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Teaching in Japan: Content Index

Why teaching in Japan?

A new culture, a new environment, money, personal development, professional development, adventure -- these are just some of the reasons why foreigners come to Japan to teach English. Japan is home to over 120 million inhabitants, and the popularity and necessity of studying English is met by a multi-billion dollar English-language-teaching industry. A continuous flux of foreigners entering and leaving the country means that there are always opportunities for those looking for teaching jobs in Japan. There are four main types of teaching jobs:

The Conversation School Teacher

 

English conversation schools (popularly known as ‘eikaiwa’ schools) can be located in almost every town and city in Japan. They hire native English speakers to teach conversational English to children and adults. The size of these schools range from small office buildings to national chains covering the whole of Japan.
 

The Business English Instructor

 

Some companies require their employees to study English for their jobs, others may also offer free or subsidized English lessons as a benefit for their employees. The highest demand for business English instructors is in Tokyo, since this is where most of the companies are located.
 

The High School Teacher

 

English is a part of the high school curriculum in Japan. Although all high school students study English, the emphasis is on reading and writing. It is often the case that most Japanese teachers of English can't speak English at all. The Japanese government-sponsored JET program hires over 2,000 native English speakers every year to teach in Japanese high schools.
 

The University Teacher

 

Many universities hire English teachers for their foreign language faculties. Working conditions and salaries are comparable to their Western counterparts. See the Universities page for more information about working in the Japanese university system.
 


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Japan, perhaps, is the only advanced industrial nation in the world that has a large number of uncertified native English teachers teaching in the EFL field.



What is the minimum qualification I need to teach English in Japan?

A lot of conversation schools only ask for a university degree. Whereas a teaching qualification (such as the CTEFLA or Trinity Cert.) is a prerequisite for a lot of English-teaching jobs in Europe and around the world, it is not essential in Japan. Schools, however, will generally favor those with qualifications and experience than those who don't. A post-graduate level qualification is considered the minimum for a university teaching position.



Where are the jobs?

The saying goes "All roads lead to Rome", and this could easily apply to Tokyo, Japan's capital city. Of the 120 million Japanese, 30 million live in and around the Tokyo area. The capital is the political, corporate, geographical, transportation and academic center of Japan.

Most teaching vacancies are in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

If you don't want to work in a big city, then applying for a position with one of the big chain schools would be a good idea. They have branch schools all over Japan and preferences can be made at the interview. The smaller cities and towns offer a more Japanese lifestyle though salaries can be lower. The Jet Program offers the opportunity to work outside the metropolitan areas with the added advantage that the salary is the same regardless of the teacher's location in Japan.

Further Reference
Map of Japan's major regions and cities.



Job hunting resources

The Monday edition of the Japan Times newspaper is the most-read resource for people already in Japan and looking for teaching jobs. For those inside and outside Japan, the Internet is the way to go. The ELT News Job Classifieds is a popular jobs page for teachers and potential teachers looking for teaching positions. It is updated daily and offers positions from all over Japan. Other Internet resources include Ohayo Sensei, The English Resource, and Jobs in Japan.

The Internet is becoming a popular medium for schools to advertise their vacancies.

The next step, once you have found a position of your choice, is to find out whether such positions are open to those not already resident in Japan. Some companies want only applications and enquiries from within Japan. This is because the application process for the work visa can take up to 3 months. Teachers already in Japan, and with valid visas, can start work immediately.

Getting a visa

According to Japanese immigration law, any foreign national who wants to work in Japan must have a "status of residence" that allows them to do so. A quick read through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs web site (see link below) reveals that, while the term commonly used for this is "work visa", that isn't actually the correct official term. But as the site then goes to use the word "visa" and for ease of understanding, we use the term in this guide.

Getting a work visa in Japan may require more work, expense, and time, than getting the job!

Anyone considering coming to Japan is strongly advised to refer to the MoFA web site. Details change and may vary depending on the citizenship of the applicant. Officially, it is recommended that you get a Certificate of Eligibility, which is basically a check to see that you meet the immigration requirements. It generally makes the visa application a smoother process.

The visa for the vast majority of English teachers is the working visa. It used to be issued for only one year at a time, but recently three-year visas have been issued. There seems to be a lot of inconsistency about this. To get the visa you'll need to:

* have a bachelor's degree in any discipline (though the official line is that it should be related to their job).
* have a Japanese company or resident willing to sponsor you. In most cases, it will be the company that is offering the teaching position.
* make the visa application at a Japanese consulate outside Japan.

There is a small paradox. The school is in Japan, yet the visa application has to made from abroad. It is not unreasonable for schools to have at least a face-to-face interview before they consider whether to hire a teacher or not. So in theory, you'll need to come to Japan, have the interview, leave the country, make the application from another country, and return to Japan again! Some companies cover the expense of the foriegn trip, usually to a neighboring country such as South Korea, but this is less common in these economically hard times. Again, the rules vary and some applicants can complete the entire process in Japan.

Applicants from several contries, including the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, can go for the working holiday visa. This visa is easier to obtain but applicants must show proof of US$2000 or the equivalent for living expenses for their initial stay in Japan. There are 2 basic options for the job hunter: have everything arranged at the home country before arrival to Japan, or take a big leap and fly to Japan and go job hunting on a tourist visa. The latter route is not officially endorsed but immigration authorities tend to turn a blind eye in most cases.

Further Reference
A guide to Japanese visas - Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Web site

Working holiday visa - Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Web site

Fly to Japan and look for a job

You have to be very brave and well-connected to do this because it could cost a lot financially. A probable scenario:

For the very brave (or rich)...

1). You'd have to find somewhere to live while you are job hunting. You'd most likely end up in Tokyo (since this is where most of the jobs are) and living expenses are going to be high. Let's imagine that you're lucky and a school hires you after a 2-week search.

2) Your new employer would then prepare the relevant paperwork to submit to immigration for your work visa. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, you'd have to make the visa application outside Japan. This would mean a trip to close neighbors Korea of Hong Kong. Let's say that this takes a week.

3) You return to Japan. The application is made and all documents have been sent to the Ministry of Justice. Now comes the wait for the vital stamp. This can take from 2 to 6 weeks. In the meantime, you are idle and your cash reserves are running thin...

4) Your visa is granted and you start your teaching job at your new company. Great! However, schools usually pay 2-4 weeks in arrears after the work month. You could be working for 6 weeks before you'd get your first salary payment.

If you consider the four steps above, you are looking at a probable minimum of 11 weeks from your time of arrival before you'd get your first paycheck. During this time could be living on your own money (or a company loan). It is a big commitment. Teachers have managed to get teaching jobs through this method, but without assistance, it's going to be tough!

Getting a job arranged before arrival

A lot of teachers come to Japan this way. The 'Big 3' are the chain schools G Education (Ex-NOVA), Aeon, and Geos. They are big in the sense that they have branches all over Japan. Their schools can be found in every major city and town (Aeon, for example, has over 350 schools in Japan), and each school may have from 50 to 5,000 students. They have a lot of students because their brand exposure is very high, and the Japanese tend to trust large companies.

There are smaller chain schools such as Shane, ECC, Berlitz, YMCA, and Britannica. Except Shane, they usually recruit their teachers within Japan (quite a number of their positions are usually filled by ex-Nova, ex-Aeon, or ex-Geos teachers!) For many teachers, the 'Big 3' is a start point from which they could move on to other possibilities once they have settled in Japan.

Further Reference
Schools that recruit outside Japan:

Shane
Saxoncourt is a teacher placement agency based in England, and recruits British teachers for Shane English Schools in Japan.

Aeon
Aeon has offices in the US (Chicago, New York, Los Angeles). It also has an office in Sydney, Australia.

Geos
Geos has offices in Canada and England. Geos recruits only from overseas.

Some of the common characteristics of the schools with overseas offices are:

* They arrange the flight over to Japan. Teachers usually arrive in groups.

* They provide furnished accommodation and pay for any necessary house deposits.

* They provide teacher training but of the OJT type (on the job training). It is not unusual for a teacher to be given a full schedule after one week of training.

* They give at least 10-days paid vacation.

A five-day working week with 2 consecutive days off is the norm. It is unusual for teachers to have split days off.

The JET Program
According to the JET Program information page on a Japanese government Web site, the aim of the JET Program is: "&... to promote internationalization at the local level by inviting young overseas graduates to assist in international exchange and foreign language instruction in local governments, boards of education and junior and senior high schools throughout Japan. It aims to foster ties between Japanese citizens (mainly youth) and JET participants at the person to person level." The majority of JET participants are hired as ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers). The word ‘Assistant’ is very important because, in most cases, native speakers have to team-teach with Japanese teachers. The conditions of the program look very good on paper: an annual salary of 3.6 million yen a year (US$30,000+), a 35-hour work week, and having everything prepared from the flight to the place of work. Participants can only stay on the program for a maximum of three years, but they are free to look for other jobs should they decide to continue teaching in Japan. There are currently over 5,800 ALTs on the program.

(Editor's note: The education ministry announced in mid-2002 plans to increase the number of AET's to around 11,500 and start allowing in the region of 1,000 non-Japanese to work as full-time teachers, rather than assistants; these and other changes to be implemented over the following few years)

Further Reference
The JET Program - Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Web site

Council of Local Authorities for International relations (CLAIR) Web site

Company Classes

Company lessons are usually provided in two ways. The larger companies have their own in-house teachers. These positions are rarely advertised and are usually filled by personal recommendation. Most companies use outside agencies which procure for company contracts. A lot of these agencies are located in Tokyo and the competition for contracts is high. These agencies are the ones that advertise for teachers (usually as ‘language consultants’), as opposed to the companies themselves.

Teaching business classes is a good way for teachers with free time to earn more money. The paid rate per hour is usually higher than conversation schools.

Each agency will have a few full time teachers or co-ordinators, though teachers are usually hired on a course-by-course basis. An example course could be one 90-minute lesson a week for 10 weeks, or two lessons a week for 6 months. These courses are usually paid by the hour. Many conversation school teachers supplement their regular hours with some evening hours teaching business classes. Unlike conversational schools, agencies do expect some their teachers to have teaching experience or qualifications. These agencies rarely advertise abroad as there is already a large pool of teachers in Japan who want to work more hours.

Teaching at High Schools

Teachers working full time in the high school system have a lot of advantages. They work in the same location (like conversation schools), yet may get a higher salary. High school classes in Japan start from 8-9am to 4-5pm. The teacher would usually teach 4-6 hours a day, with 1-2 hour's preparation time. Holidays are long, including all national and school holidays.

Being addressed as 'Sensei' is perhaps a big motivation for working in high schools!

What's the downside? A Japanese environment may entail some communication problems. What the teacher thinks is a good idea may not be considered a good idea for others. Class sizes tend to be higher compared to Western classes (30-40), so maintaining student attention could be a challenge. Teaching times may be lower compared to chain schools but a high school teacher's duty usually goes beyond the classroom. This could include test preparation and marking, school trips and excursions and other out-of-classroom duties related to the school. The JET Program is a big employer of native speakers for high schools. It hires several thousand a year from various countries.

Salary Expectations

According to Japanese government figures for 1999, the average salary for a male worker is 450,000 yen per month. It is 250,000 for female workers.

These figures were complied from teaching job classifieds in Japan from various sources such as the Internet and newspapers. The numbers are intended only to give a general indication of the range of salaries that are being offered:

Hours / Week

Monthly Salary (Yen)

Hourly Rate (Yen)

The 'Big 3' Conversation Schools

35 - 40

290,000 - 320,000

2,000 - 3,000

Small/medium-sized conversational schools

20 - 25

240,000 - 270,000

2,000 - 3,000

Company classes

15 - 25

300,000 - 350,000

3,500 - 5,500

High school classes

20 - 30

250,000 - 400,000

3,000 - 6,000

Further Reference
Check the Lloyds TSB Bank site to see current yen rates.

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