Posted in cultural differences, flashback friday

Flashback Friday: Christmas LIES!!!

Before we go any further, I feel the need to explain that Christmas isn’t as near and dear to me as Halloween. That being said it’s definitely the second favorite, and for reasons that are quite beyond me, I always get irrational when people who aren’t from America try to tell me how Christmas in America “actually is.”

LISTEN HERE, I am American, I am a Kentuckian, so don’t try to spread these LIES on my watch you KENTUCKY FRIED LUNATICS!


Once upon a time, I’m innocently gallivanting through the Aeon Mall in Narita with my good friend, Ai. We’re checking out different stores, and I’m squealing like a ten year old at every little cute thing in the huge shopping area. Basically, I was squealing at everything. Japan is full of cuteness, that makes me happy.

Anyway, just as we’re swinging through the last bit of mall, I catch sight of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in a food court. I remembered that I promised someone I would look at the price of their Christmas bundle of grease, so I walked over there with Ai to find it.

You see, in Japan people can’t get turkey. Turkey is hard to find, and if you find the bird it is really expensive. Instead of turkey, Kentucky Fried Chicken is used as a replacement.

Most foreigners find this tradition a little baffling, since Christmas usually also implies all the food is cooked by a grandmother or mother. Why would you want to eat fast food for Christmas? Honestly, it’s just a cultural thing. Why do Americans blow stuff up to celebrate the birth of America? Because we’re Americans and that’s what we do.

Anyway, I found a sign that looks like this:

KFC Christmas LIES.png
Yes, I do kind of want it. 

I picked up a pamphlet and began to walk away.

But then, I discovered an atrocity.

There,  sitting on the table with all its disgusting merriness, was a Christmas plate. Did the plate say, “Merry Christmas!” No. No it didn’t. It said:

“Kentucky Christmas.”

Ai got to experience one of my rants that day. It’s been a long time since I just let one off out of blue, and I might have scared some poor Japanese people in my near vicinity.

I believe I said something along the lines of, “We don’t eat KFC for Christmas! For the thousandth time, we eat ham and turkey! HAM AND TURKEY! Not fried up  grease attached to dead poultry!”

Ai was laughing pretty hard, and she wished she had recorded it all to put up on YouTube. I’m really glad she didn’t. I do not want to be an overnight YouTube star.I do not want to go down in internet history as “The Kentucky Fried Lunatic.”

Hahaha, let’s all laugh together at past me who thinks she’ll never be on YouTube. Joke’s on you, past me!

The thing is I wouldn’t care so much if not for the unfortunate problem that some Japanese people do believe that folks in Kentucky eat KFC all the time and must eat it at Christmas (for the plates tell them so). It makes me want to beat the marketing people senseless.

I’m resigned to the fact that people will forever and always associate my state with a gross fast food chain. However, Christmas is a sacred time of family, presents, and real food. For someone to dare tarnish the reputation of my beloved commercial holiday memories throws me into an irrational fury.

As Christmas draws near, the number of people asking me questions pertaining to my Kentucky heritage and my version of Christmas has increased. There’s the common question of, “Do you eat KFC on Christmas?” I respond, “No. No I don’t. Most of the people I know eat ham and turkey.” With a hundred side items and desserts, but I never get to that part.

People usually then respond, “Oh, really?” (I’ve come to recognize this phrase as something thrown at Japanese in English class, and I know this information because I’ve been wincing every time my students have to use it in class.) I usually respond with a small sigh and say, “Yes, really. And we have fruit cake.”

“What’s a fruit cake?”

A gross concoction  that looks like food. I’ve had very few good experiences with fruit cake. However, my mom just gave me a recipe for chocolate rum fruit cake. I’m kind of excited about that one, but I’m not ever excited about the prospect of fruit cake otherwise.

Funny thing, I made two batches of that chocolate rum cake (after, of course, taste testing one batch for science purposes). I gave those to my two main junior high schools, and surprisingly they loved those cakes! I was so terribly pleased with myself.

You’ll be horrified to know that fruit cake is sold in grocery stores over here more and more. Pretty soon, the annual tradition of passing around a fruit cake until it ends up in someone’s garbage will soon be a thing in Japan, too.

Japan has a decidedly better improvement. It’s called a Christmas Cake, and it looks delicious.

Yum, yum!

I want to get one, but they’re apparently in really high demand. I don’t know if I will, but I’m going to try!

As I recall, I bought one at my local liquor store. Apparently, that’s where all the single people went to celebrate Christmas, so they had mini-Christmas cakes there for the lonely types. It was freaking delicious, too, like super packed with strawberries.

The other questions pertain to what I do on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I told my friends and JTEs about how Christmas Eve is usually reserved for getting together with family and friends. I have a family tradition with my Dad’s side of the family that involves invading my grandmother’s house so we can eat good food and open up presents together. Most families reserve the present opening until Christmas Day, and I open my presents from my mother and her side of the family on that day.

A couple of people have asked me if I’m going to spend Christmas with a boyfriend, to which I responded two different ways:

“Where’s this imaginary Japanese man that’s fallen madly in love with me and why haven’t I met him?”


“Why would I celebrate Christmas with a boyfriend?”

Apparently, Christmas time is couples’ time in Japan. Boyfriends apparently do romantic things for their sweethearts, like buy them a present or take them out somewhere nice. If they want to be really beloved by their girl, they will take her to Disney Land or Disney Sea (depending upon the age. Disney Sea has drinking.). I won’t lie, if I had a boyfriend, I would totally beg him to take me there. Do you know how cute that place is? Ridiculous I tell you!

Christmas at Disney Sea.png
Come on, you totally just went, “Awww!” 

I explained that it’s really a big family time of the year, so I would not celebrate with a boyfriend on Christmas. I would celebrate on Christmas Eve with him before my Dad’s family time, but I don’t think I could’ve done it on Christmas. Dedicating the whole day to a boyfriend would get me disowned.

I’ve also discovered that Japanese parents have it tougher than American parents when it comes to sneaking the presents. American parents just have to sneak into the living room and put the presents under the tree and fill up the stockings. Japanese parents have to put presents beside their children’s beds at night. I couldn’t do it. I would wake up my child instantly due to some klutzy error.

Japanese parents, though, don’t generally buy a lot of presents for their kids. It’s usually only one or two kind of nice toys and that’s it. See, kids generally get these money envelopes on New Years Day, so pretty soon after Christmas they’ll have more presents. So it’s not like they’re going in the room with like a whole Santa bag, mainly just one or two boxes, which does make a bit easier.

Still, ninja skills, man.

Apparently, Santa Claus is pretty much the same jolly man in red. I’ve been asked if Colonel Sanders in Kentucky dresses up for Christmas, and I had to really think about it. I couldn’t remember our KFC even having a Colonel Sanders statue. I said I think so, but I honestly don’t remember. I know for a fact that Colonel Sanders does dress up as Santa Claus in Japan. It actually looks pretty neat.

Colonel Sanders Santa.png
No thanks, Colonel Santa. 

Right now, I’m trying to avoid KFC, lest I fly off the handle again and cause an international incident. I’m sure I’ll eventually eat there (I do love the biscuits), but until the holidays are over it’s best to just stay clear.

I will say that some cultural things about Christmas are the same. It’s about being with the people you love and showing you care. Regardless of where the presents go or the thrice damned chicken, both Americans and Japanese jump through hoops to get those special gifts for their beloved people. Just as in America, parents have got it tough, and in the name of love for their children they will do anything to get that stupidly popular (insert item here).

Christmas cheer is everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. The Christmas music started earlier than America because there’s no Thanksgiving to hold it back, and oddly enough it’s mostly the same American choices for music. For example, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” plays all the time. I kind of like it, but I’ll be sick of it by the end of December.

There are Christmas trees, too. They’re a little smaller than the average American tree, but that’s to be expected since most Japanese homes are smaller than the average American home. I’m considering getting either a small tree or a poinsettia. I was surprised to find the poinsettias over here, but they’re apparently just as popular here as in America.

Alas, I will not be celebrating Christmas in Japan, however. I will be going back to Kentucky for Christmas, which means no KFC for me! Yay! Instead, I’ll be chowing down on ham and fudge and pie and burritos and tacos (because Mexican food is only found in all of two cities, and I live in neither of them) and more pie and cheeseburgers and…Well, you get the idea.

I’ll be back in Japan for New Years, so until then TTYL and Merry Christmas!

P.S. Here’s a link to Badger Girl and a recipe for fruit cake so you can make it for the unsuspecting person of your choosing:

Alright, so I’ll be restarting flashback Friday, but I think I’m going to do it every other Friday instead of every week like I was doing before. See you all in two weeks then!

Posted in Uncategorized

The ALT Dispatch Li(f)e

Recently, the Fukuoka General Union released a video that’s going a bit viral in the ex-pat circles here in Japan.

The video is simple yet poignant, telling people all they need to know about Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) Dispatch Companies and how they scam teachers every year out of getting a living wage. What kind of dispatch companies specifically are we talking about?

Heart and Borderlink are the two that first come to my mind. When I lived in Ibaraki, many schools switched to dispatch companies. Immediately thereafter, my friends and colleagues told me horror stories. Many of the Heart ALTs in Kashima and Kamisu were placed without an apartment set up for them, so they (brand new teachers without any Japanese) ended up having to be homeless for the first month of their stay in Japan. Borderlink is notorious for shaming ALTs into working long hours without overtime pay, and even skimping on salary for showing up five minutes late as a half a day’s docked pay.

I will be honest, I was shocked to learn about how much of my own dispatch company, Wing Inc., follows along the lines of the ALT dispatch company illegal practices.

This is a very complex issue, but the bottom line is that dispatch companies do everything they can to avoid enrolling their ALTs in public health and pension, known as Shakai Hoken (SH)…the main drive behind their unwillingness is that the dispatch company MUST pay 50% of the SH cost. This usually works out to about 25,000 to 30,000 yen per month (depending on income). It is on parity with the National Health Insurance (Kokumin Kenko Hoken [KKH]) but is more expensive than private (travel) insurance. (The FGU advises members not to join private insurance if at all possible as foreigners in Japan are obliged to join either SH or KKH).

At the moment, my company doesn’t pay Shakai Hoken. I pay that every month, which I wasn’t told about in my interview or my contract signing day. I knew I should’ve read it more carefully, but I was in a bind and desperate for a full time position. I also fall under an “out” that companies take here in Japan.

One way that unscrupulous dispatch companies avoid enrollment is by making employment contracts less than 30 hours per week. This is to try and create an “out” by calling on a government advisory that states that to be eligible for SH an employee must work APPROXIMATELY three quarters of a regular full time employee. Seeing the normal working week is 40 hours, anything under 30 hours is less than three quarters. Therefore, by making contracts 29.5 hours work per week, the company claims that the ALT is under the threshold. It should be noted that the FGU believes that even teaching 29.5 hours per week ALTs are eligible as the advisory states that it is APPROXIMATELY three quarters (概ね3/4).

Everyone who is foreign and working in Japan knows about this practice. Actually, it’s becoming more of a problem as time goes on. Japan Times recently did an article called “For Japan’s English teachers, rays of hope amid the race to the bottom,” wherein  discussed the unfair playing field set up by eikaiwas (private/business lesson English schools) as well as dispatch companies:

… the infamous 29½-hour workweek, which has become the industry-standard method for eikaiwa chains to minimize their labor costs. Giving teachers schedules of less than 30 hours has allowed these firms to classify their teachers as part-timers, thereby avoiding enrolling them in the national shakai hoken social insurance program, under which the company is required to pay half its employees’ health insurance and pension premiums….

The big news for 2016 is that for teachers working for large firms — i.e., those with over 500 employees — the 29½-hour rule should cease to be an issue from October, when new labor regulations will require these firms to enroll all workers who put in at least 20 hours a week in the shakai hoken program…

Meanwhile, other firms, such as Gaba, continue to sidestep the troublesome issues of thresholds and so on altogether by denying that their teachers are staff at all. Making use of itaku, or subcontractor, status — an increasingly popular tactic among companies within and outside eikaiwa — Gaba evades all the responsibilities an employer would usually have toward its employees: no sick leave, no pension, no insurance, no paid holidays, no overtime rates.

Coco Juku, Nova, and other eikaiwas will try their best to sell foreign native teachers on the idea that their per hour pay is competitive. But what they fail to inform most people applying is that most lessons are 50 minutes, not a full hour. However, having worked for Coco Juku myself, when I was there I was given a standard 10 days vacation package and health insurance and pension coverage. I don’t know if Coco Juku will fall in line with Gaba one day and change their teachers to itaku status, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

I was told that I would be working from 8:20-5:00 every day. However, I have to arrive at my school early because of train times. Technically, I am working 40 hours per week, but Wing Inc. wouldn’t ever allow that to get put down on paper. Also, Wing Inc. took 4 of my vacation days away, for no reason as far as I can tell besides they don’t want to pay for them.

In general, most schools don’t know what’s going on with the dispatch companies. All they know is that they’re paying the company a hefty sum of money to employ the government mandated native teachers. In terms of insurance, pension, and so on, they generally have no idea that the teachers are getting screwed over. But there are definitely blinders thrown up when an ALT or an eikaiwa teacher brings up their rights and how they’re being treated.

Usually, the only way to fight against any system is to get a lawyer, join a union, and turn in a complaint to the labor office. All these options cost money, more Japanese know how than most native teachers possess, and the information that they actually can fight in the first place. Before moving to Japan, join a union, know what your employer covers, and know your rights as an employee in Japan.


The Fukuoka General Union also has some videos from NHK, a Japanese national news station, which discusses all of the dispatch and sub-contracting woes. Japanese only, sorry!

Do you have an ALT dispatch or eikaiwa horror story to share? Feel free to talk about it in the comment section!