Teaching in Japan
And What You Can Expect

There are a lot of misunderstandings about teaching in Japan ranging from the absurd to the partially true.

Probably the truest thing about teaching in Japan is that it is NOT a get rich quick scheme.

Teaching overseas is a big step and having a truckload of accurate information can save you from a world of pain down the road.

Here are a Few Myths About Working in Japan

"Schools will pay for your flight to Japan."

Those days are long gone... days when anyone with a pulse could get a job. Fast forward to today. The job market is tight. There are plenty of entry level teaching jobs available but few that will pay air fare to entry level applicants. Why should they? There are tons of applicants residing in Japan. Those who promise free airfare are talking about this as it relates to schools who hire university level or applicants with a lot of experience.

The one exception is the Jet program. However, this is no easy nut to crack in terms of getting in. Thousands are turned away every year for good reason.

"I don't have any teaching experience."

Okay that's not the end of the world. You don't need it if you're looking for a plain meat and potatoes entry level English conversation instructor position. The fact of the matter is that the biggest English schools hire teachers left and right without experience. The bulk of the industry runs on entry level teachers. ESL teachers with some experience often complain that they were told that that they were "over qualified" when trying to get a plain-Jane job with the big 4.

"Japan is too expensive to live in."

One thing to keep in mind about this is that your salary is adequate, 250,000 yen per month, for those just starting out. Some schools pay more and some less. Especially for those who have teaching certificates.

Compare salaries of Geos and other big English schools here.
Here’s the link to Yahoo's currency converter to see how far that 250,000 yen will go in your local currency. This salary is for recent grads without any teaching or work experience. (Those with experience, like in most other fields, command higher salaries).

Also keep in mind that most ESL teachers work in the afternoon and evenings so your mornings will be free. If you decide to teach a class or two free-lance in the morning and a few on a Saturday, it’s easy to pocket another thousand dollars a month.

If you’ll be teaching in Japan alone (not with family) you’ll be able to save a fair amount of this. You do however need to limit dining and drinking out or it’ll be tough to save. Want to know more about teaching in Japan privately? Get the basics on how to start teaching privately, how much to charge and more.

"You can make millions teaching in Japan."

With a base salary of 250,000 yen ($2000 per month U.S. dollars) this is as close to impossible as you can get. Although it is true that some teachers who are real go-getters can make $50,000 or better teaching in Japan. These guys and gals generally have very favorable working conditions. By this we mean these teachers probably only work 2 days for their employers. The rest of the time they spend teaching their own students.

Keep in mind that these teachers already have working visas and usually work for schools with fewer contact hours than your average school. If you are a bit careful with your salary and don’t own a car it is quite possible to save 400 to 600 U.S. dollars a month on a typical salary. In general, those who make the fat money generally own their own schools and only work for themselves or have quite a few of their own students. More here.

"Teaching is a piece of cake."

Teaching a crappy lessons is. Teaching well organized, informative and engaging lesson is far from being a "piece of cake." It's actually a lot of work. More.

"I'm an American with only a high school diploma. But I have a teaching certificate - so I won't have a problem getting sponsored."

Basically the problem you face is securing a visa that allows you to work. The type of visa that is typically issued to English teachers whether they are ALTs or are working for an eikaiwa is a Specialist in Humanities / International Services type working visa. The government mandates a bachelors degree in any field to issue this visa or a minimum of 3 years work experience in a relevant field. Whether you have a TEFL certificate isn't relevant to these two requirements. More Visa info. here.

"You can’t find red meat in Japan."

Please tell that to the Moss Burger, Lotteria Wendy’s and the McDonald’s chains. Beef and other meats can be bought everywhere, although prices are a bit higher than in most western countries.

"Anyone can get a job teaching in Japan."

It’s true that the giant chains schools like Geos hire English conversation teachers without any experience. But those teaching in Japan do have one thing in common - a university degree. Keep in mind that many smaller schools generally hire teachers with experience or certificates.

Without a degree the large chain schools won’t touch your application. Why would they when, they have thousands of qualified candidates to choose from? Also note that large schools are looking for native English level fluency. This doesn't mean that ESL teachers can't find work if English is not their mother tongue. It means these folks spend more time applying for positions before they get hired.

"If I get fired I will lose my visa too."

In a word, no you won't. Once the visa is issued, it is good for the term of its issue, regardless of your employment circumstance. So once you get a visa, it's yours. Truth be told, quite a few instructors "jump ship" in search of more favorable working conditions once they get their visas.

"Rents are out of this world."

Rents in big cities like Tokyo or Osaka are quite high however you can expect to pay between 60,000 – 70,000 yen per month for a 1 bedroom apartment. Rents are cheaper in smaller cities by 10,000 to 20,000 yen. Just like everywhere else in the world, expect to pay more in for the amenities that large cities offer. After all, you expect to pay more to live in San Francisco than Fargo right?

And just to set things straight, many believe Tokyo to be the most expensive city in the world. It isn't. According to Mercer, (these people publish cost of living info on all major cities in the world and are an authority on this kind of stuff.), As of 2011, Tokyo is the 2nd most expensive city to live in. (If you're curious, Luanda, Angola is (1st), followed by N'Djamena, Chad (3rd), Moscow, Russia (4th) and Geneva, Switzerland (5th).

"I don’t need Japanese…everyone speaks English."

Then why are there thousands of English conversation schools? One thing that is true is that young Japanese who live in large cities generally can speak a bit. But as soon as you get out of the big cities you’ll find that most can neither understand spoken English nor speak it.

Also, in general, older Japanese speak less than younger ones. You’ll also run into Japanese that have what we call “gaijin (foreigner) complex”. These people freeze and panic when you speak to them. So it’s a good idea to study a bit before you go.

"Finding a job isn’t hard…just fly over - you’ll get something right away."

Bad news. Finding jobs teaching English in Japan is not what it used to be. Although the chain schools, (ECC, Aeon, Geos,Gaba and Berlitz,) don’t require teaching experience before they hire, it’s hazardous to your financial health to assume you’ll be hired on the spot. Plus when you consider that Geos just got bought by G. Commmunications and Nova the former 500 pound guerrilla went belly-up throwing thousands of teachers on the streets, the water gets murkier. Click here to get advice on doing this.

Do you have an interview coming with Aeon, ECC, or Geos? Find out what big "eikaiwa" is looking for. Get more information here.

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