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Teaching in Japan - What to Expect and Your Most Important Starting Point In Deciding to Work Abroad

Information about teaching in Japan is littered with misconceptions that range from the absurd to the partially true. Of these..

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 but your first step is understanding  the why. Namely, why do you want to teach ESL in Japan?

Everyone has a different reason. The range is literally massive. It can range from:

  •  I want to learn Japanese.
  •  I love teaching ESL and sharing my culture.
  •  I have to pay off student loans.
  •  I have always been interested in the culture.
  •  I need to escape my boring old life and  I need a change.
  •  I want to marry a Japanese.
  • I am retired and now have time to teach in Japan.
  •  I love Japanese food, people, manga, their culture and way of thinking.

And this only scratches the surface...

Honestly folks, if you get any usable information from this site and we sure hope you do, it is to understand yourself and your true motivation for spending time teaching in Japan.Time spent with your favorite beverage while pondering what you are getting into is time well spent.

After all, if your true motivation is to simply get out of a rut, any other place will do. It does not have to be Japan.  This is not meant to dissuade but to serve as a catalyst for critical thinking.

So spend some time on thinking about what you want to get out of your experience teaching in Japan. Is it...

  •  I wanna' kill some time in my gap year or just try something different a bit. I don't know... maybe date some cute hunks or chicks and drink some sake.

  • Or is it something heavy like -  I want to master the language in all forms  written spoken  etc. and get a decent job in a high paying company . 
  • Or I love teaching and can't imagine doing anything else in my life.

Although these examples are quite simple, they adequately influence your approach to how you go about pursuing teaching overseas. Spend some time reading through forums and don't just look at official company sites or recruiter sites. 

Do you honestly think they are going to risk trashing their company image by telling it as it is?  Balance is critical. And truth be told, there are good and bad companies and teachers. Each influence and impact the other party. Finger pointing serves zero purpose because the relation between the two is not static. It is dynamic. And it drains energy.

Here are a Few Myths About Teaching in Japan

"Schools will pay for my 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. A few and we do mean few larger companies will pay for the flight but 95% won't. If you are the curious type and want to know which countries The JET Program most heavily recruits from you can find out the top 30 countries here.

"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 - Berlitz, ECC etc.

"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.
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 making teaching in Japan a fairly lucrative job.

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.

"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. Here's a handy page that tears down the English school market in the monster of all monsters Tokyo

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. You can get a good start on our free lessons or hook up with our sponsor Japanese Pod 101. They have FREE Japanese language podcasts at all levels from beginner to advanced plus kanji, hiragana and katakana lessons. - Going to teach in Japan? Learn to speak Japanese & teach and live more confidently! Free Japanese lessons & podcasts!

"You can make millions teaching in Japan."

Myths About Teaching in JapanShow Me Da Money!

With a base salary of  220,000 to 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. To see how far that advertised salary will go here is a link to live currency exchange from Japanese yen to dollars. 

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 in Japan 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. This is especially true of ESL teachers who teach predominately children.  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. Also information about working holiday visa (WHV) in Australia and a bit more info on visas for New Zealanders.

"You can’t find red meat in Japan."

A Typical McDonald's in JapanA Typical McDonald's in Japan

Please tell that to the Mos Burger,  Burger King, Lotteria, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Freshness Burger, Wendy’s, Sukiya, Dom Dom, Yoshinoya, Subway and the McDonald’s chains.

Beef and other meats can be bought everywhere, although prices are a bit higher than in most western countries. So if you're teaching in Japan and are on the go, finding some fast food definitely won't be a problem.

And just in case you thought that McDonald's is the reigning champion in the artery clogging world of burgers in Japan, it isn't. Actually Mos Burger is according to the Niconico News survey .

Japan's Favorite Burger ChainJapan's Favorite Burger Chain

And a Handy Little Bit of Info.

In 2010, food service sales for fast food restaurants totaled approximately 32.36 billion U.S. dollars. This number increased to around 38.48 billion U.S. dollars in 2015. 

Also interesting enough is although data from the Japan Food Service Association shows that consumer spending per meal is up by 2.7%, the number of consumers and the total amount of Western-style fast food sold is showing a declining trend recently.

"Anyone can get a job teaching in Japan."

It’s true that the giant chains schools like Nova Holdings 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 and TEFL certificates...way more info. here. 

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. More info. on finding work as a non-native speaker here.

"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. By the way folks this is no secret the hiring managers are well aware of this hip to the skip.

However you should know that in order for you to have received that first visa, your sponsor agreed with immigration that you would receive a certain amount of income per year. These are the grounds for the issuance of the visa. So if you do decide to quit, you need to find a new sponsor before your first visa expires in order to continue teaching in Japan. Your prior company will also need to provide a letter of release  to give to your new company so you can extend your visa.

Also, this is a requirement by law that your former employer provide this. It is not something that they can deny you as it is a government mandate. If you run into trouble in this area General Union can give advice on this. In general don't worry about it. It is pretty much standard issue stuff and it the labor union gets involved in such matters your former employer will be in hot water on this. They know it and so they generally don't do such things.

"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?

"The Cost of Living is Way too High"

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.  Mercer's widely recognized survey is one of the world’s most comprehensive. 

As of 2018, for expatriates Hong Kong tops the list. The 2nd most expensive city to live in is Tokyo followed by Zurich, Singapore, Seoul, Geneva, Shanghai, New York and Bern. (If you're curious, 
the world’s least expensive cities for expatriates, according to Mercer’s survey, are Tunis # (209), Bishkek # (208), and Skopje # (206). 

"Getting a job is simple…just fly over and you’ll find some teaching work in ESL right away."

Bad news. Finding jobs teaching English in Japan is not what it used to be. Although the chain schools, (ECC, Aeon, Nova Holdings, 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 Nova just got bought by G. Commmunications and Geos 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 Nova Holdings? Find out what big "eikaiwa" is looking for. Get more information here.

"I am from  New Zealand, just graduated.  I have TEFL Certification but no 4 Year Degree. Can I get a job teaching in Japan?"

Yes as a matter of fact you probably can. If you are within the age limitation and meet other stipulations. New Zealand along with a bunch of other countries have a Working Holiday Visa arrangement with Japan that allows you to work. More here on countries that have WHV's with Japan.

More Related Pages...

Culture shock. Not the most pleasant experience.

Tips for dealing with it, minimizing it and coming to grips with it.

Japan: Big city vs. small city. What's the best size city for your tastes?

Different size cities offer various allures. Find out what is best for you.

Teaching in small English schools vs. large onesPros and cons of teaching in large schools and smaller schools.

Big vs. small schools. Find out some of the biggest differences. Money, teaching atmosphere etc.

And a Few More Related Pages...

Is Teaching English in Japan a Total Piece of Cake? Get the Bottom Line Here.

If you want to work in Japan but wonder what it's like or don't know what to believe, find out what to expect.

Weather in Japan is very Humid. Get Tips to Deal With it.

Freezing and sweating to death in the classroom is no fun. Here are some tips to make teaching more enjoyable.

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