Japan is a series of islands located off the mainland of Asia. The country is an economic powerhouse with one of the largest economies by GDP. Potential ESL teachers can enjoy the rich and robust culture that Japan has to offer.
Overview of Japan
Major Cities: Tokyo, Osaka
Capital City: Tokyo
Primary Language(s): Japanese
Official Currency: Yen
Primary Religion: Shinto
Working in Japan
Eikaiwa (Private Language Schools)
Eikaiwa schools (also known as conversation schools) are private language institutes that cater to both children as well as adults. These schools are very similar to their counterparts in many other countries around the world in that they typically cater to students looking for extra instruction outside of their normal English learning classes in school. The emphasis at these types of schools is on conversational skills as opposed to the public school system which places emphasis on grammar for testing purposes. Though the market share for Eikaiwa schools has dramatically shrunk over the past two decades owing to the collapse of the major market player NOVA Group, these schools still employ the majority of ESL teachers in Japan. There are a large variety of school types ranging from giant corporations such as AEON, Berlitz, or ECC to small sometimes family-run schools. Teaching requirements can differ depending on the school and their teaching philosophy.
- The class size in Eikaiwa schools will vary greatly depending on the size, location, and popularity of the school. Larger chain schools such as AEON will generally have more students whereas smaller family run schools will usually have less. Teachers working for Eikaiwa school can expect to work with between 5 and 20 students for each class.
- Requirements will be different from school to school. The minimum requirements will be for a teacher to be a native English speaker and hold a valid university diploma as this is what is required by law to secure a work visa. Aside from these requirements, some schools may ask that teachers have a TEFL certificate while others may show a preference for teachers with prior teaching experience. Some schools may have no extra requirements past those necessary for securing the visa.
- Classes will usually be in the evening after the regular school day has finished and on the weekends. Teachers will usually be given a random day off during the weekday. You can expect to work till around 8 pm to 10 pm on the weekdays and all day on the weekends.
- Salaries at Eikaiwa schools vary greatly depending on whether you are working at one of the major chains or at a smaller rural school. Usually, larger companies can pay more but teachers are easily replaced as the competition can be high to work at one of these. Smaller schools, by contrast, may not be able to pay as well but as there is less competition and teachers may hold more value as it is harder to fill the position. Salaries at Eikaiwa schools typically range between 200,000 and 250,000 Yen for starting positions. Some schools will pay for accommodations or provide reimbursement or at the least assistance in finding accommodation.
Teachers at public schools in Japan are known as Assistant Language Teachers (ALT’s) owing to the fact ESL teachers at Japanese public schools work with native Japanese teachers in their classrooms. Most teachers working for the Japanese public school system will be teaching at public junior high schools with students in the 7th through 9th grades. The age level for these students is usually between 12 and 15 years old. ALT’s may have different responsibilities depending on the school and the homeroom teacher they are working with but most normal duties include developing classroom material to be approved by the homeroom teacher as well as normal teaching responsibilities.
- Class sizes at public schools will vary depending on whether you are in a rural area or in the more urban areas of Tokyo or Osaka. The general size for ESL classes will be between 30 to 40 students with rural schools usually having less.
- The minimum requirement to be an Assistant Language Teacher is to be both a native English speaker and to hold a university degree in any field. Outside of this, all ALT’s will be required to undergo a training process which will cover information about the Japanese education system, basic Japanese for getting by in the classroom, teaching techniques and strategies, and more.
- ALT’s work for 29 hours-per-week between the hours of 8 am and 5 pm. Public schools in Japan operate Monday through Friday so teachers can expect to have the weekends off as well as public holidays. Occasionally, teachers may be required to attend special school events which may be on the weekends or in the evening time.
- Salaries for Assistant Language Teachers in Japan begin at 250,000 yen. Teachers are also reimbursed for work-related travel expenses. The income tax in Japan is 7% which is automatically deducted from each employees paycheck before pay.
ESL teaching positions at Japanese universities are considered by many to be the pinnacle of teaching positions in Japan. This is because, in comparison to other types of teaching positions, teaching at a university has a relatively high pay rate compared to the number of hours a teacher has to work. Professors can be hired on three different types of contracts at the university level including part-time (one year contract with a set number of classes each month, full-time (one to two-year contract), and (very rare) lifetime tenure. Most often, foreign ESL professors are hired on a part-time basis which may be renewed for a full-time position. Professors are usually able to renew their contract one to two times before they will be let go as it is rare (though not impossible or unheard of) for foreign teachers to gain tenure at a university. Professors can be hired either through a hiring agency (often the easiest way) or by directly applying at a university (often much harder).
- The requirements for being hired at a Japanese university are much more stringent than many other places popular with ESL teachers. Candidates are required to have at minimum an MA in applied linguistics or TESOL. Most schools will also prefer teachers to have a few years of prior teaching experience with many preferring that experience to be in Japan as well as at or near conversational level Japanese speaking skills. Some universities will also ask that teachers be published in journals though not all will ask this.
- The number of hours an ESL professor at a Japanese university works will depend on the type of contract signed. Part-time professors will be hired for a set number of classes each month. University classes (known as Koma) are 90 minutes in length and the number of classes a part-time professor will receive varies depending on the university. Full-time and tenured professors will be on a set schedule and are usually given a day off for teaching each week in order to work on research or writing for publications (most schools will have the expectation that their teachers represent them in publications).
- The rate of pay can vary between different universities and for different contract types. Part-time professors usually receive between 20,000 and 40,000 yen per class. Full-time professors often receive between ¥300,000 and ¥600,000 per month. Pay can depend on many factors from the location of the university, the length of the contract, as well as the experience of the professor. Other benefits are often offered such as vacation time.
Increasing Your Chances of Securing a Job
Many schools in Japan are going to be looking for teachers that have past experience at the level they are applying to teach. While this isn’t true everywhere, especially when it comes to private language schools, it is going to hold true for the public school system as well as universities. Aside from past experience having a teaching certificate is going to go a long way in helping you to secure a more desirable position. One of the best things you can do to ensure you have an edge over the competition is to become TEFL certified. But, you will need to make sure you get the right certification. For most jobs in Japan, an online TEFL certification isn’t going to cut it. Most schools, and especially the higher paying schools, will be looking for you to have at the very least a 120-hour blended learning or on site TEFL certification from a reputable institution. Some schools will require a certification but the ones that don’t will certainly look more favorably on you if you do have one. Lastly, you want to make sure that you have everything in order in terms of reference letters, crafting a solid resume, and proper presentation. Remember that appearance is extremely important in Japan so appearing at your interview wearing a t-shirt and jeans, whether it is in person or through video conference, will almost certainly guarantee you will not have a successful outcome. Also, be aware that reference letters go a long way in Japan so make sure if you have any past experience teaching that is applicable to what you want to do that you request reference letters from those schools. If you make sure all of these things are in order then you will most certainly have a leg up over the competition assuming they have not made the same preparations.
It should be stated that we in no way advocate working illegally in Japan or in any other country and that ESL teachers should obtain all of the proper permits and visas before working. Teachers who wish to work in Japan will be working under one of a few different visas which include the Instructor Visa, the Specialist in Humanities Visa, or the Working Holiday Visa. Each of these three is for different purposes and you will generally receive instruction from the company you have been hired by for which 0ne you will need to apply for as well as what the process will be for applying and obtaining the visa as the process is different for each. The Instructor visa will generally be provided by teachers who are working in the public school system or under various government initiatives such as the JET program whereas teachers working in private schools and for Eikawa companies will need to apply for the Specialist in Humanities Visa. The Working Holiday visa is only for citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Korea, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, Hong Kong, and Norway and is valid for 6 months allowing teachers to work as well as explore the country. All teachers wishing to work in Japan will need a bachelors degree in any field of study and will need the original copy as well as a number of other documents in order to apply for each of the above visas. The exact procedure will differ depending on which visa a teacher is wishing to acquire.
Standard of Living
Japan has one of the highest standards of living in the world due to its robust economy which has flourished over the decades following World War II. The country boasts a well-educated and skilled population which is one of the leading exporters of automobiles around the world as well as a financial and fashion hub of East Asia. Because of this financial success, the demand for native ESL teachers has remained strong. The high standard of living combined with the rich culture and an extremely low crime rate makes Japan one of the top destinations for ESL teachers not just in Asia but around the world. The salaries, as well cost of living, in Japan can both be quite high when compared with many other popular destinations for ESL teachers.
ESL Teacher Salaries
|Tokyo||200,000 - 600,000||1,800 - 5,500|
|Other Areas of Japan||150,000 - 500,000||1,400 - 4,500|
Typical Cost of Living
|Tokyo (Moderate Lifestyle)||208,000||1900|
|Other areas of Japan (Moderate Lifestyle)||165,000||1,500|
Living in Japan
Things to Do
Japan is a culturally robust country with a rich history. As such, expat ESL teachers will easily be able to fill up their days off with sampling the countries world-renowned cuisine or viewing any of the countless historical sites and national parks which pepper the country. Also, as Japan is a series of islands, one can relatively easily reach any of the other islands to access new places to see and things to do.
Cherry Blossom Festival
The Cherry Blossom Festival is a yearly event which takes place throughout Japan. Tokyo, in particular, holds a number of large events in various locations including Ueno Park and Sensoji Temple. The festival comes from the traditional custom of Hanami which is the viewing of flowers in order to appreciate their temporary and transient beauty. Common practices including the gathering of friends and families under the Japanese Cherry Trees (known as Sakura trees in Japan) in order to eat and drink and take in the sights. The festivities are generally held during the blooming season which typically begins towards the end of March or the beginning of April and usually lasts for a few weeks. To find out the dates year’s Cherry Blossom festival visit Japan Guide for their Sakura forecast.
Fuji Rock Festival
The annual Fuji Rock Festival is the perfect event for music lovers who teach English in Japan. The event, which has been held since 1997 and is named due to being held near Mount Fuji for the first year, takes place at the Naeba Ski Resort in the Niigata Provence. The festival is the largest music festival in Japan and one of the largest in the world with over 200 acts spread throughout seven stages. Attendance at the festival has topped over 100,000. The festival is held over a 3 day period during the last weekend in July. For more information about the Fuji Rock Festival or to find out the line up this year visit the main website.
Though it isn’t known as a world-class diving destination, Japan is home to great muck diving as well as a number of unique and interesting dive sites. Probably the most popular site for divers looking for something out of the ordinary is the Yonaguni Monument. The Monument is a rock formation in the waters near Yonaguni Island, part of the Ryukyu Island Chain near Taiwan. There is debate as to whether the formation is natural or man-made due to the unique features which include perfect 90-degree angles and twin megaliths that seem to contain a channel between them. Aside from the monument, the Yonaguni area is also a popular place to observe Hammerhead Sharks.
Number one on the list due to its iconic nature. Mt. Fuji has been a symbol of Japan since antiquity. Fuji is an inactive volcano that last erupted in 1707. The famous mountain is located about 2.5 hours from Tokyo by bus. There a number of things that can be done at the mountain from hiking to visiting any of the numerous lakes that are in the area. Visitors can also relax at any of the hot springs that are located around the area. For ESL expats wishing to make the climb to the top, the official climbing season extends from July to September and is the most popular time to climb due to the weather and the fact all of the trails are open.
This shrine is located in the Fushimi ward in Kyoto and is the main shrine for the deity Inari, the god of rice and worshipped as the god of business in Shinto. The shrine is well-known for the more than 10,000 torii gates which line the path leading to the main shrine area. The hike to the top and back takes about 2-3 hours. It has become custom that new businesses donate a torii gate to gain favor so that their wishes and prayers may be heard. The earliest structures of the shrine were created in 711 AD, however, the main shrine that is used today was constructed in 1499. ESL expats in Japan can visit the shrine year around. The shrine is easily accessible by the JR rail from Kyoto stopping at Inari station. Visitors from Tokyo can get to Kyoto by either high-speed rail, bus, and airplane with the cheapest option being a bus.
Though a bit cliché, Tokyo Tower is still one of the top destinations for visitors as well as locals looking for spectacular views of the sprawling Tokyo metropolis. The argument can be made that the city can’t fully be appreciated until looking at it from above and Tokyo Tower, as the second tallest structure in Japan, provides views of the Shiba area of Tokyo as well as many surrounding areas. The tower is 333 meters tall and is painted orange and white for air safety purposes. The main observation deck is located at 150 meters (490 ft.) and runs 360 degrees around the tower allowing visitors to take in Tokyo from all sides. The tower itself is used as a radio broadcasting antenna for many of the top stations including NHK, TBS, and Fuji TV. Visitors can access the tower between the hours of 9 am and 11 pm and as such it is one of the more popular places in Tokyo to witness the sunset over the city.
The Senso-Ji Temple is one of the most photographed destinations in Japan. Located in the Asakusa area of Tokyo, thousands of tourists and locals flock here each day for both worship and sightseeing. The shrine is the oldest in Tokyo and is dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon. A five-story pagoda is next to the temple and serves as a Shinto shrine. There are many shops on the temple grounds which sell traditional items such as kimonos and various trinkets as well as desserts and other types of food. The temple was built in 645 AD and is the central point for the Sanja Matsuri festival which is the largest in Tokyo. The main temple is open between the hours of 6 am (6:30 am from October to March) and 5 pm every day, however, the temple grounds themselves are open 24 hours a day. The temple and grounds are open every day year-round.
Imperial Palace Tokyo
The Imperial Palace is one of the main tourist attractions in Tokyo. Home to the Emperor of Japan, the palace stands on the site of the original Edo Castle which was built in 1457 and later incorporated into what is now the modern palace grounds. The palace itself was destroyed in 1945 during the firebombing of Tokyo. A new main hall and residence were built during the 1960’s to serve the Emperor which is what stands today. The palace grounds are surrounded on all sides by a moat and can be accessed by bridges which have been set up around the area. As the palace is still the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan, the palace is closed to visitors. To see the grounds, visitors must apply for one of the daily guided tours which go throughout the palace grounds but does not go into any of the buildings. The East Gardens of the Imperial Palace are open year around to the public and host a plethora of plant life and walking trails. The East Gardens are open between the hours of 9 am and 4 pm Tuesday through Thursday as well as Saturday and Sunday.