Many of us have fallen in love with the land of the rising sun and dream of relaxing under cherry blossoms during spring and soaking in an onsen after a cold day. Japan attracts people from all over the world to live and work in its unique culture, but with its strict visa laws, it can be a difficult path.
Other than moving to Japan on a Working Holiday Visa, teaching English in Japan is one of the easiest ways to get a work visa. Here I will give you some insight into the different kinds of teaching English jobs, how to successfully get a job, and, importantly, how to survive (and thrive!) your first year.
You’ll be living your best life teaching English in Japan in no time...
Requirements to Teach English in Japan
There are a handful of requirements to legally be able to teach English in Japan. Some other countries can be lenient when it comes to getting a teaching job but others, like Japan and neighboring South Korea, are typically pretty strict.
There are always cases of people getting around these requirements but do know that this is what the Japanese government has established as the requirements to get an English teaching job.
Here are the requirements for teaching English in Japan:
- TEFL certification (although some companies prefer you to have a CELTA)
- Bachelor’s Degree in any subject (English or Teaching degrees preferred by some schools)
- Some relevant experience working with children
- Ability to pass a health check (signed by your doctor in your home country)
- Clear criminal record (from your home country or country of residency)
- Ability to sign a one year contract
- Native English speaker (or if it's your second language with valid English education for over 12 years)
While prior teaching experience isn't a requirement to teach English in Japan, it will give you a leg up on the competition when searching for those perfect English teaching positions. Also, if you have a master's degree, you'll be more than qualified to teach English in Japan but might actually prefer teaching at an international school or university instead of one of the teaching programs.
If you don't meet these requirements but have your heart set on Japan, I'd still consider applying to teaching jobs and hoping for the best. You might have other skills that can outweigh these outlined above.
Types of English Teaching Jobs in Japan: Eikawa vs ALT
There are two options where you can work as an English Teacher in Japan: teaching at public schools as an Assistant Language Teacher or at private schools, or Eikawa, as the main English Teacher.
The two job options are quite different so I’ll explain the basic differences.
ALT (Assistant Language Teacher)
Working as an ALT, you will assist and support the English Department at a Japanese public school. You will be the only native speaker at the school and will work closely with Japanese teachers.
It's possible that if you go through the JET Program you'll be placed as an assistant ESL teacher. The JET Program is a Japan Exchange and teaching program. There are a few other teaching positions through the JET Program but a common one is as an ALT.
Assistant language teachers work at one or more schools to larger groups of students (30+) in Elementary, Junior High, or High schools. Working as an ALT means you'll be teaching children, teaching teenagers, and teaching adults, albeit unofficially by helping out your Japanese counterparts.
Many of my friends work as an ALT and enjoy the school community and the Mon-Fri, 9-5 working hours. By working in Japanese schools, you'll get the advantage of having a closer connection to Japanese culture and have more chances to speak Japanese. This isn't something you'd get from your students, but instead from the teachers at the school. You can think of these as free Japanese lessons!
Eikawa (Teacher at Private Language Schools)
If you decide to take a job teaching English at a private language school, you'll teach Japanese students of all ages after school or on the weekends.
You will typically be teaching alone as the main English teacher to a smaller group of students or giving one-to-one classes to both children and adults. Usually, you are not the only native English speaker at the school and will work with other expats who also speak English natively.
The working hours vary but can be in the evening and on Saturdays and you get a set number of holidays throughout the year. I typically work Tues-Sat for 8 hours a day.
Having worked in an Eikaiwa for the last 2 and a half years, I can safely say that it is hard work and sometimes frustrating to work on a Saturday but it is really interesting and rewarding to teach a range of ages (adults are so much fun) and be able to have the freedom to plan your own lesson without any strict structures. One day you might be teaching business English to adults and the next day you're teaching the colors to young children.
If you want to gain experience teaching a range of abilities and ages then teaching at an Eikaiwa is for you.
How to Find Teaching English Abroad Jobs
After successfully gaining the qualifications you need you’ll be able to start searching for jobs, hooray! You will be able to find jobs listed on these websites. Think about some areas in Japan that you like; and narrow down your search a bit.
These are the best websites for finding jobs teaching English in Japan:
Pro Tip: If you're also interested in teaching English in other countries and not just in Japan, Dave's ESL Cafe is a fantastic worldwide job platform for English teachers.
Obtaining Your Work Visa to Teach English in Japan
Many of these job platforms mention that they are hiring within Japan only but if you keep looking you will find some that hire from abroad and sponsor your work visa, too.
In order to work in Japan, as an English teacher or in any other profession, a company must sponsor you for you to obtain a visa. Please check if the job listing states that visa sponsorship is available because if work visas aren't part of the package, I wouldn't even apply.
You should also expect to receive a good salary and local health insurance. Most private language institutes and assistant language programs provide competitive packages to their employees.
If you are successful in the interview process the company will start the visa process for you. You might need to send them some documents, like proof that you're TEFL certified, have a Bachelor's degree, and most likely a picture of your passport to prove you're a native English speaker.
Next, you will wait to receive your certificate of eligibility (usually this takes around 2 months) which you can then take to the Japanese Embassy in your country of residency along with your passport, application form, and your health check.
While this might seem intimidating if this is the first time you're going to live abroad, most schools will be happy to walk you through the process and make sure your documents are in order.
Tips for Living in the Countryside in Japan
If you dream of living in big cities, like Tokyo or Osaka, you will be able to find some jobs but those are usually very competitive and the cost of living is much higher than in the countryside. There's a high demand for English teachers in the countryside, plenty of schools hoping to hire teachers, and not nearly as many native English speakers who are willing to branch out from the cities.
This leaves a great opening of ESL jobs perfect for you to take advantage of!
There are plenty of job opportunities in less well-known places in Japan and they offer much more affordable living costs. And a more authentic experience, in my opinion!
If you love Japan like I do and are eager to really immerse yourself into Japanese culture, I'd highly recommend you focus on English teaching jobs in more rural areas.
I live about an hour away from Tokyo, in Izu, Shizuoka. Here, I can enjoy hiking, bike rides, the ocean, and can still hop on a train whenever I want to be in the bustling city. It really feels like I'm getting the best of both worlds here!
Before pursuing your dream of living in the Japanese countryside, let me give you some insider tips for getting the most out of your experience.
1. Learn Some Basic Japanese
When I first traveled around Japan, stepping out of Tokyo, I soon realized that I needed some basic words to communicate if I was going to get anywhere. It took me two days to grasp how to say Arigatogozaismasu (thank you) to many of the locals' amusement.
I started to learn basic phrases and the writing systems: Hiragana and Katakana, in order to read some menus and train station names. These two are not so difficult to learn, Kanji is crazy difficult but that can be saved for later. (Yep, there are three different writing systems in Japan!)
My life in Japan became much easier after learning some Japanese. So my advice to you is that please learn some basics before coming out here, so you don’t appear as foolish as me.
Don’t be too intimidated at learning basic Japanese, once you put in a couple of hours it becomes easier. There are many resources online, here are some that helped me:
- Hiragana and Katakana mnemonics chart: this is a simple way to remember the two alphabets.
- YouTube channels: Japanese Ammo with Misa, Japanesepod101, Miku Real Japanese
- Beginner Textbook: Genki Textbook Level 1
- Podcast: Japanesepod101 Tofugu. NihongoconTeppei
2. Try to Get Yourself Out There and Make Friends
Moving to the countryside in a foreign country is a scary prospect and can be a very lonely experience. Wherever you are in Japan there will be other people in the same situation, you just need to find them.
Making friends abroad is a common struggle but once you find your crew, life abroad will become so much more comfortable and fun. As a reminder, all expats are in a similar position. For the most part, we're all interested in meeting new people and adding another friend to our circle.
Here are my biggest tips for making new friends in Japan:
- Hello Talk App: a language exchange app, you can meet Japanese people who want to learn English. I met one of my best Japanese friends from this app.
- Going to Bars: I have found most of my expat and local friends in my local Irish Bar. Even if you are not a drinker you can enjoy the experience of sitting next to a stranger and striking up a conversation. I know it sounds scary, but you won’t regret it when you make a lifelong friend.
- Meet Up: Meetup is a website where people can arrange activities or online events. There are quite a few groups in Japan: hiking groups, beach clean-up events, and vegetarian groups.
- Language Exchanges: Most cities in Japan will have a Language Exchange event setup that you can find on Facebook. Just head to your nearest one with a smile and an open mind. You will have fun, learn a language and meet new people. Win-win!
3. Explore Japan’s Charming Cities and Unique Landscape in Your Free Time
The best way to learn about Japan and its culture is by getting out there and experiencing what the wonderful country has to offer. Organize trips with your new friends to new places to try the food, learn about the history, take Instagram photos, or simply relax.
Japan has 4 beautiful seasons that each offer unique experiences and delicious seasonal food. Winter sees beautiful snow-capped mountains and monkeys bathing in onsen hot springs, cherry blossoms bloom in the spring, summers are hot but the beach is always fun, and autumn provides stunning leaves and outdoor adventures.
Japan is the ultimate Instagrammer's dream.
Looking for something more adventurous? Japan is incredibly mountainous and is surrounded by sea, so it is perfect for a nature lover who enjoys hiking, surfing, snow sports, and diving.
The bullet train is the fastest way to get around but by far the most expensive. Getting local trains or buses is a much cheaper alternative, but you have to be a little more patient. Exploring by bike is also an affordable way, and Japan’s roads are very safe to cycle in.
Now you are all ready for your adventure teaching English in Japan, what are you waiting for? Japan is waiting for you!