You can rack up some decent cash—and fast—and experience a country from a local perspective while teaching English abroad. It’s one of the best ways to see the world.
Japan, particularly, is an ideal destination for those who want to teach abroad—it's one of the most lucrative places to teach English on earth. Don’t believe me? Many of my friends have saved $10,000 USD or more per year by teaching English in Japan!
Some teaching programs offer flights, accommodation and a generous English teacher salary, while others will include at least two of those three elements. Either way, you’ll be well looked after.
But, teaching English in Japan offers a lot more than just a chance to rake in some serious cash.
Japan has a completely unique (and pretty crazy) culture. As a modern, developed country, Japan hits you with just the right amount of culture shock. You won’t be sleeping in a shack, but you’ll still have a lot of new customs you’ll need to get used to.
If you think you’re ready to try your hand at teaching English in Japan, let’s transform that plan into a reality. Boatloads of ramen (and your prospective students) awaits.
1. The First Step to Teaching English in Japan is Getting Qualified. Here’s How.
Before you head off to teach English in Japan you have to make sure you’re qualified.
Fortunately, teaching requirements in Japan are minimal. You’ll need a Bachelor’s Degree in any discipline and English as your native language (though that’s negotiable).
If you are a non-native speaker you can still teach English in Japan, but finding a job will be harder as you’ll need to prove that you have the skills (aka the language) for the job.
While you don’t technically need a TEFL certificate to teach English in much of Japan, I recommend getting one anyway—and preference tends to be given to those who have one.
The benefits of getting a TEFL:
- The TEFL course gives you a good idea of what to expect as a teacher and prepares you very well.
- You’ll be offered lesson plan ideas, develop behavior management skills and get cultural sensitivity training.
If you decide you want to teach English somewhere else after Japan, the TEFL certificate is likely going to be a non-negotiable requirement.
Obviously, the choice is yours, but if you decide you do want to get a TEFL certificate then check out the courses at i-to-i. They offer my favorite TEFL certification course, not only because it’s widely recognized, but because they help you find jobs around the world once you finish.
2. Next Things Next: Decide Where and Who You Want to Teach in Japan
Before you start applying for jobs, it’s a good idea to figure out where and who you want to teach. This will help narrow down your search and make the application process a hell of a lot easier.
Where Do You Want to Teach in Japan?
Location should be the first thing you decide. Japan has opportunities for English teachers all over the country but these are the hot spots:
- Tokyo & Osaka – These are big cities, perfect for people who want to be in the heart of all the action.
- Kyoto & Nagoya – Smaller cities with good buzz but less chaos than Tokyo and Osaka.
- Hokkaido – This one is great if you want to be near the ski slopes.
- Tottori & Shimane Prefectures – These make up the Japanese countryside, and they’re the ideal location for cultural immersion but they’re not suitable for people who don’t speak any Japanese.
Bear in mind that if you teach in a public school you might not get to choose where you go.
Who Do You Want to Teach, Anyway?
Have you decided on a location? Now you need to pick a demographic of students. Do you want to teach children or teenagers? Perhaps you would rather teach business English to adults.
There are advantages and disadvantages to working with each age group, so do your research. Which age students do you think you’ll bond with on a deeper level? Would you rather spend time with 6-year-olds or 26-year-olds?
Public or Private: What Kind of Institution Do You Prefer?
Most people teaching English in Japan will either be working for a public or private school.
If you work for a public school you’ll be an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT). These positions are the easiest to obtain.
Bear in mind the following if you think you want to work in a public school:
- It’s not a business, so you don’t need to meet targets or worry about customer service.
- As an assistant, you have less responsibility than a full teacher.
- You will have a regular schedule.
- Class sizes are big.
- If you apply with JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching—more on this later) you won't get to choose where you live. This means you could be in the middle of nowhere.
- You will probably be the only English speaker in the school.
If you don’t want to teach in a public school, then a private school is a viable (and probably your only) alternative. Private schools in Japan are known as Eikaiwas.
The pros and cons of these private schools are:
- Your materials are often all prepared for you so all you have to do is go and teach.
- Class sizes are small—sometimes just a couple of people.
- You get to choose where you live, but note that most positions are in the big cities.
- Eikaiwas are businesses so they are driven by results and performance.
- You are completely in charge of your lessons so you will have more responsibility than you would in a public school.
- You won’t learn much Japanese working here as everyone has a high level of English.
In terms of salary, there isn't much difference between the two types of schools. Generally, pay is around $2,000 USD per month for private schools and $1,600 to $2,000 USD for public schools. If you get a public school job through JET then you could be earning around $2,400 per month.
Teaching English in Japan doesn’t limit you to just public and private schools. If you have a few years of teaching experience, a Master’s Degree and a reasonable grasp of Japanese, you could also work in a university.
University English teachers can make up to $5,000 USD per month with great hours and loads of vacation time.
It’s the golden goose of English teaching jobs. But, these openings are incredibly competitive.
Whatever job you take, you can always supplement your income with private tutoring. This usually pays about $25 USD per hour. However, if you work with JET, tutoring is forbidden.
3. Where to Look for English Teaching Jobs in Japan
There are all kinds of resources online to help you find jobs teaching English in Japan.
Job boards like the following are great places to start:
You also have the option to go through the aforementioned JET program. JET is a government-sponsored organization that sends teachers from the United States out to work in Japan.
The benefits of getting a job through JET, instead of independently, include the potential for higher wages and the fact that your visa, housing, insurance, and flights are all arranged for you.
Competition is stiff for a place in the JET program but, if you get through, you will have a much easier time finding jobs teaching English in Japan.
Once you’ve found what you’re looking for, send off an application and await a reply. It’s really that easy.
Some Tips Before You Set off for Teaching in Japan
By this point, you should have a good idea of how to go about getting a job teaching English in Japan. So, before you go, let me give you some final pointers.
- Have an open mind and prepare yourself for culture shock. Japan and the rest of Asia have completely different cultural customs from what we are used to in the western world. They’re neither better nor worse; they’re just different.
- Japan operates on strict hierarchies. Don't ever call out a mistake made by someone superior to you, as this is considered incredibly disrespectful. This is known as “saving face” and is an extremely important part of Japanese—and Asian—culture.
- Try to pick up the language. Learning at least some Japanese will help you make friends and get by in daily life. Learning a language also gives you a deeper insight into the culture, because you understand why the speech patterns exist in the way they do.
- Education systems in Asia tend to practice verbatim learning. This means that students might be passive and reluctant to interact in class. Don't let this put you off; as they get comfortable with you and your teaching style, they will come around. Not only that, but your teaching style will evolve over time, and that evolution with your students, is incredibly, incredibly rewarding.
I’m not saying that this transition will be easy for you, but now that you know the steps and are prepared with these tips for teaching English in Japan, you can go ahead and start working on that qualification and scoping out your options.
Despite the hardships and culture shock you’ll inevitably face, this could be the best decision you ever make. It will change your life forever, turning you into a more cultured, open-minded and worldly person.
Isn’t that why we travel in the first place?
Are you thinking about teaching English in Japan? Let us know in the comments below!