Teaching in Asia is one way that underemployed Westerners can make good use of their college degrees. Many find themselves not only paying off their debts, but having amazing adventures in the Far East. Two of the most popular destinations for teaching English in Asia are Japan and China. Keep in mind that when I refer to “China” in this article, I am referring to Mainland China, not Taiwan, Hong Kong, or other locations in the Sinosphere.
Both countries have rich histories and amazing cultures. Despite their similarities, they also have very distinct differences that may make them more of a fit for you. In this article, we will explore each country to help you make your decision.
Japan – Order, Politeness, and Pensions
Compared to China, Japan is a land of orderliness. The streets are much cleaner, and it is extremely rare to find people that do not take their hygiene seriously. In big cities, it is unlikely for foreigners to be stared at, regardless of their hue.
Speaking of hue, Japan was one of the only countries in Asia where a sizable number of women actually preferred Black men. While this trend seems to have died down in recent years, there are still remnants of it, and it is almost unheard of to have to deal with racial slurs as a Black person. Needless to say, White men still have a marked advantage in the dating and jobs market, but in Japan, the luster of just being a foreigner has worn off. Men that would do well in their home countries will likely do better in Japan, but falling off of the plain with “different features” is not enough to score.
In terms of the job market, Japan is a much more difficult country to get into. Competition is high, even if the Japanese economy and popularity of Japanese culture are not what they once were. The good thing is that English teachers in Japan are offered pensions, something that is not common at all in Mainland China.
Those that are afraid of living in a communist country may prefer Japan as well. There is no “Great Firewall” blocking Facebook Twitter, and other popular social media sites. This makes it easier to share your adventure and keep in contact with friends and family back home. Pensions, a cleaner environment, and a lifestyle more akin to what Westerners are used to make Japan a better stop for foreigners that just want to get their feet wet in Asian culture.
China – The Wild, Wild East
Although the People's Republic of China is communist in name, the general culture is highly capitalist. It is so capitalist in fact, that it has become a land of opportunity similar to the Western United States during the Gold Rush era.
A person with stereotypical European features, light skin, a high nose, blond hair, and blue eyes will find paradise in China. There is a wealth of opportunity that many stumble upon after a year or two of teaching, such as modeling, television appearances, and more.
If you do not have these features, do not be discouraged. I am a Black man and I still ran across many opportunities, although far fewer than a White man would have. I was gainfully employed for the first time in my life, after many grueling years of working for far less than what I am worth in the United States. I was also able to market myself as a part-time tutor, and even did a few commercials for a company that sells items online.
In terms of dating, White men are once again on top of the food chain, and there is little barrier to entry. A guy that could never get a girl to give him the time of day back home might find himself going home with a new girl each week, if not more, just for having a few strands of blond hair left on his head. Black guys are probably at the bottom of the list, but personally, I did much better there than I ever have back home. Part of the allure is the curiosity factor, as China has been closed off to the world in recent history for a much longer time than Japan has. Take advantage of it while you can, fellows!
Chinese people are also more aggressive than Japanese. This can lead to bad encounters, such as racist or nationalism sentiment, but it also means that pretty girls, business opportunities, and friendships are more likely to come your way without strenuous effort. This doesn't mean that you can be lazy, but you will likely be rewarded for your hard work easier than you would be in America or Japan; just don't get tricked, and don't expect any retirement benefits.
On its surface, China is a nation of strict laws. The “Great Firewall” blocks access to many popular Western websites, and smuggling contraband has harsh punishments, including death. However, for all of these strict rules, it is easy to find a legitimate job, even if one's visa is not completely legal. While this is an easy way to finance a trip to the Middle Kingdom, it is not recommended t go this route long-term since working on a tourist visa means having to exist the country every two months, which can be very costly. Not to mention, those that are caught working illegally face deportation.
For the time being, China is on the ascent. It is a land of opportunity, culture, and beauty, although its people can be a bit rough around the edges. Foreigners that are looking for a low barrier of entry and opportunities abound, but do not mind a bit of squalor here and there will definitely want to give China a try.
Japan and China both have their pros and cons. China turned out to be the better pick for me, but your mileage may vary. Just remember that you can always work in one country and easily travel to the other since you will be living in Asia!