in Japan

I recently had applied for the "highly skilled foreign professional" visa from the Japan bureau of immigration, and I thought I would share some details about the application process. Information on this process is sorely inadequate from the Japanese government. What we do know is that they have gotten far fewer applications than expected and had granted less than 500 such visas in the first year or so if its operation (see here).

On to the procedure (or what I know of it). First, to apply you will need to fill out a  在留資格認定証明書交付申請書 "APPLICATION FOR CERTIFICATE OF ELIGIBILITY"    which can be downloaded here. On this form, you will fill out all the relevant information as you would for any other application. Under purpose, check Other. How will the immigration bureau know that this is the status you want?

This seems to be handled by the second submitted document, a "point calculation form." Here, you need to be able to substantiate at least 70 points to get the VISA. The calculation has changed since the initial version of the form, but here at the highlights for the academic version:

  1. 学歴 ("Academic Background"):20 for any MA (修士又は専門職学位) or 30 points for a non-"professional" PhD (non-cumulative) (博士(専門職学位を除く))
  2. 職歴 ("Professional Career"): 5/10/15 points for 3/5/7 years of professional experience respectively  (again non-cumulative) with professional experience defined as follows: "Experience related to the research, research, guidance or education in which the applicant intends to engage" as a translation of 従事しようとする研究、研究の指導又は教育に係る事務経験
  3. 年収 ("annual salary"): 10-40 points based on a chart that cross references age and salary. Basically, yet 10 get points starting from 4 million yen / year going up by 5 every additional million yen and capped at 40 points. If you are 30-34, you cannot get points for < 5 million, If you are 35 to 39, you cannot get points for less than 6 million, if you are 40+, you cannot get points for less than 8 million
  4. 年齢 ("age") - 0-15 points. 15 for < 29; 10 for 30-34; 5 for 35-39
  5. 研究事績("Research achievements") - 20 to 25 points (you get 25 if you qualify for 2)
    1. Patented invention
    2. Received competitive grants from foreign countries 3 times
    3. 3 publications recorded in the database they search (学術論文データベースに登載されている学術雑誌に掲載された論文が3本以上) The database they search is They don't seem to acknowledge the existence of anything else.
    4.  Other achievements recognized by ministry of justice
  6. Special considerations
    1. Work for company that receives "Innovation" support = 10 points
    2. Small or medium-sized business = 10 points
    3. Small or medium-sized business spending at least 3% of its budget on research = 5 points 
    4. Holder of foreign work qualifications recognized by the ministry of justice = 5 points
    5. Passed JLPT N1 or majored in Japanese = 10 points
    6. Graduated from Japanese university or completed a graduate course at one = 10 point
The next step in the process is that they examine your documents at the regional immigration office. In my case, this is Sapporo. 

They got back to me in about 2 weeks from when I applied. The annoying thing is that they got back to me at 7:18pm the day before a holiday while we were shopping at AEON and that they had previously tried to call my wife twice (who had forgotten her phone). All of that aside, the phone call was a weird one. The gentleman with whom I was speaking (who could not speak English as far as I can tell) was calling with what to me seemed to be an odd purpose in mind and this is part of what made it a very aggravating phone call. He was calling to get me to agree to the following two claims contrary to my documents after which he would let them evaluate my application:

1. That it is unlikely that I would be considered to have five years of work experience
2. That it is unlikely that I would be considered to have three publications per their standard.

Initially, I thought he was asking me to agree to his claims that I lacked five years of work experience and three publications. Consequently, I was arguing with him about whether this is true. But what he was trying to do was get me to accept that it is unlikely that I would be considered to have these. This is a subtle but important distinction. He seemed willing to let my application be evaluated if I would accede to these two claims. But if both fall, I don't have enough points.

Regarding the first claim, I included some of the time during my graduate study. Why? Because the work I did before receiving my PhD and the work I do now and the work I will do at my new job next month are all identical, i.e. research and teaching courses. I doubt the gentleman I was speaking with has any sort of experience with graduate education outside Japan (I cannot answer whether he has any in Japan). From his perspective, you have only one 在籍 - either a student or a professional at one time. And during your "doctor course," you are primarily a student. More importantly for others, he seemed only interested in the time I spent teaching (restricted to in-class hours) and found it inadequate that this did not occupy more time than research. This is weird because my work obligations include both teaching and research.  I asked him where in law this is specified or if this is just a personal judgment. He claimed it was neither in law nor a personal judgment but the judgment of the 入国管理局 ... but then a judgment on what basis? He claims 常識 .

Regarding the second claim, his search method appears to be something related to Elsevier. Consequently, he found only one article bearing my name. The issue with this is that Elsevier might be really for articles in science, but it is by far not that popular in my discipline (philosophy). Thus, when they say in a database, understand that they mean just Elsevier. It was not clear to me if they would have done

After wasting quite a bit of time with him on the phone, I have decided to withdraw my application for the "highly-skilled professional worker visa." I don't expect the larger entity would differ in judgment from the individual. My complaint is that the process is not sufficiently clear. Admittedly, 職歴 makes clearer than "Professional Career" that this means only those times when Japanese people would call what you have 職 but this sort of barrier is why so few people have qualified.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Being hired by a university in Japan

On December 19th, I received a phone call from the chair of the 委員会 indicating that I had been selected and congratulating me. At that point, I still did not know exactly how much I would be making and called the 教務所 to figure that out. They were slightly confused when I  called, thinking I was inquiring prior to selection (a logical thing to do normally). Once that was cleared up. Turns out I will be earning a decent sum of money for the upcoming year.

But there are still several things I want to point out that are probably cultural differences. First, it is now the end of December and I have yet to receive any documents about my employment. Second, I was told that I was 採用. I was not asked whether I wanted to accept the position. I don't know what you do if you hear this from multiple places. Third, I doubt I had any shot without the right connections.

Thus, I am still waiting for the documentation that I will be employed. I will also have to move in order to have this job, which is a reality I face with a mixture of worry an しょうがない.