Teaching English In Japan: A Quick Guide

Living and working in Japan is one of the best ways to see this fascinating country. Lindy Sinka explains how to go about getting an English teaching job

I often get emails from friends and sometimes friends of friends asking for advice about teaching in Japan. I have been teaching in Japan for nearly three years and have taught at a conversation school, two universities, an English Camp, private businesses, and even a kindergarten. With that in mind, I decided to put together a little overview of some of the information I think is useful. Hopefully, it will guide you in the right direction and help you avoid some of the pitfalls in the process.

Earning Money — And Spending It
English teachers in Japan can expect to make a base salary of 250,000 yen per month. 110 yen is roughly $1 USD. (See Travelhappy’s currency converter). Depending on what type of housing you opt for your monthly housing can range from 50,000 — 80,000 yen. That includes utilities. The biggest variant in your expenditures is going to be food and entertainment (that includes drinking). You will at least spend 60,000 even if you live modestly and do a fair bit of cooking. If you are one to hit Tokyo for all-nighters on the weekends, you will be lucky to have change in your pocket by the time payday comes. You can save money or you can go hog wild but probably not both.

How To Get A Teaching Job
The easiest and safest way to get a job in Japan is though a Language Institute, provided you have a university degree. There are several other small language schools but they often don’t sponsor your visa. It is very easy to pick up work with any of the Language Institutes. They hire all year around, sponsor your visa, offer a one-year contract and help with accommodation. They will not pay for your flight but they can usually offer you a cheaper airfare. Do a bit of research first, I actually found a better deal for myself on the same flight they offered me. Basically, there are three big ones in Japan and each one has a little something different to offer:

NOVA Intercultural Institute:
www.teachinjapan.com
NOVA offer shared accommodation but it is expensive. You will share with either 2 or 3 instructors. Generally, it will cost you about 60,000-75,000 a month, including utilities, which is a bit steep for what you get. As far as pay goes, it depends on where you’re located but will range between 250,000-275,000 a month. NOVA take care of your work visa. You will work about 30 hours a week and have 10 days of paid holiday during the first year. NOVA are a reputable company and probably the biggest name in English teaching in Japan.

ECC:
www.japanbound.com
ECC will also take care of your visa and do offer housing though they don’t tell you how much it is gonna cost you -probably about the same as NOVA. As far as a company goes, they are probably the best company in terms of charitable deeds. They do a lot of charity work and make hefty donations to various causes. If that is important to you it may sway your decision. The pay is a base of 252,000 a month but they do give 7 weeks of paid holiday!

GEOS:
geoscareer.com
Pretty much the same deal as the other two. You will work about 30 hours a week and get a base of 250,000 a month. GEOS does offer single accommodation at a reasonable price of 65,000 a month plus utilities of 10,000. If having privacy is an issue for you it is a definite plus and the cost is well within the norm. You don’t have to fork over any hefty deposits or key money either, which is nice. GEOS will take care of your work visa. The other big benefit is that they will give you a 100,000-yen bonus at the end of your contract.

Alternatives
JET Programme:

www.jetprogramme.org/e/
The JET programme is geared towards young university graduates and works in conjunction with the Japanese Ministry of Education. With JET you will work as an ALT, assistant language teacher. An ALT teaches English at Junior High and High Schools. Typically, you teach at several schools and commute between them. You will work with Japanese teachers at your schools and the locations vary from extremely rural to the madhouse that is Tokyo. Don’t always expect to be greeted with open arms as some of the Japanese teachers feel threatened by you and may even be openly hostile towards you. That is not the norm but it does happen and I have heard a fair share of horror stories. Just a warning to be prepared but more than likely you will have a positive experience. They do provide airfare reimbursement and help with accommodation. The monthly salary is 300,000 and you work about 35 hours a week. You may be expected to participate in special events, which may occur on the weekend or on holidays. Often times, the Japanese teachers don’t speak much English so learning a little Japanese would be very beneficial.

Job Opportunities Once In Japan
Those are the easiest ways to get the coveted visa you need. You can’t get one once you’ve arrived. The upside is that once you have your visa you can pretty much do whatever you want. If you find that your job is boring you to death or you find a better opportunity, you can quit your job and change with no problems. Your visa does not tie you to your job and you have that loophole if your job ends up being less than you expected.

Once you’re here with visa in hand there are more opportunities available to you. Many companies do not provide visa sponsorship and many require you to already be in the country. If you are lucky, you can land a university job though they are becoming increasingly difficult to get. But don’t get discouraged. Give it a go. The holidays are great and the hours can’t be argued with. A good website for jobs once you are here is: http://www.gaijinpot.com. There is a lot of part-time work there if you need to earn some extra cash. It is very easy to earn extra money by taking on private students – you can register online though the website. There are various companies that offer student-teacher placement and you get to set your own fees. Also, check in the Japan Times on Mondays. They have a pretty good classified section. If you want to make extra money there are a lot of ways to do it.

Japanese Teaching And Culture Shock
As far as Japanese students are concerned…. well, they are special. Keep in mind that culturally things are very different in Japan. A quiet student is considered a good student and they do not like to stand out. At times, you may feel frustrated but remember it is due largely in part to the education system. In terms of learning English within traditional schooling, all they do is grammar and translations. They have no opportunity for listening or speaking and although they have studied English for 6 years their speaking and listening ability is quite low. Conversely, their reading ability is much higher. Creative thinking is not highly valued in education and therefore, it is not encouraged. You will have to work hard and deploy massive amounts of patience in order to foster creativity. I think a lot of teachers feel very frustrated, especially in the beginning. It does take some getting used to but if you are prepared mentally for the stereotypical student, it won’t come as such a shock.

Helpful websites
Japan is expensive but it is manageable. If you are one who needs the culinary comforts of home expect to pay the price for it. Western food is much more expensive than Japanese food and it is not always easy to find. You will get good at tracking things down. A good source of information is: www.japan-guide.com. There is loads of information about cost of living, customs, transportation and other helpful stuff. If you want to find your own accommodation or need some help these websites cater to foreigners:

www.sakura-house.com
www.cheaphousing.tokyo.com
www.fontana-apt.co.jp

A last word
Japan used to be the premiere spot for teaching English; that is slowly changing. Don’t get discouraged, it is still a good place to teach and make money but it is no longer the oasis of opportunity it once was. The number of college-aged students is decreasing and nearly 25% of colleges and universities have had to shut their doors. As such, the competition for jobs is increasing but it is still easy to live and work here. Japan is extremely safe, if you use common sense, and it is easy to navigate your way around. It is also a good place to be with regard to traveling. During the low season, it is really cheap to fly out of Tokyo. It is also relatively close to lots of places that are very cheap like Thailand, Korea, and Vietnam. Your yen will go a long way in those countries. As far as the people go: Japanese people are friendly and often times overly generous. Once you have managed to make friends they will do anything to help you. I think as long as you have some idea of what to expect and have an open mind, you will make the most of your time in Japan. You can even save a fair bit of money if you are don’t go mad while you’re here. Good luck!

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Comments

  1. Hi,

    Your blog was very useful. It gave a good insight about the teaching career in Japan. Thanks a lot for the info!

    With Warm Regards,
    S.R.Praburam

  2. Hi, I’m looking into teaching English overseas. I’ve taught in Korea but apparently I got really lucky – I got a job at a university, my students were great and the administration was flexible and I always got paid on time. As I look into going back to Korea, I’m horrified by the number of people who’ve gotten ripped off by hagwons and back cram schools. So I’ve been looking into Japan as a safer bet (they seem to have less problems with ripping foreign workers off – is this true?). But, I see you’ve also taught in Korea – so if you have any tips for how to find (another) great job and not get ripped off, I’d love to here them. I really enjoyed Korea and would like to go back. Although seeing someplace new is always good, too!

  3. Emma Saunders says:

    I spent just under 5 years teaching and working in Japan from the beginning of 1993 to the end of 1997. It was a fantastic experience. I worked at a large language company for 2 and a half years and then applied from inside Japan to teach at an International school. I earned great money, made lots of friends, travelled the world and generally had a wonderful time. My Japanese students were very polite and keen to learn. Aspects of japanese life were difficult at times as a western woman, women are still traditionally treated very differently to men in Japan, and this could be very disheartening and frustrating at times. However I made friends in Japan that I am still very close to now 13 years later. I found the whole experience opened my eyes, broadened my mind, and left me with a real love of many aspects of Japanese life, art and culture.

  4. David Tetly says:

    After arriving in japan two months ago i can see were your comments are coming from. I got a job as an ALT with Interac and got posted to a small rural town in Ibaraki (yes I’m doin it hard). My only connection with the west is NHK news at 7 O’clock and the web sitte http://www.tokyonodoko.com which appear so chaotic its fun. I’ll certainly visit this blog again.

  5. Hi,
    You mentioned you worked at Universities, could you give some advice about how to get work at a university? It must be quite difficult but is it possible?
    Thanks

  6. Are you sure about 7 weeks paid holiday???

    TEFLtastic blog with Alex Case- http://www.tefl.net/alexcase

  7. Hi, your post on Teaching English in Japan is pretty useful. I was wondering if you could talk about Asian-Canadians/Americans that are born in North America and are considering teaching English in Japan (or anywhere in Asia). Do you know any Asian-Canadian/American English teachers there? I’m thinking of applying, but I’m not totally sure if it’s worth my time (I’m Asian-Canadian). I do have a university degree (not majoring in English), but I don’t have a TESOL/TEFL certificate either. Thanks!

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