Our Application to Japan

We applied to Japan very suddenly. We had talked all summer (nearly everyday with 400+ hours of research) about what to do next. When we found the Japan program we talked for a long time, but then decided that we could only talk in circles for so long. Let’s just apply. We had 3 weeks until our vacation to Madrid and then school would be starting immediately after that. We didn’t want to be busy with the vacation or school when they wanted so much paperwork from us. We thought that by applying in August we would have a large buffer of time to get paperwork together. They ended up being so slow getting back to us that this didn’t happen.

Also we are notorious for having problems with my fingerprints and background checks. When we applied to Korea my (Kaeti’s) fingerprints were rejected nearly 10 times by the FBI. So we knew that we would have to apply early to be ready for this kind of thing happening again.

Here’s how to apply to the program we’re using:

  1. Fill out an online application – (basically just take our existing resume and put it in all their boxes). If we passed their initial review we would get a …
  2. Phone interview – someone would call us and interview. If we passed this we would be invited to…
  3. Attend a seminar – Go somewhere to interview in person, take a grammar test, and film a demonstration lesson. Alternatively you could do this over skype and the internet. During this time submit …
  4. Paperwork – demo lesson video, notes from the interview and grammar test scores to Japan. From there different regional offices would look through. If they liked you they would notify you and have you…
  5. Send documents required for the visa – and shorty after that….
  6. Receive an offer of employment from a regional office – and eventually be placed into a specific city and school(s).

We finish Spain in May 2020, but it’s not contractual (so we could leave whenever we wanted). What we wanted was to apply for the August 2020 intake in Japan. We could finish Spain in May, have 3 months off to go back to the USA for a while then move to Japan in August.

Except March 2020 is the main intake. The first day of school in Asia is March (as opposed to Europe and Americas starting in August/September). So they want more teachers for the first day of school (as opposed to joining in the middle of the school year in August). As a couple we are more difficult to place (they have to find open positions in the same town). So we felt like if Japan was what we really wanted, then March was our best hope. This would mean not finishing the school year in Spain and not going back to the USA between countries. This has been a difficult decision for us. We thought we would have longer in Spain but suddenly we only have 4 months left. There’s also things we wanted to do in the USA but can’t now. It’s all happening so fast.


We submitted our application in August and were asked the next day to choose a location. The company is divided into sub-companies covering regions of Japan. We had said we didn’t care where we were placed (again, it’s difficult to place couples). They said we had to put our top 3 choices. So we had to do some quick research.

So here is a quick geography lesson.

Japan has 6,852 islands (430 are populated) but there are 5 main islands. Also keep in mind Japan (all the islands stacked up) would stretch from Maine to Florida.

The five islands are as follows:

Hokkaido is the topmost island. It’s fairly rural and has a lot of skiing. In fact, it has the best snow on earth. We would love to be here, the only problem is it takes over 13 hours by train just to get to Tokyo. We didn’t want to isolate ourselves like that.

Honshu is the biggest island. Tokyo and all the famous cities (Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima etc) are on this one. Google Maps says it would take 20 hours to drive from the tip of this island to the bottom. The north and west parts have amazing skiing and hiking. Parts of the north east is still recovering from the tsunami. It’s a mix of everything.

The little island below Honshu is Shikoku (green) This is the second smallest island. You can take a train or boat from the main island.

Kyushu is the west/southern island. It’s rural and warmer. We’ve been there a few times before. Hakata and Nagasaki are the most well known cities there.

Okinawa is the furthest south and is like Hawaii (often left off of maps and doing its own thing).

The five companies are loosely based on the five islands.

We’ve been to Kyushu before, and loved it, but we are pretty tired of the heat. We would love to see snow in Hokkaido but didn’t want to isolate ourselves so our list was

  1. Kanto and North Central (the middle).
  2. North (Hokkaido) (get that snow).
  3. West (Kyushu) as a third choice.

We didn’t care too much but wanted snow, mountains and very much to not be in Tokyo (Kanto South). We can’t afford Tokyo, and we don’t like large cities.

Phone Interview

We returned our choices and pre-interview sheet then didn’t hear anything for a long time. We actually thought we had been rejected and were coming to terms with this. But suddenly they did our phone interview (we passed this) and they scheduled a 1 hour skype interview for the day we got back from our Madrid Trip. Since it had taken them so long to get back to us it meant we only had a couple days (before our trip) to…

  1. buy suits
  2. film a 5 minute mock lesson plan/introduction video
  3. get transcripts
  4. take updated photos
  5. scan documents
  6. retool our CVs
  7. fill out their paperwork
  8. contact two references

It was a really intense few days. We went to Palma to shop for suits. We thought it would be a big ordeal with multiple shops but we went to C&A and found some immediately. Chris had to try a few different ones because European suits fit tighter than American ones. But it was easy. And it was pretty cheap, we both only spent about 80 euros on each suit (jacket, shirt, pants and a tie for Chris).  Other than that it was running around, photocopying, making calls and sending emails.

The lesson plan video was the hardest. We’re both comfortable teaching but something about standing in our empty living room asking rhetorical questions to a camera is quite uncomfortable. I think in the end I filmed 22 attempts (many stopping in the middle) trying to get everything perfect. This was just becoming cruel so I just picked the best one and said “there are 2 mistakes I hate but I can’t keep doing this.” Chris did it over 8 times as well.

Skype Interview

After the vacation we both had 1 hour skype interviews to do nearly back to back. I’ve never had an hour-long interview before. We didn’t interview for Spain (we wrote letters) and for Korea I believe it was a 20 minute or so interview. This was a much bigger and longer interview. It didn’t help we had gotten home at 10 pm the night before and our brains were in vacation mode.

Chris interviewed first and I sat in the other room with headphones and music trying not to listen in and plan all my answers. I’m sure some people might want to get a leg up but I thought it would increase anxieties if I spent my whole time rehearsing answers instead of giving organic answers.

It was 80+ degrees that day. I’ve always joked about doing a skype interview with pajama pants because who honestly doesn’t think about it? Everybody thinks about it. But this time I actually did it. Business on top, basketball shorts below. It’s my finest photo and honestly I should put it on LinkedIn

I think our early Halloween decoration in the back also makes it truly special.

The nice man interviewing us said he understood Spain is hot and we could remove our jackets if we wanted. But both of us have never worn suits before so we wanted to get our money’s worth. Plus, you know, basketball shorts.

Documents to Tokyo and Acceptance

They put everything together and sent it to Tokyo for review. We would have to be chosen by a company first and then later we would be assigned to a prefecture office (and later still get the exact city). Those 5 companies we described above would all look through our documents and pick us.

On Halloween morning we got an email saying we had been assigned to an office. As a reminder, our top-3 choices were North, North Central, and West. Well we didn’t get any of these but thank god we didn’t get Tokyo. We got the only one we never looked into, Kansai and South Central, in green below.

It is divided into prefectures, some of the names may be familiar to you.

We had 24 hours to respond yes or no. We had been told over and over that couples are difficult to place so it didn’t really feel like we had any other choice. If we wanted to go we should pick what they gave us. But the more we look into it the more we like it. It’s central so we can travel around Japan easier from there. The western parts have skiing and mountains (like we want), we could be really close to Mount Fuji and our proximity to Tokyo means the biggest airport, Disneyland and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will be at our fingertips.

So it will probably be a good fit.

What’s next?

We need to apply for a visa, probably through Barcelona. Meanwhile one of the prefectures will choose us and we’ll know specifically where we’re going. We’ll know about housing and if we need to get a car/driver’s license. Some positions are rural so they provide a zippy little car along with a driving/tax allowance.

Sometime in mid/late March we’ll leave Spain and fly to Tokyo for an orientation then begin a whole new chapter. So if anyone wants to see the Tokyo 2020 Olympics or to just see Japan…. start thinking about it, yeah?


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