The train trip from Tokyo to Matsumoto is one of the most surprisingly magical experiences I have had. You cruise on the “Wide View” train through mountain vistas and sweeping valley scenes. All for the price of standard commuter fare. At the end you are rewarded with scenes that look like this:
Matsumoto remains one of my favourite cities in Japan.
A translation into English of the opening theme song from Midnight Diner Tokyo Stories (Shinya Shokudo) soundtrack, Omoide, by Tsunekichi Suzuki. I give a background on the songwriter, translate the lyrics, present the song in Japanese and English, and give a commentary on the translation.
But first thing’s first…
I’m Peter Joseph Head. I lived in Japan for four years as a student at Kyoto City University of the Arts doing a Masters Degree, have toured the country six times playing music and speak Japanese (JLPT N1). I’ve written songs in Japanese and have released several albums through Tokyo label Majikick Records.
Japan and the west have a long history trading ideas about architecture, building and construction. Most famously, luminary Frank Lloyd Wright, was a big fan.
He incorporated Japanese ideas into many of the building he designed. In his autobiography he wrote:
“I found that Japanese art and architecture really did have organic character. Their art was nearer to the earth and a more indigenous product of native conditions of life and work, therefore more nearly modern as I saw it, than any European civilization alive or dead.”
We looked for a list of Japanese designed buildings outside of Japan, but couldn’t find one. So we made one. We counted up the top 10 Japanese Architects that appear in a Google search and checked where they have popped up shelter of one kind or another. There’s a lot in the U.S., but there’s more in Europe. If you put them on graph, they look like this:
*Skip through to the bottom of the post you can see the full list of architects, countries, cities and buildings.
In Europe, as far back as the early to mid 1800s, architects such as Augustus Pugin in Britain, most famous for designing the tower of Big Ben, were starting to feel like the Industrial Revolution may be pumping out the products but not the picture-pretty buildings. They started looking to far away times and places for inspiration. Think Gothic architecture rivalism. But also think far-eastern exoticism. In 1862, less than 10 years after Commodore Perry had sailed his Black Ship into Kanagawa to forciblly open Japan to trade, after a couple hundred years of laying low, British architect Edwin Godin designed his house Japanese style. That’s moving with the times.
In the 1880s, things got more wiggy in Belgium. Art Nouveau came into being, with it’s striking geometric patterning owing no small debt Japanese aesthetics.
Art Nouveau, in turn, influenced the Deutsche Werkbund, a German arts-and-crafts movement, which in turn influenced architects such as Walter Gropius, a key leader of the Bauhaus movement. Gropius said of Japanese architecture:
“the restrained order of the standardized building parts appealed to me as the hallmark of a deeply rooted culture adaptable to any new development”
Europe, and in particular France’s, deep infatuation with Japanese culture goes back more than 150 years in the long tradition of Japonism.
Across the skyline of Europe, we can see that the spirit of Japonism lives on in the buildings and public institutions. Italy, France, Spain and Germany in particular have significant numbers of structures that have been designed by Japanese architects. Japanese construction is renowned for it’s attention detail, as can be seen in such smaller constructions as their intricate puzzle boxes.
In collaboration with BusinessGetaway, we’ve put together a list of 10 examples of amazing buildings in Europe designed by Japanese architects.
Palau Sant Jordi Olympic sporting arena – Arata isozaki, 1990
Looking perhaps like a structure out of a Star Wars city scape, this ancient-yet-space-age building is a
sporting arena built for the 1992 olympics. Weighty, and vaguely militaristic in appearance, is vaguely reminiscent of a samurai helmet or armour.
Torres de Toyo Ito & Torre Realia BCN – Toyo Ito
Clearly referencing eachother from a colour perspective, while differing dramatically in form, these two towers appear less as twins than as 2nd cousins hovering awkwardly at a family reunion. There is a grand vision behind the rubbery looking hotel and the stern looking office complex couple. According to interempress.net The towers “are a version of the two Venetian towers that frame the access to the historic grounds of the Fira of Barcelona’s Plaça Espanya”.
Unesco Meditation Space – Tadao Ando, 1991
In many ways this structure, Commissioned by UNESCO in celebration of their 50th anniversary, hovers on knife edge between tranquility and industrial-age terror. The structure includes granite previously contaminated by radiation in the atom bombing of Hiroshima. The kind of meditation you do here isn’t the “close your eyes and think of the ocean” variety.
La Defense – Kurokawa Kisho, 1992
Kurokawa’s La Defense building is a reference to a reference. Amongst other things, it is a nod to the Grande Arche de la Defense West of Paris. The Grande Arche is, in turn, a nod to perhaps the most famous arch of all, the Arc De Triomphe. But then, the Arc De Triomphe was based on the Arch of Titus in Rome. Being meta isn’t a new thing.
And while we’re on arches, did you know that someone once flew a biplane through the Arc De Triomphe? And that it was shot on a newsreal, with people ambling about and cars going about their business in the foreground? This might be a good opportunity to catch up with the news:
Grand Ecran – Kenzo Tange, 1995
Perhaps most famous for designing the Peace park in Hiroshima, Kenzo Tange can also design cultural institutions with more light hearted purposes. A multi-use building, the main claim to fame for the building is it’s theatre, larger than a tennis court, which for long time was the biggest in Europe, and is the largest within Paris.
La Seine Musicale- Shigeru Ban, 2017
This large squashed-egg shape music hall features a massive wall of solar panels that moves with the sun. It doesn’t get much more ambitious than that.
The architects said “The form of the solar panel is inspired by a sail, so we can compare La Seine Musicale to a sailing ship.”
Louvre Lens – SANAA, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa
Creating a new Louvre is a tall ask. In tackling the problem, Kazuyo Sejima nad Ryue Nishizawa chose to keep a low profile. They created a series of low buildings that are almost entirely made of glass and materials that reflect back the local environment. It is a supreme attempt at creating an invisible building.
Allianz Towers – Arata Isozaki
The idea behind the Allianz Towers was, in the words of the architects “to develop the idea of a skyscraper without a limit”. To do this they used “a modular system that can be repeated in an infinite way with any limit”. Basically the idea is to have repeated patterns that make you think the structure could go on forever.
But probably the most striking feature of the building is how thin it is compared to its height. In fact, the architects designed it so thin that they had to put reinforcing bars at the building’s base. Trying a bit too hard for the visual gimmick? You be the judge.
Langen Foundation – Tadao Ando, 2004
Marianne Langen liked Japanese art. Her collection was based around Japanese items, many of which her husband, Victor, had collected on his many business trips to the land of the rising sun. It makes sense that they chose Japanese artist Tadao Ando to design the building.
Stylistically, the building has similarities to the Louvre building above, but with a much more solid core. It is more a construction of “double skins” than a reflection of its surroundings.
Another point of interest is that the gallery is built on the site of what was a NATO rocket base. That’s Make Art not War writ large.
List of buildings European buildings designed by Japanese Architects
Arranged by country for the top ten architects appearing in a Google search
I’m Peter Head. I have succesfully completed the highest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (N1). I lived in Japan for four years as a student and on working holiday. I have toured the country six times playing music and singing songs in Japanese and English.
So you want to live in Japan, where the Sushi-fish rides the train more comfortably than the sardine salaryman on the Tokyo subway? Where the sakura blooms for 364 days a year and the rivers run with Calpis Soda. Where the onsen bubble out of brooks between smooth stones on every rural street corner.
Well, you should! Japan is awesome. Cliches and kusai stuff aside. I’ve had the preasure and plivilege, to live there twice, once on a working-holiday, which is possibly the greatest compound word created in the last 40 years of the English language, and once as a university student, for around four years all up.
I find myself drawn back there every year, like the ball of a kendama that always bounces home on it’s string. The food’s great, the people are great, and it’s an intriguing culture that is deep enough that you can go on learning more about it indefinitely.
So, how do you move to Japan? How can we make this happen? It can be overwhelming trying to crack that nut.
Where to start? The two major major on offer, as with life more generally, are work or study.
Here’s an info graphic I put together that simply spells out my favourite ideas:
Now, let’s put some of these options under the Japanoscope.
Get Paid To Study!
Psst, let me share with you a secret. There is a system where the Japanese government will actually PAY YOU to live in Japan and study. No, this isn’t some magical, mystical eldorado-like myth. Pinch yourself, this is the real deal. If you are a Japan-fan like me, and are under 35, it’s a no brainer. A no-miso brainer, no less. Is that a scholarship in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me? Let me introduce to you the…
Don’t be intimidated by the gratuitous jumble of syllables long enough to take up a whole line of you’re latest literary Haiku, Monbukagakusho actually translates as “you’d be insane not to pack your quill, parchment and i-device, and jump on the plane, you crazy gaijin”. At least that’s how it comes up in my personal dictionary. It may also translate into the equally snappy “Ministry of Education, CuIture, Sports, Science and Technology”. But call them MEXT. They love that. Why no one in the department has taken up the opportunity to throw a “MEXT TEX-MEX Potluck party” is the subject of a whole other blog post.
Nomenclature aside, the salient facts are that they pay for your travel expenses to get to the country, they give you a living allowance, and you don’t even need to speak any Japanese or nothin’.
I lucked out in my early 20s to spend three years in Kyoto studying. For further information, just look up “life-changing experience” in your English-Japanese e-jisho.
Categories and eligibility for Monbukagakusho Scholarship
Now before you get all hot under the collar, there are some age restrictions (which range from 25 to 35 depending on category), so it’s no good for you silver foxes.
They have several categories for Undergraduate, Research, Teacher Training, Japanese Studies, College of Technology and Specialised Training. I’ve pitched them an idea to instate another category for Sushi-train/human-train comparative epicurean anthropology, but haven’t heard back as yet.
If you want the full technical details there’s no shortage of info on the interwebs but I would go straight to the horse’s mouth at the Japanese Government Website Here.
In terms of the actual education you may get, my experience was that you go for the experience. The stuff outside the classroom was the greater of the educations. Japan’s Universities are fairly well renowned for having a lot of students that tend to be coasting their way through. And who can blame them? Having spent years and years of climbing the arduous junior/middle/high school ladder, and with years and years of unpaid zangyo-overtime and 3 day foreign holidays ahead of them, they deserve a window of leisure. It certainly wasn’t uncommon for me to see my fellow scholars having a little nap in class from time to time. I think they justified it as practice for the trains when they are salaryman-OLing it.
Pay Your Own Way
Now this is obviously the less attractive way to do the study thing. But maybe you’re not eligible for the Monbukagakusho gravy train. Or maybe you just can’t get your mouth around that many syllables in one piece of vocab.
Whatever the case, there are a bunch of Universities that offer courses aimed at people from abroad. Including courses in English language. Hows about the 78 on this list? The Japanese government has a whole site here that is encouraging you to take the plunge. They want you to come. They want you to come and pay them to come. But please see the option above about getting them to pay you to come first. Ahem.
How much will you pay for tuition?
Now if you do choose to do things their way, and at this point you may want to look up the word aho in your book of kansai slang, you would pay around $2-3000USD for a semester, which isn’t too bad. But can be much more depending on the course. Here’s a sample of some prices from Gooverseas.com
Tuition for a Semester Through Direct Enrollment (Excluding Housing):
That Kansai Gaidai one really hurts. I once lived with a guy going to Kansai Gaidai who could do capoeira and who loved the band Spitz. I didn’t know how much he was getting himself up to the eyeballs in debt though.
And if you really want to shell out a few squid:
Tuition for a Semester Through a Third-Party Provider (Including Housing):
Working holiday Visas are the bomb. My native Australia and Japan invented them in the 1980s. It started by the two countries having a conversation over the back fence when someone kicked the ball too hard. I believe the “working” part was contributed by Japan and the “holiday” part by Australia. Whatever the story, and whether the negotiation team really did consist of Paul Hogan, Mario and Luigi, it really was a fine innovation.
I spent a year making the most of the diplomatic relationship at the tender age of eighteen and it was fabulous and formative. You can find the nitty gritty on the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs site. But if you are too lazy to read that, I know you, as long as you are:
Young and beautiful (well, technically, under 30 years of age)
come from one of the bitchin’ countries below
have a few bucks (read few thousand) stored under your futon,
and are not sick, criminal or criminally sick
then you should be good to go. You can work as many hours as you want. But remember, each hour spent working is an hour spent away from the cold Jockey-long glass of the Izakaya.
When I went, I didn’t have any job beforehand. I didn’t find it hard to seek out gainful employment. But you may not have my rugged good looks and inherent personal charm.
I did a few months fumbling my way teaching English at a Conversation school in a rural town outside Kofu, a few weeks as a general shit-kicker in a “Pension” (similar to a Bed and Breakfast) and another few months as a waiter in a cafe in a Hotel in downtown Hanzomon area Tokyo. Finding a few yen to rub together weren’t no big thing, is what I’m saying.
What Countries Can Do A Working Holiday to Japan?
Here’s the cool-kids list of countries that have a Working Holiday Visa relationship with Japan, and links to where to find out more information. Note the absence of one rather large Northern Hemispherian English speaking nation beginning with the letters U and S. The main diplomatic stumbling block here seems to be the fact that Naomi Osaka speaks American English better than she does Standard-Japanese at her grand-slam press conferences.
There are no shortage of companies that can help you find you some left-of-centre jobs to do on a Working Holiday also. World Unite offers a way to get way off the beaten path at the island of Sado, the “sixth biggest island of Japan”. Nice one World Unite. The good people of Sado have pooled their ten-yen pieces to create a promo video about the island here. The narrator script slips intriguingly through a range of pronouns and storytelling perspectives in the piece, which adds to the overall effect.
Teach English In Japan
Now here’s one you may not have thought of. Why don’t you teach your language that you have been speaking since you were knee high to a semi across the seas in the land of the rising vending machine. You didn’t think of that did you? That’s why you’re still sitting around on the couch in your pyjamas watching reruns of Monkey Magic via a possibly legal, possibly not legal, streaming service instead of adventuring and slotting 100 yen coins into well designed beverage devices on the distant archipelago of your dreams.
Okay, so this one’s the biggy. Most of the time, when you run into a westerner (don’t you love that term?) in Japan and ask them what they are doing there, they’ll say they are teaching English. Really, convention should be to ask if you are doing something other than teaching.
If you don’t believe me, here’s a screenshot showing the number of jobs in each industry on Gaijin Pot.
How much money do you earn teaching English in Japan?
Gaijin Pot also provide a nice overview of what you might earn in all the sectors:
Average monthly earnings pre-tax
¥280,000 (first year) to ¥330,000 (fourth and fifth years)
¥210,000 – ¥250,000 (or more)
¥250,000 (varies significantly by school)
Business English Schools
¥3,800 an hour (¥270,000 if full time)
¥270,000 for short-term, indirect hires, and around ¥523,800 a month as faculty staff
Let’s start from the top of the table with JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching)
Well, let’s get a little utilitarian about this. We’ll start with the JET program because that’s at the top of the list with a pay of 280,000 per month. It’s also one of the best ways to get really embedded in the culture by being attached to a school within the government school system. It has the full weight of several levels of the Japanese government behind it, so you’re not flailing out in the wind on your own.
This piece of PR puffery is actually a very nice introduction to the whole deal:
Most people go over as Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) and help teaching in the classroom. But if your Japanese is pretty smick, or you’ve got some sports skillz, then you can go as a Coordinator of International Relations (CIR), which is a pretty sweet job title, or a Sports Exchange Advisor (SEA), which has quite the elemental ring to it.
I once applied to the JET Program and was accepted as a Coordinator of International Relations, but wasn’t able to take up the offer because of eternal churnings of the maelstrom of life. The application process wasn’t too arduous though, the hardest part is perhaps just having to get references to write you a written statement to submit. The interview wasn’t too hard, and the Japanese part wasn’t no big thing.
There’s no pesky age restriction to apply for JET too. Check out the older dude teaching rugby at the end of the video above. He’s no spring sea-chicken. Good on him. What did Henry Ford say? “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.”
What do you earn as an English Conversation Teacher in Japan?
Expect to earn somewhere in the region of 250-280,000 yen per month, about $2,500 USD.
English is big business in Japan, so there’s plenty of demand for people that know how to pronounce the word election without causing embarrassment. I taught English for a few months on my working holiday tour-of-duty when I was eighteen. The day after I arrived, I went to a Japan Working Holiday Centre, got a job after a cursory interview, and was on the bus to a rural town to promulgate the Anglophone tongue. Qualifications? Where we’re going, we don’t need qualifications. Not to teach at any of the vast array of English Conversation Schools Eikaiwa 英会話（えいかいわ）around the place anyway. I was literally a couple of months out of high school when I did it. Which is not to say that anyone can do it well. Quite to the contrariously.
There’s a fair crop of large chain as well as small independent schools that you can teach at around the country.
Glassdoor created this list of a bunch of schools and what they pay per month.:
Average Base Salaries in (JPY) from high to low
AEON Corporation of Japan
Shane English School
American Language School
Model Language Studio
Seiha English Academy
California Language Institute (Japan)
One Coin English School
British Culture Academy
They all have slightly different conditions, so there’s more to it than just a monthly wage. Most of these you can apply to from inside or outside Japan. Some do recruitment drives in your home country. Some will pay for your flights over. Which makes sense, these companies need the teachers.
Some want you to have a degree or teaching certificate before they will sponsor your visa.
Some, such as Berlitz, give you the opportunity to do extra teaching on top of a full time load. So if you’re keen to bring in the bucks, you can set the alarm early and start chatting for cash before most people even arrive at the office.
Teaching at Universities
If you want to earn the big bucks, you might want to angle for a sweet position at a Japanese temple of higher learning. To get the best gigs, you’ll need to have tossed more than one mortarboard into the sky to get some serious post-graduate education and teaching experience. It doesn’t hurt to know a few brainy people too, so doing some shoulder rubbing with the Japan Association of Language Teaching also helps.
There’s a possible entree into the world via the Westgate agency that can get you some experience in a Japanese university relatively painlessly. Transitions Abroad have a bit more about that little backdoor entree here.There’s some more first hand experience on the Jobs In Japan site here.
Do It Yourself Private English Teaching
If you’re the “don’t fence me in”, “I’m a free soul and I don’t want to tuck in my shirt” type, there are also sites that let you register your services as a teacher. That means you could choose to meet your students at a cafe or a library or, say, an urban golf driving range, uchipanashi meets eikaiwa style (the possibilities are endless). It also means you can earn a lot more per student.
Hello Sensei is a language marketplace and let’s you charge what you want, ala the share economy. Did someone say premium, advanced linguistic acceleration hourly rates?
Eigo Pass is a more tailored language matchmaking service with a set rate of 3,000 yen per hour. By comparison, if you signed up with one of the big boy private English schools like Berlitz, they’ll give more like 2000 yen per hour. Eigo Pass website looks like it hasn’t been updated since 2008 though – let’s call it retro.
Jobs other than teaching and where to look for work in Japan
I’m all for flogging your lingo, but there’s more opportunities to take you to Japan than you may think. The category with the second largest amount of job advertisements for foreigners is often in IT. Oh and remember those Nintendo and Playstation consoles, and those Capcom, Namco Bandai games you played as a kid? Well there’s still plenty of people tinkering away across the ditch, so there’s quite a few opportunities in game production.
Here’s a probably too long list of sites where you can look for jobs in Japan from Yaioa. Some of them, such as Craigslist, have some pretty kooky stuff on there, so buyer beware…