Teach English in Japan

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Teach English in Japan
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Teach English in Japan

Getting paid to live in Japan and teach English is a “bucket list” dream for many new grads. In many ways, there was no global ESL industry before Japan’s organized effort to bring in foreign teachers on a linguistic and cultural exchange. Many Westerners have fond memories of teaching with the government JET program in its heyday from the 1980s through the early 1990s, when the economy was vibrant, demand for foreign teachers was strong, and salaries very generous. This has provided a strong model to emulate for other countries in Asia and around the world. While there are definitely good teaching jobs still available in Japan, its once red-hot industry is much more tempered, highlighted by the collapse of two major private school chains last decade. Nova famously suffered a sudden bankruptcy in 2007 (leaving nearly 5,000 foreigners stranded in Japan) and was followed by the competing Geos chain exiting several years later. The slowdown in demand for foreign teachers continues: the intake of the government JET program is less than half of what it was a decade ago. The teaching landscape is much more competitive and less lucrative. Japan is a fascinating island nation that’s at the top of many travel wish-lists, but if you’re determined to teach here you will have to make some financial sacrifices for your dream. An attractive alternative is working in China or Korea instead and visiting Japan for several weeks during your holidays - or between contracts.

Types of Jobs, Salaries, and Benefits

The private conversation school (eikaiwa) industry is your best bet for securing a job teaching English in Japan. The government JET program still hires foreign teachers, but the amount of jobs available has dropped sharply and competition has increased. The monthly teaching salary in Japan is about $2,000 at the entry level. Because Japan is an expensive place to live, that $2,000 leaves little wiggle room for savings or a dispensable income. You can expect to put away only about $400 a month, compared to $1,000+ in China and South Korea (unless you are extremely disciplined about dining/entertainment and find shared accommodation). Unlike teaching jobs in other Asian countries, free airfare to Japan from your home country is not a given – many schools will expect you to pay your own way, so make sure to clarify this point with prospective employers.

Japanese regulations make it a bit easier and much less legally perilous than other countries for prospective teachers to arrive in the country first and secure work later. If you’re considering this options, you should be prepared with funds to tide you over for 2-3 months if needed and a well-researched plan of attack for when you arrive.

Qualifications

Teaching qualifications are similar to other countries in Asia. You need to have a Bachelor’s degree and native English proficiency. The highly competitive job market means that TEFL/CELTA certification is a very strong preference, and some jobs look for candidates who are licensed teachers in their home countries or have solid teaching experience under their belt.

Living in Japan

There’s no question that Japan is an alluring place. Hokkaido’s mountain hot springs and world-class ski scene, beautiful tropical Okinawa, stunning temples, some of the world’s best architecture – Japan has it all for such a small country. As the most developed country in Asia and one of the most advanced societies in the world, Japan offers a visitor many lessons. One of the perks for a visitor is the highly developer public transportation. The best subway systems and interlinked high-speed train networks in the world mean you can go anywhere in Japan quickly without needing your own vehicle - though tickets are expensive. Many Japanese cities have vibrant expat communities, foreigner bars, and “gaijin houses” where you can socialize and live with other world travelers. However, some of the more rural locations don’t have these comforts and you need to get used to being the only non-Japanese person for many miles around.

Visa Process

As is often the case with teaching English abroad, it’s better to secure your contract and visa before you arrive in Japan. Your recruiter and employer will assist you with getting all your documents and other logistics in place before you arrive. However, Japan offers a bit more leeway than China and Korea for those who arrive on a tourist visa to look for teaching work without a contract already in hand. It’s actually possible to find a job and then apply for a work visa while visiting as a tourist, but keep in mind that the process takes 7-8 weeks after you have an offer of employment. This means you may need to leave and re-enter the country if your 3-month tourist visa expires before the work visa comes through.