When it comes to Asia, heck, even the world, Japan is up there as a TOP teaching destination to teach English in. Vacation-wise it is also high up on most people’s lists, due to the insane food (give me Japanese food any day of the week), hot springs, off-the-charts technology and gadgets, and incredible culture.
The country is VERY orderly and efficient, so even though you may get a little culture shock, you won’t feel like you’re jumping in at the deep end.
However, don’t make the mistake of thinking getting a teaching job in Japan is a walk in the park though, it can be tough. But, this hasn’t stopped it from being highly attractive to English teachers everywhere. The fact that it’s one of the highest-paid countries in Asia for teaching doesn’t hurt either!
It can be difficult getting a job here as a newbie English teacher, and even for seasoned teachers with a lot of experience under their belt, as it’s still a highly competitive market.
Schools here are looking for the best of the best, so they’re a little fussier about who gets the job. Don’t let this deter you though, as I’ve put together this handy guide to help you learn all there is to know about teaching English in Japan, and to help you to land the job of your dreams!
Why Teach English in Japan?
Japan is an awesome place to really hone in your English teaching skills. Teaching in a foreign country like Japan pushes you to new limits and helps you to grow by taking you out of your comfort zone and forcing you to come up with new and innovative ways to teach and help the kids!
The comfortable salary also opens up the rest of Japan (and even Asia) for you to explore on your days off and vacations.
Here are some other reasons you might wanna teach English in Japan:
Pros | Why you NEED to Teach in Japan
- Good Salary: Like I’ve mentioned before, Japan pays their English teachers very good salaries, which even though Japan is an expensive place to live, you however, can live well while you’re there, and do some exploring too!
- Year-round Hiring: You can find jobs in Japan pretty much throughout the year, although January – April are the best time to look ahead of the school year.
- Range of Teaching Jobs: There is a market in Japan for children aged 5-18 as well as adults. So if you’re more comfortable teaching adults over kids, you’ll still find plenty of opportunities in private language schools (in big cities you will also find plenty of kids taking English as an extracurricular!). These will be the best bet for most foreign teachers, as public school teachers will need to speak Japanese and have a teaching license, and international schools are fewer and highly competitive. You can still get a job in a public school, but you will be an assistant language teacher (or ALT) alongside a local teacher.
- Reputable Placement Companies: Since teaching English in Japan is so popular, there are quite a few reliable and trustworthy groups that can help you find a good, safe, and secure teaching position.
- Traditional and Contemporary Cultures: Japan has an incredible blend of old and new cultures. You could find yourself paying tribute in a traditional (and probably very old) temple one day, and rocking up to Harajuku square to admire the wacky fashion and enjoy some kawaii treats the next!
- Beautiful Rural Areas: Japan has some very underrated and breathtaking rural sites with stunning traditional architecture. I would recommend bringing your pocket English – Japanese dictionary though as many people in rural villages won’t speak fluent (if any) English.
Cons | What to Consider before Teaching in Japan
- Cost of Living: While the salary is high, the cost of living is high too. Luckily there are a few easy ways to keep your spending in check, but if you’re someone who lacks discipline in the shopping/eating out department (guilty as charged), you might struggle to save.
- Degree Needed: Alongside other requirements, having a three-year college degree is a MUST to get a teaching job in Japan. Having a master’s degree is preferred though, and will definitely give you an edge over other applicants! You will also need a TEFL certification, but if you really want to give yourself the best CV possible, getting a CELTA course is a great idea.
- Not Authentic Teaching: This will depend on you, but many foreign teachers (especially ALTs) in Japan say they don’t feel like they’re really teaching. Experiences will differ between schools and positions, but some jobs won’t allow you to assign homework, teach reading or writing, or make your own lesson plans. You may even just find yourself assisting a local teacher, which for some people can be unfullfiling. If you want to get an understanding of what it’s really like to teach in Japan, read our interview with Becky, an English teacher in Japan.
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How Much can Teachers Expect to Make?
There are lots of different types of teaching jobs in Japan, so salaries can vary. Generally, first-time teachers can expect to make between 1500 and 2500 USD per month (roughly 170,500 to 284,300 JPY). On average, however, you can expect to make around 2,200 USD (250,000 JPY).
Your teaching options will be between public, private language schools (eikaiwa), international schools, and private tutoring. I know, this is a lot of info to process, but bear with me as I’ll be breaking it down for you in just a second!
Getting a job as an ALT in a public school is one of the best options in Japan, and the easiest way to get a job there is through a placement company like Interac or the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET). ALT’s with JET will receive approximately 3.36 million yen per year, with their salary increasing yearly until their fourth year. This works out at 2,450 USD a month in year one.
Private language school teachers can expect to be paid as much as 2,400 USD (275,000 JPY) a month, but brace yourself for longer hours (sometimes working on weekends and evenings) and more demanding work. The advantage to these is that unlike ALT positions, you will be the lead teacher and have more control over the curriculum. Many of these schools cater to business people and university students as well as children taking extracurriculars, so you could find yourself teaching people aged between 6 and 80! These classes are usually one hour slots, for students of varying levels.
Now, the REAL honey pot when it comes to teaching positions is working in an international school. These require you to be a fully certified and experienced teacher where you come from and are highly competitive due to the (most likely) better salary and range of benefits. Salaries differ from school to school, but we’re talking about 1850 – 5500 USD! (210,000 – 630,000 JPY).
Private tutoring is good for controlling your own schedule, but the catch is that private tutoring (for kids AND adults) is illegal if your work visa is tied to a public, private, or international school. You’ll need to sign up with a tutoring agency like Gaba to get private tutoring gigs. Agencies like Gaba offer a starting salary of 13USD (1,500 JPY) for a 40 minute session, with many tutors doing over 200 sessions a month (roughly 2,600 USD or 300,000 JPY).
Requirements for Teaching in Japan
- Fluent English Speaker: Citizenship from the U.S., U.K., Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa are highly sought after. However, if you’re from a country outside of these and can prove fluency plus have the relevant documentation, you still have a shot!
- Three-year College Degree: This doesn’t need to be a specific degree but you DO have to have one.
- TEFL Certificate: Luckily, these can be easily obtained online – they are not strictly required, but many schools prefer teachers with a TEFL certification, and those without can expect a lower salary.
- A Criminal Background Check: This one feels pretty self-explanatory
- A Heath and Drug Check: Japan has zero-tolerance on drugs, so of course, anyone found with drugs in their system won’t be granted a work visa for teaching.
- Work Visa: You will need to apply for a work visa before you arrive in Japan, in most cases the school you will be working at will sponsor your visa and provide you with your contract and certificate of eligibility to submit along with your other documents.
- Start-up Money: Sometimes you may find yourself with included or subsidized accommodation with your work placement, but other times you will need to sort it out for yourself. In this case, you will need a large chunk of start-up money to arrange to rent somewhere, pay deposits, etc. Generally, 4,000 USD will be enough. This is also to get you through your first month before you receive your first paycheck.
Japan may seem quite strict when it comes to requirements (as I said earlier, this country is orderly), but it is well worth the extra steps! If this seems daunting to you, you can let someone else do the work for you! Global Work and Travel offers fully guided programs for travellers that want to combine their passions of teaching and travel into one with TEFL placement and assistance finding paid work included.
Where to Get TEFL Certified
If you were paying attention above (I hope you were!), then you’ll see that having a TEFL certification isn’t a strict requirement. However, I really recommend getting one as not only will this make you waaaay more attractive to schools, but those teaching without a TEFL will probably be offered a lower salary since you’ll be seen as less qualified.
Having a TEFL also makes it easy for you to teach in other destinations (especially those where a TEFL certificate is mandatory for foreign teachers).
While we’re talking courses, as I mentioned earlier, getting a CELTA qualification is highly recommended too. Having a CELTA under your belt will open up more teaching qualifications to you in the future, and give you a better chance of getting a decent teaching job in Japan!
Online TEFL Certificates
There are tons of places to get TEFL certificates online. Some of them are phoney. These are usually video-only courses where you don’t talk to someone or lesson prep on your own and they won’t help you teach English on the ground.
Here are some of our faves:
The MyTEFL 140-hour course is the gold standard of TEFL certificates. It is accepted by any country and prepares you to teach English abroad. This is an ideal course for those wanting to teach English online as it comes with an additional 20 hours dedicated to purely online teaching.
The 140-hour course covers all the areas of the English language you’ll be expected to teach such as reading, speaking, listening, writing, and phonics, as well as going into the fundamental skills you need to be an English teacher.
They also have a jobs board, so you can search for ESL teaching abroad jobs anywhere in the world. They also offer a 120-hour TEFL course for those that don’t think teaching English online is for you.
Let’s TEFL is the next best online TEFL certificate, and is the best for those needing a refresh of English rules themselves before hitting the classroom. If it’s been a long time since you’ve studied English at school, this TEFL course will help you brush up on your grammar and language skills.
It also covers classroom management and lesson planning, so you’ll be fully prepared to teach abroad and start your hunt for TEFL jobs.
It is a 120-hour TEFL certification that will have you ready and raring to share some knowledge!
TEFL Pros isn’t the most hands-on certificate, but their course is usually the cheapest. Plus, they’ve got a free trial so you don’t need to drop money to see what this is all about!
TEFL Pros also offer a 120-hour course that covers the fundamentals of the English language and classroom management techniques.
However, it is solely online. This is great for people who are already traveling, but if you want to gain in-classroom experience then this course isn’t for you. However, it will suffice to teach English in Japan.
Getting your TEFL in Japan
While online courses are great, some people would prefer to get real, hands-on, teaching experience. Lucky for you folks, TEFL has in-person courses in Japan! I won’t sugarcoat it, this will be quite pricey, so I only really recommend this for people with a little (a lot of) extra cash to splash. If you really have your heart set on getting TEFL qualified when you’re IN Japan but without the hefty price tag, then you can always consider doing your TEFL online while in Japan, but living expenses will still rack up quite a bill.
ITTT Training Centre Tokyo – I can’t personally vouch for this place but I CAN say that the group comes highly recommended and has several locations all around the world. The Japan centre is in Tokyo, close to Kanamachi and Keisei Kanamachi train stations and their facilities are modern. Your hands-on experience will be teaching Japanese kids (who better to practice on, right?!) with course groups being between 2-12 students, usually foreigners from the U.K., Canada, U.S., and Australia. Their four-week course will set you back at least 2390 USD, not including flights, meals, or accommodation. You can opt to book somewhere to stay with them for an additional fee.
CELTA Course Kobe – As a little bonus, if you are considering a CELTA qualification, I highly recommend this course in Kobe! The 4-week course will set you back around 2,500 USD but the center can help you find accommodation either in a student dormitory or a homestay! If you wanna find your own place, Kobe is a lot more affordable than Tokyo, and nearby Osaka has a real artsy scene making it the perfect place to spend your weekends. It is also possible to take an online or partially online course with this center.
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Where to Teach English in Japan
There are TONNES of options when it comes to where to teach English in Japan. To keep this article short and sweet, however, I will just stick to a few major cities with a quick mention for rural spots.
Teaching in Tokyo
Tokyo barely needs any introduction, it is Japan’s capital city, buzzing with life, and FULL of opportunities!
In Tokyo, you can find foreign and locally-run schools and teaching positions at public and private schools. Since Tokyo has such a high population (almost 14 million!) finding students as private tutors will be much easier here. There are also (unsurprisingly) a LOT of international schools here so if you’re looking to score a position at one of those, Tokyo would be a good place to start looking.
Aside from ease of teaching, another reason why Tokyo is HELLA popular is that it is such a busy metropolitan that you will find so much to do on your doorstep or a quick metro ride away, that weekends will be jam-packed with fun. One thing to consider though is that this city is probably THE most expensive place to live in Japan, so if you want to save up your money, living somewhere more affordable might be the smart thing to do.
Teaching in Fukuoka
Fukuoka is known as the gateway to Kyushu which is Japan’s third-largest island and famous for its greenery, relaxed vibe, and hot springs!
The cost of living here is waaaay cheaper than in Tokyo, but it still has all the benefits of living in a major city! There are plenty of public AND private schools here on the lookout for English teachers, and although the population of the city is small at around 1.6 million, you may still find some private tutoring lessons, although your chances are better somewhere bigger.
If you’re after the city vibes as well as the charming country life, then Fukuoka may be the perfect place for you! It is highly connected to other areas of Japan so exploring for the weekend of holidays would be easy, with plenty of quaint towns just a short train ride away. MEGA bonus points for being where Tonkotsu (pork broth) ramen originated from!
Teaching in Kyoto
Images of Kyoto have probably had the biggest impact in the west when we think of old Japanese culture. The city is relatively small, with a population of 1.5 million, and has several UNESCO heritage sites, beautiful temples, and is the center of geisha culture in Japan.
Kyoto is a lot cheaper to live in than Tokyo but a little more expensive than Fukuoka. There are plenty of public, private, and international schools here, so finding a job won’t be too difficult. Since the population is quite small, private tutoring lessons may be harder to come by, but the trade-off between the cheaper living costs might balance it out!
Teaching in Rural Japan
Okay, so I’ve just spent the last few hundred words selling you on how awesome it is to have a teaching job in Japanese CITIES. But many people, despite the challenges opt to teach in more rural areas, why is that?
A big draw is that rural areas are a lot cheaper. I’m talking a LOT. Another thing to consider is that cities are crowded. Rural areas will be more relaxed and if you’re into nature 24/7 then they are an obvious winner. You may also have the chance to make a real impact on these kids who may need to speak English to fulfil their dream in the city or abroad, or who don’t have a lot of experience with foreigners. A drawback of rural areas is that many people don’t speak English, so you will definitely need to learn some Japanese to get by (that could be cool though, right?).
Living in Japan and Teaching Online
Teaching online can be done anywhere in the world, but I’ll level with you, this isn’t a very sensible option for Japan. First off, the income from teaching online may not be enough to sustain your lifestyle, and secondly, you’ll be unlikely to obtain a work visa so will be limited to 90 days (the length of most tourist visas in Japan).
If you wanna use teaching online to make some money on the side while traveling as a tourist, then you’ll be happy to hear that Japan has fast and affordable wifi. All hotels and ryokan usually have free wifi, and you can buy data-only sim cards at the airport.
How to Find a Job in Japan
Luckily, the market for English teachers in Japan is MASSIVE. This means that finding a job yourself shouldn’t be too difficult, but there are also a few fantastic programs/groups (mentioned earlier) that you can sign up with. The main two are Interac and JET, and these are highly popular and are legitimate groups! Most people organize their job placements before arriving in Japan as this is a lot easier.
Go with Global Work and Travel
Global Work and Travel is an Australian based travel agency that provides guided programs for travellers wanting to combine their passion for work and exploring a new country. The packages normally come with assistance with visa requirements, connections to local businesses, accommodation search and job interviews. Some products even come with flights and basic medical insurance, a 24/7 Emergency line and payment plans.
For Japan, you’ll start with a 4 week online TEFL course, where you’ll also receive your certificate. Once you’ve completed the course, finding a job will be a breeze. Global Work and Travel has partnered with exclusive local schools around Japan where you’re guaranteed a position as an English teacher. There are opportunities in Tokyo, Osaka and a variety of other towns and cities. They’ll plan and organise all the surrounding logistics, the 24/7 emergency support team is always on standby, and their in-country partner will guide you throughout the entire journey and answer all of your questions.
In order to qualify for this program, you’ll need to have a Bachelor’s Degree in any field and a laptop that you can take with you.
Interac is great, they will give you support from the time your application is accepted, give you a free online course in beginner Japanese, arrange housing for you, help you move in, and help you set up a bank account. If you’re feeling a bit nervous about moving to a new country, you can rest assured they’ll make it a smooth process.
The whole application process is really straightforward too, simply head to their website and fill out an application. If your application is accepted then expect a phone interview, then possibly an in-person seminar or interview with a grammar test. In the U.S., U.K., Canada, Jamaica, and Ireland, this is held in a major city. Outside of these countries, you can expect a Skype interview.
After this, your documents will be sent to their head office in Tokyo, you’ll be given an offer of employment (if you’re successful), you accept the offer, wait for your visa and placement start date, then head on over to Japan and Bob’s your uncle!
The JET program is another way to get into teaching with most of the hassle of moving (visas, housing arrangements, etc.) sorted out for you, they even cover your flights. JET employees also get automatically given three types of insurance and very generous vacation days.
All this being said, the application process for JET can be LONG, you don’t get to be picky about where your placement is (you will most likely be put somewhere rural), and since the program is government-run, expect to be doing all sorts of extra work expected of a “public servant” position.
If the benefits outweigh the cons for you, then this is how you apply: go online and find the form for your country. Application deadlines are between October to late November/early December. Some countries have an online application, others will require you to submit the form to your local Japanese Embassy. Potential candidates are interviewed in person at their nearest embassy or consulate.
In late March to early April, candidates are short-listed, or selected as alternates, and those selected for an April departure head to Japan and do their post-arrival orientation in Tokyo, otherwise later arriving candidates conduct a pre-departure orientation held by their Japanese embassy/consulate. These candidates arrive around July/August, or possibly September.
Finding Your Own Job
If going through an agency or working as an ALT isn’t for you, finding your own teaching job in Japan is definitely doable. You may find yourself doing a bit of extra work applying for visas, residency cards, and housing, but for many people, finding their own job outside of an agency is worth the extra hassle. These sites are a great way to find available jobs: ohayosensei.com, jobsinjapan.com, and eslcafe.com, but around 80% require you to be already IN Japan WITH a work visa so keep that in mind.
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Living in Japan
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that actually living in Japan is a way more authentic experience than simply visiting there. You will learn the ins and outs of Japanese culture, find the best (non-tourist-trap) ramen houses, or explore some off-the-beaten-path hidden gems!
There is almost no need to worry about safety in Japan. It is one of the safest countries in the world with low levels of crime and stable democracy with little chance of political unrest. Of course, you should always have your wits about you and don’t do anything that could put you in danger like wandering down a dark alley at night or flashing all your gadgets and cash in the street.
If you DO find yourself needing assistance, head to a local koban (small police boxes) which are found dotted around the neighborhoods.
Japan is in an earthquake region and though unlikely to happen, brushing up on your earthquake safety and knowing the emergency exits in your apartment building is the smart thing to do.
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Your monthly budget will vary a lot depending on where you’re living, but I’ll give you living costs for Tokyo, and if you’re living anywhere else you can just assume it will be cheaper (YAY). Don’t forget, these are averages and really depend on you!
|Flying to Tokyo (from the US)||$400 – $800|
|Accommodation||$700 – $1300|
|Transport||$30 – $50|
EEEK living in Tokyo is expensive right?! But don’t start panicking and re-thinking becoming an English teacher in Japan! Like ANYWHERE in the world, the key to living well and saving a little something on the side is planning and discipline (boring, but necessary). Your salary will be more than enough to live a good life, but if you wanna take it a little step further, these tips can help you make the most of our monthly pay-check!
Accommodation: As you saw this is wildly variable. The way to inch towards the lower end of the apartment budget? Live somewhere outside of the city center. There are plenty of great places to stay that are just a 35-45 minute train ride from a major Tokyo station.
A word of warning before you arrive, if you’re not already aware, budget apartments in Japan are SMALL, I’m talking 15 to 20 square meters small. They do have a tonne of nifty space-saving features though so it won’t feel too cramped. With JET or Interac, your housing is arranged for you, and they will put you in something reasonably priced.
Food: Even though they’re convenient, try not to go to your local convenience store! They are often a lot more expensive than the supermarket and lots of little trips can add up throughout the month. Try to cook at home when you can using seasonal, local ingredients which will be cheaper, and be smart about eating out. Eating out CAN be expensive but also as cheap as $4 for a budget meal, so allocate yourself eating out the budget if that helps.
Transport: Japan has GREAT public transport, and wherever you’re living (especially outside the city center) getting yourself a monthly rail pass will save you money and encourage you to use the metro instead of taking taxis!
Entertainment: This one is totally on you guys. If you like to party, it’s going to cost you, if you like to shop, it’s going to cost you. If you’re looking to do some sightseeing in your local area, planning your months with a mixture of free outings (public parks, temples, hikes) can help to offset the more pricey activities (climbing Mount Fuji, heading to an onsen, Tokyo Disneyland).
Speaking the Language
Fortunately, you do NOT have to speak Japanese to teach English in Japan! Japanese is on the more difficult side to learn, especially if you wanna go all out and include kanji (Japanese writing using Chinese characters). With a little hard work, however, you could reach a conversational level within three months which would be really helpful, especially if you’re teaching in more rural areas.
You can definitely get around the main cities and tourist spots without speaking the local language, but learning a few words would be greatly appreciated by the locals for sure!
FAQs on Teaching English in Japan
How much do English teachers make in Japan?
On average, you can expect to earn1500 and 2500 USD per month.
Is it worth it to teach English in Japan?
Yes, absolutely! You can earn a decent salary and there’s plenty to explore on your time off.
Is it hard teaching English in Japan?
Once you land a job teaching in Japan, most of the time the job is quite easy. However, if you are working in a private school or international school, there will be a much higher expectation of you.
What qualifications do I need to teach English in Japan?
You need to have a degree to teach in Japan. Native-English speakers and those with a TEFL will have an advantage.
Final Thoughts on Teaching English in Japan
There’s a real reason Japan is one of the top English teaching destinations in the world. Not only is the country amazing, in culture, cuisine, and scenery, the salary is extremely attractive, and it’s easy to make local and foreign friends. Many teachers like to base themselves in Japan as the comfortable salary and proximity to the rest of Asia make exploring the region during the school holidays extremely easy.
Although teaching English in Japan is highly competitive, with the right experience, and qualifications, (plus this handy guide), finding a great job is possible! Whether you’re looking to teach in an international school, work as an ALT in a public school, or teach adults (or kids) in a private school, Japan has these opportunities and more!
The cherry (blossom) on top is that having an English teaching job in Japan will really up your teaching game and make your CV very impressive if you choose to pursue it as a career.
Now you’re all clued up and raring to go, there’s nothing more for me to say except Ganbatte! (do your best!)
Thanks for reading – that was fun! 😀
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