There are plenty of teaching opportunities in Japan for anyone looking to start a new career or interested in living overseas. Japan is a dream travel destination for many, but it’s also one of the best places in Asia to teach English.
Moving to Japan and searching for an English teaching position might seem daunting, but it’s not as complicated as it looks. Knowing what to look for and where to find an English teaching position is critical. It takes focus and patience, but as long as you keep these tips in mind, it won’t be long before you score a teaching job in Japan.
Do You Fit the General Criteria to Teach English in Japan? What Are the Requirements to Become a Teacher in Japan?
To become an English Language Teacher, there are a few basic requirements you need to meet, including:
- Be a native English speaker
- Have received an education in English for 12 years
- Hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university
- Have a clean criminal record
- Demonstrate an interest in Japanese culture
- Be able to commit to a 12-month contract
Don’t worry if you haven’t got a bachelor’s degree; you can still become an English teacher in Japan. Companies out there will accept candidates with three or more years of teaching under their belt in place of a degree. However, it’s worth having a degree as the salary will reflect that, and it’ll be much easier, in the long run, to lock down a job and visa.
Companies also tend to prefer candidates that tick off these boxes:
- Have Japanese language proficiency, preferably but not mandatory passing JLPT
- A driver’s license – this provides you with more options to be placed either in a city or in a rural area of Japan
- Teaching experience
- Teaching certification – including CELTA and TEFOL – extra boost if they’re accredited by Cambridge University or Trinity College
Do I have to be fluent in Japanese to teach in Japan?
While many programs and employers prefer to hire applicants with some knowledge of Japanese, which is key for communication with students and staff, it’s not a requirement to be fluent in Japanese. However, it will make your day-to-day life a million times more manageable if you have the basics down before arriving in Japan. If you end up working out in the countryside, you’ll likely be the only English-speaking person in the area, so knowing some Japanese will help you make friends a lot faster. On top of that, showing an interest in studying Japanese to your potential employer will be a massive plus on your application.
Salary of an English Teacher in Japan
Before diving into the numerous options for English teaching jobs, you must consider the costs of your lifestyle in Japan. If you want to live in a vibrant and bustling city, rent, public transportation, taxes, and living costs will be much higher than living in the countryside. It’s better to work out your monthly budget and the minimum wage required to live within your needs. The average monthly cost of living in Tokyo is roughly ¥285,000, including rent, daily expenses, and taxes.
The typical salary for English teachers in Japan varies by job type and experience. Those with previous teaching experience and TEFL qualifications can make significantly more. Expect to earn between ¥2.5 to ¥3.5 million per year if you arrive without teaching experience.
The JET Program is one of the best-paid English positions for newcomers, with a starting salary of ¥2.9 million and increases each year. The program also arranges return flights and heavily discounted housing for their teachers. The only downside to the program is that candidates cannot choose where they are placed. You can ask to live in a city and end up in the sticks. It’s what you make of the situation, but this might not suit everybody.
Below are the mainstream options for teaching English in Japan, including some alternative options:
Teaching English at a Public School
English teaching positions at Japanese public schools are highly demanding since Japanese students are hungry to learn English from native speakers. A Native English teacher working in this position is called an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT).
These teaching jobs are available in Japan’s public elementary, junior, and senior high schools. The role varies from school to school, but generally, the ALT team teaches with a Japanese teacher of English (JTE) and/or homeroom teachers. Classroom size ranges from 15 to 35 students. In addition to teaching up to 5 classes a day, ALTs are responsible for creating teaching materials and developing fun and interactive language activities with JTEs for their classes. The workload can vary significantly, but overall, if you like kids, then teaching at a public school might be a perfect fit.
Contracts for English teaching jobs in Japanese public schools usually start in April and run until the end of March.
ALTs are expected to work from 8:00 am to about 5:00 pm Monday to Friday, with the occasional workday on a Saturday for school events such as Sports Day or Culture Festivals. ALTs teach 15 to 25 classes per week.
Salaries can range from ¥2.3 up to ¥3.8 million per year depending on the company or program you go through. National income taxes are about 7% and are automatically deducted from each employee’s salary.
Job Hunting Tips
The best option for teaching in public schools is through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme, otherwise known as the JET Program. It’s a well-known cultural exchange and teaching program sponsored by the Japanese government that brings in graduates fresh out of university from over 40 countries to work as Assistant Language Teachers in public schools all over Japan.
It’s also the best-paid position for a job teaching English in public schools, with a starting salary of 3.6 million yen, including a paid summer vacation. The only catch is that JET applicants don’t get to choose where they are placed for their assignment.
There are also dispatch ALT companies such as Westgate and ALTIA Central, which can be a good alternative for candidates that know where they want to live in Japan or don’t neatly fit into the general criteria to teach English. Don’t be afraid to negotiate for a higher salary, as it can be more difficult to squeeze more money out of dispatch companies later down the track, regardless of how good you are at your job.
Finally, English teachers with at least two years of experience can apply directly to the Board of Education for a teaching position. These positions also require candidates with proficient Japanese language skills who can commit at least two years to the role.
These are well-paid positions and are highly sought after by English teachers in Japan, so expect competition. Applications open around the start of the year in January. You’ll have to search on city websites to find these positions. A more straightforward way is to simply pick up the phone and call the city halls of any board of education in the area you’re interested in working in and ask about their ALT hiring process.
Teaching English at an Eikaiwa
There are also English teaching jobs in private language institutes, also known as eikaiwa. Hundreds of eikaiwa companies across Japan, from giant corporations such as Berlitz and AEON to smaller family-owned businesses. Working at an eikaiwa can significantly differ depending on the company.
Teaching at an eikaiwa is very different from working at a public school since the students are more motivated and serious about learning English since they enroll and go to these English conversation classes.
Students age from kindergarten to adults. Flexibility is vital for a teaching position at these private schools since students can be from 4 to 80 years old with varying levels of English language ability. Expect to teach small classes of up to 10 students and follow a set curriculum from textbooks designed to help students pass Japan’s English language exams, such as Eiken.
A contract at an eikaiwa is generally 12 months with the option to renew.
Compared to other English teaching jobs in Japan, a position at an Eikaiwa will require longer work hours, 5 to 7 days a week, including weekends, evenings, and holidays. A typical workday may start between 10:00 am and 1:00 pm and end later in the evening between 7:00 pm or 10:00 pm.
Eikaiwa teachers can make as much as 275,000 JPY per month, depending on the company they choose to work for. Benefits include annual leave, health and pension insurance, visa fees, and a small bonus when you complete the entire term of the contract.
Job Hunting Tips
English teaching positions are available throughout the year, but the application process can be lengthy, so plan well in advance.
Eikaiwa companies such as AEON and Berlitz host job fairs in English-speaking countries, where most people apply. Take note that schools that only enroll adults prefer to hire domestically in Japan, such as Rosetta Stone Japan, Jabble, and OneUp Eikaiwa.
Teaching English at a Preschool
If you’re the type of person with endless energy and are interested in working with younger children, then preschool might be your career option. Working at a preschool can be fun and involve lots of dancing, singing, and simply getting involved with your students throughout the day. Being a preschool English language teacher extends beyond teaching English in the classroom to a bunch of 5-year-olds. It’s about being a good, fun, and positive role model to your students. Your role will extend to helping children with life learning and promoting internationalization since you’ll be the first foreigner your students have ever interacted with.
You’ll get to know your students well as you’ll be with them for most of the day. Classes can range from as few as five students to 25. You’ll not only be creating and conducting fun and interactive lessons for your younger students, but you’ll also have lots of opportunities to be involved in the school. Depending on the month’s goals, you might be asked to join a field trip, do a particular lesson with over 100 students in a hall, or even participate in an arts and crafts afternoon. If you can deal with a constantly changing schedule, you’ll have no problems at a preschool.
Salary & Benefits
It starts at 260,000 JPY per month and can increase to 320,000 depending on your experience. Work commute expenses are covered, and teachers receive a paid winter and summer vacation. Some positions offer less than 250,000 JPY per month but avoid those like the plague.
Unlike working at a public school as an ALT, where the hours and schedule are set in stone, a preschool English language teacher differs from day to day. Generally speaking, you’ll be working Monday to Friday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. Classes are held in the morning with after-school activities in the afternoon, which can involve arts and crafts, singing, and more.
Job Hunting Tips
You will need a university degree to qualify for a visa to work as a kindergarten teacher in Japan. However, you don’t need to be a qualified teacher. GaijinPot and Ohayo Sensei are great resources for finding an English teaching job at a preschool.
Teaching English at an International School
Teaching positions at international schools are very competitive since they offer the most salaries and benefits. Teaching at these schools is similar to teaching at a school in your home country. To be eligible to apply for these highly sought-after positions, you’ll need to be a fully accredited teacher in your home country.
Salary and Benefits
Salaries can range widely depending on the school and start from 200,00 and range up to 600,000 JPY per month. Benefits include your flight to Japan, a retirement plan, paid vacation, and generous housing assistance.
Job Hunting Tips
Prepare well before the hiring process starts, at least a year in advance. Most international schools in Japan can be found in large cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama, and Nagoya. There will often be two hiring intakes, one in April and one in September.
Teaching English at University
Teaching English at a tertiary level is a gratifying profession. It should be no surprise that working at a Japanese university requires more qualifications than any other English teaching position. You must have a master’s degree in TEFL, Applied Linguistics, or a related field, teaching experience at the university level, and conversational ability in Japanese. If you are passionate about languages and education and are interested in academic research, teaching at a Japanese university will provide you with plenty of exciting opportunities.
There are far fewer teaching hours than working in a school or a private language institution. You’ll only have to work between 10 to 15 hours a week, in addition to class preparation and grading papers.
Your salary will depend on your experience and can range from 300,000 to 600,000 JPY per month. The benefits of working at a university are excellent, with up to 3 months of vacation.
Job Hunting Tips
If you’re job hunting outside of Japan, the most accessible way to start teaching English at a Japanese university is to go through an agency. Westgate Corporation is one of the largest recruitment agencies specializing in university English teachers. They offer short-term renewable contracts with two main annual intakes in April and September.
Another route is to get a direct contract with a Japanese university, which requires more qualifications and experience. Finding and applying for these positions can be tricky as they aren’t publicly advertised. The keyword here is network, network, network.
If networking is not your forte, then your second-best bet is to search online through job posts provided by JALT, JACET, and JREC-IN. Universities don’t usually offer long-term contracts resulting in high staff turnover, so plenty of positions are advertised each year around October and January.
Watch out for Black Companies
It’s essential to be aware of exploitative corporations with illegal work practices. These are referred to as “black companies” (ブラック企業) coined two decades ago by office workers in the IT industry. These companies expect employees to work long hours for low wages with excessive amounts of overtime with no compensation. Common signs of such corporations include power harassment, sexual harassment, little to no overtime pay or employee benefits, long working hours, numerous arbitrary rules, and a low number of paid leave days.
If you receive a job offer, make sure to do your research and ensure that this company follows Japan’s labor laws. Although it can be difficult to find reviews and testimonies from former employees for smaller companies, large corporations are also known to clean up their appearance online by taking down negative reviews.
Look for big red flags like the number of hours you will have to work. If it’s below 30 but not considered part-time, chances are they won’t pay for your health insurance or contribute to your pension. When applying, make sure to ask questions such as:
- What is the staff turnover rate?
- How is overtime pay compensated?
- What other benefits and incentives are offered? If none, run fast!
Look into the company’s history, especially how it has treated its employees during the 2020 pandemic. Major corporations such as Gaba and Nova have a sketchy history of not providing support for their staff and even missing payments when times are hard for the company.
Another way to determine whether a company is “black” is through the annual Black Company Awards. This public site was started in 2021 by a group of rebellious journalists and rights activists. The site announces nominees for businesses with exploitative work practices are thrown in the running for Japan’s Most Evil Corporation of the Year Award. Winners are presented with a copy of a labor law dictionary.
You can ensure your bases are covered and determine whether a company is following Japanese labor laws by referring to government-mandated documents. Check out this outline of the Labour Standards Law and ensure that your time working in Japan will be a positive experience.
Best Job Resources to Find a Job as an English Teacher in Japan
There are tons of sites dedicated to finding jobs teaching English in Japan. Here are some of the best ones:
Frequently Asked Questions about Teaching English in Japan:
The Japanese language teaching system generally requires a bachelor’s degree. Certifications in TEFL are preferable but not required. A typical English teacher’s salary is around $1700.
In ESL classes in Japan, there is a minimum wage of 200,00 JPY and can go up to 600,000 JPY per month. As in Chinese countries, Japan offers teachers flight, accommodation, and instruction in its salary package.
To be eligible to teach English in Japan, even to work as a teacher in private language schools, you need a degree to qualify for the proper work visa. Exceptions are possible but extremely rare.