Wednesday, December 27, 2006

On to Hon Atsugi and ECC

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In late January, I had confided to Craig that I would be leaving for Kanagawa Prefecture and Ikumi. I wanted to give them a couple of months to find my replacement. On March 30th, I handed in my official letter of resignation. In it I told them they should warn all new teachers and students about Craig; and raise the starting salary, a salary that hadn't been raised in many years, and was one of the lowest in Nagoya at the time.

In my heart, I knew they would never warn students about Craig, and hoped he wouldn't do the same to a student as he had done to Brenda and I.

It would be great to be with Ikumi more, and live in a different part of the country. The thought of being able to go into Tokyo sometimes was also intriguing.

I moved on March 30th and my new home was Hon Atsugi, a city of about 400,000 souls, 50 minutes south of Tokyo. My 4 year old apartment was a rokujo or six tatami mat flat. There was one room about 3 and a half metres square. There was a hallway that doubled as a kitchen leading to the room and off the hallway was a tiny unit bath with a toilet. I was about 15-20 minutes walk from the main ECC school I would work at. There was no air conditioner and I didn't feel like paying the huge amount of money I would have had to pay to buy one.

In the summer I had the experience of having a sauna right in my apartment. My boss at ECC was very impressed that I came to work one hour early everyday. I never told him it was because ECC was air conditioned. He didn't need to know!

Hon Atsugi seemed like a cheap imitation of an American city, without the parks and large trees. It was near to many beautiful places though. You could go hiking in the Tanzawa mountains only thirty minutes away by bus.

Chigasaki, a small beach community was nearby. It was home to many famous singers, and artisans, not to mention surf loving Aussies. Enoshima another nice beach town and interesting island was just up the coast from Chigasaki. Hon Atsugi boasted a brand new library with free English movies. I was to love that! Oiso too was a nice little beach town and I was within one hour of Tokyo or Yokohama and close to Ikumi as well.

So I managed to land a job with what was then the largest English school chain in Japan. I was paid 276,000 Yen per month which was pretty good for 20 hours of work per week and being 27 years old! I picked up some private lessons on my own and in four months, I proudly sent home over 10,000 dollars to Canada! In my second year with ECC, my salary went up to 296,000 Yen and with my private lessons I made around 350,000 Yen per month. My rent was only 45,000/month and I could live very cheaply if I wanted to. I was able to save a lot.

I worked a twelve hour teaching day on Tuesdays. I got up at 4 AM, staggered to the train station, and took the earliest train to Tokyo so I could get a seat and sleep. I taught in the fashionable area, Shibuya from 7-9AM, then took the train back to Hon Atsugi, was picked up by my private student and she drove me to my apartment where I taught her for the next hour, I ate lunch, then a Korean couple came by for their lesson from 1-3PM. From 5:20-9:20 I taught at the ECC in Hon Atsugi and after that I taught a doctor and his wife. It was a 30,000 Yen day. It was a killer day but I enjoyed counting the money.

One reason I chose to work for ECC was the fact that I would have my days free. I have always been into more and more freedom. ECC offered a good salary and reputation. The fact that I only had to show up for four hours per night, was also a major attraction. The longer you are in Japan, the more opportunities come your way. If you hustle, you can pick up private lessons on your own as I mentioned. When teachers leave for home, they often have students they need taught. When Mary Ellen left for the States, she mentioned that the Machida YMCA would need to replace her. She put in a good word for me and I ended up with another two mornings of work per week at good pay. The manager was a great guy. Mr. Minamida had lived in Vancouver, and knew Westerners well. He was a great boss and I learned a lot about how to manage from his laid back style. The YMCA had no time clock. You didn't need to punch a time card as you did at ECC. They seemed to trust their teachers more and treated them with more respect.

ECC was an interesting place to work. There were so many different characters there. My constantly sick boss Mr. Suzuki was there 6 days a week at lower pay than the foreign teachers. He was a nice enough man, but I never got to know him very well, although I enjoyed working for him. I really wanted to land a good job near Ikumi, and after striking out in Odawara, the nearest major city to her, I interviewed at other schools. I figured that it was probably pretty rare for a Westerner to walk in the door all dressed up, and asking about employment, as we were relatively far from Tokyo. By doing so, I hoped to make a bit of a splash.

Mr. Suzuki was suitably impressed when I waltzed in, in my tailored suit with my "Japanese fiance." The fiancé part really was a lie. We had no firm plans to marry, but we were both thinking of heading in that direction, but needed more time to get to know each other. I figured the Japanese fiancé part, would further my chances for the job, and I really didn't mind calling Ikumi my fiancé, and she didn't either.

Mr. Suzuki and I had a long talk and he seemed interested in me. He told me to talk with ECC's head office, and I had the impression that he would too.

A few weeks later I went to Shinjuku in Tokyo for an intense interview at ECC's head office. I was interviewed by a couple of staff from the Personnel Section, and then given thirty minutes to prepare a lesson. I felt good about the lesson I taught to my fellow interviewee and I was hired shortly after. I was so happy to get the chance to work for this famous school, and to be near Ikumi!

Kevin Burns

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