Mainichi: “American teacher in Sendai stays in Japan to help with volunteer efforts”


IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

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Hi Blog.  Here’s one that got lost in the shuffle between debates; was going to put it up around May 10.  My commentary is a bit old, but might as well put it up for the record:

In apposite to the debunkable claims of “Fly-jin” NJ, here is an article in the media with a survey of how NJ are actually by-and-large NOT being “Fly-jin”.  Good.  Hope these cases have sunk in with the Japanese public by now.  Arudou Debito


American teacher in Sendai stays in Japan to help with volunteer efforts
(Mainichi Japan) April 25, 2011

PHOTO CAPTION:  Greg Lekich, far left, and other volunteers are pictured in Tagajo, Miyagi Prefecture, on April 20. (Photo courtesy of Greg Lekich)

SENDAI — With the nuclear plant crisis and continuing aftershocks, many foreign assistant English teachers have left Japan to return to their home countries, but one assistant language teacher (ALT) here chose to stay behind and do what he could for volunteer efforts.

Greg Lekich, 31, is an American ALT who teaches English at a high school in Sendai. Together with around 10 others, he has been doing volunteer work such as shoveling mud and helping clean people’s debris-filled houses. He says that he has many friends and students he has taught in Japan, and has grown used to where he lives now. He says he does not have plans to leave the country any time soon.

Lekich was born in Philadelphia. He spent a year of college learning Japanese and came to the country in 2004. After teaching English in Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture, and other locations, he started work as an ALT at Miyagi Hirose High School and Miyagiken Technical High School from 2007.

When the earthquake struck on March 11, Lekich was in the teacher’s room at Miyagi Hirose High School. It was his first experience of a large earthquake. Following the instructions of the school staff, he evacuated to the athletic field outside. After walking for three hours to return home, he used the Internet to check on the safety of his foreign friends.

As the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant was added to the list of disasters, many foreigners in Japan began leaving the country. However, Lekich stayed in Sendai. His father, a former nuclear plant safety engineer, told him that under the circumstances, he didn’t think his son needed to worry so much about the radiation. His mother said she was worried, but asked him to do what he thought was right.

Lekich decided to volunteer. Together with other teachers in the prefecture, he made the website “Teachers for Japan,” through which he and the others have posted English videos of the disaster-hit areas and collected money for those orphaned by the quake or tsunami. He also helps with relief work such as cleaning debris in houses three or four days a week in Wakabayashi Ward in Sendai and the cities of Ishinomaki and Tagajo.

He says that on the night of the earthquake, his Japanese girlfriend and her mother brought him food and water because they were worried. He says it made him feel strongly how people should help each other out in trying times.

Class at the high schools will start again at the end of the “Golden Week” break at the start of May. Lekich says that having class as always will help people return to their normal lives. He says he hopes the fact that he, an American, stayed where he was will bring courage to his students.

However, many ALTs have not stayed behind. According to the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR), which every year mediates the contracts of around 4,000 ALTs at local authorities around the country, 44 ALTs quit their jobs after the earthquake. Over half of them were at schools outside of the hardest hit Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures. At least one had been working in Kyushu.

From this spring, English will be a mandatory subject for fifth- and sixth-graders at elementary schools. Minato Ward in Tokyo, which employs ALTs at all of its schools, has been unable to secure a complete number of ALTs in April, which delayed the start of English class by a week.

At one ALT dispatching company in Tokyo, over 100 ALTs have returned to their home countries and not come back to Japan.

“We are searching for substitutes (for those teachers who left) 24 hours a day. Among teachers who have left Japan but want to come back, many seem to have been held back by family,” said a company spokesperson.


Original Japanese story


東日本大震災:仙台を離れず 米国人ALT、支援に奮闘
毎日新聞 2011年4月23日 11時01分(最終更新 4月23日 12時39分)








◇帰国者多いALT 対応に追われる派遣元





13 comments on “Mainichi: “American teacher in Sendai stays in Japan to help with volunteer efforts”

  • That ‘ALT dispatch company’ is now illegally supplying schools with teachers with no university degrees or relevant experience to schools in Miyagi. They even resorted to calling up my wife’s language school (which is also suffering from a lack of staff) begging us to introduce ‘any foreigner’ in the area.

    It just goes to show that if you pay badly and treat people like disposable ink refills, they are not going to stick around when circumstances change. Loyalty is a two-way thing.

    I hate ALT dispatch companies.

  • Hes a nice young guy and he seems well looked after and accepted by his Japanese GF and her mother. It also helps hugely that his father worked in the nuclear industry as a safety engineer; that put his mind at rest. All this adds up to why he stayed and why he doesnt plan on leaving anytime soon.

    I must say though that I am surprised that teaching positions in Miyagi and even Fukushima on gaijinpot etc, still remain so badly paid, or even falling. Sure I was here in the bubble and I m not expecting a return to pay levels of those better days, but something around the 4500 yen per hour mark or a bit more isn`t much to ask at all, but I rarely see pay of this level.

    With South Korea and China offering similar pay, lower tax and free accomodation (which is rare in Japan, one school up in Tohoku even wanted to rent an apartment to the teacher for 70 000 yen but called this “included in the package”) I am not surprised why teachers are in short supply with the ongoing crisis at Fukushima.

    Can anyone shed light on this attitude in the Japanese ESL industry? Its like the direct opposite of trying to compete, or to attract people.
    Or is it the old strategy of just begging people to do something over and over again until they hopefully give in (this time in the name of charity), without ever offering a compromise or benefits?

  • Oh and this bit is rich.
    “We are searching for substitutes (for those teachers who left) 24 hours a day. Among teachers who have left Japan but want to come back, many seem to have been held back by family,” said a company spokesperson.

    Oh, taihen! Kowaiso little dispatch company. Trying to guilt trip the gaijin into coming back. And shame on you for trying to put the blame on their families. I never fail to find it amazing how loyalty to the “state/volk/nation” in Japan has even replaced loyalty to the family in a so-called Confucian country in some unscrupulous business owners minds, my ex Japanese boss included.

  • This article seems a the “difficulties with gaijin” “gaijin are difficult” “why do we bother with them, it’s tiresome but they are a necessary evil” meme with a sugar-coated beginning mentioning the odd-one out.


  • When are people going to wake up and realize that while dispatch companies are not angels by any measure, if one wishes to cure the “evils” of dispatch, the spotlight needs to be shone on the boards of education. It’s they who flout the law granting contracts to dispatch out of a desire to cut costs, not deal with the burden of social insurance for staff, nor management of nob fluent English speaking staff. The B of E’s call for tenders, not the other way around.

    Anyway, kudos to this guy for sticking with the community he clearly feels a member of. Respect.

  • @PKU I recently had a bizarre interview at a dispatch company in Korakoen,Tokyo pre disaster, I was asked to give a demo lesson and my “student” was a man who worked in the foreign languages section.

    I asked him the question in the book, what is challengng about your job or similar, and he replied to me

    “Working with foreigners. Because I don’t know what they are thinking. I only do this job because my boss odered me to.”

    Riiiight. Needless to say I ignored all offers of part time (low pay) that came from them backhandedly (offers CCed to several teachers) after that.

    The wrong people with the wrong skills and attitude, working in the wrong industry. The BofE needs to stop trying to save a few yen and realize that this is just poisoning so many people’s Japan experience and they leave as detractors.

    If those who left had been direct hire with proper jobs, then they might ve stayed.

    Japanese working conditions partly created the flyjin phenomenon. It certainly wasnt worth my while to stay.

  • I agree with what AJ says. Incidentally, a member of the U.S. Embassy’s staff shared with me a link to the State Department’s report about Japan.

    The part of it on topic is that part about how the Dispatch ALT business seemingly “gains” by not paying social insurances. But, if you analyze it, it’s really that the Boards of Education save money by creating a bid-ask system. The cheater Dispatch companies will always win.

    I don’t mean to impugn anyone’s humanitarian efforts by any means. I think it’s a good thing when people volunteer to help out those in a bind, or in dire straits like the people of Northeast Japan. But it is unfortunate that these volunteers are probably being cheated out of their social insurances by the same Boards of Education of the people the volunteers are trying to help!

  • From what I’ve heard about cuts to the JET program, it seems to me dispatch companies are going to be the norm from now on rather than JETs. But honestly, the whole thing is terribly questionable – it’s be pointed out over and over that Japanese students in general don’t learn English as well as students from other countries despite even more years of instruction. The whole things is strange to me. I simply can’t understand it. The only clue I have is that written language is focused on over spoken language.

    To be honest, the fact that only 44 out of 4,000 ALTs quit despite a massive natural and man made disaster shows how many foreigners like living in Japan and are willing to stay. A rate of barely over 1% after a major event like that shows the extent to which most of them love Japan. I hope most of them have as supportive a group around them as Greg Lekich.

  • Adam Says:
    To be honest, the fact that only 44 out of 4,000 ALTs quit despite a massive natural and man made disaster.

    I’d take that statistic with a large dose of ‘rabbits walking on 2 legs.’

    From what I’ve seen and heard, and as Sendai Ben says, there is a shortage of TEFL teachers, not only in the earthquake stricken areas, but elsewhere in Japan,
    However to acknowledge so, would be to place the shoe on the other foot of who needs who the most.

    The situation in Japan will only get worse as the salaries and standards of living increase elesewhere in Asia.

  • Rock Racing says:

    From the Economist: Welcome, buyjin

    “UNDETERRED by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March, foreign investors have kept the faith. They have now been net buyers of Japanese equities for seven consecutive months, the longest streak since records began in the 1980s, ploughing in around $60 billion while domestic institutional investors have been net sellers of some $25 billion. The purchases have propped up a market that had plummeted by a fifth immediately after the disaster”

  • Typical Economist timing.

    Foreign investors have just turned net sellers. They could return to net buying but the streak stopped at 29 weeks.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    We just need more people like Greg who puts compassion for others over his own interests. I know many Christian missionary teams from the US visit the disaster-stricken areas in the last 3 months, but most groups stay there for a brief period. It takes a long shot to re-build the community and heal the pains of loss. Wish the ALTs have their own missionary teams.


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