Sunday, May 19, 2013


When I hear "okozukai" I usually think of the allowance that kids get from their parents. But okozukai is also used for the spending money that men get from their wives. There are a few articles online that explain what okozukai is and how it's used. I'd like to focus a little on the "why". Why are women in charge of the finances, and why are they giving their husbands an allowance? Doesn't that seem...strange?

Well, after getting married, most Japanese women stop working and give birth. Until the kid starts school at the age of 7, the mom is pretty much at home alone with her kid while her husband is at work. In a previous article, I lamented that Japanese banks close so early. As I mentioned, because wives stay home with the kids, they have free time to go to the bank, shop around for the best food deals and more.

But, why the penny-pinching? Why the allowance? Japanese wages are low! On the surface, the average wage seems comparable to the US. In other words, when everything is averaged together, the numbers aren't all that different. What's actually happening is that wages are flat, and low and rise based more on your length of time at a company rather than your skills.

What's more is that Japanese companies will pay a university graduate the same thing they pay someone who only graduated from high school. This means that if you are a woman in your 20s and you get married, have a kid and quit working, that you have to work with your husband's salary. I'll use mine as an example. At 1,500 yen/hour (or $15 an hour) times 8 hours a day, I get 12,000 yen ($120). I only get paid for the days I work, so for 2013, I'll work 246 days times $120 a day, gets me $29,520 a year...before taxes.

Japanese people would probably get help from their parents, but back to okozukai. Now, you're a guy making close to $30,000 a year before taxes. Scrimping is the best way to make sure that you have enough money to live off of. 

What would change this system? The biggest thing would be the creation of a system that allows...encourages women to work after giving birth. This means more daycare centers, raising wages for all workers, and a cultural shift away from the traditional "male breadwinner, female housewife" ideal that has dominated for so long.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Working in Japan: Incoming ALTs

While I was never an ALT, I know that a lot of JET ALTs are making preparations to come to Japan this July and August. 
After Tokyo Orientation, you'll go to your new city, where you have probably heard that ALTs sit around for a WHOLE MONTH doing NOTHING!!!11 erhmehgerd!!!

It's true that you won't have classes, but this is precious planning time.
Use this time to get to know the teachers you work with, think of various lessons and make a LOT of games/flash cards. 

There's a strong possibility that you won't use what you make. But, that's part of the learning process. If your pred has materials for you to use, use them. 
Simple worksheets can be found online. Anything that uses material from their English books, gets them moving and talking with each other should be good. 
This is especially important if you are asked to go to elementary schools. Elementary school teachers are not given books like middle and high school teachers. They are given a HUGE stack of flash cards.

Unfortunately, using the flash cards typically means that you stand in front of the class and shout the words at the kids so they can repeat them back to you. Elementary school visits will most likely also be game focused. The Japanese government has decided, in an utterly brilliant move, that elementary school kids don't need to learn reading or writing in English. I mean, who cares about that? Instead, the teachers write everything in katakana on the board and most sentences are something like: Ai raiku su-nay-ku. Ai raiku kyatto. Don't try to add an "s", "It just confuses them and they'll learn that in middle school."

The rest of elementary school visits will be songs and dancing (Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. What Time is it Mr. Fox? Fruits Basket/Animal Basket). Middle schools will probably produce at least one kids who throws a desk.

The schools are more lax than America. Don't run away. Just know that most of the teachers hate their students, too. 

Bad Behavior

I just mentioned that kids might throw desks. They also might punch teachers, break windows, try to stab teachers, sleep in class, ask you about the size of your privates. 
So, why aren't the kids suspended or kicked out of school? Because of "gimu-kyoiku." 
Gimu-kyoiku basically means "obligatory education." Which, for Japanese students means that by law, they are to be educated through middle school.

Personally, I don't know why gimu-kyoiku is interpreted differently from laws in, say, the US where kids are required to be in school until age 16 or so, and education from kindergarten through high school is free. Japan has interpreted the "right" to free education to mean that no matter how badly behaved a student is, they have the "right" to be in school...they MUST be in school until they "graduate" from middle school.

I use "graduate" loosely because there will be students who never show up for class, who fail all of their tests...but they are given their graduation diplomas. That is how Japan has close to 100% of students graduating from middle school, and that is also the reason why Japan counts the employment of 15 year olds. Because, 15/16 is about when a kid "graduates" from middle school and is allowed to work various jobs.

So, if you are surprised at the bad behavior of some students, understand that the teachers can't do anything. Parents don't want to believe that their kids are bad and Japanese people don't like things to get ugly. Don't expect to change the system, just get by in the system.