Teaching English in Niigata, Japan

From March 1987 to December 1988, I lived in Niigata, northern Japan, where I taught English at James English School. The school is one of hundreds, if not thousands, of English conversation schools (eikaiwa) devoted to teaching English to middle-class Japanese. I taught classes, some at the school in downtown Niigata, and some offsite at local companies, about 22 hours a week.

Since this was now more than 15 years ago, the details of my experience aren’t that relevant to someone seeking information about what it’s like now to go to Japan to teach English. This site has many articles by an American currently teaching in Japanese high schools as part of the JET program. The online newsletter Ohayo Sensei has general information and referrals. And this article has some good current information.

About Niigata

Niigata is a provicial city whose main virtues are its remoteness from Tokyo, its proximity to Sado Island, and the fact that the people there aren’t yet burned out on foreigners — at least they weren’t when I was there in 1987-88. The city is rather like Oakland, Calif., if you’ve ever been there — industrial, but not without its charms. You have to look pretty hard to find the charms, though.

Niigata is:

  • a port for shipping to Russia and other countries
  • the terminus of the bullet train line that traverses the main island of Japan, Honshu, across the middle
  • the access point to Sado Island, one of the more remote and interesting places in Japan, and home to the Kodo taiko drumming troupe that tours the U.S. annually
  • Sister city of Galveston, Texas

Guidebooks describe Niigata as “not very interesting” or “not worth a visit if you’re in a hurry.” They’re right. Sado Island, on the other hand, is fascinating. I went there several times on vacation.

Niigata is hot in the summer (everywhere is in Japan) and chilly in the winter, but it’s not as bad as the Japanese would have you believe. During the two winters I spent there, the temperature rarely fell below 30 degrees Farenheit. There was a decent amount of snow, but not like you’d get in Minnesota or Buffalo. In other words, the weather is perfectly bearable.

Culturally, Niigata has the advantage of being a modern city, with movies and nightclubs and all. However, many of the Japanese I met practiced one or more traditional Japanese arts or crafts as hobbies. They study tea, flower arranging, kendo, etc. I was interested in tea ceremony and two of my students, who studied at two different tea schools, were very pleased that I was interested in the art, and invited me several times to participate in ceremonies that were open to guests.

Niigata trivia: Niigata was near the top of the list of cities to get atom-bombed at the end of WWII. All the cities on the list — there really was a list — were passed over by conventional bombers during the war so that the U.S. military could see what the true effects of the bomb were. On Aug. 9, 1945, three days after Hiroshima was decimated, Niigata was due to be the second target of the A-bomb. But it was cloudy that day over the city, and they bombed Nagasaki instead. Therefore Niigata escaped largely unscathed throughout the war. This means that much of the central area of the city still has houses dating back to the 20s and 30s.

A link:

  • Official site for Niigata city, in English



Last updated 8 Jan 2015. Email “toobeaut at yahoo dot com” . Copyright 2001- 2015 Mark Pritchard

Copyright 2013-5 Mark Pritchard, Bernal Heights, San Francisco