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Friday, August 3, 2012


Japanese fashion has its own flair - and I admit I don't understand fashion at all, but let me at least present some observances of the typical Japanese teacher.

What is professionalism?

In damn near every single photograph of me at work, I am wearing dress shoes and socks, dress pants, a dress shirt - possibly a sweater in the winter, but definitely a suit jacket the other times, a belt, and most certainly a tie.

I know the Japanese men have these clothes, too, but for the most part, I will walk into any teacher's lounge looking like a metrosexual (before that term was created), while the Japanese teachers - specifically the young Japanese teachers - dress like complete slobs.

From left:  Matthew, Andrew and Nurse Ohno at a night school we taught at for extra bucks.
By 8:30AM, teachers are already wearing track suits... or sweat pants and matching supportive tops. Sure you might have just coached a sports club activity in the morning - but now you are going to teach a class!

The women? They aren't so bad... but they seem to lack any sort of flair, choosing instead to wear clothes without color! I believe it is so they don't stick out.

For the men that bother to wear suits, its the standard blue and grey.

And, while I agree that one need not wear a suit to teach math, a nice tie and shirt would suffice. But no... track suits... and not even in the school colors!

And, as mentioned, even the men who do wear a suit, no one stands out... as their cut of suit and their color choices matches damn near every other Japanese man.

As for me? yes, I had a blue pin-striped suit, but I also had purple shirts, multi-hued ties. Sometimes I wore French cuff white shirts with real cufflinks. At least my Board of Education office appreciated me going old-school and dressing like a professional. I know because they told me.

Sure, I had a pony-tail... but I kept it neat, and I made sure the flexible hair band always matched the color of my shirt! I told you - metrosexual. 

I had a red silk jacket I had made for me in Thailand - I even designed it. I bought a greeny-teal jacket from Toronto before it became THE color the next year.

In truth, even if my skin wasn't a caramel brown, I brought some color to Japan. Language notwithstanding.

Going old school at Ohtawara Chu Gakko for graduation day!
But again... I still believe this was what I was here in Japan for. Yes, it was to get the Japanese kids to speak English better, but for me it was to get them to WANT to learn to speak English better. I was there to be interesting... and I think the kids wanted to learn WHY I was so different.

In most countries not in Asia, being an individual is what we strive for (though yearn to be accepted by all).
But in Asian countries (like Japan), not standing out is what they strive for (though yearning to be an individual).

I was in Japan to internationalize. That was what the JET (Japan English & Teaching) Programme always stated while I was there between 1990-1993. Internationalize... ensure the Japanese realize that as people we're not scary monsters... and that some individuality can be acceptable.

I can only hope that 20 years later, if any of my students became teachers, that they dressed well enough for me to be proud of them.

Andrew Joseph 
Photo at top was taken on a bike trip to Kurobane with the school from Sakuyama in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken. Yes, the male teacher removed his jacket, but he's still styling! The female teacher, while an attractive young lady looks style-less in her tracksuit. School track colors are green and white, by the way.
In the middle photo, Matthew unfortunately has his eyes closed, but he at least had a tie on and only loosened it at the end of the class. Looks styling, too! Me... I was screwed on too tight wearing my green shirt, red sweater and black tie - but styling!
In the photo at the bottom... everyone dressed up for graduation day. Mister Inuoe - standing beside me -  my good friend at Ohtawara Junior High School got a shop to loan me the old-school garb. Or he paid for it out of his own pocket. He never said - despite my gentle prodding. You'll notice that we look damn fine... but the ladies, despite the nice clothes, still look frumpy... And, to be fair to Matthew... my eyes are closed in this photo!   


  1. Andy, I agree with you that people in a professional environment should dress in a professional manner, but when I was teaching elementary students, especially the 1st, 2nd, and kindergarteners, I had no problems whatsoever wearing a tracksuit to class. Those little kids were grabby, leaving anything they touched sticky and/or stained, a bad combo for nice suit pants and shirts. Also, wearing a tie or khakis or whatever in the Summer in a building with no a/c was just unbearable. I would also work up a pretty good sweat playing games and running around with the kids. I applaud your professionalism, but I just couldn't keep it up. I'm more of a t-shirt and jeans kinda guy anyway. I guess that's why I'm no longer teaching English. Haha.

    1. I hear ya. But when I was a kid, the teachers cared about looking decent. For the most part, the teachers NOT involved in club activities at school maintain the good dress... but even still, I think the club teachers should dress well...