When English instruction became compulsory in elementary schools in 2011, this caused a surge in an already demanding English language teaching market where millions (yes, millions) of Japanese adults were already taking private classes. Add to that the high turnover of teachers who leave to return home within two years, government policies to improve the state of English education in the run-up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and a gradual cultural shift in attitudes to speaking English — you’ve got a country that is filled with education-related job opportunities for foreigners. The reassuring part? You do not necessarily need to have teaching qualifications or in many cases any experience to become a teacher in Japan.
Moving to Japan as an English teacher
The English teaching route is one of the easiest ways to obtain a work visa and move to Japan from overseas. Big teaching agencies, language school chains and government programs are well-practiced at recruiting, hiring and bringing people over to Japan. Of course, you can also find teaching positions from within Japan, typically through similar channels where companies are equipped to deal with foreign candidates. Note that the government-led JET Programme does not accept applications from within Japan.
Working in Japan as a teacher typically requires a work visa, unless you come over on a spousal, a dependant or student visa working part-time (the hours you’re allowed to work may be limited). Check the Visa section of the 101 for more information.
Main types of teaching jobs in Japan
- Eikaiwa Teacher: Teacher at a private English language school, either through one of the big chains like Gaba, Berlitz, ECC and Aeon, or at a smaller, independent school
- ALT: Assistant Language Teacher working in public or sometimes private schools across Japan. You can get a job as an ALT through a “dispatch” company like Interac or Altia Central. The company will place you either in an elementary, junior or high school. You can also apply to the JET Programme, a government-run teaching exchange that acts in the same way as an ALT dispatch company but generally offers better support and pay
- Business English Teacher: Teacher dispatched by a company to corporations to teach staff English, one-on-one or group
- University Language Assistant: Teacher at a University in Japan where roles typically require qualifications
Requirements to be a teacher in Japan
- Be a native English speaker or native-level fluent
- Have a Bachelor’s degree*
It is possible to come to Japan without a Bachelor’s degree if you can drum up the paperwork to demonstrate anywhere from three to ten years professional experience in your field, depending on the visa type and situation. The challenge is getting a company to sponsor your visa —a much more difficult process for a candidate without a degree and one which may require several attempts at applying.
Eikaiwa vs ALT
When it comes to choosing a teaching job in Japan, the major deciding factors lie in the differences between being hired to teach at an Eikaiwa or a corporation, i.e. privately-owned language schools, and as an ALT at an elementary, junior or high school.
|Eikaiwa/Business English||ALT (dispatch)||ALT (JET)|
|Students||Any age||Mandatory school age (6 – 18)||Mandatory school age (6 – 18)|
|Class Size||Usually one student, or small group||Up to 40 kids, smaller classes possible||Up to 40 kids, smaller classes possible|
|Curriculum||Working from company designed textbooks that often complement Japan’s TOEIC testing system – or the ‘English as a second language’ test
Games and activities are provided in the lesson plan workbooks
|Working out of textbooks or coming up with filler activities and games to complement the main teacher’s lesson plan||Working out of textbooks or coming up with filler activities and games to complement the main teacher’s lesson plan
Your local JET organization will also organize teaching workshops/seminars
Have a sales aspect to consider which may include encouraging potential students to join the school or encouraging current students to renew
|Team-teaching with a Japanese teacher of English
Act as cultural ambassadors. ALTs are encouraged to get involved in school life through clubs/activities
|Team-teaching with a Japanese teacher of English
Act as cultural ambassadors. ALTs are encouraged to get involved in school life through clubs/activities as well as contribute to the wider community in which they are placed
|Hours||5 – 7 days a week, shift work, including weekends, evenings and public holidays||8 a.m. – 4 or 5 p.m., Monday to Friday (unless involved in after-school clubs), plus occasional weekends when the school is open for a special event||8 a.m. – 4 or 5 p.m., Monday to Friday (unless involved in after-school clubs), weekends when the school is open for a special event or to help with prefectural debate/speech contests|
|Pay||Varies between companies. ECC’s example wage is ¥275,000 per month, plus benefits like 7 weeks paid annual leave, health and pension insurance enrollment, and a ¥10,000 bonus for completing the annual contract||Varies by the dispatch company. The average wage is ¥230,000 per month, and you must pay your pension and health insurance contributions yourself
Longer vacation times during summer and winter but this is usually unpaid
|The JET Program offers an average monthly salary of ¥300,000 with the benefits of having your pre-arranged flights paid for, paid national holidays and at least 10 paid vacation days|
|Career Progression||Depending on the language school, competent instructors who stay in Japan will get pay increases and may be given more responsibilities or the option to move into management positions||There is not much scope for career advancement as an ALT, rather your role may include more responsibilities the longer you stay in the school though your job title and salary will remain the same||ALTs can be on the JET programme for a maximum of 5 years, during which time their position will stay the same (though the pay will increase year on year)|
|Social Life||Instructors will have plenty of opportunity to socialize with coworkers and the expat community, particularly in the bigger cities||Depends on where you are placed, ALTs will have a different experience if they are the only foreign teacher in their school or they have other ALTs working with them||Again depending on your placement area, if you are placed in a rural area your list of social events with other JET employees may be a little more sporadic, but on the other hand, you’ll be immersed in the Japanese culture and will probably pick up the language quicker as potentially the only foreigner in your area|
|Location||Eikaiwas are typically located in cities or urban areas where there are more potential students to enroll||Can list preferences for locations
Could be anywhere; city or rural placement
|Can list preferences for locations but don’t really have a say unless you know someone in the area
Could be anywhere; city or very rural placement
|Visa Status||Specialist in Humanities||Instructor||Instructor|
Whichever route you take, be sure to also research and confirm your employment status. Differing immigration, social security and health insurance rules apply depending on the type of school and your job contract.
How and where to apply
Do your research. You’ll need to prepare an up-to-date resume, and some form of essay or detailed answers to pre-interview questions. Also there is sometimes a grammar test involved during the interview stage.
GaijinPot Jobs works with both Eikaiwa and ALT dispatch companies, providing listings for hundreds of positions. Browse the Education and Teaching board here and read our guide to applying to be a teacher in Japan.
ECC typically hire from overseas and they fly out to the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the U.K. to have recruitment days a few times a year, although they occasionally will hire within Japan too. They require a Bachelor’s degree in any discipline for your visa and for you to have enough money to relocate, although they do partly reimburse your flight. ECC will generally require you to be a native English speaker.
Berlitz also require a Bachelor’s degree in any discipline, and for you to be a native or native-fluent English language speaker. They offer domestic and overseas hiring options.
Gaba has a two-part interview process after you apply online. They require a university degree and for applicants to have a fluent level of English. They do suggest that their preference for their ideal candidate would be to have some experience of working in a corporate setting, some prior EFL/ESA teaching experience, and a CELTA, TEFL, or TESOL certification. They hire new teachers both domestically and from overseas.
Aeon recruits from overseas and domestically for those living in Japan. You should expect an initial Skype interview, before being invited to an interview day at a major city in your home country. They are looking to hire native English speakers, or for employees to have at least ten years of English speaking education including your Bachelor’s degree.
The JET Programme usually requires you to complete a fair amount of detailed paperwork, and for you to travel to your nearest Japanese Embassy in your home country for the interview stage. Unfortunately, you cannot apply from within Japan. The requirements for applying is that you have an interest in Japan or Japanese culture, that you hold a Bachelor’s degree in any discipline, that you are physically and mentally healthy, and that you are a national of your country, not a resident. Also if you happen to have Japanese nationality then you would need to legally renounce it and formally take the nationality of the country you are applying from.
Gaba usually offers two periods of recruitment a year – spring and fall. Once you’ve applied online and they review your resume and application, they call you for a phone interview, and then you’ll be invited to a seminar and interview day if you’re living in the U.S., Canada, Jamaica, the U.K. or the Republic of Ireland, or for an online interview if you live in a country not listed above, including South Africa, Australia or New Zealand. It is helpful if you hold a driver’s license and have some teaching experience, but not necessary.
There may also be possibilities to enroll in a teaching exchange through a sister city program. CLAIR (The Council of Local Authorities for International Relations) has a list of all of the sister cities in Japan. Check with your own local authority whether or not they offer this kind of program.
Top tips for a successful application
- Research the school
- Have language teaching qualifications or demonstrate experience/interest in teaching
- Have Japanese language skills or demonstrate interest in learning Japanese
Before applying, be sure to do some thorough research and check out the employees’ reviews, company benefits and up to date salaries. Websites like glassdoor.com or even a simple Google search offer lots of information. YouTube and Reddit are also your friends when researching these companies to see if they are the right fit for you.
About private teaching
Private teaching on the side is achievable in Japan through friends and acquaintances, or online platforms like HelloSensei and UniversityTutor. Some companies do not allow their employees to do freelance work outside of their official role. Always take the proper precautions when teaching private lessons, like determining pay and hours in advance and conducting lessons in public places
For many English teaching positions in Japan you do not need to have experience in education but it helps to research lesson plans, fun activities and filler games to foster communication and expression. In public schools in particular, many students won’t be used to communicating extensively with other students in a classroom setting as most classes follow a pattern of the teacher talking while students listen and take notes. Try to remember that the kind of education Japanese students grow up with could be very different to that of your own country.
- www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/efl (British Council, proofread your lesson if you’re teaching American English)