Updated August 2020
What to Expect Teaching English in Japan
Japan is the country that I’ve personally spent the most time teaching English in. I’ve taught at a very small private English school and worked at the biggest chain school in the country. I trained teachers and developed teaching materials for a large juku (cram school) and taught large classes of young children in a group of four pre-schools. Eventually, I opened my own English schools, which I managed for more than a decade. Japan is a fantastic country I highly recommend it to anyone that wants to teach English abroad or just to travel.
Why Teach English in Japan?
“In Japan, employees occasionally work themselves to death. It’s called Karoshi. I don’t want that to happen to anybody in my department. The trick is to take a break as soon as you see a bright light and hear dead relatives beckon.”
Scott Adams quotes (American Cartoonist, b.1957)
Fortunately, English teachers in Japan generally enjoy a considerably more lenient schedule than their native colleagues, and find the experience of living and working in the country highly rewarding.
Japan has long been a popular destination for EFL teachers, and for good reason. There are abundant teaching positions available all year round and the country offers visitors both a unique cultural experience and a safe environment in which to live.
Japan is a nation of contrasts, where the historical and cultural remnants of the past coexist within a modern, hi-tech society. In the sprawling metropolises, expect to find ancient temples and shrines nestled between towering skyscrapers; and restaurants serving traditional Japanese cuisine right next to McDonald’s.
It is a common misconception that Japan is an entirely overcrowded nation where everyone lives a frantic pace of life. While this is certainly true of the major cities, in many parts of the country you will find rural landscapes of breath-taking natural beauty and vast swathes of untamed forests. For those who enjoy outdoor activities and wish to gain most from the cultural experience, the rural areas make an ideal environment in which to live and work.
Most visitors to Japan choose to live life in the fast-lane in one of the big cities, with all their modern conveniences and access to western goods and cuisine. Here you will find a bustling nightlife and a variety of music venues to suit most tastes.
Many Japanese restaurants have menus in English, often with pictures, and there are also numerous international food chains to be found. Foreign literature, newspapers and other goods are also readily available. For those who enjoy shopping, Japan is a country at the cutting edge of fashion and technology, and big stores are often open until late in the evening.
Japan has a very low crime rate, even in the cities, which makes it a particularly suitable country for female teachers. Although the usual precautions need to be observed, women will generally feel safe on the streets, even at night.
Getting around cities, or indeed the country, couldn’t be easier. Japan has a vast public transportation network that is second to none. You can expect trains to arrive on the dot and although they are often crowded, particularly in larger cities, they are generally comfortable and well air-conditioned.
English Teaching Opportunities in Japan
There are numerous entry-level teaching positions available in Japan, which makes it an ideal country for those just starting a career in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), or for recent graduates who simply want to take a year out . Most schools are simply looking for native English-speakers with a first degree in any subject. Non-degree holders, regardless of fluency or qualifications in English, will find it difficult to secure a legitimate TEFL position due to visa requirements. Although French-Canadians should be able to secure a visa, some larger schools will not higher them as English is not considered to be their first language.
Recently, a number of schools have begun including TEFL or CELTA qualifications as part of their hiring requirements. In reality, though, most employers consider a presentable appearance and a friendly personality to be more important than qualifications. Teaching experience is sometimes required, though many schools will hire teachers straight out of university. The exception to this rule might be in the rapidly expanding sector for children, where some experience teaching kids, in any capacity, can be advantageous. Some schools specializing in this field also express a preference for female teachers.
There are stricter requirements for the more lucrative university and corporate English positions. In addition to a minimum of two years teaching experience (often in Japan) they will be looking for teachers with at least a diploma in TESOL and, in many cases, a relevant MA or PhD. They may also require some competency in spoken Japanese. While many teachers intending to work long-term in Japan aspire to such positions, there are other opportunities for advancement.
The TEFL industry in Japan is dominated by the big chain schools such as AEON, GEOS, ECC, and the restructured NOVA (The NOVA group of schools went through a major bankruptcy scandal.) These companies usually promote from within and reliable, competent teachers often advance to senior teaching, training and management positions. There are also opportunities to work in material development for those with skills and experience in DTP or web design.
It’s also quite possible, with appropriate experience and financial resources to start your own school in Japan. That’s is what I did, as well as several of my friends. There are few legal and bureaucratic obstacles to such a venture, though it should be borne in mind that most foreigners would need the backing of a Japanese partner, in most cases a spouse. Others are finding opportunities in TEFL-related areas such as publishing or web-based study.
Given time, and a strong command of the Japanese language, other employment opportunities will become available, particularly in the areas of business, computers, translation and proof-reading. In recent years, an increasing number of foreigners have even become TV and pop stars.
Check out Wikipedia for a history of English language education in Japan.
General Information about Teaching in Japan
Japan is one of the most popular countries to teach English for many good reasons.
- There are a large number of positions available all over the country in public schools, businesses and English conversation schools.
- The salary relative to the cost of living is quite good. It is quite possible to save US$1000 per month, even more if you are willing to take on extra classes and keep your living expenses down. There once was a minimum salary requirement of 250,000 yen (US$2500) but this legal requirement has been relaxed. Most full-time salaries will still be in this range.
- It is the safest country in the world. Women should take precautions and try not to be alone at night, but for the most part, it is unlikely you will ever encounter serious trouble.
- The food is fantastic. Japan is renowned for fresh seasonal ingredients from exotic vegetables to just-caught fish. Nowhere in the world compares to the quality of food you can find in Japan.
- The history and culture of Japan is amazing. From centuries-old temples and shrines, to huge fireworks displays, to midnight festivals, Japan has so much to offer.
- Japan has become very trendy. Manga, sushi, sake and other Japanese cultural exports are popular the world over. Visit the source for an authentic experience.
- Japanese cities are extremely clean for their size. It is a common sight to see shopkeepers and elderly cleaning streets early in the morning (Or late at night for most foreigners).
- There are great opportunities for foreigners. Many English teachers have become famous celebrities, rock stars and TV hosts. Learn the language and develop your skills, the very fact that you are a foreigner will open many doors in virtually any industry.
- Japan is a great country to open a business. Red tape and bureaucracy will leave you scratching your head, but the tax write-offs and low effective tax rates make this a good place to start your business. Japanese people generally have a large amount of disposable income to pay for high priced products and services and Japanese value quality. Another thing to consider is that, this is not a particularly entrepreneurial country, novel ideas do not typically have much competition until they are large business that is, then you will find a flood of imitators.
Most schools in Japan, if not all, hire only native speakers either from USA, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada or other countries whose first language is English. Be warned that Asian looking English speakers have been known to have difficultly finding jobs because of the stereotype of what a westerner should look like. If you are lucky enough to be blonde and blue-eyed you will likely find yourself very popular in Japan.
In most circumstances a work visa is required to teach in Japan, however, it is not necessary to have teaching experience or credentials. Of course, more experience, training and certifications are attractive to employers and you will likely find better and higher-paying jobs.
One of the best ways to come to Japan is to get hired on the JET program. It is a government program to hire teachers and send them to public schools. Salaries are generally higher, with less teaching hours and more vacations than other entry level teaching jobs. One potential drawback is that you can not choose your destination city. You will probably be put in a smaller town with little access to other foreigners. This is great for learning the language and discovering what real Japanese life is like, however it can be too isolated for some.
The most coveted jobs are in public schools and universities. These jobs are harder to come by because of the higher salaries, limited teaching hours and extensive vacation time. Networking with other teachers in Japan is definitely the way to find these jobs since they are seldom advertised. The better the job, the more credentials you will need. For university level work, it is generally necessary to have a masters degree although there are exceptions if you have the right contacts.
Japan is a great country to teach English in. You will be able to save money, and experience great food and culture. If you are going to teach English, it is hard to find a better destination than Japan.
What English Teachers Teach?
Most new teachers to Japan have little to no idea what will be expected in the classroom. Keep in mind that most teachers start in the exactly the same situation. All teachers have to start somewhere and you will quickly learn as you teach.
If you get a job with a bigger school you will typically have two or three days of training with follow reviews and meetings. Smaller schools may not offer any training at all. New teachers can just be thrown into a class and expected to teach.
While the lack of training can be stressful initially, the textbooks and materials you are using will generally have detailed lesson plans that you can follow to teach your classes. Teachers books will have conversation topics, questions to ask students, answers to questions, drill patterns, explanations for difficult grammar, etc. Basically, everything is covered so you will be able to get through the first lessons without too much trauma.
Don’t worry too much if you don’t have teaching experience. You will pick it up soon enough. A positive attitude and outgoing personality are far more important than experience and background. You will soon discover numerous websites, books, free seminars and paid training programs to help you improve your teaching skills.
Teaching Adults English
Typical lesson patterns involve:
- 5 to 10 minutes of warm up where students greet each other and make small talk.
- Introduction of the lesson through a picture in the textbook or short conversation.
- Listening to a dialogue in the textbook.
- Practicing the dialogue.
- Learning related vocabulary and answering questions.
- Grammar drills practicing the target of the lesson.
- Some type of application, game or activity where students can practice the English they have learned.
Some classes may also be free conversation talking about topics of interest to students. The use of video and podcasts are also becoming more popular for adult students.
Videos on Teaching English in Japan
A Life in Japan – Documentary
Being an English Teacher in Japan | A Day in The Life
Things I Wish I’d Known : Before Teaching In Japan
How To Teach English In Japan // AMA
Teaching English In Japan: A Day In The Life
My First Week Teaching in Japan
Browse the directory of English teaching job listings in Japan. There are a wide variety of positions available throughout the year. School years start in April in Japan, so the best time to start your job hunt is early in the new year.
For standard of living and potential to save money, Japan is still one of the best countries in the world to teach English. Until recently (2006), there was a government set minimum salary for teachers in Japan of 250,000 yen per month($2500). This rule is no longer strictly followed and some schools try to pay less for novice teachers. … Read More
How much salary can you expect to earn teaching English in Japan? Salaries in Japan can vary a lot depending on the type of English teaching you do. Check out this page for a list of current English teaching salaries and what you can realistically expect as a new teacher to Japan.
In order to receive a work visa, you will first have to get hired. Your employer will help you fill out all the necessary paperwork and you will have to apply at a Japanese embassy. A bachelor’s University degree is required in order to receive a work visa. It doesn’t matter what subject you majored in. There are stories of teachers using fake degrees certificates bought online or in countries like Thailand, however I have never met anyone who has admitted to doing this. … Read More
Interviews with English Teachers in Japan