Teach English in Japan

a world of opportunities

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Kirsten Colquhoun
February 6, 2024

Contents

Why teach in Japan
Where to teach
Visa requirements
Teaching experience
TEFL certification
Degree requirements
Non-native speakers
Local language
Startup capital
Types of teaching jobs
How to get a job
Average salary
Healthcare insurance
Saving in Japan
Cost of living
Life and culture

If you’re looking for a challenge like no other, consider teaching English in Japan. 

Japan is a popular TEFL destination for many reasons. Living and teaching in Japan is certainly like nowhere else. You’re probably familiar with anime and sushi, but there is so much more to this interesting country. 

Let’s look at why you should teach English in Japan, where you should teach in Japan, who you can teach in Japan, how much you can earn in Japan and everything else you need to know about teaching English in Japan.

Why teach English in Japan?

A country of natural beauty, fascinating culture and an interesting mix of the past, present and future, teaching English in Japan is one of the most popular TEFL destinations in the world. Here are three reasons you should consider teaching English in Japan:

Teaching jobs in Japan are plentiful. Whether you prefer to stay in the bright lights of Tokyo or head for the more tranquil countryside, there are plenty of job opportunities to suit a range of preferences and skill sets.

The salaries are generous. The cost of living in and around Tokyo may be high, but the salaries match that. In smaller towns and cities, life is much more affordable – and just as interesting.

The lifestyle is fascinating. Living and teaching in Japan is likely to be very different from what you are used to. Teaching English in Japan will give you a glimpse into one of the most unique locations on the planet.

Teaching in Japan is certainly one of the biggest adventures a nomad can embark on. It requires a lot of adaptability, resilience, and an open mind. You’ll be living in a new environment, surrounded by unfamiliar customs and language, and you’ll need to learn how to navigate your way around. 

Of course, in our humble opinion, the memories and experiences you’ll make along the way will make all of these more than worthwhile! 

Read more: Interesting Facts about Japan

Where to teach English in Japan

There are quite a few cities where you can teach English in Japan. Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto are the hotspots for teaching English in Japan, but there are many smaller towns and villages where Japanese students need English teachers. Teaching in Japan can mean teaching in a public school, private language school or international school.

Tokyo 

Best for city-slicker teachers

Tokyo is a behemoth of a city, the largest city in Japan. Rich in history, it seamlessly blends the ultramodern with the traditional. Because of its sheer size, teachers in Tokyo may find themselves with a commute of 60 to 90 minutes from their accommodation to school. 

Teaching in Tokyo would suit TEFL teachers who are not shy of long hours and enjoy living in a modern, urban environment.

Osaka 

Nice mix of culture, nightlife, and great food

Osaka is a cultural and gastronomic hub of Japan while also being home to some of the biggest technology brands – and the original Japanese Buddhist temple, Shitteno-ji Tempe. It is the third-largest city in Japan.

Teaching English in Osaka is popular with English teachers who want to save a bit more money than they could in Tokyo.

Kyoto 

Best for culturally immersive experiences

Kyoto is one of the most popular Japanese cities to visit and teach in. A small city, Kyoto is where you are sure to encounter traditional Japanese culture on an everyday basis. 

Home to literally thousands of Buddhist temples and hundreds of Shinto shrines, Kyoto is the perfect teaching experience for those who want to explore traditional Japanese culture

Smaller towns and cities

Best for a laid-back lifestyle

If you prefer a more laid-back lifestyle, Japan has plenty of smaller towns that are also buzzing with job opportunities. 

For instance, there’s Chiba, a small town next to Tokyo that is more affordable and relaxed. Sendai, a rural town, is also an up-and-coming area for teaching English. And if you’re looking for something close to Osaka, Kobe is a great option – just a 15-minute drive away and filled with energy and activity.

Whether you prefer the bustling metropolises of big cities or the traditional charm of smaller towns, Japan has something for everyone.

Do you need a visa to teach English in Japan?

To teach in Japan you need an Instructor visa or Humanities Specialist/ International Services visa. The visa issue in Japan is quite complex and the process is rigorous. Your employer should provide you with assistance in the visa process, as it is in their best interest that you have the correct visa.

To obtain a work visa, your employer will send you a Certificate of Eligibility. This is issued by the Ministry of Justice in Japan. The application for the Certificate of Eligibility must be made by a sponsor in Japan – in other words, your employer. The employer needs to send it to you for you to take it to your local Japanese embassy to apply for a visa. 

Though not strictly for visa purposes, you may need to undergo a health check, sometimes a drug test, and a criminal background check to apply for a teaching position. Any drug or violent criminal offences will likely dissuade a school from hiring you. 

Besides a work visa, citizens from certain countries are able to apply for a Working Holiday Visa. This allows you to live and work part-time in Japan for a year.

The retirement age in Japan is 60 so finding teaching positions for those over the age of 60 can be tricky, though not impossible.

Do I need teaching experience to teach in Japan?

You don’t need to have prior teaching experience to teach in Japan but you do need a Bachelor’s degree in any field at a minimum. Some jobs may offer a higher salary or a better package for more experienced and qualified English teachers, but teaching experience is not a deal-breaker. 

Many new TEFL teachers start out in programmes like the JET programme and Interac because they provide good support systems for a first-timer abroad.

If you want something a little different, you might also try private language schools (or eikaiwas). Nova Japan is a good option for new teaching graduates with no experience.

Do I need TEFL certification to teach in Japan?

Yes. A TEFL qualification is required by the Japanese government for a work visa. In Japan, visa sponsorship for prospective teachers is done through employers; they will help you navigate the red tape. 

The TEFL Academy’s Level 5 TEFL certification is exactly what you need to teach English in Japan.

When you sign up for a Level 5 TEFL course with The TEFL Academy you are given free access to three Top-Up courses to help you take your CV to the next level. You can choose from Teaching Business English, Teaching Young Learners, and Teaching Online and 1:1. Or you can do all three!

Can I teach English in Japan with no degree?

You cannot teach in a school in Japan without a degree. Your degree can be in any field – Psychology or Business or Anthropology, but it needs to be a four-year college degree or the equivalent. 

However, you can teach Japanese students online without a degree. There are a growing number of companies which offer online lessons to Japanese students. As an independent online English teacher, you don’t need any specific qualifications to find students. If you work for an online teaching company, there may be a few requirements, but a degree is not necessarily required for online teaching.

Alternatively, countries such as Spain, Argentina, Mexico and Costa Rica allow individuals without degrees to secure teaching positions. 

Read More: 11 Best Places To Teach English With No Degree [2024]

Can non-native speakers teach English in Japan?

Generally speaking, Japanese employers prefer native speakers, specifically,  native English speakers from the UK, USA, South Africa, Canada and Australia. But, if you are a non-native speaker who speaks English at a native level you are still eligible for teaching jobs in Japan

You can prove your native level of English with a score of C1 or higher on an English test such as IELTS or by showing you have had twelve years of schooling in an English-medium school, or by submitting a degree from an English-medium university.

But, just because you are not from the countries mentioned above does not necessarily mean that you cannot pursue your dreams of teaching abroad. Some countries like China, Turkey, Cambodia, and many others do not impose any requirements of being a native speaker.

Can I teach English in Japan without speaking Japanese?

Absolutely. You don’t need any knowledge of Japanese to teach English in Japan. TEFL teachers use immersion education to teach English as a foreign language, so for the most part no foreign languages are used in the classroom.

As with any foreign country, you will need an open mind and adaptable character to feel comfortable in a country where you cannot speak the language – or even read street signs! 

It’s a good idea to take Japanese lessons before you arrive in Japan. You can find a Japanese teacher in your local community or online, or you can use an app like Duolingo. Some Japanese employers offer Japanese lessons to their foreign teachers.

How much start-up capital do I need to teach in Japan?

There are a few costs to consider when you are starting out in Japan. Besides your TEFL qualification, flights and visa costs, you need to be able to cover your living expenses for the first month. It’s likely that you will only be paid at the end of your first month.

TEFL certification: A TEFL course can cost between $100 and $500, depending on the length and level of the course and the course provider. 

Document fees: Any costs related to certifying and notarising your degree and TEFL certificate

Flight ticket: Variable. Your flight may be reimbursed by your employer.

Visa application: The cost of getting a work visa is subject to your home country. You can expect to pay between $25 and $50.

Living expenses: If accommodation is not provided by your employer or included in your salary, you will need capital to cover a deposit and the first month’s rent. You may be expected to give your landlord key money as a gift – think of it as a non-refundable deposit.

Generally speaking, without including any expenses related to accommodation, it’s recommended that you have approximately ¥ 70,000 – ¥ 80,000 ($500 – $600) at your disposal until your first paycheque.

Types of teaching jobs in Japan

Education is regarded very highly in Japan. Japanese students start school at the age of six and complete their school education at the age of 18. After school, many Japanese students go on to study at a university, college or vocational school. TEFL teachers can also work in eikaiwas, or English conversation schools.

Teaching jobs in Japan range from kindergarten to public Japanese schools – elementary schools and high schools – to universities to conversation or language schools. TEFL teachers focus on conversation skills, exam skills or Business English.

Teaching positions in international schools are available but are few and far between. Qualified teachers with a teaching degree or license and five years of experience are preferred for these roles.

The JET programme

The Japan Exchange and Teaching programme (or JET programme) is a popular option to get an English teaching job in a Japanese public school. Graduates from over 40 different countries can apply to be placed as an Assistant Language Teacher, or ALT. 

As an ALT you work alongside a Japanese teacher in a primary or junior high school. Class sizes are generally around 40 students and you teach four lessons a day and are at work 35 hours a week. 

The application process is lengthy so be sure to apply well before the August start date. To be eligible for the JET programme you need to have a Bachelor’s degree or higher.

Interac

Interac is another program which places teachers as ALTs. To apply with Interac you need to have a Bachelor’s degree and be a native speaker of English. You can apply throughout the year.

Westgate

Westgate places teachers in universities across the Kanto and Aichi prefectures. Teaching positions with Westgate focus on cross-cultural awareness as well as English skills. To apply for a Westgate teaching job you need at least 1,000 hours of classroom experience.

Other popular teaching programs in Japan include ECC, which employs over 400 foreign teachers across Japan, and JIEC which hires TEFL teachers for Japanese kindergartens.

Eikaiwas

If you’re not keen on JET or Interac, there are plenty of jobs in private language schools or English conversation schools, also known as eikaiwas, around Japan. Students are from kindergarten to adult. 

Your working hours may be sporadic as you teach students after school, after work and on weekends. The number of English classes you teach and working hours will vary from school to school.

Popular eikaiwas include:

Gaba

Ideal for TEFL-certified graduates. Gaba specializes in adult learners. 

Students are taught on a 1:1 basis. Teachers can set their own schedules and work as little or as much as they would like. Starting rates are about ¥1,300 ($10) an hour.

NOVA Japan 

Good for native and fluent speakers with no teaching experience. 

NOVA offers both 1:1 and small group lessons online and face-to-face. 

Private lessons

It’s possible to find private students either online or in your local community. Some TEFL teachers teach private students in the evenings or at weekends. However, working hours in Japan may be long so private lessons are only recommended if you are working part-time.

How to get a job teaching English in Japan

For new and inexperienced teachers, you might prefer to apply to one of the teaching programmes in Japan. These programmes are well-established and reputable. Plus, they are organised and efficient – so you don’t have to worry about a thing. 

It is possible to find jobs online by yourself but this has the slight complication of sorting out a Japanese visa. Not impossible by any means, this option might suit more experienced and worldly teachers.

Here are the hoops you’ll need to jump through to secure a job teaching English in Japan:

  1. Meeting the minimum requirements: This is the first step towards securing a job teaching English in Japan. Be a native speaker, hold a Bachelor’s degree, have a clean health exam, pass a drug test, have no criminal history and be younger than 60 years old. 
  2. TEFL certification: Acquiring a Level 5 168-hour TEFL certificate (for those who haven’t taught in an EFL classroom) is first on the list. This will help you acquire valuable teaching skills in a classroom setting.
  3. Prepare your documents: To gather all documents (passports, apostilled copies of your degree, reference letters, etc.) might take a bit of time but that’s OK. The trick here is to get started early. 
  4. Prepare your CV: Even little tweaks and tricks can make a big difference when it comes to getting some eyeballs on your application.
  5. Start your job search: You can also scour our jobs board for teaching positions.
  6. Consider using recruitment companies: Find a recruiter and start your application process with them. They will guide you through what documents are needed for the school you are applying for. 

Visa application: Once you get to interviews and get offered a job, the job of applying for a visa begins. This can take another few additional weeks, so be patient.

What is the average salary for teaching English in Japan?

Teaching in Japan you can expect to earn from Y250,000 – Y300,000 ($1,800 – $2,200) as an average monthly salary. This is a competitive salary, and many packages include benefits such as flights, accommodation and transport. For teachers with further qualifications, it’s possible to snag a position in an international school or university where you could earn up to Y600,000 ($4,500).

There can be a big difference between the costs of living in bigger cities like Tokyo and more rural areas, and salaries will vary accordingly. 

Most long-term jobs reimburse teachers for their flights to and from Japan. 

Some contracts may include housing and food at the school. Transportation passes to cover commuting costs could be included if your commute is substantial. A phone is often provided for work purposes. Contract completion bonuses are also common.

What about healthcare and travel insurance?

In Japan, if you are a full-time employee, 5% of your salary will be deducted for social health insurance, which is then matched by your employer. While medical care is not cheap, 70% is covered by social health insurance, requiring you to only pay 30%

Deductions may also be made for a pension scheme

Travel insurance is not usually provided by employers, but it is recommended that you organise coverage before you leave.

Is it possible to save as a TEFL teacher in Japan?

Teaching jobs in Japan offer generous salaries but living in Japan can be costly. As with other countries, how much you save is entirely dependent on the lifestyle and standard of living you choose. If you choose to live it up in Tokyo (which is not hard to do), you can expect to spend ¥300,000 ($2,200) a month, but in a smaller town or rural area this can drop to as low as ¥150,000 ($1,100).

Bear in mind that if your package includes accommodation this will be a huge saver. 

Top tip: Confirm your salary amount before and after deductions as amounts may be taken off for accommodation, tax and insurance.

What is the cost of living in Japan?

The cost of living in Japan can be high, but it depends on where and how you live. Bigger cities mean bigger paycheques but higher living costs. In Japan, it’s possible to live like a king (or should we say emperor?) but you can also be frugal and pinch pennies.

Accommodation

  • One-bedroom apartment in city centre: ¥100,000 ($750)
  • One-bedroom apartment outside city centre: ¥75,000 ($550)

Utilities

  • water, electricity, heating, garbage: ¥15,000 – ¥20,000 ($100 – $150 USD) a month

Food and groceries

  • Monthly shop:  ¥20,000 to ¥40,000 ($180 – $370) a month
  •  A meal at an inexpensive restaurant:  between ¥750 and ¥1,500 ($5 – $10)

Public transport

  • Monthly pass: ¥8,000 ($60)

Internet and phone

  • Internet: ¥5,000 ($35)
  • Phone, per minute: ¥35 ($0.2)

Entertainment

  • Cinema, gym, going out etc: ¥6,700 ($50)

What's it like to live and work in Japan?

The cultural experience in Japan is fascinating. Ancient traditions blend effortlessly with popular culture. Customs, traditions and etiquette are important in Japan and familiarising yourself with local customs will go a long way. Bowing when greeting someone and taking off your shoes when you enter a house are just two examples.

In Japan, teachers are very well respected. Society as a whole is very polite and as a foreigner, you need to be aware of any social customs which might affect you. If you are from a Western country – or even some other Asian countries – you will find the Japanese work ethic very different to what you are used to.

Dress codes are business smart. Business skirts or trousers and blazers for women, and business suits and ties for men. Appearance is very important in Japan so it is better to err on the side of caution. Tattoos will need to be covered, and hair and make-up should be natural-looking.

Wherever you work in Japan you will be given an orientation session where you are trained in the teaching methods of the school. This will include etiquette, assessments, and expectations. Classroom culture in Japan is very different from English schools in other countries. 

Japanese students may be shyer than other students you have taught. They are motivated and enthusiastic and engage fully with their lessons once they feel comfortable. Don’t confuse shyness with a lack of ability!

Contents

If you’re looking for a challenge like no other, consider teaching English in Japan. 

Japan is a popular TEFL destination for many reasons. Living and teaching in Japan is certainly like nowhere else. You’re probably familiar with anime and sushi, but there is so much more to this interesting country. 

Let’s look at why you should teach English in Japan, where you should teach in Japan, who you can teach in Japan, how much you can earn in Japan and everything else you need to know about teaching English in Japan.

Why teach English in Japan?

A country of natural beauty, fascinating culture and an interesting mix of the past, present and future, teaching English in Japan is one of the most popular TEFL destinations in the world. Here are three reasons you should consider teaching English in Japan:

Teaching jobs in Japan are plentiful. Whether you prefer to stay in the bright lights of Tokyo or head for the more tranquil countryside, there are plenty of job opportunities to suit a range of preferences and skill sets.

The salaries are generous. The cost of living in and around Tokyo may be high, but the salaries match that. In smaller towns and cities, life is much more affordable – and just as interesting.

The lifestyle is fascinating. Living and teaching in Japan is likely to be very different from what you are used to. Teaching English in Japan will give you a glimpse into one of the most unique locations on the planet.

Teaching in Japan is certainly one of the biggest adventures a nomad can embark on. It requires a lot of adaptability, resilience, and an open mind. You’ll be living in a new environment, surrounded by unfamiliar customs and language, and you’ll need to learn how to navigate your way around. 

Of course, in our humble opinion, the memories and experiences you’ll make along the way will make all of these more than worthwhile! 

Read more: Interesting Facts about Japan

Where to teach English in Japan

There are quite a few cities where you can teach English in Japan. Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto are the hotspots for teaching English in Japan, but there are many smaller towns and villages where Japanese students need English teachers. Teaching in Japan can mean teaching in a public school, private language school or international school.

Tokyo 

Best for city-slicker teachers

Tokyo is a behemoth of a city, the largest city in Japan. Rich in history, it seamlessly blends the ultramodern with the traditional. Because of its sheer size, teachers in Tokyo may find themselves with a commute of 60 to 90 minutes from their accommodation to school. 

Teaching in Tokyo would suit TEFL teachers who are not shy of long hours and enjoy living in a modern, urban environment.

Osaka 

Nice mix of culture, nightlife, and great food

Osaka is a cultural and gastronomic hub of Japan while also being home to some of the biggest technology brands – and the original Japanese Buddhist temple, Shitteno-ji Tempe. It is the third-largest city in Japan.

Teaching English in Osaka is popular with English teachers who want to save a bit more money than they could in Tokyo.

Kyoto 

Best for culturally immersive experiences

Kyoto is one of the most popular Japanese cities to visit and teach in. A small city, Kyoto is where you are sure to encounter traditional Japanese culture on an everyday basis. 

Home to literally thousands of Buddhist temples and hundreds of Shinto shrines, Kyoto is the perfect teaching experience for those who want to explore traditional Japanese culture

Smaller towns and cities

Best for a laid-back lifestyle

If you prefer a more laid-back lifestyle, Japan has plenty of smaller towns that are also buzzing with job opportunities. 

For instance, there’s Chiba, a small town next to Tokyo that is more affordable and relaxed. Sendai, a rural town, is also an up-and-coming area for teaching English. And if you’re looking for something close to Osaka, Kobe is a great option – just a 15-minute drive away and filled with energy and activity.

Whether you prefer the bustling metropolises of big cities or the traditional charm of smaller towns, Japan has something for everyone.

Do you need a visa to teach English in Japan?

To teach in Japan you need an Instructor visa or Humanities Specialist/ International Services visa. The visa issue in Japan is quite complex and the process is rigorous. Your employer should provide you with assistance in the visa process, as it is in their best interest that you have the correct visa.

To obtain a work visa, your employer will send you a Certificate of Eligibility. This is issued by the Ministry of Justice in Japan. The application for the Certificate of Eligibility must be made by a sponsor in Japan – in other words, your employer. The employer needs to send it to you for you to take it to your local Japanese embassy to apply for a visa. 

Though not strictly for visa purposes, you may need to undergo a health check, sometimes a drug test, and a criminal background check to apply for a teaching position. Any drug or violent criminal offences will likely dissuade a school from hiring you. 

Besides a work visa, citizens from certain countries are able to apply for a Working Holiday Visa. This allows you to live and work part-time in Japan for a year.

The retirement age in Japan is 60 so finding teaching positions for those over the age of 60 can be tricky, though not impossible.

Do I need teaching experience to teach in Japan?

You don’t need to have prior teaching experience to teach in Japan but you do need a Bachelor’s degree in any field at a minimum. Some jobs may offer a higher salary or a better package for more experienced and qualified English teachers, but teaching experience is not a deal-breaker. 

Many new TEFL teachers start out in programmes like the JET programme and Interac because they provide good support systems for a first-timer abroad.

If you want something a little different, you might also try private language schools (or eikaiwas). Nova Japan is a good option for new teaching graduates with no experience.

Do I need TEFL certification to teach in Japan?

Yes. A TEFL qualification is required by the Japanese government for a work visa. In Japan, visa sponsorship for prospective teachers is done through employers; they will help you navigate the red tape. 

The TEFL Academy’s Level 5 TEFL certification is exactly what you need to teach English in Japan.

When you sign up for a Level 5 TEFL course with The TEFL Academy you are given free access to three Top-Up courses to help you take your CV to the next level. You can choose from Teaching Business English, Teaching Young Learners, and Teaching Online and 1:1. Or you can do all three!

Can I teach English in Japan with no degree?

You cannot teach in a school in Japan without a degree. Your degree can be in any field – Psychology or Business or Anthropology, but it needs to be a four-year college degree or the equivalent. 

However, you can teach Japanese students online without a degree. There are a growing number of companies which offer online lessons to Japanese students. As an independent online English teacher, you don’t need any specific qualifications to find students. If you work for an online teaching company, there may be a few requirements, but a degree is not necessarily required for online teaching.

Alternatively, countries such as Spain, Argentina, Mexico and Costa Rica allow individuals without degrees to secure teaching positions. 

Read More: 11 Best Places To Teach English With No Degree [2024]

Can non-native speakers teach English in Japan?

Generally speaking, Japanese employers prefer native speakers, specifically,  native English speakers from the UK, USA, South Africa, Canada and Australia. But, if you are a non-native speaker who speaks English at a native level you are still eligible for teaching jobs in Japan

You can prove your native level of English with a score of C1 or higher on an English test such as IELTS or by showing you have had twelve years of schooling in an English-medium school, or by submitting a degree from an English-medium university.

But, just because you are not from the countries mentioned above does not necessarily mean that you cannot pursue your dreams of teaching abroad. Some countries like China, Turkey, Cambodia, and many others do not impose any requirements of being a native speaker.

Can I teach English in Japan without speaking Japanese?

Absolutely. You don’t need any knowledge of Japanese to teach English in Japan. TEFL teachers use immersion education to teach English as a foreign language, so for the most part no foreign languages are used in the classroom.

As with any foreign country, you will need an open mind and adaptable character to feel comfortable in a country where you cannot speak the language – or even read street signs! 

It’s a good idea to take Japanese lessons before you arrive in Japan. You can find a Japanese teacher in your local community or online, or you can use an app like Duolingo. Some Japanese employers offer Japanese lessons to their foreign teachers.

How much start-up capital do I need to teach in Japan?

There are a few costs to consider when you are starting out in Japan. Besides your TEFL qualification, flights and visa costs, you need to be able to cover your living expenses for the first month. It’s likely that you will only be paid at the end of your first month.

TEFL certification: A TEFL course can cost between $100 and $500, depending on the length and level of the course and the course provider. 

Document fees: Any costs related to certifying and notarising your degree and TEFL certificate

Flight ticket: Variable. Your flight may be reimbursed by your employer.

Visa application: The cost of getting a work visa is subject to your home country. You can expect to pay between $25 and $50.

Living expenses: If accommodation is not provided by your employer or included in your salary, you will need capital to cover a deposit and the first month’s rent. You may be expected to give your landlord key money as a gift – think of it as a non-refundable deposit.

Generally speaking, without including any expenses related to accommodation, it’s recommended that you have approximately ¥ 70,000 – ¥ 80,000 ($500 – $600) at your disposal until your first paycheque.

Types of teaching jobs in Japan

Education is regarded very highly in Japan. Japanese students start school at the age of six and complete their school education at the age of 18. After school, many Japanese students go on to study at a university, college or vocational school. TEFL teachers can also work in eikaiwas, or English conversation schools.

Teaching jobs in Japan range from kindergarten to public Japanese schools – elementary schools and high schools – to universities to conversation or language schools. TEFL teachers focus on conversation skills, exam skills or Business English.

Teaching positions in international schools are available but are few and far between. Qualified teachers with a teaching degree or license and five years of experience are preferred for these roles.

The JET programme

The Japan Exchange and Teaching programme (or JET programme) is a popular option to get an English teaching job in a Japanese public school. Graduates from over 40 different countries can apply to be placed as an Assistant Language Teacher, or ALT. 

As an ALT you work alongside a Japanese teacher in a primary or junior high school. Class sizes are generally around 40 students and you teach four lessons a day and are at work 35 hours a week. 

The application process is lengthy so be sure to apply well before the August start date. To be eligible for the JET programme you need to have a Bachelor’s degree or higher.

Interac

Interac is another program which places teachers as ALTs. To apply with Interac you need to have a Bachelor’s degree and be a native speaker of English. You can apply throughout the year.

Westgate

Westgate places teachers in universities across the Kanto and Aichi prefectures. Teaching positions with Westgate focus on cross-cultural awareness as well as English skills. To apply for a Westgate teaching job you need at least 1,000 hours of classroom experience.

Other popular teaching programs in Japan include ECC, which employs over 400 foreign teachers across Japan, and JIEC which hires TEFL teachers for Japanese kindergartens.

Eikaiwas

If you’re not keen on JET or Interac, there are plenty of jobs in private language schools or English conversation schools, also known as eikaiwas, around Japan. Students are from kindergarten to adult. 

Your working hours may be sporadic as you teach students after school, after work and on weekends. The number of English classes you teach and working hours will vary from school to school.

Popular eikaiwas include:

Gaba

Ideal for TEFL-certified graduates. Gaba specializes in adult learners. 

Students are taught on a 1:1 basis. Teachers can set their own schedules and work as little or as much as they would like. Starting rates are about ¥1,300 ($10) an hour.

NOVA Japan 

Good for native and fluent speakers with no teaching experience. 

NOVA offers both 1:1 and small group lessons online and face-to-face. 

Private lessons

It’s possible to find private students either online or in your local community. Some TEFL teachers teach private students in the evenings or at weekends. However, working hours in Japan may be long so private lessons are only recommended if you are working part-time.

How to get a job teaching English in Japan

For new and inexperienced teachers, you might prefer to apply to one of the teaching programmes in Japan. These programmes are well-established and reputable. Plus, they are organised and efficient – so you don’t have to worry about a thing. 

It is possible to find jobs online by yourself but this has the slight complication of sorting out a Japanese visa. Not impossible by any means, this option might suit more experienced and worldly teachers.

Here are the hoops you’ll need to jump through to secure a job teaching English in Japan:

  1. Meeting the minimum requirements: This is the first step towards securing a job teaching English in Japan. Be a native speaker, hold a Bachelor’s degree, have a clean health exam, pass a drug test, have no criminal history and be younger than 60 years old. 
  2. TEFL certification: Acquiring a Level 5 168-hour TEFL certificate (for those who haven’t taught in an EFL classroom) is first on the list. This will help you acquire valuable teaching skills in a classroom setting.
  3. Prepare your documents: To gather all documents (passports, apostilled copies of your degree, reference letters, etc.) might take a bit of time but that’s OK. The trick here is to get started early. 
  4. Prepare your CV: Even little tweaks and tricks can make a big difference when it comes to getting some eyeballs on your application.
  5. Start your job search: You can also scour our jobs board for teaching positions.
  6. Consider using recruitment companies: Find a recruiter and start your application process with them. They will guide you through what documents are needed for the school you are applying for. 

Visa application: Once you get to interviews and get offered a job, the job of applying for a visa begins. This can take another few additional weeks, so be patient.

What is the average salary for teaching English in Japan?

Teaching in Japan you can expect to earn from Y250,000 – Y300,000 ($1,800 – $2,200) as an average monthly salary. This is a competitive salary, and many packages include benefits such as flights, accommodation and transport. For teachers with further qualifications, it’s possible to snag a position in an international school or university where you could earn up to Y600,000 ($4,500).

There can be a big difference between the costs of living in bigger cities like Tokyo and more rural areas, and salaries will vary accordingly. 

Most long-term jobs reimburse teachers for their flights to and from Japan. 

Some contracts may include housing and food at the school. Transportation passes to cover commuting costs could be included if your commute is substantial. A phone is often provided for work purposes. Contract completion bonuses are also common.

What about healthcare and travel insurance?

In Japan, if you are a full-time employee, 5% of your salary will be deducted for social health insurance, which is then matched by your employer. While medical care is not cheap, 70% is covered by social health insurance, requiring you to only pay 30%

Deductions may also be made for a pension scheme

Travel insurance is not usually provided by employers, but it is recommended that you organise coverage before you leave.

Is it possible to save as a TEFL teacher in Japan?

Teaching jobs in Japan offer generous salaries but living in Japan can be costly. As with other countries, how much you save is entirely dependent on the lifestyle and standard of living you choose. If you choose to live it up in Tokyo (which is not hard to do), you can expect to spend ¥300,000 ($2,200) a month, but in a smaller town or rural area this can drop to as low as ¥150,000 ($1,100).

Bear in mind that if your package includes accommodation this will be a huge saver. 

Top tip: Confirm your salary amount before and after deductions as amounts may be taken off for accommodation, tax and insurance.

What is the cost of living in Japan?

The cost of living in Japan can be high, but it depends on where and how you live. Bigger cities mean bigger paycheques but higher living costs. In Japan, it’s possible to live like a king (or should we say emperor?) but you can also be frugal and pinch pennies.

Accommodation

  • One-bedroom apartment in city centre: ¥100,000 ($750)
  • One-bedroom apartment outside city centre: ¥75,000 ($550)

Utilities

  • water, electricity, heating, garbage: ¥15,000 – ¥20,000 ($100 – $150 USD) a month

Food and groceries

  • Monthly shop:  ¥20,000 to ¥40,000 ($180 – $370) a month
  •  A meal at an inexpensive restaurant:  between ¥750 and ¥1,500 ($5 – $10)

Public transport

  • Monthly pass: ¥8,000 ($60)

Internet and phone

  • Internet: ¥5,000 ($35)
  • Phone, per minute: ¥35 ($0.2)

Entertainment

  • Cinema, gym, going out etc: ¥6,700 ($50)

What's it like to live and work in Japan?

The cultural experience in Japan is fascinating. Ancient traditions blend effortlessly with popular culture. Customs, traditions and etiquette are important in Japan and familiarising yourself with local customs will go a long way. Bowing when greeting someone and taking off your shoes when you enter a house are just two examples.

In Japan, teachers are very well respected. Society as a whole is very polite and as a foreigner, you need to be aware of any social customs which might affect you. If you are from a Western country – or even some other Asian countries – you will find the Japanese work ethic very different to what you are used to.

Dress codes are business smart. Business skirts or trousers and blazers for women, and business suits and ties for men. Appearance is very important in Japan so it is better to err on the side of caution. Tattoos will need to be covered, and hair and make-up should be natural-looking.

Wherever you work in Japan you will be given an orientation session where you are trained in the teaching methods of the school. This will include etiquette, assessments, and expectations. Classroom culture in Japan is very different from English schools in other countries. 

Japanese students may be shyer than other students you have taught. They are motivated and enthusiastic and engage fully with their lessons once they feel comfortable. Don’t confuse shyness with a lack of ability!

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