Teaching English in Japan

Teaching English in Japan

Japan continues to be one of the most popular choices of places to teach English among TEFL teachers. Excellent salaries, good work conditions and benefits, combined with living in beautiful country with a unique culture and history make Japan really attractive to anyone looking to teach English in a foreign country. Although I have not taught and lived in Japan (although I have visited), I'm going to try to provide you with some essential info that you need before going to Japan to teach. Much of what I will tell you comes from the advice and reviews of many friends and colleagues that have spent years teaching in Japan. 

-To teach English in Japan you must have a university degree, and although not absolutely necessary, it is highly recommended that you have a TESL or TEFL certificate/diploma. Past teaching experience is also helpful, and may help you to get a better job in Japan.

Work Visas:

There are different categories of work visas and most teachers will have one of the following:
 -Instructor Visa: This allows you to work in public institutions like elementary schools, high schools etc

 -Specialist in Humanities Visa: This allows you to work in private institutions and companies, i.e. eikawas, business English teaching etc.

Aside from allowing you to work in different places, there’s no difference between the two kinds of work visa. They're both valid for 1 year or 3 years.

Types of Jobs Available: 

Public School Positions:
In public schools, many foreign teachers will work as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) in elementary and middle schools. Schools will often recruit privately for these positions or hire an outside company to find potential teachers. A 30-35 hour work week is common. The monthly salary for these positions is usually around ¥250,000 (approx. $3,000 USD). Teachers can expect 2 - 4 weeks of vacation in these position. One thing teachers should be aware of is the classes you teach will usually be large (30 students) and that you co-teach with a Japanese teacher in these classes

Private Schools / Academies:
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  that you will be placed in a large city. The classes that you will teach will usually be in the evenings and be much smaller than public school classes. You may also teach children to adults at private schools / academies as well. The average salary for these positions is approximately ¥250,000 and teachers can expect about 10 business days vacation. Working hours vary from school to school, and you could be working anywhere between 20 - 40 hours a week. 

The JET Program
The Japanese government has been running the JET programme for over 30 years. (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 at least a Bachelor's degree to be considered. JET positions usually pay more than public school positions (Starting at ¥280,000) and teachers receive more support. As a result these positions are highly desired by teachers and the much more difficult to obtain. Getting a TEFL certificate will give you a leg up on the competition.

*Japanese students of English can be quite challenging to teach because in school they are not taught how to speak English, just to read, write and listen to English. Also, from what I have heard, Japanese schools place emphasis on students learning passively, not speaking out in class and asking questions, giving opinions etc, but instead memorizing large amounts of information in order to pass exams.*

Cost of Living: 

Accommodation costs are higher in Japan than other Asian countries, especially if you live in a large city. A one bed apartment in the popular Roppongi district of Tokyo costing around £500/$850 per month. Fortunately around half of all Japanese TEFL employers will organize a free apartment for you, or an apartment allowance, for the duration of your TEFL contract.

The cost of food and restaurants can be relatively reasonable as well.  Local supermarkets are relatively inexpensive if you stick to Japanese food such as seasonal vegetables, seafood, soya bean products and rice. There are plenty of restaurants where you can have a full meal for between 500 and 1000 yen. Noodles (ramen, soba and udon), donburi , curry rice, and many more types of dishes are available at such inexpensive restaurants.  Eating a western restaurants will cost much more than you are accustomed to. 


Japan experiences a wide range of weather, with temperatures regularly above 35 degrees Celsius in the summer, and dropping significantly in the winter – sub-zero temperatures are a regular occurrence in in many parts of Japan. Japan also experiences typhoons (tropical storms) in the fall, with some places hit harder than others. Bring summer and winter clothes if you’re going to teach in Japan.

Environment and Pollution:

Japan has a very diverse environment with cold mountainous areas in the north and tropical areas in the south. The weather, as mentioned earlier, is dramatically different depending on the season. Compared to many areas in Asia, Japan is very clean, neat and well-organized.  Although when you have cities with millions of people smog and pollution will always be an issue. Also many people have become wary of Japan with recent radiation leaks caused by earthquake damage in nuclear plants. Oh and yes Japan has earthquakes! People that live there for a long time become accustomed to slight tremors, and there is always the threat of something much larger.


The culture of Japan is as diverse as its weather. If you want you can immerse yourself in traditional Japanese ways while you are there or see art and fashion that looks like something from 1000 years in the future. Compared with other Asian nations, Japan is more Westernized and modern. You will be able to find many American restaurants and shops and you'll hear Western music on the radio. Despite the Westernized aspects of Japan, newcomers should definitely expect experience culture shock, and should try to become familiar with Japanese customs, expectations, and values before going to Japan.


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