Everything you need to know about teaching English in Japan


Japan has emerged from its years of recession with a now buoyant teaching English industry and teaching salaries here can be among the world’s best, with some teachers earning as much as US$5,000 per month. This article looks at the logistics of teaching English in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Where is Japan?

Japan is an ultra-modern, high-tech island country in the Pacific Ocean, located in East Asia. Salaries here are very high and as a new teacher, you should expect to be earning a monthly starting salary in the range of US$2,000 – US$3,000. Local costs are also very high though, making Japan a teaching location where you will be assured a relatively comfortable lifestyle but without the possibility to save all that much money if you are just starting out. Our tip is to teach at a university if wanting to earn enough to save too.

The legal requirements for teaching English in Japan are some of the strictest in the region, with only native English speakers being permitted to work here. A Bachelor’s degree (in any subject) is required, as well as holding an international TEFL certificate from a reputable school. A criminal background check is also a requirement of the work visa process and it is important to note here that schools do sometimes conduct random drug testings of their teachers.

There are two types of visas which English teachers apply for to legally teach English in Japan and these are the Instructor Visa and the Specialist in Humanities Visa. The Instructor Visa allows you to teach English in public institutions such as high schools and universities, and the Specialist in Humanities Visa grants you the ability to teach for companies or private language schools.

The first step in applying for either visa is applying for work and receiving a job offer, and your employer will then sponsor you during the process of obtaining your visa. 

It is also worth noting here that there is a third possibility of teaching English in Japan if you are thinking of teaching short-term and this is through applying for a Working Holiday Visa. Please be advised though that this visa only allows you to work legally in Japan for six months and this route isn’t recommended if wanting to teach English in Japan longer term.

It is possible to apply for your work visa whilst on the ground in Japan by heading to the Japanese Ministry of Justice’s Immigration Bureau and applying for the Certificate of Eligibility, but our graduates tell us that the process is much simpler completed from abroad and through a Japanese Embassy in your home country. If you do decide to apply for work and then get legal once you are in Japan then you should be aware that upon arrival you will be issued with a tourist visa, which is valid for 90 days, and that you will then learn about the success of your work visa application within 2-3 months of submitting your documents.

The last step in the process of applying for a work visa is receiving your visa and also your residence card: your official identification for your time in Japan which has all your information embedded on it in a chip.

Please remember that at tefl online pro we assist our graduates with ongoing job support, help and advice, so if you are wanting Japan teaching English advice then feel free to reach out and contact us.

Teaching in Tokyo

Tokyo is currently the world’s 7th largest city with an expanding population of 13.6 million, but holds the title of the largest city in the world when the entire Tokyo metro area is included – totaling more than 38 million residents! Because of its size and high cost of living, teachers do usually find themselves living quite a distance from their teaching locations and this transport factor should definitely be taken into consideration when choosing to teach in Tokyo. Nevertheless, Tokyo is a fascinating city to teach English in.

Compared with other countries in the region, accommodation in Japan is expensive and if you choose to live on your own then your accommodation costs will munch a substantial bite into your budget.

It is possible to live more cheaply though and one way of doing this is by sharing an apartment with another teacher or other teachers. Even in Tokyo – Japan’s most expensive city – if you are willing to share then you can find a semi-decent place to live for around 60,000 yen, which is approx. US$550.

Finding an apartment in Japan though is by no means a walk in the park. Many Japanese citizens themselves find it difficult to locate good accommodation and this is one of the reasons why a lot of Japanese stay living at home with their parents until they are often in their thirties. The shortage of accommodation has even created the phenomenon of net café refugees: people who live in cyber cafés and who are referred to as being ‘cyber-homeless’.

In Japan, apartments are normally rented through real estate agents (rather than landlords) and one of the biggest hurdles of landing an apartment is probably going to be your inability to speak Japanese, with landlords often being more than reticent to rent their properties to a (‘gaijin’) foreigner. This is why we recommend asking your employer for help with the process of hunting for an apartment and this appears to be the mode of choice for most newbie English teachers in Japan.

Teaching in Osaka

Osaka, a large commercial center and port city on the Japanese island of Honshu, is Japan’s third largest city (after Tokyo and Yokohama) and is known among expats for being the food capital of Japan. As with the other cities on this list there are a lot of teaching English options to be found in Osaka, but the factor which makes Osaka such an attractive city to live and work in is that living expenses are generally lower. And because Osaka is often overlooked by expats, there isn’t as much competition when job hunting.

In Japan, the average working week for a teacher of English means teaching from between 20 to 25 hours and this is enough to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. Please bear in mind though – as with all teaching English locations – that you will start out by spending a lot of time planning lessons and that this planning time can at first equate to one hour spent planning for every hour taught. Over time though you will find yourself needing to plan less and less and you will find yourself with more and more time at your disposal.

It must be noted here that there are significant differences depending on whether you are teaching for a Japanese company or a foreign one. If you find yourself working for a Japanese company, you may find that you will be expected to work more hours than is stated in your work contract and be expected to attend many more meetings than you would if you were working for a foreign-owned company.

Please bear in mind again that at tefl online pro we assist our graduates with ongoing job support, help and advice, so if you are wanting Japan teaching English jobs advice then feel free to reach out and contact us.

Teaching in Nagoya

Nagoya, the fourth most populous urban area in Japan, is a popular destination and this seems largely due to its relative close proximity to Tokyo, taking just one hour and 40 minutes on the Nozomi Shinkansen train. Nagoya is the capital of the Aichi Prefecture and is a gateway to the Kansai region, and it is also the center of the automotive industry in Japan. Another reason why Nagoya is a popular destination is because it is possible to cross the city in just over 30 minutes – cutting down on transport times between classes.

There are many different types of teaching English positions available in Japan and the main options open to you are teaching at an eikaiwa, kindergarten, international school, language school, public school, university or teaching English privately.

‘Eikaiwa’ are conversation schools, teaching either children or adults, which have sprung up all over Japan due to the general inability of the old-fashioned, Japanese education system being able to get students to effectively use the English language. At these schools it is common to be teaching students anywhere from the ages of 3-70+ years old and although schools do obviously separate children from adults, you may find that the ages of your adult groups vary considerably and this can present significant classroom challenges. Teaching hours at these schools typically run between 1 pm and 9 pm, with kindergarten and elementary students making up the first few hours of your teaching day and adults coming in later as the day progresses. The average salary when working at an eikaiwa is typically around ¥250,000 per month and it is also important to note here that you will enjoy less holiday time off than if you were working as an assistant language teacher at a public school.

Teaching at a kindergarten means teaching English to children between the ages of 2-6 and this type of teaching is frankly extremely demanding and not everyone’s cup of tea. On the other hand though, it can also be the most rewarding type of teaching position and one additional benefit of teaching at a kindergarten is the long holiday time which you can enjoy when school breaks. Kindergarten salaries are similar to those that an assistant language teacher at a public school earns with a starting salary of around ¥280,000 per month, which will increase the longer you decide to stay at the school. 

International schools are a sought-after teaching English position due to the standard holidays and the higher wages. You can find international schools throughout Japan, but most of them are located in Tokyo. At these schools you will either follow an American or British school system curriculum and most international schools require a minimum two years of teaching experience. Salaries typically come in at around 6 million yen per year and most international schools also assist with flights, insurance and relocation costs.

There are many language schools located across Japan. These are privately-run schools which will send you out to other schools and businesses to teach English and pretty much act as the middleman between yourself and their client. Salaries tend to remain firm at around the ¥250,000 per month mark and we recommend never accepting a teaching position for lower than this figure.

Teaching at a public school in Japan means teaching as an assistant language teacher, alongside the Japanese class teacher. Assistant language teacher jobs are available throughout Japan and can be found in public elementary and junior high schools. Teaching assistants at public schools typically make around ¥280,000 per month, with 60% of their school holidays paid too.

Teaching at a university is considered the ultimate teaching English position for teachers in Japan and as we have already noted, you can expect to be earning up to US$5,000 per month teaching in this type of position. Universities tend to hire in April or September and contracts are arranged on an annual basis. The only real drawback we can see with a teaching position at a university is that your class sizes might easily run to 40 students and this can present obvious classroom management issues. Still, teaching at a university is seen as a prestigious position and seems to be the dream ticket for most English teachers in Japan.

Teaching English privately is a good way to earn some extra money and get to know new Japanese people, and by teaching privately you won’t have to wear your work clothes to your classes. Perhaps the main advantage of teaching private students though is that you can charge as much as the student is willing to pay and this type of teaching can be extremely lucrative. The negative of teaching private students is that they can cancel at any time, meaning you won’t get paid for that class. We suggest taking on a few private students to add to your school schedule and then if a private student does cancel it won’t affect you so much financially.

Teaching in Kyoto

Kyoto, once the capital of Japan, sits attractively perched on the main train line between Nagoya and Osaka. Kyoto is a city of temples and shrines and is the most popular tourist destination in Japan. More importantly though, Kyoto is the academic capital of the country and it is here more than anywhere else in Japan where you stand a high chance of landing a lucrative teaching English position at a university. The only real downside to teaching in this popular city is competing with the other teachers wanting to live here too.

In this last section, we want to speak a little about the Japanese language and whether you should learn the language before heading over.

While it isn’t mandatory to know some Japanese in order to begin teaching English in Japan, it is definitely recommended to get to know at least some of the basics. Having some basic knowledge of Japanese will help you with your day-to-day interactions in Japan and will also help in the classroom when you find, for example, that it ‘s just easier to say the word in Japanese so that the student immediately understands the meaning of the target vocabulary. 

Despite being known as a difficult language to learn, Japanese is actually quite straightforward compared with other languages in the region and you will also find that there are many English loan words in Japanese. Japanese does not have masculine, feminine or neuter nouns, so the complexity of deciding which gender a particular noun belongs to doesn’t present a learning obstacle. In Japanese, there is also no need to conjugate verbs to match their respective subjects and this means that you don’t need to learn different verb forms for different pronouns. And Japanese is also easier to learn than you think due to each Japanese syllable being pronounced only one way and meaning that each of the 45 basic syllables have specific pronunciation rules (unlike in the case of English which despite having fewer letters actually contains far more sounds).

It is also important to note here that many schools do prefer the immersion method of learning a language, which means that you will be expected to only speak English in the classroom. If this is the case for you then follow the guidelines of the school and keep your Japanese language schools ready for outside of classroom teaching hours.

As a special note, there are some companies – operating out of Japan – that involve themselves in fraudulent activities. TEFL/TESOL scams do exist. Mostly though, Japan is a very safe country and scams are (thankfully) extremely rare.

Teaching in Hiroshima

Hiroshima is located on Japan’s Honshu Island and is undeniably most well-known for being the site of the dropping of the first atomic bomb on August 6, 1945. The bombing decimated the city but Hiroshima has since recovered to develop into a vibrant, modern city, and has been dubbed ‘The City of Peace’ with its international conferences regarding nuclear power. It’s difficult not to fall in love with the city and with its laidback locals and the good news is that there is a well-developed teaching English industry here.

Read more Teaching English Abroad Country Specifics articles on the tefl online pro Blog

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