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Earning Extra Income for English Teachers in Japan

How can English teachers make some extra money and what types of jobs are available?

By 9 min read

For as long as I can remember, I was opposed to the idea of working more than one job on point of principle. That code being that nobody who works a full-time job should find themselves struggling financially. The “working poor,” as some politicians have labeled them, shouldn’t exist in a fair society.

Sadly, the notion of a living wage has yet to gain any serious traction in Japanese political circles or indeed among the general population. So, there are times when economic necessity must supersede political ideology. Thankfully, my side gig is writing, which I enjoy immensely — to the point where it doesn’t even feel like work.

Teaching English

Still, not all English teachers in Japan have a background in journalism or a love of writing. Not to worry though, because writing is just one of many options available to us teachers here in Japan. For example, those with experience in sales, the services sector or with multilingual capabilities will find themselves in demand far beyond just English teaching.

Today, we’ll go through the top five additional jobs teachers can take on, how to find them as well as explain the visa eligibility requirements for extra work so you don’t run afoul of the law.

This list was compiled from my own personal experience as well as through consultation with my network of teachers and other colleagues across Japan.

1. English conversation classes

It’s probably not much of a surprise to anyone that the most common and easiest to find source of additional income for English teachers in Japan is: teaching more English classes.

If you’re an ALT, then your schedule allows you free time on evenings and weekends, which just happens to be when eikaiwa (English conversation schools) are at their busiest. Indeed, since the collapse of the old Nova in 2007 and its rival GEOS in 2010, many eikaiwa have shifted their human resources focus away from recruiting abroad and more towards hiring from within Japan. With a number of ALT dispatch companies offering insultingly low wages these days — especially in and around the big cities and larger towns — more and more ALTs are stepping up to fill in on a part-time basis what used to be full-time roles for English conversation teachers.

The downside here is that the pay rate varies drastically depending on what company you opt to work with. Some companies will offer a set part-time salary, based on the number of hours you work in a week (for example, ¥100,000 per month for 15 hours per week). Others may offer day rates (such as ¥10,000 per day) and still others may pay by the hour. Whichever one you accept really depends on your personal circumstances. However, be sure that you fully understand all the deductions and tax liabilities before you sign up. Also, be aware of your Japanese visa and status of residence implications and obligations (more on that later).

Visas and Status of Residence

Schools aren’t always upfront about what the actual take home pay will be in this regard and some teachers can end up with a nasty shock when they receive their paycheck for the first month of work.

Looking on the GaijinPot Jobs board from June onward, you can also find opportunities for short-term intensive courses or summer camps that need teachers from mid-July through the end of August. These usually pay either a daily rate or a flat fee for teaching the entire course with remuneration on completion.

Particularly for dispatch ALTs, who enjoy a break during the summer months but receive little or no salary as a result — as opposed to direct hire ALTs who still report to school in summer, despite having no classes — this kind of work can fill a crucial gap in your income at an especially difficult time of year.

2. Market research projects

This next type of work is rather inconsistent, but can be somewhat lucrative if you are available in the right place (usually Tokyo) at the right time (typically weekdays).

As I’m sure you are aware, many companies in Japan sell their products overseas. However, to give themselves an indication of how a particular product is likely to be received in other markets, they often try to get feedback from Japan’s foreign community first.

It could be anything from video games to smartphone apps — like apps designed to study Japanese — to beauty and hygiene products. These surveys typically involve going to the company’s headquarters or branch offices (or another city center location) and trying out the product in question for a short time before answering questions about it.

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Often, this market research may target a specific subset of the foreign community — meaning that sometimes simply being foreign isn’t enough to get you the gig. For example, a friend of mine from the Caribbean recently took part in a survey in Tokyo to test out a skin cream targeted  specifically at black women.

Events can last from two to four hours with pay for a single session — usually in the ¥7,000 to ¥10,000 range. Undoubtedly, this is the easiest way on this list to make some extra cash, but it’s also the scarcest. TThese jobs occasionally show up on the GaijinPot jobs board  — like this one looking for part timers who live in Japan and can work from home —and other English teacher job sites and forums. However, more often than not, when I’ve heard about them it has come through word of mouth or email, so networking plays a big part in this, too.

3. Tourism and travel jobs

Another way to get around a possible lack of Japanese ability when looking for additional work is to focus on jobs where you will be communicating primarily in English.

One such area is guiding tours. If you live near a busy tourist hot spot, then there’s a good chance that companies in your area might be looking for guides — not only for English-speaking tourist groups, but also for those from China, Korea, Russia and French- and Spanish-speaking countries, too.

If you live near a busy tourist hot spot, then there’s a good chance that companies in your area might be looking for guides.

You’ll probably need to have some basic conversational Japanese ability in order to communicate with staff at the local venues and possibly a coach driver. Most guides are employed on a freelance basis and an average daily rate is about ¥10,000, depending on the length and complexity of the tour.

Another opportunity is for currency exchange booths looking for part-time workers with fluent English.

4. Bar and restaurant work

Food and beverage industry staff make the minimum wage — and no tips.

Unlike other countries, Japan has no established national minimum wage, nor is it linked to your age. Instead, each prefecture and industry has its own minimum. This can be as low as ¥762 per hour in Iwate or as high as ¥985 per hour in Tokyo. Workers in the service industry will typically earn these rates or perhaps slightly more.

As always, the Gaijinpot Jobs board is a good resource and usually has a number of employers listing positions in this sector. Your local branch of Hello Work (a nationwide network of employment search offices) will have plenty of listings too, however you will need to attend their offices in person to apply.

The one good thing about this line of work, though, is that it’s a great way to improve your daily spoken Japanese and meet people as you interact with customers of all ages and backgrounds in a fast-paced, high-expectation scenario. Again, in areas with high concentrations of both foreign visitors and residents like Tokyo and Osaka, foreign bar staff —  with some degree of Japanese ability — are always highly sought after.

5. Freelance commissions

Last, but certainly not least, is my own choice of topping up my monthly allowance: freelance writing.

Such things aren’t always easy to come by, but there are a number of outlets across Japan looking for knowledgeable, capable writers to inform them about life in Japan. In particularly high demand are travel writers, with lots of websites (including our own GaijinPot Travel) always looking for new talent. Beyond just writing. If you have other editorial skills, such as designer or graphic artist, freelance positions won’t be too hard to come by.

This complicates matters for ALTs if they want to engage in work other than that specified by their visa.

One note of caution I will give in this regard though: do not write for free.

Writing is no different than any other job — it’s work and should be paid as such. That being said, if you are new to writing there are a number of travel and life-in-Japan type websites that crowdsource content. If you’re looking to write short articles for the joy of it or to build up your portfolio, they can be viable options — but just until you get up and running.

I receive multiple offers — on an almost weekly basis — from content providers in Japan inviting me “to use their platform to reach new readers.” This “exposure” as they call it, isn’t going to pay your rent. Treat such offers with the disdain they deserve.

For the budding actors out there, voice over work may also be worth considering, if you can find it. Though not as easy to come by as writing work, keep trawling the job boards because such work does come up from time to time.

And for gamers, you can also find part-time roles for video game testing.

Getting the gig

Once you’ve found a part-time gig, there’s the small matter of permission to work. This is where things can get a bit complicated.

The jobs foreigners are allowed to work in Japan are divided into different visa types. For example, ALTs are considered an “Instructor” for the purpose of visa issuance, whereas the eikaiwa teachers are issued “Specialist in Humanities” visas. This complicates matters for ALTs if they want to engage in work other than that specified by their visa.

Visa Basics: Instructor Versus Specialist in Humanities and International Services

Let’s take the case of an ALT who wants to work part time for an eikaiwa on a Saturday as an example.

You will need to apply for extra permission to do work outside of your visa type. You will need to fill out the following form with information both from your primary employer and the employer with whom you wish to engage in additional work. For more information, check out the “Application for Permission to Engage in Activity other than that Permitted under the Status of Residence Previously Granted” page on the Immigration Bureau of Japan website.

It’s a shame that in this day and age so many of us need more than one job just to get by. For English teachers in Japan, however, there is no shortage of opportunities.

Good hunting everyone.

What’s your take on second jobs for English teachers in Japan to make ends meet? What advice would you give to those new to Japan’s “gig” economy? Leave us a comment and tell us your thoughts!

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