Japan holds a certain mystique for many travelers, whether or not they’ve ever set foot in the country. Ask someone the best place to earn money teaching English in Asia, and the chances are good that Japan will be their answer.
Although there are some other up-and-comers in the decent wage category (Taiwan, anyone?), Japan still tops our lists as a great place to teach overseas. Even with the high cost of living, you can have a good time, get overseas, and put away some cash. But how much exactly can you expect to earn as an English teacher in Japan? Read on for the scoop.
How Much Can You Earn Teaching English in Japan?
As an ESL teacher in Japan, you can expect to earn anywhere between 200,000 and 600,000 Yen ($1,700 - 5,000 USD) per month. Hourly tutoring rates hover around 3,000 Yen ($28 USD) per hour. Like in China, Japan often offers teachers flights, accommodation, and training included in their salary packages.
Cities typically pay more than rural areas, but the cost of living should remain relatively proportional to your salary. Your salary will also depend a little on which type of job you have.
Eikaiwas: 250,000 yen per month
An eikaiwa is an independent English school, or private academy. It may also be referred to as a conversation school, cram school, or night school, and teachers working at this type of school should expect to earn around 250,000 yen ($2,000 USD) per month.
These schools cater to children and adults and classes usually take place in the afternoons or evenings. Average class size is about 10 to 15 students, with five to eight teaching hours per day.
Many eikaiwas cover your flights, accommodation, and training. They can also help arrange insurance and visas, as well as cover costs. The details of your benefits will vary from school to school.
JET Programme: 280,000 yen per month
The Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET) is perhaps the most well-known English teaching program in Japan for public schools.
This government-sponsored organization set the standard for the notoriously high wages for native English teachers in Japan -- at least when compared to other Asian countries.
Contracts are one year long, and can be renewed on a yearly basis up to five years. As you gain experience within the JET program, your salary increases on a set scale, so salaries can vary across the board. In general, salaries lie between 2.8 million to 3.96 million yen ($26 - 33k in USD) per year.
Unlike the similar EPIK program in Korea, JET teachers do not have to come solely from an English speaking country. Teachers from France, Germany, Brazil, Peru, and many others are welcome.
Housing, flights, visas, and insurance are arranged, and approximately 2000 native speakers are hired each year. The maximum age for participants is 40. Participants come in two waves: late July/early August or April. Expect about four weeks’ holiday.
ALT (Assistant Language Teacher): 200,000 - 250,000 yen per month
Some public schools don’t hire their native teachers through JET, but prefer to do so directly. You may become an ALT through being hired by the school or a recruiter and in this scenario could make anywhere from 200,000 to 250,000 yen ($1,600 - 2,000 USD) per month.
The conditions are similar to JET, with housing usually provided. You can expect 10 to 20 days off each year, plus national holidays. Class sizes can be large, from 35 to 40 students. Your work day is typically from 8:00am to 4:30pm or similar.
Although previous teaching experience or a TEFL certificate is not required for teaching in Japan, they are usually preferred.
Universities: 300,000 - 600,000 yen per month
By working at a university, you can make quite a lot more than you would in any of the previous options; around 300,000 to 600,000 yen ($2,500 - 5,000 USD).
Your exact salary will depend on your level of experience, and you may receive a full three months of vacation. Working hours are appealing as well, averaging 10 to 15 hours per week, plus administrative tasks. The best part of teaching at a Japanese university is a toss-up between the salary and the vacation time, which leaves university jobs in high competition.
A caveat of university jobs is that standards for hiring are very high -- think Master’s degrees in TEFL, or similar, on top of substantial teaching experience.
International Schools: 250,000 to 600,000 yen per month
At an international school, you can make 250,000 to 600,000 yen ($2,000 - 5,000 USD) per month. Most international schools are based in Tokyo and usually ask for at least two years of teaching experience.
Your students may come from a range of backgrounds; many may already have some English proficiency.
Housing and settlement allowances are possible, depending on your school. For example, the American School in Japan offers between 1.7 million and 2.8 million yen per month for housing, and a 400,000 yen relocation bonus. These jobs can be highly competitive, depending on the reputation of the school.
Private Tutoring: 3,000 yen per hour
Private, one-on-one tutoring can bring in some extra cash for those who are motivated. Expect to earn around 3,000 yen ($28 USD) per hour.
Understandably, work benefits are nonexistent, but you can set your own price and schedule, which means you have flexibility and control over your work.
If there's high competition in your area, you can get away with charging more, but a lack of demand translates to a lower rate. Researching local rates and demands will ensure you higher wages, as well as making sure your prices match that of the ones offered.
Note: The hardest part about private tutoring is that you normally have to find students on your own. This is where the power of networking and word-of-mouth come in. Make sure you're advertising your services to ensure students will come to you for tutoring.
How Much Does it Cost to Live in Japan?
To get a feel for how far your salary will go in Japan, below are some of the common costs you'll have to cover while living in Japan:
- Monthly rent: City ¥95,000, Rural: ¥57,500
- Monthly internet bill: ¥4,000
- Lunch: ¥800
- Taxi: ¥300 per km
- Domestic beer at a bar: ¥450
- Public transport: ¥185 each way
Ready to Negotiate Your Rates?
Japan is an incredible country to visit, so it’s no surprise that many people want to spend longer periods of time there. English teachers in Japan consistently rank among the higher salaries in Asia, if not internationally (though salaries in the Middle East may be changing that). Despite the high cost of living, it is possible to live, work, save, and travel during your time in Japan.
This post was originally published in February 2014, and was updated in June 2020.