Slow Times In Japan: A Year in Yokkaichi

jbmatsuri460x115This months JapanSoc Blog Matsuri, hosted by Ken from WhatJapanThinks is all about slow times in Japan – the antithesis of last months fast times in Japan. I couldn’t enter last month with the efforts of moving house, so this month I really made an effort to get something done in time – a little story of how this site was born…

yokkaichi9Having spent nearly 3 years in Kyoto city, the end of my JET contract was looming near and I was faced with the horrendous concept of having to actually go home. Not quite ready to get a real job yet, I took the first teaching position that EnglishTree offered me – a private eikaiwa company to start ASAP, the only catch being that it was in Mie prefecture. Yokkaichi city, no less – a city famous only for having such bad air quality that it has a lung disease named after it. No kidding. Pictured right – typical Yokkaichi scenery.

Desperate, I took the job and the pay cut. Despite earning only two-thirds of what I did on JET, I would apparently enjoy greater freedom in lesson planning and be able to “widen my teaching experiences with young children and older adult students”. Hah! Horrid little children who have no interest in learning and whose mothers treat eikaiwa classes as a daycare centre while they go shopping; and crazy old Japanese women who come to eikaiwa because no one else will talk to them anymore. It’s sad really. One of my elder students even refused to speak or learn English – she was coming once a week purely for the company (after all, eikaiwa is cheaper than a host club, but only just).

I soon found the company was a disaster waiting to happen. In total, I taught about 6 x 1-hour lessons a week. Half of those were in a classroom situated in the same building as my company sponsored apartment, so there wasn’t much travel time unless you count the treacherous stairs from the fourth to second floor. There were so few students that I seriously had suspicions the company might be a money laundering front for the yakuza, because they sure as hell weren’t making any money off me. I know how much my students were paying, and it didn’t add up. Nevertheless, the company kept me until I finally got bored a year later and moved back to a university job in Kyoto.

But wow, that was one slow year. It was nice in a way, to have so much damn free time. I often hear JETs complain about the amount of free time they have while not teaching in schools, but this was just a joke.

What did I achieve in this year of abundant free time? Not an awful lot, truth be told. Yokkaichi is one hell of a boring city, especially when your entire neighborhood only speaks Spanish and the nearest JET ALT is a 30 minute train ride away. I did however attend Japanese driving school to get my motorcycle license, which was quite an experience and potentially another article all in itself. I looked after my fellow (Japanese) teachers cat for 4 months as he was whisked away to Australia, during which time I experienced my biggest earthquake yet; and the biggest tidy-up ever of aforementioned co-workers apartment which was covered wall to wall in books and assorted crap he had hoarded through the ages. I drove to and from Kyoto on a 50cc scooter multiple times; mostly just to play in a DnD role play game with some old friends and hang out with a girlfriend who eventually dumped me for living in the inaka! I even repainted the walls of my apartment.

211for_yokkaichiAlong with the free time came quite a lot of spending money too. With no friends around and knowing nowhere to explore, I spend very little of it on going out. On top of which, my rent was subsidized by the school and my electricity, gas and water was free. I bought a Nintendo DS lite, and found that even after downloading all the games in the world for free, they pretty much all sucked… and consequently sold that. I bought an exercise machine, thinking I might be able to work out a little while I watch TV – hah! I bought a drum machine, compelled by my free time to fulfil some kind of childhood fantasy – and sold it a few months later. I bought a projector to watch movies big screen – and, actually I still have that. I bought a Nintendo Wii the day it was released, after queuing for a whole 12 minutes – and sold it no less than a month later due to lack of friends to play with and no good single player games! The real punchline is yet to come though – my current girlfriend also had a Wii, but she sent it home to her parents because she also didn’t really have anyone to play with – and we’re actually now seriously considering getting a Wii (again) to play together! The hilarity of the situation overwhelms me, really, in an entirely not-funny kind of way.

And then I came back… to this quaint little town of Kyoto; to good friends and good times; to the realization that I had wasted a year of wages and free time and had very little to show for it. And that, dear readers, is the point at which my financial inability reached a tipping point, and eventually this site was born. I became the Frugalista of Japan: my savings fund grew to $5000 in one year, my impulse purchases stopped completely, and my life has never been so rich since…

14 thoughts on “Slow Times In Japan: A Year in Yokkaichi

  1. I worked once a week at ECC in Yokkaichi for my first year in Japan. I used to call the children “mutants” because of the city’s infamous history of pollution. Perhaps the best thing about Yokkaichi was the Mister Donuts by the train station, where I collected an entire set of crockery from those point card things. Yay. Slow times indeed.

  2. I’m currently living in Komono – a 20 minute train ride from Yokkaichi even further into the inaka mountains. Good news – the wind from the mountains blows away all the Yokkaichi smog, so less ‘mutant children’ here. ;D

    It’s funny that I’ve had a completely different experience here than you did. Due to the fact that I’ve lived in the Inaka (and am on a JET salary) I have managed to save without even trying. I have no shops to shop in, no car to carry things in when I do go out to Yokkaichi or Nagoya for some shopping, and I’m much more of an impulsive buyer at the store than I am online. I’ve traveled most of Japan, been to India, Korea, England and back home once. I’ve bought the DS (for Kanji studying purposes of course!) and a new camera as well as countless random stuff for my apartment and am still sitting on savings… Maybe the problem wasn’t being in an inaka city, it was that you weren’t inaka enough ;D

    Nicole in Japan’s latest blog post is…Hanami 4

  3. I’ll play Wii with you online, if you like. 🙂 I have Mario Kart. That’s about all I can offer, I’m afraid. Ha ha. You shoulda said you wanted some friends! Maybe we should start a Wii Friend Codes forum at Hmmm. Anyway, here’s mine if you’re interested: 6967 1406 3772 0289.

    Deas’s latest blog post is…Tofugu Guest Post

  4. Ok, soon as those vouchers come in we’ll be getting us a Wii again. I must admit I never used the friend code thing when I had one before as it was just ridiculously long and you need a different one for each game right?

    Certainly a good idea though. I’ll post a Xbox Gamertag thread today!

  5. Pingback: April Japan Blog Matsuri: Slow Times in Japan | 世論 What Japan Thinks

  6. “Horrid little children who have no interest in learning and whose mothers treat eikaiwa classes as a daycare centre while they go shopping”

    This is exactly what forced me into retirement from teaching kids after only a couple of months! What a nightmare it was.

    Billy’s latest blog post is…Japanese Unagi

  7. Well, from great adversity comes great opportunity – and from your year in Yokkaichi came: The Frugalista!

    An embarrassing admission, but despite being waaaay over the regular demographic, I got pretty hooked for a while on Super Mario Galaxy…

    Chris (’s latest blog post is…Gods & Ghosts

  8. Hi Frugalista,
    You said there is a spanish-speaking community in Yokkaichi?? Where and from where are they??

  9. It is perfect time to make some plans for the future and it’s
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