Pulling the Plug on Japan

I’m sure it comes as a huge surprise to everyone that we have just quit our jobs in Japan and canceled the flight. We’ve tried to keep people updated on the application, our process and everything. But deep down, this whole time, we’ve felt like something wasn’t quite right. We kept justifying things to ourselves – and kept telling ourselves that while the company that hired us was sketchy we wouldn’t be interacting with them much.  They’re just an agency that places people in schools. The school placement is a roll of the dice. You can get a good school or a crappy school and that’s what makes or breaks your experience. The program/company that picks the school(s) for you shouldn’t matter in this dice roll process.

Only this time it does matter.

We’ve been avoiding mentioning the name of the company but they’re called Interac. We had read they were a little shady but they have re-branded, merged, and changed their payment policies in response to the many complaints. And many people had great experiences regardless. We were willing to turn a blind eye to so much because we thought they had changed and because we really wanted to go to Japan. But we feel like we were ignoring far too much. So we’ve compiled all the things that have been bothering us.

Their website lies about who, where, and when

From their website: “Interac ALTs work in Japanese government schools.” “Our ATLS are a part of elementary, junior high, and high school.” “Weekdays between 8:00am and 5:00pm

Then later from the Offer of Employment which stated: “Teach at Elementary, Junior, and/or Senior High schools” “To be available for work assignments between 8am and 5pm and work up to 40 hrs per week, Monday through Friday and on weekends or public holidays as required.

Final job offer: “<Assigned schools> High schools (may involve junior high school,  special needs school or night school).  Exact schools TBA.” “Time:  Between 8:00 and 22:00 (7 hours between these times)”

They told us, and tell everyone, that you will only work 8-5 at an elementary, junior or high school. But we were both told we could work “night schools.” That’s not an elementary, junior or high school like we all agreed. Nor is it a government school, it has to be one of their sister-company after school private academies.  Also, what does 7 hours between these times even mean? That we’d be working all day with many short breaks? Or having only a few hours between shifts? And obviously “and on weekends and public holidays” is something they just added later as well as they originally said weekdays only.

What they say on their website changes with the document you sign a few months later, then changes again a month before you fly to Japan. It’s a very slow moving bait and switch. A bait and switch that eases you into new ideas. To the point you don’t see or remember what was originally stated (what happened to us).

There are no benefits

The pay in Korea plus all of the benefits worked out to the equivalent of $123 per class for the first year and $132 our last year.

Even in Spain, where we were on student visas getting paid a student grant we received the equivalent of a least $60 per class. And we were fully insured, dental included.

The benefits Interac provides are as follows

  • 215,000 yen/month ($2,000)
  • work related travel expenses reimbursed

And that’s it. No insurance, flights, housing, nothing. This works out to the equivalent of $80 per class. How is this possible that they’re barely paying $20 more than the student grant we were getting in Spain? That wasn’t a real job.

Even their paid leave doesn’t exist. You get 5 days of vacation only after working for over 90 days and it’s meant to be taken as sick days. Also of the meager existing vacation days, they can choose which days you us for over half of your vacation days. That doesn’t sound like vacation days if they’re assigned.

The pay was very misleading

Their website says: “As an Interac ALT, you will most likely receive a gross annual salary of approximately ¥2.4 – ¥2.7 million per year” ($23,215 and $26,100 respectively).

In Korea they do a scale like this, too, and you’re paid based on your university degree, certifications and experience. We figured we would be paid better than the lowest side since we’re bringing in certificates and 6 years of experience. But no, it was non negotiable.

They told us that we would be paid ¥215,000 per month. This sounded fine until a few months later when they finally explained that you don’t get paid the same for the first and last months. So in the end we were going to be paid 2,404,028 yen (23,254 USD) a year. $39 more than their lowest possible pay. This is just a plain lie to say a range of 2.4 to 2.7 million yen when they only mean 2.4. No one gets paid the 2.7 million yen. Even after working for the company for a few years you won’t get the 2.7 million yen. The 2.7 million pay doesn’t exist anywhere for anyone.

And even the  ¥215,000 each month is a lie since you are barely paid for two months. If 215,000 was really true you would be getting paid 2.5 million a year. 

Take home pay is impossible to know

Base Monthly salary $2,003 ( ¥215,000) on a good month
Taxes and loses

 

$102 income tax 

$30 city tax

Pension $150 per month
Monthly insurance $111 per month for 1st year
Phone costs $30
Monthly rent $512-560  per month which included utilities and internet  (lets say 280 per person)

This makes one’s take-home pay around $1,300. And that’s assuming you get the lower end of rent and taxes and live like a hermit. After the second year the costs only go up ($290 income tax, for example). People say the second year is basically unsustainable. You’ll be living off of your savings.

A month before we were going to leave they gave us 2 separate teacher’s budgets as examples. It showed one teacher having a take home pay of $674 and another with $816.60. So our guess of $1,300 is probably far too optimistic.

They’re basically skimming paychecks

The biggest transgression, and I can’t believe it’s taken us so long to mention it: Is that the Japanese government sets aside a set-payment for all ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) This set rate is 280,000 yen ($2,600) per month. If you work directly for a public school or you work for JET (public schools) you will make 280,000 yen. However, an Interac employee makes ¥215,000 working at public schools. We’re still public school employees but Interac changes our contracts so they can skim nearly $650 from our paychecks each month. At the end of a year Interac will have made a grand profit of 955,972 yen or $9,077 off of one person. And it’s not like they can claim it as administrative fees since they aren’t helping us do anything or providing benefits, they just take it.

They’re making a profit off of teachers with phones

We were heartily encouraged (and later fear mongered) into getting their phone plan. Sure, it’s hard to get a phone in Japan as a foreigner but their plan sucks. Their phone plan has a startup fee of  ¥3,000 ($30) then ¥2,999 ($30) plus tax per month. With 20 yen per text message, 500 yen for asking for additional copies of your bills, 1,000 yen if you suspend and restart your bill, 3,000 to change your phone number, 9,500 yen for canceling, etc, etc, etc it sucks.

According to Realestate.jp 
“The average monthly cell phone bill in Japan is between ¥7,000 and ¥10,000” Interac would charge ¥30,000.
“Cancellation fees for 2-year contracts average about ¥10,000” Interac would charge ¥19,5000.

The final straw

The final straw was Coronavirus, weirdly. Shinzo Abe said he wanted (did not require) all schools to close. This got everyone talking about what would happen. If your school closed would you be paid? If it got worse would you be unemployed?

Under Japanese law, all employees are entitled to 60% of their income in the event of natural disasters. Coronavirus fell under this law. Except this doesn’t apply if you are a subcontractor (gyomu itaku) as you are considered to be self-employed. So if you’re under this Gyoumu Itaku scheme you won’t be paid at all if your school closes for Coronavirus (or a tsunami/earthquake/typhoon).

Of course we fall under this. They say “29.5 hour/week Gyoumu Itaku (outsourced) contract so you get the weekly schedule from Interac.”

With our Gyoumu Itaku contracts, we wouldn’t have any rights if our schools closed. But even worse, we’re paid for 29.5 hours, exactly half an hour less than we would need to fall under many other labor laws.

No Contract

Ultimately we haven’t signed a contract yet. We were told we wouldn’t sign it until after we arrive. And that’s a huge red flag. We wouldn’t find out anything about our apartment or the schools or how much money we’ll get after pensions/taxes/etc until after we arrive in mid-March.

How do we know they won’t pull a switch (er, anymore baits and switches) and pay us far less than originally promised, or change other important details?

That vaguely binding document we signed said:

Please understand that the conditions of employment between Language Instructors may differ (i.e. housing situation, working hours, bonuses, school
holiday periods, etc.) from those stated herein and agree to abide solely by the rules of the contract signed.

The exact employment conditions will be advised upon confirmation of the location placement and mutual agreement of the assignment prior to your departure for Japan. and yet These conditions will be clarified in writing upon your arrival in Japan and the commencement of the assignment.

So which one is it? Before you leave or after you arrive? There was never mutual agreement or even any information. You’re expected to fly across the world just to find out your working conditions.

We wanted to make double, triple, quadruple sure that we should cancel Japan, so Chris emailed them basically demanding to know our EXACT city and school placements, and insinuated that if they couldn’t tell us, then we would walk. And sure enough they promptly got back to us. Our guess was that they were desperate to keep us on board. It was a tiny village with no housing. We would be commuting well over 3 hours a day to special needs school and what looked like a reform school. But it looked like a cute little town and we maybe could’ve been happy there.

Even with the information, we don’t trust it/them. We can’t know that it will really be true, and their track record has proven they will say anything to get what they want.

Meant to be

My grandmother died the day we arrived in Durango. She said she wanted to give me one last hug, and she did, then passed away that night. If we had never signed up for Japan we never would’ve left Spain in March and likely would’ve missed seeing her one last time.

In “What’s Next” we expressed excitement towards Japan but only after we had researched so many other options. The cool thing is that our plan was probably to get teaching licenses after Japan, so with Japan cancelled we will just move this plan up. We’re looking into getting licensed (and maybe get master’s degrees) in either Colorado or Texas.

We’ve never flaked on anything and never gone back on our words. So quitting with one week until arrival was super intense for us. We’ve learned a lot about ignoring red flags and demanding information. And we have to be thankful that we left what we had in Spain if only to see Grammie, and to finally get our licenses (something we’ve been putting off for over 6 years).


3 thoughts on “Pulling the Plug on Japan

  1. First and foremost I want to say how sorry I am to hear of your grandmothers passing but how awesome that you were able to see her one last time! That is so truly special!! Secondly, I’m sad to hear that Japan is no longer an option but relieved that you didn’t take the chance of a miserable experience. Good luck in where ever you choose to go! Keep in touch as to where you are. It would be great to see you sometime and of course you’re more than welcome to come to Johnstown 😊

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    1. You’re too sweet, thank you so much! 😊 We would love to come up and see you someday. For now we will probably work at Mesa Verde this summer then hopefully work on teacher certification near Grand Junction next school year.

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