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These notes provide basic information about what to expect when seeking work teaching English in Japan. Note that there will be considerable variation between schools, employers' preferences, and government regulations, and requirements will change from time to time. Before entering into any commitment, you are advised to check with an appropriate authoritative source such as the embassy in your country.
English has been in demand in Japan for a long time and nothing in the recent past has changed that. There is still very strong demand for English classes from primary level upwards. Parents are often willing to pay significant sums to improve the career prospects of their children, and the children are often both hard working and committed.
A very wide range of different teaching opportunities exist including one-to-one teaching of children or adults, part-time or full-time work in a language school, work in a government or independent school, work for a company teaching Business English as well as online language teaching via Skype. Students in schools at all levels tend to work hard and to be much better behaved than students in the UK (for example) but things have changed to some degree over the past ten years and not all students are so hard working and polite as they used to be.
Salaries are reasonably high compared with some other countries but the cost of living is relatively high too. Salaries for full-time teachers in language schools of between £2,000 and £2,500 would not be unusual and some money can be saved with judicious spending! Teaching Business English for a company would bring in an even higher salary whether you were working for a language school or independently. There is very significant demand for Business English in Japan (at all levels) and having a Teaching Business Certificate could prove to be a very wise move as it would open up far more opportunities for well-paid employment. Apart form Business English, private classes arranged with you directly can also pay well but it can take time to build up the connections to arrange such classes.
A university degree would be extremely useful because Japanese schools and colleges want to employ well educated staff, but a diploma plus experience would also be valued. A TESOL or TEFL certificate is also extremely important. It's vital to be well prepared yourself and you are unlikely to be able to do a competent job without having completed a professionally designed training programme. A weekend course is worth nothing in Japan (and most other countries!) so make sure that you have completed at least a one-month training programme or a 150-hour TESOL or TEFL course by distance learning. If you do a course by distance learning make sure that it is accredited by a professional body such as the College of Teachers.
Finding a job from outside Japan can be tricky because some companies offer poor pay and conditions so if you go through an agency of some sort try to find out as much as you can about it. If you are already in Japan, personal contacts are a good way to find work, so do not hesitate to visit schools / colleges and make contact with heads or managers, and hand over your CV. Some schools will provide accommodation or help with accommodation but not all. Be aware that furnished accommodation is rare in Japan so renting a flat may also involve buying something to sleep on and a chair to sit on!
There is a long-standing government scheme to bring English-language teachers to Japan known as JET. This is open to graduates from countries like the UK and the USA and the conditions are generally good because of the government backing. Pay is higher than average (£2,500 +) and accommodation is generally provided together with flight costs. People on this programme generally have no choice about where they go to work but for most people this is no problem as they just want to work in Japan! Teachers will initially work alongside a Japanese teacher but in many cases they will be able to work independently, for at least part of the time, once they have become established.
Many teachers from English-speaking countries get to Japan by applying for a working holiday visa . Applicants for a working holiday visa need to be between 18-35 and to have adequate funds for their stay, as well as a return ticket. Successful applicants can work for 12 months. Other teachers arrive in Japan having been supported by an agency or a school, and with a job to go to. Many schools will provide accommodation or assistance towards finding accommodation. Since travellers from the UK and USA do not need to have a visa for Japan, they can go there for a period of six months and find work while they are in the country. However, be aware that finding a job can, in some cases, be a time-consuming and expensive activity because living in Japan (especially Tokyo) is not cheap.
Working conditions can vary considerably. In some private language schools teachers can be required to teach quite long hours for modest pay. The employers may be anxious to squeeze what they can out of the teachers and so relatively long hours and large classes may be the norm. Typically the turn over of teachers in such schools is high. State schools are likely to offer better working conditions with more days off.
Naturally, living in Japan is much easier if you can learn a little Japanese. This can make a great difference when it comes to buying items in shops as well as finding your way around. You will find it helpful to also learn to recognise some signs and characters at the very least. In many large towns and cities you will be able to find language classes. In smaller centres, a few friends might be just as good! However, making friends is not always easy. Non-Japanese people stand out clearly in a country where there are relatively few foreigners so this is something that you will need to adjust to. It can be fun at first to be 'different' but can also get a bit tiresome for some people in the long run. Living in a smaller centre is often more rewarding because you can get to know more local people. In cities, sometimes foreigners stick together but that does little for their understanding of the language or the culture.
Please don't hesitate to contact us for advice on gaining an English teaching qualification by distance learning.