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Teaching English in Japan FAQ

Teaching English in Japan is a popular job for people who want to experience life in Japan for at least a year. This FAQ is made up of a mixture of 1st hand and 2nd hand information. Feel free to add your questions or corrections in the comments section.

teaching in japan

What qualifications to I need to be an English teacher in Japan?

The main one is to have a bachelor’s university degree*. This is needed to satisfy Japan’s visa sponsorship requirements.

* Unless – you qualify for a working holiday visa, in which case you probably don’t need a degree (but the requirements for a WHV vary from country to country, so you’ll have to check).

Many sites on the internet write that you need a ‘four year bachelors’ degree – but this isn’t true. What you need is a completed bachelors degree, the length of which may vary depending on what you studied and in which country you did your studies. For example in the UK we often spend 3 years on a bachelors degree, whereas the same subject may take 4 years in America.

The second main ‘qualification’ you’ll need is to be a native English speaker, although some companies don’t even that – some are happy if you can call yourself a ‘natual’ English speaker.

Do I need a teaching qualification?

No. Some companies will prefer it, some may even require it, but there are plenty that are happy to employ you with no teaching qualification.

Do I need teaching experience to teach English in Japan?

Again it is not necessary – but it would help if you have it. Some companies will insist on experience, others prefer people with no experience so they can more easily train them using their own teaching methods.

Do I need to speak Japanese?

No! English is usually learnt best if there is no Japanese used in the classroom. Unfortunately many Japanese teachers of English (JTEs) can barely speak any English so teach much of their classes in Japanese or Katakana. This is why the government needs so many ALTs – so that the kids can get exposed to real English. And also why conversation schools are so popular.

Japanese speaking ability will however be useful for talking to Japanese teachers/staff in the school, and it will make your Japan life easier in general.

Where can I teach English in Japan?

Most people teach in one of these places:

  • Public schools – for children aged 6-18. You will be employed by an ALT dispatch company or the JET scheme and then assigned to the school rather than applying to the school directly for work.
  • Eikaiwa – private English conversation school for all ages, from kids to adults.

But it is also possible to find jobs at:

  • Kindergarten – 3-6 year olds.
  • Private schools
  • University
  • Juku – private cram schools for kids. English classes here are usually taught by Japanese teachers, but a (very) small number of Juku’s employ native speakers.
  • Private tuition – in coffee shops and cafés for example. You won’t get a visa to do this though, so this is something you can only do in addition to you visa sponsored job.

Which teaching companies can I apply to?

Here is a summary of some of the larger companies. If you need visa sponsorship then the larger companies are your best bet. Many of them will also help you with housing if necessary. If you are already in Japan, with permission to work, then you could apply to smaller companies as well.

ALT jobs

  • JET – the government scheme. Good pay and benefits, but a very long application process. 35 hours per week. ¥3,600,000 per year (¥300,000 per month).
  • Interac – one of the largest private ALT dispatch company with positions all over Japan. ¥230,000-¥250,000 per month.
  • Altia Central – ALT dispatch
  • Heart – ALT dispatch, mostly in Kanto.
  • RCS – ALT dispatch in Kanto. ¥210,000-¥240,000 per month.

Conversation school jobs

  • ECC – 50% kids, 50% adults, group classes. Mostly in Kanto, Kinki, and Chubu. Good holidays, and shorter hours than many similar Eikaiwas. 29.5 hour work week. ¥252,000 per month.
  • Aeon – one of the largest conversation schools in Japan. Mix of adult and kids group classes. 38 hour work week. ¥270,000 per month.
  • Gaba – 1:1 English teaching for adults (some kids teaching opportunities as well). You can pick exactly when you want to work. Pay starts at ¥1500 per 40 minute class with a 5 minute break between classes. You only get paid for classes which are booked by the students.
  • Amity – children’s English group classes. Owned by Aeon. 40 hour work week. ¥285,000 per month.
  • Berlitz – Adults and kids classes. They have a mix of full time and part time contracts available.
  • Shane English School – teaches British English in the Tokyo area to group classes. ¥245,000 per month
  • Peppy Kids Club – kids group classes. ¥250,000/month.
  • Epion – collection of juku schools mainly in the Osaka and Kyoto area. Kids group classes. ¥200,000 if doing 5 days per week.
  • Nova – When Nova and GEOS when bust, many of their locations were bought by G.communication, which via Jibun Mirai Kyoiku is still using the Nova brand to sell classes. 8 40 minute group classes per day, 5 days a week. ¥273,000/month.

University jobs

  • Westgate – 3-5 month teaching contracts at Japanese University or college.

The best list of teaching job adverts is on the GaijinPot jobs page.

I read on [some Japan forum] that [English teaching company X] is terrible

It is interesting to read about other people’s experiences, but read them with caution – some companies are of course better than others, and there will always be people who have good experiences and others who have bad experiences at the same company. Of course the ones who have bad experiences are a lot louder and post about their experiences a lot more.

Also remember that some of the companies are much bigger than others. Just because companyX has 5 times more complaints than companyY doesn’t mean it is any worse. If it is 10 times the size then it may be much better on average!

What can I expect at the interview?

You will probably be asked in advance to prepare a 5-10 minute lesson. The interviewer or the other interviewees (if this is a group recruitment session) will pretend to be the students. You may well on the day be asked to prepare another short lesson with only 5-10 minutes notice. If you are applying to teach adults and kids they may want you to do a lesson for each. They want to see enthusiasm, clear simple English, and especially for the kids you will need to do lots of hand/body gestures to explain your lesson.

Some companies will give you a written test on grammar, spelling, and lesson planning.

And there will certainly be a face to face interview where they will want to know about your motivation for going to Japan, and for teaching there.

If you are being recruited from abroad they will always want to make sure that you aren’t going to get culture shock after a week in the country, quit, and go home. If you have been to Japan before, or spent time in other foreign countries you may have an advantage.

What factors should I consider?

Here are the two main questions you should consider:

  • Do you want to teach in a public school, or conversation school?
  • Do you want to teach kids, adults or both?

Having answers to these questions will very quickly narrow down the companies you will apply to.

How do I get a visa to teach in Japan?

You will either need a company to sponsor you, or get a working holiday visa. In order to get them to sponsor a visa for you they will have to offer you a job.

There are two types of company sponsored visa for teachers.

  • Instructor visa – for teachers at elementary, junior high, and senior high schools.
  • Specialist in humanities/International Services – for conversation school teachers.

Unfortunately having two types of visa makes it harder to switch jobs in Japan. For example it is easy to move from one eikaiwa to another as the visa type (more accurately residence status) stays the same, but to move from public school to an eikaiwa would require your new employer to change your residence status, which is extra paper work for them.

There is more information about visas on my Japan Visa FAQ page.

What are the different types of public school like in Japan?

It is hard to answer as there is so much variation. Like anywhere else there are good schools and bad schools, good kids and bad kids, and good Japanese teachers and bad Japanese teachers.

Here are a few generalisations though.

  • Elementary school – the kids will be very lively, enthusiastic and not shy to give answers in class. At this age they will respect the teacher so it should be possible to control them.
  • Junior high – during the first year of Junior high the kids will probably still have much of their elementary school enthusiasm in them, but by the 2nd and 3rd year their enthusiasm and willingness to learn will probably decline as the Japanese school system wears them down. Many schools will still have great kids, but some schools will have many kids that the teachers can’t (or won’t) control. Some of the kids in these schools may well cause trouble for you (refusal to work / insults) especially if you are female.
  • Senior high – May be better or worse than Junior high, depending on how academic the kids are. If it is a good school, and many of the kids want to do English at university it could be great. If they have long since lost interest in English it could be a nightmare.

On average children from the country side in Japan will be better behaved than city children.

Class sizes can be up to 40 children in Tokyo or other big cities. At country side schools, or more academic schools the classes may be smaller, or may be split into two for better learning.

Aren’t Japanese children some of the best behaved in the world?

Yes – they are probably better behaved than children from most other countries. The problem is that at public schools there is (usually) no proper discipline system. i.e. no detention, no lines, no sending kids out of the class, and no shouting at the kids.

Many JTE are unable to control badly behaved kids. This isn’t a problem in most schools where the kids are fairly well behaved, but if you get one of those schools with badly behaved kids and weak JTEs you may be in for a rough ride. You may be forced to try to discipline them yourselves, even if that isn’t officially your job.

This open letter to the Minister of Education on the Japan Times gives an example of the problems that some ALTs face.

If I ended up with a class of badly behaved kids and a powerless JTE what do I do?

Here’s some options:

  • Inform your ALT dispatch company of the problem and get their advice.
  • Raise your voice to scare the kids into behaving (Japanese teachers don’t usually shout at the kids as it shows a loss of control, but sometimes it is better to short than to let the classroom turn into a zoo).
  • Convince the JTE to take a more active role in disciplining the kids – e.g. have them sit or stand next to the worst ones.
  • Get any trouble makers to appologise to you. Either in class or ask their home room teacher (form teacher) to have them come to the staff room to see you at lunch time.
  • Speak to their home room teacher and get them to talk to the problem child.
  • Speak to the sports coach of the child – often the badly behaved ones are the sporty kids (e.g. the baseball boys), and their sports coach may be the only teacher they respect.

You will however have to be careful if trying to deal with these issues directly – this may well go against the contract between the ALT dispatch company and the board of education.

How do I get a job at public school?

You should either apply to one of the ALT (assistant languate teacher) dispatch companies such as Interac, or apply to the government JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme) scheme.

Most ALTs are assigned to schools via one of these routes rather than being employed by the school directly.

The school year if from April to the following March, so much of the recruitment is for jobs starting in April. However recruitment does happen at other times of the year to replace teachers who have left.

Will I teach my own classes, or will I be team teaching?

It all depends on which ALT dispatch company you work for, the school, the teachers, the age of the kids, your teaching ability, and the contract between the dispatch company and the boards of education. You will probably fall into one of these categories, or somewhere inbetween.

  • Full responsibility for teaching – you will plan the lessons, and run the entire class from start to end without any input from the Japanese English Teacher (JTE). Their only role will be to handle discipline and safety issues.
  • Team teaching – you and the teacher may jointly plan the lesson in advance, and will both teach it together.
  • Human tape recorder – The JTE will teach the class and you will be called on once in a while to give the correct pronunciation of some words or phrases.

Here are some generalisations, but individual experiences will greatly vary.

  • Elementary schools often involve team teaching, and Japanese may be used for parts of the class.
  • ALTs from private dispatch companies will probably have full responsibility for teaching the class for junior / senior high.
  • JETs may well be team teaching for junior / senior high.

What is the English level of the Japanese students and teachers like?

In general, very poor. Japan consistently comes out near the bottom of world English proficiency surveys. For example by looking at the 2010 data of the TOEFL tests you can see that Japanese native speakers are near the bottom of the list, only beating speakers of languages such as Bambaria, Kikuyu, Khmer, Kurdish, Lao, Uighar and Wolof.

When compared to ‘English as a foreign language’ (EFL) speakers from developed countries the Japanese are pretty much at the bottom. Their English skills are below other East Asian countries such as China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Of course Japanese is a very different language from English, but then so is Chinese and Korean, and these other countries are higher on the English league tables, despite not being as rich (per person).

Here’s a summary of some of the factors that contribute to the poor English speaking ability of the Japanese:

  • Many Japanese people aren’t interested in learning English. They have no plans to ever leave the country, or even their own prefecture, and don’t plan to make any English speaking friends.
  • Japanese is a very different language to English in terms of pronunciation, and grammar rules.
  • The way it is taught at schools by the JTEs is very borning, relying on grammar and translation rather than practical speaking and conversation.
  • JTEs often teach English using Katakana, so the children are taught the wrong pronunciation for words from the very start.
  • JTEs often give the kids the answers and expect them to remember, rather than asking questions and making them think for themselves.
  • Most Japanese people have very little interaction with foreigners, and so don’t have many opportunities to use any English they may have.
  • The average English level of the JTEs is low for the factors above, and also because many of them haven’t done a full English degree at University level. To become an English teacher they do a mixture of English modules and teaching modules. The mixture depends on what level they want to teach at (for example to teach at senior high school requires a higher amount of English modules than teaching at junior high). The total amount of English they are doing is less than foreign language teachers of other countries would do. For example to be a French teacher in the UK you would do a 4 year French degree, spending one of these years in France, and then do a one year teaching qualification after completing your French degree.
  • Many Japanese people (and also many JTEs!) have never been to an English speaking country. Even at senior high school you will find many JTEs who have never spent time in an English speaking country – even for a quick holiday.

What is an Eikaiwa?

An eikaiwa is a private English conversation school. You could be teaching adults, kids, or more usually both. In general you will teach group classes of up to 8 students, but you may be doing 1:1 classes as well.

Eikaiwa usually have standardised lesson plans and teaching methods that they want you to follow.

You will be teaching mostly in the evenings and weekends as this is when the kids, and business people are out of school/work. There will probably be afternoon classes for house wives and students.

This cartoon on YouTube has a funny (but maybe quite accurate) depiction of some of the characters you might meet in lower level English classes.

A Day in the Life – English Conversation School in Japan

And this mini-series on YouTube gives a humerous perspective on life in an Eikaiwa.

OMG! Best Eikaiwa Ever! part 1 (there are 4 parts)

And finally you may want to watch this 8 part series called ‘English Teachers‘. A bigger budget mini-series about life in a fictional eikaiwa.

How can I get a teaching job in Tokyo?

First remember that Japan isn’t all about Tokyo. In fact many people have amazing experiences in other cities, or country side area. In the country side you’ll find that people are friendlier, the kids are better behaved, and you’ll get to see more of the real Japan.

But if you really want to come to Tokyo then your best bet might be an Eikaiwa or ALT dispatch company that specialises in the Tokyo area (see the list above). Even then Tokyo is large so don’t expect to be in a Yamanote line location.

With JET you have no choice where you are placed, and with Interac you have a bit more say, but not enough say to insist on Tokyo (unless you are already in Tokyo).

Eikaiwas are a good bet if you insist on being in Tokyo or a big city, as their teaching locations are manly in the cities, near the busy train stations.

Public schools are obviously scattered all around Japan, so if you want to teach in a public school you should try to be more flexible with your location.

If you really want to be in Tokyo you might have the most success if you apply for jobs whilst in Japan. Is this allowed? Technically not – you aren’t supposed to job hunt if you have a temporary visitor permit. But as long as you don’t tell anyone at immigration when you enter the country, and have an onward ticket so they can see you have an intention to leave, you can get away with it.

Will I have to sing and dance for the kids?

If you are teaching elementary level kids then there is almost certain to be some singing, acting, and dancing in your lessons – you may end up becoming what some people refer to as a ‘Gaijin Clown’, whose job is to entertain the kids more than teach them. If you don’t want to do this then stick to teaching older kids or adults.

How has the huge earthquake of March 2011 affected the job situation?

If you are in Tokyo there has not been an easier time (in recent years) to get a teaching job than the months after the earthquake. Many foreigners either quit their jobs and went home, or decided not to renew their contracts. Others who were due to arrive in April decided not to come – the disaster happened very close to the end of the school year, so the timing was terrible for companies that recruit in April-March cycles. I’ve heard the word ‘Flyjin’ used to describe the people who left suddenly.

Many ALT dispatch companies and eikaiwas have been left with severe shortages of teachers, so they have desperately been trying to recruit since. I’ve personally spoken to recruiters at four eikaiwa companies who have told me about their large teacher deficits, and I have heard via a friend that the same situation exists at one of the major ALT dispatch companies.

Obviously to recruit a large number of extra teachers on top of their usual recruitment needs has been very difficult, and they have had to reduce standards to get people in the door.

The recruitment situation is starting to get back to normal as of June/July 2011, but I know that there are still shortages at some companies.

This is the case in Tokyo, so the situation may vary in other parts of the country, especially those directly hit by the earthquake and tsunami.

How will I get a flat / place to live?

Many teaching companies will offer to get you set up up in an individual or shared flat / room / house. They will then deduct the rent from your salary.

The advantage of this is that you don’t have to find a place yourself, and your initial expenses will be less as you probably won’t have to pay deposits / key money etc. The disadvantage is that your place might not be that good, it may be over priced, and if you leave your job your company might evict you.

If you prefer to find your own place you can try the following companies:

  • Sakura House – flats, guest houses and dormitories in Tokyo. They rent exclusively to foreigners.
  • Leopalace21 – they have nearly identical looking small flats all over Japan. They are happy to rent to foreigners, you don’t need a guarantor, they don’t charge key money and they have short term and long term contracts available. If you are signing a long term contract you will however need about three months worth of rent from day one, to cover the first two months of rent, the deposit, and other misc fees. I recommend working out how to use their Japanese site as this will allow you to properly search their range of flats. I have a guide to using the Leopalace Japanese website here.
  • Oakhouse – guest houses in Tokyo and Yokohama for foreigners.
  • Apollo Properties – in Osaka and Nagoya.
  • JTB Homestay – if you want to live with a Japanese family.

Do I have to pay taxes?

Yes!

There are a variety of different taxes you will have to pay. Income tax will usually be taken straight out of your salary at a rate of 10%.

You will have to have some kind of health insurance.

If you are in the country for over a year you will need to be on one of the government’s health insurance programmes – either the employee health insurance scheme, or the national health insurance (NHI). If you are on the employee health insurance scheme the premiums will be deducted from your salary. If you are on NHI you will have to pay the premiums separately.

The employees insurance combines health and pension. Your employer will contribute 50%. About ¥10,000 will be deducted from your monthly salary for the health insurance and about ¥20,000 for the pension. You can get some of your pension payments back if you leave the country, but you’ll have to do some form filling to get it.

If you sign up to the NHI instead you will end up paying about 10% of your salary after the first year for the health insurance. For the first year you will pay a much smaller amount (about ¥2500-¥4000) as the premiums are based on your previous year’s pay (which would have been 0 as you weren’t in Japan!). If you delay joining the NHI (and you weren’t previously in the employees health insurance scheme) you may have to make up back payments for the time you were uninsured.

If you are on the NHI you are in theory supposed to join the national pension scheme as well – but many foreigners who are only going to be in Japan for a few years don’t bother.

If you are in the country for less than a year you might get away with private health insurance, but with this you’ll have to pay for any bills in cash, and claim it back later which can be a pain. Be aware that if you are on private health insurance and switch to NHI you’ll have to pay the back payments.

And you will have to pay resident’s tax / local tax. This catches many people out as you pay in arrears the year after you have lived somewhere. It could be about 7-9% of your salary and you pay direct to the government via the city office, or bank, in four instalments.

Therefore it is very important that if you are intending to spend several years in Japan you don’t spend all your money as you earn it. In the first year you need to save up so you can afford to pay the tax that you will be charged later on.

Read this tale of despair on GaijinPot for an example of someone who hadn’t planned for his resident’s tax bill!

How long do most people spend in Japan teaching English?

Most people spend between 1 and 3 years in Japan before going home. People either tend to burn up after that, or they enjoy it so much that they move into a management/training role at the teaching company, or sometimes marry a Japanese person and settle.


Reader Feedback

8 Responses to “Teaching English in Japan FAQ”

  1. Pc111 says:

    As of October 2011 When I will be in Japan on a Working holiday visa , how easy do you think it will be to get a teaching job or any other job, I have already applied to Gaba. I’m British :)
    I have no degree or teaching experience though and really don’t want to run out of money at any time.

  2. reviewmylife says:

    Hi Pc111, I think you’ll be able to get a teaching job – it will probably be easiest in Tokyo due to the number of English teaching positions available there. You may also find it easiest to get a job once you are in Japan as you’ll be able to go to interviews, or start work at very short notice.

    Many companies say they want people with degrees, but this is largely for the visa sponsorship. As you already have the visa I’m sure you will find a company to work for. Gaba will certainly employ people with neither a degree or experience.

    A very large percentage of English teachers in Japan have no prior teaching experience so don’t worry about that. They are more interested in your ability to provide an interesting lesson for the clients/students so they keep paying for more lessons.

  3. Paul says:

    Very good blog! Keep up the good work!!!

  4. Excellent and informative post. I completely agree with the ‘there’s more to Japan than Tokyo’ part.

    I was on the JET Programme and stationed in Fukui – and very rural part of Japan – but it was an excellent place to live.

    If you’re interested in reviewing a book I wrote about the experience for your site, I’d be happy to send you a copy – there’s more info here: http://ForFukuisSake.com.

    cheers
    Sam

  5. Hey there,
    that’s a really good collection of FAQs!

    One thing you might want to add is:
    “Do I need to be a native speaker of English?”
    People keep asking me that question all the time as I’m German, but still teach English in Japan and have been doing so for over 4 years.

    Keep up your great blog, I’m gonna follow it from now on! :)

  6. Kat says:

    Hi, I just wanted to clarify. I know most Eikawas and ALT dispatch companies require you to have a bachelor’s degree, but is this just so you can get a Work Visa? If I have three years experience in TEFL (mostly in call centers, teaching adults), would that be considered?

  7. reviewmylife says:

    Hi Kat, that’s correct. It is easier for them to get your work visa approved if you have a bachelor’s degree. You’d have to contact the teaching companies individually to see if they’d be willing to sponsor you without it. Good luck!

  8. Mez says:

    This was really informative despite being published 2 years ago (and I guess the changes aren’t that dramatic in any case). Thanks so much for this! I knew a lot of it from research, but it’s really great to have this fact-sheet convenient with all the info :)

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