If you’re considering a job teaching English in Japan, I’ll hit you with a dose of reality. While working as an ESL teacher in Asia is often a throwaway gig people using as a stepping stone to something great—I can personally attest to this!—you should not endeavor to teach English in Japan unless you are fully committed to it.
I don’t give this warning to dissuade you, necessarily. I’m currently studying Japanese in Japan, for example, and find both the rigorous demands of my course and the intense social pressure of life here in general to be highly motivating. I’m become a better Japanese speaker, a more adept Japan traveler and overall, a better version of myself.
Indeed, once you make peace with the hard work you’ll need to do and the sacrifices you’ll need to make in order to teach ESL in Japan, few downsides exist. I’ll be covering all the bases (and more) over the next few paragraphs.
Why You Should Teach English in Japan
I’ve just poured some cold water on you, providing you with one very good reason that teaching English in Japan might not be for you. Conversely, there are many upsides to teaching English in Japan once you’re fully committed to what living in Japan entails. Japan is:
- A safe country with an exceedingly high quality of life
- Ripe for exploration, from Hokkaido to Kyushu and everywhere in-between
- One of the world’s top foodie destinations, even at the budget end
- Replete with future opportunities for those who excel
Popular ESL Opportunities in Japan
The most popular way to teach English in Japan is through the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme, a partnership between the Japanese government and several Western countries. It aims not only to increase the proficiency of public and private school students in Japan (and, more broadly, to aid in the internationalization of Japanese society), but to facilitate cultural exchange for foreigners who come to work as ALTs, or Assistant Language Teachers.
Apart from JET, AEON is probably the most popular option for those keen on teaching English in Japan. A vast network of private language education centers that operates in all of Japan’s 47 prefectures, AEON’s primary goal is to aid its students in acquiring proficiency in English for doing business. AEON is a large and well-know brand in Japan, although the schools are not directly affiliated with AOEN banks, shopping malls or convenience stores.
Although NOVA Japan is not quite as widespread (or as widely promoted, to prospective teachers outside Japan) as AEON, this is another great option for working as an ESL teacher in Japan if you don’t quality for JET, or don’t want to go through the extensive process of coming on as a JET ALT. As is the case with AEON, NOVA English centers focus on educating businesspeople to speak English they can use in a professional setting.
The good news? Berlitz is a globally trusted brand; if you can manage to get a job teaching English in Japan with them, your opportunities moving forward are practically limitless. The bad news? Since Berlitz isn’t limited only to ESL education, a relatively small number of its positions in Japan seek native English speakers. Berlitz is an excellent choice for prospective ALTs in Japan, but one that’s often unavailable to make.
Smaller English schools in Japan
As is the case in most other Asian countries, you can always teach English at small, private schools in Japan. However, it’s difficult (but not impossible) to convert a tourist visa exemption to a working visa after you’re already in Japan; traveling to Japan to teach at a school that is essentially anonymous requires a leap of faith most are unwilling or unable to make. In general, this option is best suited to ESL teachers already in Japan who are looking for a different pace of work.
Teaching in Japan vs. Other Asian Countries
Japan is my favorite country in Asia (and maybe the world); you might draw the conclusion from this that I believe teaching in Japan to be a superior experience as a well. And it is superior, whether we’re talking about the structure of the academic environment, the financial solvency of the schools, the salary as compared to your likely cost of living and onward opportunities for travel, work, education—you name it, really.
With this being said, teaching English in Japan is simply not as easy as doing so in China, Korea, Taiwan or Southeast Asia. The reality is that many people (yours truly included, more than a decade ago) teach English in Asia as a stepping stone to something greater. The level of commitment—and investment, frankly—required to live and work in Japan makes it an inopportune place to execute a strategy such as this, certainly if you haven’t war-gamed out how you would make it work.
Other FAQ About Teaching English in Japan
How much money do you make teaching English in Japan?
Entry-level English teachers who participate in the JET Programme earn around ¥3.5 million (~35,000 USD) in their first year of employment, which increases annually subject to performance reviews. English teachers at private schools in Japan may earn more or less; certified teachers at international schools in Japan earn more than this, often significantly so.
What qualifications do I need to teach English in Japan?
At a bare minimum, you will need to possess a bachelor’s degree, be a native English speaker and a citizen of one of several Western countries and have a clean criminal record. Additionally, you will need to be willing to endure a long and tedious dance of interviews, paperwork and vetting, which can take months or even as long as a year, culminating in application for an issuance of a Japan work visa. Although this process is not exactly the same as getting a Japan student visa, it demands the same rigorous attention to detail.
Is teaching English in Japan a good idea?
Teaching English in Japan is a good idea if you are fully committed, both to performing the duties of an ESL teacher, as well as to living in Japan. Japan is not a country where you can perform a job at much less than 100%, or where you can live without fully conforming to social and cultural expectations. At a minimum, I would recommend working as an English teacher in Japan only if you’ve previously visited the country as a tourist, and thoroughly enjoyed yourself.
The Bottom Line
Should you consider teaching English in Japan? This is a simple question, but requires a complex examination. On one hand, if you’re already committed to the idea of teaching English in Asia, Japan (with its multitude of timeless destinations and priceless experiences) is the best choice for a number of reasons. On the other hand, if you seeing teaching English abroad as a means to an end, like I did when I went to Shanghai to do it many years ago, Japan might not be the right choice for you. Living in Japan, whether you teach, study or work, requires full and uncompromising commitment, both to the task in question and to being a member of Japanese society, even on a temporary basis. The more badly you want to be in Japan, the better an idea it is to teach English there.