How & Why to Teach English in Japan

Do you want to teach English in Japan? This guide covers everything about ESL jobs in Japan.

Are you interested in teaching English in Japan? If so, you’re in the right place! This guide covers everything related to ESL jobs in Japan and how this can be your first step on a life-changing journey!

Japan is a popular destination for those who wish to teach English abroad, especially in Asia.

It has many benefits.

Saving money, gaining valuable experience, visiting a stunning country, experiencing the unique culture. And if that is not enough, you will get time and reasons to learn Japanese.

No surprise, people from far and wide come to Japan.

You’ll find everything you need in this ultimate step-by-step guide to teaching English in Japan!

Let’s begin!

TABLE OF CONTENTS

The popularity of English in Japan

The world has seen rapid globalization and heavy amounts of information exchange between nations.

This has led to the need for widespread speaking of the English language. Today, most accept it as the universal language, i.e., the lingua franca.

Since any kind of international transaction would need the English language. Well, not always, but in most cases. Thus, many nations and people across them are looking to learn and develop their English skills.

Japan is no exception to this phenomenon of globalization and western culture spread. And it also wants to expand its horizons, and thus they welcome English teachers.

Most universities and companies in and outside Japan want applicants to speak and write basic English. This makes the job of an English teacher highly demanded in the major cities of Japan.

Further, the job pays pretty well in Japan compared to other Asian countries. Japan is also a friendly nation with high living standards at reasonable prices. And this makes it a pleasant experience.

ESL teacher in Japan

For example, English has been widely taught for many years in Japan. It is also mandatory from the age of eight or nine onwards. But, despite that, English isn’t popular in Japan.

First, Japan is, by and large, a monolingual country. A vast majority of the population only speak one language, i.e., Japanese.

The primary reason is the lack of teachers who can effectively use English. Most emphasis is on writing, and little to no focus on practical elements, like speaking.

Japan’s Ministry of Education acknowledges they need English skills to compete in the modern economy. So, the government has deployed many resources to improve the Japanese population’s English skills.

Why choose Japan as an ESL teacher?

Teachers can earn a lot of money and have a comfortable life working there. So, there are many benefits linked to it. Still, teaching English in Japan comes with a few drawbacks too.

Listed below are a few things you can expect once you’re ready to take the next step in your career.

5 Best Advantages

Are you interested in the Japanese language? Maybe a career, unique experiences, lovely places, J-pop, anime, karaoke, sumo, or Zen temples?

Well, there is something for every English teacher in Japan.

Let’s begin with some clear incentives!

1. A lifetime opportunity to visit Japan

There are hundreds of stunning places to see in Japan, an island country.

From Mount Fuji and Imperial Tokyo to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Historic Kyoto to the Island Shrine of Itsukushima and Osaka Castle, countless tourist attractions exist in Japan.

Japan is a visitor’s paradise. But you cannot enjoy these stunning places within your limited budget and time.

On a seven-day trip, it is impractical to see 30 different places. You will focus on well-known and not less-told but still exciting locations during the journey. It leaves a lot to be desired.

The good news is that you are in for a treat as an English teacher in Japan.

Besides weekends, you will have plenty of time to appreciate every location there.

South Korea, Russia, China (PRC), and Taiwan are neighboring countries worth visiting. Consider taking a trip during a long vacation, a local holiday, or an extended weekend.

The Japanese economy isn’t just about advanced technology and giant companies.

Enjoy the mouthwatering food, folklore customs, magnetic culture, lively festivals, and colorful seasons. The possibilities are endless.

ESL in Japan

Being an English trainer will be a delightful experience for you during your stay.

2. High demand for English teachers in Japan

Japan is following the international trend of globalization and the spread of western culture. Thus, being able to speak English is a valuable skill in Japan.

It is a compulsory part of the curriculum in most Japanese public schools. Also, many students need a high English score to perform in the exam for college admission in Japan. This holds high stakes for Japanese people.

Despite a considerable demand for English teachers, there is a shortage of high-quality English tutors in Japan.

Japanese people would find it difficult to self-learn English. That is because the grammatical intricacies and pronunciations differ from their native tongues.

As per various studies, less than 30% of Japanese people can speak English at any level. If we take fluent speakers, it would be as low as 2% to 5%. The TOEIC’s 2018 ranking confirms that Japan ranks 44th out of 48.

This means English teachers are in high demand in Japan’s major cities. But, ESL teachers are often in short supply.

There is always a demand for educators who have a good enough grasp of English. And the one who can teach it well in a practically usable form to their students.

3. The chance to make and save good money

Traveling to Japan and experiencing its unique culture attracts many people. Still, despite this, most get motivated to teach English mainly because of money.

Besides a good paycheck, you can earn extra bonuses and perks.

Japan ranks as one of the highest average living costs in the world. But in rural and small towns, living costs are still somewhat low. Thus, you can live a comfortable life on your salary and still save and travel. 

The cost of living is high in big cities such as Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka, and Sapporo, but salaries are higher. With careful planning, you can save money no matter where you stay.

Japan is a great place to work with generous benefits and compensation schemes. It also offers a variety of jobs to choose from.

Because of this, it is one of the top teaching destinations. Besides, it is a high-paying country for foreign teachers.

Yet, where you teach determines how much you’ll earn. This is true of both the organization and the city.

Monthly salaries in Japan range between 1,700 USD and 5,000 USD, or 200,000 and 600,000 Yen.

Your experience and qualifications matter the most. How you perform during a job interview will decide your position along that salary scale.

4. A unique personal and professional experience

Teaching in Japan, in particular, has many notable advantages. ESL teachers display initiative, flexibility, and cultural awareness. And also ambition in teaching English in a new culture.

The experience confirms to employers how comfortable you are teaching and living outside your comfort zone. Also, it highlights your cultural sensitivity and adaptability.

You’ll also meet many new friends teaching in a constantly changing and fascinating country.

The number of Japanese people interested in learning English makes it possible to offer many teaching options. Whether it’s an international school in a big city or a public school in a rural village, you can gain valuable experience anywhere.

Interacting with your students will give you a unique insight into modern Japanese society. And this is irrespective of where you choose to work.

It is a life-changing experience to live in a nation like Japan with a unique culture, language, and rituals. Your memories will last a lifetime.

During your stay, you will meet many experts and professionals from all over the world. You can use your experiences from these exchanges and meetups to advance your career as an ESL educator.

5. Learn the Japanese language through immersion

There are many career benefits of learning Japanese. First, your ESL job allows you to study and improve the Japanese language most authentically and adequately.

Living in Japan without speaking Japanese is possible. Still, your experience would be different if you knew the local language.

By doing so, you will have a more enjoyable stay and be able to engage in more genuine conversations.

English teacher in Japan

Foreign languages are best studied through total immersion, as has long been established. The loci method, spaced repetition, and imitating are how we all learn our mother tongue.

Teaching in Japan is a great way to do that without spending more time or money. You will practice native speakers in natural settings.

You can also take a NAT or JLPT test to earn a certificate that proves your Japanese proficiency.

There are more testing centers and frequency of examinations in Japan than anywhere else.

Two biggest disadvantages

Even though there are some known advantages, you should know some drawbacks before diving into them.

Based on what I’ve heard and read from those who taught English in Japan, this article reflects their perspectives.

Check out the shortcomings.

1. English alone cannot suffice for survival

Japan is like the US. In short, Japan is a monolithic society with a monolingual population.

English is prevalent in big cities, and you will not have a problem if you speak no Japanese.

In rural areas, it’s challenging to find someone who speaks English. Many locals cannot speak English. So you are pretty much on your own.

Almost everything is in the local language. This includes signboards, menus, the internet, newspapers, and hoardings. Thus, it would not be easy to survive to make your stay comfortable without knowing Japanese.

In the absence of genuine interactions with locals, you cannot immerse yourself in Japanese culture.

If you plan to work in Japan, learn Japanese. You do not need to be fluent, but a basic understanding will help.

2. You are at the mercy of school management

Most foreign teachers in Japan have temporary visas. The typical employment contract is valid for a few months to one year and is signed by the employee and employer.

If your supervisor has an autocratic style or if the work environment is undesirable, what are your options?

If your manager makes illogical and unnecessary requests, it is difficult for you to disagree.

Embrace it and go with the flow. You should also take into account cultural differences and habits.

To summarize, always say Yes, Sir, and Yes, Madam.

As part of their contracts, they provide ESL teachers with complimentary housing. And they will revoke your privileges if you leave your job or are fired.

In that situation, finding a job and a place to live is challenging. To do so, you will need money and time. Things will get worse if you don’t speak Japanese or can’t find reliable references.

How to get English teaching jobs in Japan?

The prospect of working as an ESL trainer intrigues teachers. Yet, you must learn many things and conduct thorough research before applying for teaching positions in Japan.

Let’s get started!

Teaching English in Japan

Available job opportunities

There are two main options for teaching English in Japan: public schools or private institutes.

There are also more openings at a college or university if you’re interested in such jobs. But all academics have different hiring processes and procedures.

(i) ALT’s (Assistant Language Teacher)

There are many types of jobs that would be in the role of teaching English in Japan. The most common one is to be a schoolteacher in public schools for elementary, middle, or high school children.

The job role is called Assistant Language Teacher or Assistant English Teacher (abbreviated to ALT or AET).

These jobs do not require a Japanese teacher’s license as the role is limited to only English lessons. Still, the assistant language teacher would be linked to a teacher with a teaching license.

Besides the primary conditions for qualifying as an ESL teacher, becoming an assistant English teacher may require other things.

For instance, an instructor’s visa or other specific qualifications will vary from one institution to another.

An assistant English teacher can be expected to have a 35–40-hour work week depending on the institution. But teaching time can be an average of 3 or 4 lessons a day.

The opportunity would be one to experience with many benefits.

Dealing with school children would be an excellent opportunity to interact with a newer group of people. You will understand a different perspective on Japanese culture and lifestyle.

It will also help you learn Japanese faster than usual as you interact with other teachers and children of all ages. Plus, it could be the chance to learn the trending usages and phrases and keep pace with the social trends.

Schools have a unique atmosphere and often are ground for innocent and lifelong friendships. Working in such an atmosphere can be quite rewarding and fulfilling. 

Schools also give vacations and sometimes even insurance. Most schools also have lunch systems which can be very cheap but, at the same time, very nourishing and taste nice as they cater to children.

ESL teachers in Japan

It could be tough to adapt if you do not speak at least basic Japanese on the downside.

Work can be exhausting as dealing with children takes a lot of energy, and they often have to be reminded to behave and follow the rules. It could get boring for those who seek constant growth in their careers.

The Japanese government provides the Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program (JET). It is an exchange program for ESL teachers to get placed in schools around Japan.

Multiple companies also privately hire ALTs and link them to schools they contract. Salaries start from JPY 200,000 to an average of JPY 270,000.

(ii) Colleges and Universities

Teaching roles in universities are more demanding and need higher qualifications. For instance, a master’s degree in English or related fields.

It is also tough to find jobs at major universities. It is only available at universities outside the city or in smaller towns.

Teaching English at a Japanese university would involve teaching the language to undergraduate or postgraduate students. And also communicate in English with them.

These differ from English lectures in universities internationally. It focuses more on communication and speaking than literature. The number of lessons and working hours varies from university to university.

Universities usually hire three to five English lecturers who are not native to Japan.

Some universities in big cities focus more on English and language-based courses. So, they hire many more English lecturers. This is because they do it to boost their department and make it their selling point.

Japanese universities typically conduct 90-minute classes for English. Although it would differ based on the university. The university functions with student strength ranging from ten to one hundred.

General English lessons may see a higher footfall. But, many students also attend specialized English language courses.

(iii) Private schools

In Japan, English teaching positions are plentiful in private language institutes. These are called Eikaiwa or conversational schools.

Students range from kindergarten to adulthood, with day and evening shifts available.

The institute runs a 6-day week with timings ranging from 10 in the morning to 9 in the night. But, the expected working hours for an individual teacher would be around 25 hours per week.

But, different schools work differently in this aspect and more.

For example, larger or more corporate schools would mandate a dress code. This differs from smaller ones, where the surroundings are more relaxed and informal.

It is also the case that larger corporate chains of such schools are more formal. They expect longer work hours and stricter etiquette than the smaller schools.

Qualifications also depend on the school. Yet, some of them offer extensive teacher training and support before and during your contract.

Teaching English in Japan’s private schools is exciting, encouraging, and enjoyable because of performance incentives. Yet, it is easy for adults as it is much easier to teach them with no school behavior issues.

It requires much less energy, and you can expect a lot more interest as it involves people willingly learning English as a language.

It is also an opportunity to learn about the Japanese culture and lifestyle from the people who attend. They belong to various ages, thus giving a diverse perspective. Also, English teaching jobs are available all year.

But, the application process can take a long time.

Children’s Eikaiwas usually pay slightly more than adult Eikaiwas, with a monthly salary of roughly JPY240,000 to JPY270,000.

Besides, you may be eligible for a completion incentive for each contract you finish, depending on your employer.

Support in locating and arranging housing facilities is more benefit that some companies will supply.

They may also cover Japan’s expensive move-in charges, which can frequently exceed JPY200,000. The average pay at Eikaiwas is oriented toward adults, or both adults and children, are roughly JPY255,000.

English education in Japan

Other perks could include contract completion bonuses of roughly JPY100,000, social insurance enrollment, and paid time off.

According to Japanese law, one thing to remember is that you must wait at least 6 months from your start date to take these vacation days.

Basic requirements for being an ESL

For anyone considering becoming an English teacher in Japan, the most basic requirement would be to have a bachelor’s degree, irrespective of the subject. It does not have to be a degree in education.

Besides a bachelor’s degree, the role requires a TEFL certificate.

TEFL certification is a qualification for teaching English. It stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language and is necessary for becoming an ESL, i.e., English as a Second Language teacher.

It is also unnecessary to be a native English speaker. As long as you are fluent in English and have a bachelor’s degree and TEFL certification, you can do it as an English teacher in Japan.

To stay in Japan, you would also require a working visa. Usually, schools sponsor or help with availing such a visa. Plus, they often issue a certificate of eligibility that speeds up the visa process.

Do you need to speak Japanese?

This isn’t mandatory since you teach English as part of your job. Your work includes teaching students a native accent and conversational skills.

You need some Japanese knowledge as an ESL teacher if your students can’t speak English.

This is important for second-year students and recent graduates. Plus, understanding the language allows students to participate more freely in class.

Knowing the Japanese language can ease communication. This is because most natives do not speak English outside of school.

English teachers salary in Japan

Without formal courses, you can learn through immersion. This can give your resume more value.

It would be good to learn the language, at least at a beginner’s level. And that won’t be that tough.

How do you apply?

One of the largest markets in the world for English teaching is Japan.

There are job openings throughout the year, but you need to schedule an interview in advance. Most employers conduct their interviews via Skype, Zoom, Cisco, or another online meeting platform.

These are some crucial points to keep in mind.

Application procedures

Most schools will upload or post the application form on their official website. They also allow you to apply through job board advertisements.

Thus, the time of year you apply for a teaching job in Japan is critical, considering the job role or position you want.

For people, considering ALT as an option and the JET program interests them. In that case, they accepted applications starting in late November.

ALT firms hire during the spring and autumn semesters, from January to March and June to September.

Fortunately, with Eikaiwas, they hire all year as they do not have any semester system.

Cost of living

The cost of living in Japan is high for housing and utility bills. Both combined, they range from JPY 85000 to JPY 120000 per month.

The location also affects the rates. For example, bigger cities are more expensive than smaller ones. Also, Japanese legal procedures for housing can be a hassle.

Most schools help by acting as guarantors for apartments, paying the rent deposit, and providing furniture.

Since the initial costs would be high to settle down, the paycheck would start only after a while. So, ensure a special fund to sustain yourself until things become better for the first few months.

The travel system is very well established in Japan to offset these costs. Also, the extensive connected public transport ensures a minimum transportation cost.

Also, while Japan sees many high-end restaurants and stores, viable and cheap options are not an uncommon sight. Also, many convenience stores and local eateries are available for healthy and affordable food options.

Lifestyle and culture

Japanese are very polite and welcoming. Thus, teaching them would be easy, as they are respectful and curious to learn.

The work culture and environment are very formal and place a lot of priority on etiquette and respect. Thus, social customs are significant in Japan.

Reading up and adapting to them as soon as possible would help land a job and maintain a good impression at the workplace.

Cities to consider

Major cities have a lot of opportunities to offer. They can inspire growth and ambition through their dedicated and productive work culture.

Tokyo, Okinawa, Fukuoka, Sapporo, and Osaka are some of the best cities to consider. These are major cities and have robust economies.

While Tokyo has the most openings for foreigners looking for a job. But, it is densely populated and the most expensive city in Japan, with businesses and the economy bustling.

ESL jobs in Japan

Okinawa has lower opportunities compared to Tokyo. Still, it has a lot of openings for aspiring ALTs. Osaka has a warmer vibe than the other cities. Also, it has almost as much potential as Tokyo in terms of jobs.

It also has a good number of foreign settlers. Sapporo is the most preferred way of living and feeling at home among the foreign communities. It is a splendid opportunity.

Fukuoka is like Sapporo and is also a typical pick among foreigners in Japan.

Conclusion: Should you teach English in Japan?

Japan has a high demand for English language education. You can land a lucrative job there with your skills and adventurous spirit.

This is an incredible chance for you to travel to beautiful places. And eat delicious food, learn Japanese, meet new people, and understand Japanese culture.

You will also earn money and experience. So, it is a worthwhile venture.

That would be almost all the information one would need to decide about becoming an ESL in Japan.

Choosing a career as an English teacher in Japan requires an informed decision. I hope this guide will help in the process.

Are you considering a career as an ESL teacher? Does teaching English in Japan through different programs interest you? Share your thoughts in the comment below!

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Vikash Gupta

I’m a linguist, lifelong learner, educator, blogger, and fun-loving guy. I write at studyfrenchspanish.com, languagenext.com, joyofkorean.com, joyofchinese.com, joyofjapanese.com.

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