With large cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, as well as less urban teaching opportunities, Japan is one of the most desirable countries to teach abroad. Salaries are high, matched by high job requirements, but if you land a coveted teaching job in Japan, you'll undoubtedly have a culturally immersive experience.
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The JET Programme:
The Japanese government has been running the JET programme since the late ‘80s. (JET stands for Japan Exchange and Teaching.) Native English speakers are placed as Assistant Language Teachers in public schools across Japan. JETs usually work a 35 hour week from Monday to Friday. You will need a Bachelor’s degree to be considered. The hiring calendar varies by the home country of applicants.
Private Language Academies/Schools:
Companies like AEON and ECC are constantly looking for teaching staff. Many of these positions involve relatively long hours and some will require you to work evenings and weekends. With these private companies, there is a higher likelihood (than with JET) that you will be placed in a large city. You will need a Bachelor’s degree to be considered. The hiring calendar varies by company.
Some public schools recruit privately or source teachers through organizations such as Interac. A 30-35 hour work week is common. Leave entitlements can vary significantly depending on the individual school or company you are recruited through. Some public schools prefer their teachers to have a CELTA/TEFL qualification and/or teaching experience. Peak hiring time is January-April.
Many foreign nationals give private lessons, often teaching in cafes one-on-one with students. There are no qualifications required for this, though you will need to ensure any work you do is compatible with your immigration status. There is more potential business in the large cities, particularly for anyone looking to do this as a full-time job.
Finding a Job
When and Where to Look for Jobs:
Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya are the three biggest cities in Japan. They are where a large proportion of foreign teachers base themselves. The job market in these cities is competitive. If you are willing to be flexible and look elsewhere, you will find a huge range of opportunities all over the country. There are jobs across the four main islands of Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. Many of these jobs are advertised online and are open to applications from abroad.
Working Visas in Japan
A working visa is generally required in order to teach English. Many language schools will sponsor you in your visa application. You will usually need a bachelor’s degree to be successful in your visa application. Some countries also have arrangements whereby you can obtain a working holiday visa, which allows you to teach part-time. Finally, it is possible to travel to Japan on a tourist visa and change to a working visa after-entry, provided you are sponsored by your contracting organization. To learn more about Japanese visas, visit VISA HQ.
A Bachelor’s degree is essential for any kind of formal teaching job in Japan. Some public schools and private recruiters prefer candidates with a CELTA/TEFL qualification and/or previous teaching experience. Japanese language proficiency is not required but can be helpful in securing better paid jobs.
Salary & Cost of Living:
You can expect to earn between ¥2.5 million and ¥3.5 million yen (around $31,000-$45,000 USD) per year if you arrive without teaching experience. Those with previous teaching experience and/or a TEFL qualification can earn significantly more.
The JET programme pays ¥3.36 million yen (around $41,000 USD) per year. Most public schools will pay a similar amount to privately recruited instructors.
Private language schools tend to pay slightly less but the salary can vary considerably, depending on your level of experience.
Private lesson fees can vary, but ¥3000 yen (around $37 USD) per hour is not unusual. As you gain experience, you can start to charge significantly more. Your rates will also be affected by how much competition there is in the local area.
Some programmes, such as JET, arrange housing for their teachers. There are also a range of private companies who can assist you in finding accommodation. Sometimes the fees for getting settled in new accommodation can be high and apartments are often unfurnished.
Japan is one of the most expensive countries in the world. Living costs are high. However, the generous salaries mean that it is possible to have a reasonable standard of living. Tokyo is especially expensive, though if you are willing to live in the suburbs, rates are lower. Outside the big cities, ¥50,000 (around $600 USD) per month will usually get you something decent.
Eating out is expensive, but budget options do exist. At the low end, you can buy a filling meal of rice and toppings for under ¥500 (around $6 USD). Meanwhile, a typical mid-priced meal for two outside Tokyo will cost between ¥2000 and ¥4000 (around $25-50). You can expect to pay between ¥400 and ¥700 (around $5-9 USD) for a beer at a typical izakaya.
Classroom & Work Culture:
Japanese students tend to be relatively respectful and well-behaved. However, a lot depends on your particular school. There are some schools where classes are loud and difficult to control. You may teach alongside a Japanese teacher, in which case, they will usually have responsibility for classroom discipline.
If you are teaching adults, you may be able to socialize with them outside lessons, though some private companies prohibit this.
Some high schools and private companies will require you to dress up and wear a suit when you teach lessons. Those teaching elementary school students are usually able to dress more casually.
There are a range of social customs such as bowing, gift-giving and compliments that will take some time to adjust to. Nobody will expect you to get everything right first time, but you will be expected to make an effort. The Japanese workplace tends to be formal, punctual and inflexible. You should consider whether you would fit comfortably into that kind of environment.