Whether you’re a first-time ESL teacher looking for ESL teaching opportunities abroad, or you’re an experienced ESL teacher looking at your next opportunity, one of the biggest hurdles of your job search and application process is succeeding in the job interview. In this article, we take a look at the most important interview questions to prepare for ESL teaching jobs abroad, and how to absolutely crush them.
Teach and Travel
Teach English in Japan
Why Teach English in Japan?
Japan is one of Asia’s most popular ESL job markets. English teachers in Japan can enjoy living in a modern country while relishing limitless opportunities to explore temples, palaces and picturesque scenery.
Teach English in Japan: Fact Sheet
|Header Column||Data Column|
|Education Requirements||Bachelor Degree Required|
|TEFL Certification||TEFL Certification Preferred|
|Citizenship Requirements||USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa Preferred|
|Typical Contract Length||12 months|
|Peak Hiring Seasons||Year-Round|
|Hiring Process||Online audio/video interviews|
|Visa Requirements||Work Visa before entering Japan|
|Typical Students||Children, Business Professionals|
|Average Monthly Salary||$2,300 - $2,800|
|Average Monthly Cost of Living||$1,400 - $1,900|
|Types of Jobs||Online teaching, Kindergartens, Public Schools, Language Schools|
|Teaching Hours Per Week||30 hours|
|Other Benefits||Housing, Flight Reimbursement, Health Insurance|
Top 5 Reasons to Teach English in Japan
1. Japan is arguably the most developed economy in Asia
Most people recognize Japan for its ultramodern cities and high-tech economy. Living in Japan takes this recognition to a whole new level. Japan is a highly developed country enjoying a healthy democracy, excellent infrastructure, including world class health care, education, transportation, and legal system.
As other Asian economies continue to emerge and modernize, Japan has in many ways set an example of what can be accomplished. Japan has also played a major role in aiding the development of other countries in the region.
Being an ESL teacher in Japan, you can expect your students to be highly motivated and hardworking, and the facilities where you teach to be state of the art.
2. You can find ESL teaching job opportunities almost anywhere in Japan
When considering teaching English in Japan, many English speakers mistakingly think that the best ESL job opportunities are concentrated in Tokyo. In fact, ESL teaching jobs can be found throughout Japan. Some of the better job opportunities, particularly for English speakers who are new to teaching English, may indeed be found in other cities in Japan. As Japan is one of the longest running ESL job markets, there is an abundance of jobs for ESL teachers, but the competition can also be fierce in cities like Tokyo. English speakers looking for job opportunities in Japan can fortunately find attractive teaching jobs outside of Tokyo. When applying for jobs, look in cities like Kyoto, Fukuoka, Kobe, Nagoya, and Osaka. You can teach in any of these cities and enjoy a similar or better lifestyle as you would in Tokyo.
3. Japan has excellent transportation systems
Japan has a modern, efficient public transportation network, particularly within the major urban cities and metropolitan areas. In many ways, Japanese transportation networks are a testament to Japan’s penchant for punctuality, efficiency, and outstanding service. Whether you use Japan’s high speed trains, subways, or airports, you will not be disappointed with the timeliness and quality of service you will receive. You can get in and around Japan comfortably and quickly, and you can travel in and out of Japan conveniently by air regionally and internationally.
Experience a ride on Shinkansen, Japan’s bullet trains, which operate at a maximum speed of 320km/hour. Fly through Japan’s well-established airports, including Tokyo International Airport, the busiest airport in Asia, and fourth busiest in the world.
4. Japanese food is second to none
Japanese cuisine is world famous, and living in Japan, you’ll come to appreciate how much more there is to sample. Beyond sushi and ramen noodles, enjoy some curry rice, karaage, katsu, teppanyaki, or wagyu. Try dishes like omurice, or for the more adventurous foodie – fugu.
You might miss the usual western dishes from time to time. When you need your fill of burgers or pizza, you will be able to find these easily. In fact, there are Japanese variations which you might find yourself enjoying.
If you fancy a beer, or something stronger, Japan has an established drinking culture. Enjoy the wide variety of Japanese beers, sake, shochu, or whisky.
5. Japan offers the ultimate blend of ultra-modern and ancient
While Japan is definitely a modern country by any definition, you will clearly discover that its modern and ancient sides create an incredible blend, as well as an intriguing contrast. Whether you want to experience Japan’s high-paced, high-tech urban cities, or explore its many temples, Japan has it all. You will fully appreciate these contrasts if you choose to study martial arts, enjoy a barbecue outside during the cherry blossom season, or relax in the hot springs on your days off.
This contrast makes Japan unique in many respects. Make no mistake: Japan has a very distinct set of cultural rules that can make it difficult for foreigners to adjust to. But the experience you’ll gain living in Japan will be one to remember and appreciate, as many ESL teachers have before you.
Requirements to Teach English in Japan
Recommended TEFL Certification to Teach English in Japan
The TEFL Academy
Opportunities to Teach English in Japan
Japan is one of the largest ESL job markets in the world, and Japan is indeed one of the earliest countries to employ foreign teachers to teach English. In 1978, the government launched an official English Teacher Recruitment Program in an effort to bring native English speakers to Japan to improve English language fluency. Alongside this official program, many ESL teachers have worked in private language schools.
Before the millennium, Japan was arguably the most lucrative ESL job market in the world, offering outstanding salaries and the potential to save a significant amount of their earnings, while benefiting from the experience of cultural exchange. This was in large part due to the rapid economic growth and prosperity Japan experienced towards the end of the 20th century. Today, Japan continues to have a strong market for ESL teachers, though the market is competitive and the savings potential isn’t the same as what it used to be. Still, English speakers can find work in Japan and save as much as $300 – $800 per month, with careful budgeting and spending.
What are your options for teaching English in Japan?
- Public Schools
- Private Language Schools
- Corporate Training
Public schools are a popular choice for English speakers who want to teach English in Japan. Teaching in a public school in Japan consists of working Monday to Friday during school hours (8:00am – 5:00pm). One class is 45 minutes, and you will typically teach 3 – 5 classes per day.
To work in a public school, you have two paths to gaining employment:
- Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) program
Japan Exchange and Teaching Program
The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) program is an official program initiated by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. If you intend to work in a public school and meet the eligibility requirements, your best option is to participate in the JET program. The JET program places English speakers in public schools throughout the country to work as Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs). ALTs teach alongside a Japanese teacher in the classroom, and are usually assigned to teach two grades at the school in which they are placed.
Note that the objective of the JET Program is not merely to recruit English speakers to teach in Japan, but to enlist recent graduates from participating countries to serve as cultural ambassadors of their home countries, to foster intercultural exchange. Here is an excerpt from the JET website about the aims of the program:
JET participants are placed in public schools mainly in smaller cities and towns in Japan. If you plan to participate in the JET program, make sure you remain flexible about your placement location, as you will may be placed anywhere in Japan, and not necessarily in the location of your choice. You may also be expected to visit more than one school in the locality where you have been placed.
Because JET hires ALTs to teach in public schools, the program typically starts accepting applications between October and December. Allow ample time to go through the application process, and be well-prepared as it is competitive. Successful applicants are generally accepted in April of the following year.
You can learn more about the JET program here:
Similar to JET, Interac recruits English speakers to work as ALTs in public schools primarily in rural areas. Unlike JET, Interac is a private recruitment agency that accepts applications for ALT positions for the Spring and Fall. For the Spring start, you should apply by early November, and for the Fall start, it is recommended that you apply no later than early May.
Additionally, applicants must be native English speakers and hold a university degree. A TEFL certification is not required, though some schools may have a strong preference for candidates who have a TEFL certification.
Salaries and benefits offered through the Interac recruitment initiative are decent, though not as attractive as what’s on offer via the JET program. Housing and airfare costs are typically not covered by Interac, though assistance with securing housing nearby your work location will be provided. Interac does provide a transportation allowance to cover the cost of commuting, and in some cases, may provide an additional allowance.
You can learn more about applying to teach in Japan via Interac here:
Private Language Schools
Japan has two prominent private language schools that offer better options to work as an ESL teacher in the country:
The major advantage of teaching English at a private language school is that you will have more flexibility in choosing where in Japan you would like to live and work. So, if you prefer to live in one of the larger metropolitan areas of Japan, your best option is to work at a private language school.
Working in a private language school in Japan differs from public school teaching in many ways. Firstly, you will almost certainly be teaching classes to students of all ages. You will have students who range from very young children all the way to adults, and business professionals. Secondly, because of the diversity of students you will have to teach, your schedule will consist of a 5-day work week of afternoon, evening, and weekend classes. Thus, unlike public school positions, your work week won’t necessarily be Monday to Friday.
Private language school teachers usually have a 35 – 40 hour work week, with 5 to 7 hours per day of teaching, depending on the institute and branch you work with. Though class sizes will vary between institutions and locations, you can expect between 10 – 15 students per class.
Salaries paid by private language schools are typically lower than those offered via the JET program, though they may cover commuting costs and offer monetary incentives for performance and contract renewals. Where the JET program outshines all other options is that it pays more attractive salaries and covers both housing and airfare costs, making it the most viable option for those who want to maximize their earning and savings potential.
If you don’t meet the criteria for participating in the JET program, working at a private language school can still provide some advantages. As mentioned, you can choose to work in one of Japan’s major metropolitan areas, and reduce your living costs by sharing an apartment with another person. This can be a particularly advantageous to couples who both work in private language schools.
It is important to note that while Japan does not have any specific citizenship restrictions for hiring English teachers, schools may give preference to English speakers who are citizens of widely recognized native English speaking countries. This is certainly the case with recruiters such as Interac, as well as most private language schools. This doesn’t mean non-native English speakers cannot find work as teachers in Japan. However, it’s important to keep in mind that citizens of recognized native English speaking countries will have more opportunities than non-natives.
Moreover, English speakers intending to work in Japan will need to have a university degree to obtain a work visa. While a TEFL certification is not required to obtain the work visa, many schools set their own requirements, which often include having a TEFL certification. The ESL job market in Japan is highly competitive, and schools often prefer teachers with stronger qualifications as well as English speakers already based in Japan.
Japan has a mandatory retirement age of 60, which means it will be difficult for anyone aged 60 or above to gain employment as a foreign English teacher. This is similar to many other countries in Asia where obtaining a working visa or work permit will either be very difficult or impossible. With this age restriction in mind, it’s important to consider that employers will be very reluctant to entertain applications from older candidates regardless of their qualifications or experience.
This is not to say you should give up all hope, but your job search efforts will be better placed focusing on countries where there are fewer age restrictions placed on hiring, such as Cambodia or Taiwan.
Japan is an expensive country, and unlike schools in China and Korea, which typically cover housing and flight costs for teachers, most schools in Japan outside of the JET program do not. When accepting an English teaching job in Japan, you will need to budget for startup costs to get settled. These will include apartment rental costs, key money (initial non-refundable payment to the landlord), and at least one month’s living expenses to cover food, commute, and other necessary costs.
You should speak to the school you will work with to confirm what amount you should budget and bring with you for startup costs and other pertinent information regarding getting established in Japan. Interac recommends its recruits to bring at least 500,000 JPY ($4,700). You should bring some cash as well as a debit card to withdraw funds in Japan, as some expenses such as initial key money will need to be paid in cash.
|Expense||Estimated Cost (JPY)||Estimated Cost (USD)|
|Initial Key Money + Utilities Setup Costs||200000||1,800|
|Rent (Urban) / Month||80,000||750|
|Monthly Rent (Rural) / Month||50,000||470|
|Utilities / Month||10,000||95|
|High Speed Internet / Month||5,000||50|
You may have heard that apartments in Japan are typically much smaller than in your own country. This is true, and you can expect to live in a smaller apartment than what you may be accustomed to. Japan is densely populated, and its cities in particular, are among the most densely populated in the world.
Many English speakers employed in Japan engage in private tutoring to supplement their incomes. This can be a lucrative way to earn money, as private lessons can yield as much as $35 per hour. Be sure to get permission from your employer before engaging in any private tutoring, to avoid any issues that can result in your work visa being canceled.
It is possible to save money teaching in Japan, though the days of reeling in money teaching in Japan are behind us. Still, with careful budgeting and frugality, teachers can save anywhere between $300 – 800 per month, though expect the average to be on the lower end of that range.
Many English speakers going to Japan to teach English today are more likely interested in gaining international experience and a cultural exchange, than they are about the potential to save money. If your goals lean more towards saving money or paying off student loans, consider teaching in China or Korea, where housing and airfare costs are covered, and thus the propensity to save money is higher and much easier than in Japan.
Typical Salaries to Teach English in Japan
Salaries in Japan are more defined than in other ESL job markets. Here are typical salary ranges you can expect as an English teacher in Japan:
|School Types||Monthly Salary (VND)||Monthly Salary (USD)|
|JET Assistant Language Teacher||280,000 - 330,000||$2,600 - $3,000|
|Interac Assistant Language Teacher||200,000 - 225,000||$1,800 - $2,000|
|Private Language School Teacher||270,000 - 275,000||$2,500 - $2,550|
Standard Regulatory Benefits
Anyone living in Japan must be enrolled in a Japanese government approved health insurance program. Usually, you will be enrolled in Japan’s National Health Insurance (NHI) program. This is not a free benefit, however, and you will need to enroll in the NHI and make payments on your own. NHI provides comprehensive coverage in the event of illness or injury. Alternatively, you may be required to enroll in Japan’s Social Insurance scheme. Please check with your school to confirm details.
Foreigners are also eligible to receive unemployment insurance in Japan, in the event they are made redundant by their employer. The unemployment insurance contribution is deducted from your salary each month at a rate of around 1,500 JPY ($14). To be eligible to claim unemployment insurance in Japan, you will need to have worked at least 6 months, and made regular contributions during this period. As well, you will need to prove that you have been made redundant by your employer, and that you are actively seeking new employment. The amount you can claim will vary between 50 to 80% of your previous monthly salary.
This affords you insurance cover in the unlikely event you are made unemployed while under contract with Interac. You can expect to have around 1,500 yen per calendar month deducted from your salary to cover this. Gaijin Pot Blog has an excellent post covering this topic, but you should inquire about unemployment insurance directly with your school
It is important to note that participants of the JET program usually receive housing and flight allowances, making it the most attractive option for English speakers who would like to teach English in Japan and who meet the program requirements. Here are the typical benefits offered:
- Housing allowance
- Flight allowance
- 10 – 20 paid vacation days
Interac recruits can expect to receive the following benefits:
- Assistance to find housing
- Commuting allowance
- 2 weeks paid vacation and five paid personal days
- Teaching skills training and development
Private Language Schools
Benefits offered by private language schools vary by institution as well as by location. Teachers employed at private language schools may receive some or all of these benefits:
- Housing assistance or pre-arranged housing
- Travel stipend for new teachers recruited overseas
- Commuting allowance
- Performance and contract completion incentives
- Paid vacation
- Teaching skills training and development
Popular Cities to Teach English in Japan
The ESL job market in Japan is vast, and jobs exist throughout the country. If you choose Japan as your destination, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to travel. Even if your place of work is in a more rural part of Japan, getting around Japan is relatively convenient., and because of the country’s small size, you can get quite a bit of travel done on your days off. Here are some of the most popular locations to teach English in Japan, though if you don’t end up in one of these cities, you will likely not be too far away for a visit.
Teach English in Tokyo
Tokyo, Japan’s capital, is the most densely populated city in the world. Nonetheless, this is a city worth visiting, and many foreigners have gone the extra step to make Tokyo their residence. Tokyo impresses in so many ways. Despite the congestion, it has a distinct charm due to its food, fashion, and natural wonders, including the famous Mount Fuji. Living in this city will introduce you to many unique aspects of the city’s culture. It has its own fashion sense, comprised of Cosplay, Gothic Lolita,, and more. If you are a fashionista, then Tokyo’s Harajuku district is a place you’ll want to immerse yourself in.
For the more nature-minded person, Tokyo offers stunning, colorful views. Visit Mount Takao and enjoy a bath in the hot springs. Look out for Mount Fuji, the most magnificent mountain in Japan that isn’t easy to see most of the year.
Tokyo is expensive, but there’s so much you can do for free, too. Countless shrines and temples are open to the public, such as Nezu Shrine, Yasukuni Shrine, and Kanda Myojin Shrine. If you’d like to experience the highs of Tokyo, there are plenty of free observation decks like the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, and the Sky Carrot in Sangenjaya.
Nightlife is on a whole new level in Tokyo, where parties can get started so late that it’s actually early morning. Enjoy the nightlife scene in Shinjuku, or head over to Shibuya as an alternative. This is not just a city for the night owl, either. Tokyo has no shortage of themed cafés, including 24-hour cafés where you can even take a shower.
Tokyo is in more ways than one, the coolest, hippest city on Planet Earth.
Teach English in Nagoya
Nagoya is situated in the center of Honshu, Japan’s largest island. With a population of just over 2 million, Nagoya is a modern city that also has a diverse population of Brazilians, as well as Japanese who were born overseas. This city is not just well-known for its industrial prowess, but also for its food culture.
If you are interested in sightseeing, there are many famous landmarks in Nagoya, such as the Nagoya Castle, which is the city’s symbol, originally built in 1612. There are also temples, the most famous of these being Osu Kannon, a Buddhist temple originally built in 1333.
For those who want to get in some shopping and nightlife, Sakae gives you both. You’ll find shopping a myriad of department stores and hangouts in the area, but you can also find sights like the Nagoya TV Tower, Oasis 21, and the Sunshine Sakae Ferris Wheel.
Teach English in Osaka
Osaka is Japan’s second largest metropolitan area, and is an economic powerhouse. Located in the Kansai Region, Osaka is a modern, bustling city which also has a rich history.
For sightseeing, there is the Osaka Castle, which is an impressive structure situated in a park and surrounded by a moat. You can also visit the Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum to learn about the art of ukiyoe, which is a kind of Japanese print. One of the oldest and most beautiful shrines in Japan, Sumiyoshi Shrine, is also in Osaka. This shrine is located near a park with a bridge over a pond, making it a picturesque sight.
Osaka has some amazing modern buildings, too. The Umeda Sky Building is one to see. In fact, it’s so prevalent that you’ll see it from anywhere in town. Head on up to the 39th floor to experience the Garden Observatory, a hanging garden composed of local flowers and plants. Further along the tourist trail, you can go to Dotonbori, Osaka’s tourist spot located in the Minami area. This is a vibrant area filled with bright lights, shopping, restaurants and hangouts.
Osaka is famous for its local cuisine, including the nationally famous octopus balls (Takoyaki), squid pancakes (Ikayaki), and skewered meat and vegetables (Kushi Katsu). In Osaka, you’ll find affordable local food in the many food stalls along the streets, as well as some of Japan’s top restaurants for a fine dining experience.
Teach English in Kyoto
Kyoto is the epitome of balance between modernity and tradition. This is the cultural capital of Japan, flowing with temples, and is arguably one of the most significant cultural centers in Asia.
One of the most famous sights in Kyoto is the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine, known for its long, bright red walkway comprised of thousands of traditional torii gates. Expect to spend an entire day here, as you wander through the network of shrines, and catch some of the most incredible views of Kyoto from the mountain. Another symbolic shrine in Kyoto is the Kinkakuji Temple, famous for its idyllic presence along lake, immersed in forest. This golden Zen temple is one of the most breathtaking views you can find in Japan, particularly in the early morning hours, when the Sun radiates off the temple’s golden gilding.
Anyone visiting or living in Kyoto will want to experience its modern side, too. The Kyoto Tower is the city’s tallest building, where you can take in panoramic views of Kyoto. For dining and hanging out, Pontocho is an alleyway along the Kamogawa River, featuring everything from affordable to expensive dining. Wandering through the alley is actually an experience in itself, as doing so will allow you to discover some hidden gems to enjoy a meal along the river.
If you want to do some shopping, there’s Nishiki Market. You can spend an entire day here shopping or browsing the crafts, ceramics, and textiles for sale here. You can also enjoy a meal here, with the countless local food stalls available.
For something more relaxing, head out of Kyoto to Kurama, a charming town about 20km out of Kyoto. Here you’ll find many traditional hotels and baths. You can also go up Mount Kurama to see the Kurama-dera Buddhist temple, and view some of the wildlife further up the mountain, including deer and monkeys.
Teach English in Kobe
Kobe is famous for its beef, but there’s definitely more to Kobe than beef. Anyone looking to enjoy the experience of Kobe will be in for a wonderful surprise, as this city offers both city and nature activities you don’t want to miss out on.
Located only 30km from Osaka, Kobe is a magnet for foodies, thanks to its worldwide reputation for Kobe beef. When here, why not take in the mountains, the coast, and the city itself, too?
Kobe has the largest suspension bridge in the world. Akashi Kaikyo Bridge spans nearly 4km. You can’t cross the bridge, but there’s an observatory just beneath it with glass floors, so you can get an amazing panoramic view. Your stay in Kobe won’t be complete without a visit to the Kobe Port Tower. The tower is made of a network of pipes, and offers several observatories to capture views of the Kobe port.
The backdrop of Kobe is completed by Mount Rokku, which is 931 meters high. Mount Rokku offers many activities for nature lovers, from hiking, catching sunsets, and hot springs featuring bathhouses.
Of course, if you are in Kobe, you just cannot miss the opportunity to fill up on tasty Kobe beef!
Teach English in Fukuoka
Fukuoka is the capital of the Fukuoka Prefecture, and is located on the northern shore of Japan’s Kyushu Island. It is yet another symbol of Japan’s harmonious blend of modern and traditional, featuring modern shopping malls, parks, temples, and museums.
Fukuoka Castle was originally constructed in the 17th century, which today is only a smaller version of the once massive complex once occupied by the ruling elite. Nonetheless, it continues to impress, sitting atop a stone base overlooking the Naka River. The castle is a popular destination during the Fukuoka Castle Sakura Festival, where one can enjoy the multitude of cherry blossoms.
There are many parks in Fukuoka, and one of the most popular among these is Ohori Park, which is walking distance from the city center. The park is built around an artificial lake that was once the moat of the Fukuoka Castle. Visitors can enjoy the trail around the lake, traditional Japanese gardens, cherry blossoms during the spring, and bridges and walkways.
The Kyushu National Museum was built in 2005, and is famous for its modern architectural design. This museum is definitely worth a visit, not only due to its award-winning design, but the large collection of local artifacts and art that signify the region’s history.
One of the most famous shrines in Japan is also located in Fukuoka – the Kushida-jinja Shrine. This Shinto shrine is famous for its unique carvings of Chinese zodiac, a legendary gingko tree fabled to be more than 1,000 years old, and the yearly Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival, held every July, offering prayers for good health and prosperity.
Fukuoka Tower is the Fukuoka’s iconic tower, offering incredible views of the city. This is Japan’s tallest seaside tower. The tower has a few observation decks to take in views of the city. The tower itself is illuminated with displays, which is a sight to see.
There are many food markets in Fukuoka, where you can sample some of the local delights . The most popular food market is Yanagibashi Market, which has many food stalls and fresh produce vendors.
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