The general consensus on teaching English in Japan is that it costs a lot of money to live there. And I also believed that for a long time and that thinking prevented me from going there. 

In fact I taught English in China, Korea and Taiwan before I Iived in Japan even though Japan was the first place I was interested in.

It's partly a myth.

It's not that expensive. Although it can be if you live in Tokyo and always go out to eat or drink.

Many people think it's best to line up a job first and in Japan that is to start with one of the big companies that hire from abroad. That's fine if you want to do it, but in this post I am going to tell you how to do it a different way.

  1. Do your research
  2. Buy a ticket to Japan
  3. Arrange a sharehouse
  4. Get a bike
  5. Get a phone (Line Mobile)
  6. Get a job and a visa
  7. Get a home
  8. Get free furniture
  9. Save on cheap shopping

1. Do your research and choose your place wisely

If you go to Tokyo it's not going to be very cheap. Everybody else wants to be there too. A big city has more jobs, but also more competition and on the other hand a rural place has few jobs and less competition.

The bigger the city the higher the expenses.

You can enter Japan on a tourist visa and then later change to a humanities visa to teach English. That is legal. It is not legal to teach English on a tourist visa.

2. Get a ticket to Japan

Look for the cheapest ticket. I bought a one way ticket from San Fran and spent about $500. The officials say that you need an outward bound ticket, but I have done this in multiple countries.

Some people did question why I didn't have a return flight back, but I just told them that I was going to travel and then probably take a boat to Korea.

Other countries in Asia are like this too, but you can just say you are going to travel and aren't sure of the date yet.

If you are from the USA you can get 3 months before you have to leave and if you take a visa run to Korea you can get another 3 months for a total of 180 days in a year (which is the limit).

About 3 months ago I went to Busan for the night and came back the next day for another 90 days visa free waiver.

3. Find cheap short term housing in Japan

This isn't easy, but what I did was stay in a sharehouse in Fukuoka (2 different ones) for a total of 6 months. They can range in cost from about 35,000-60,000 and I didn't like it, but it helped me do what I wanted.

Some may expect you to stay for more than one month, but many will rent to you for a month at a time.

On a tourist visa I think it's impossible to legally find someone that will rent you a place. You need to be in the system so to speak, so a sharehouse is cheaper than a hostel and a hotel and probably your best bet.

Another idea you could try is doing volunteer work like in a hostel or on a farm like with WWOOF, but most of those positions are rural which isn't very helpful if you want to look for a job teaching.

How much are sharehouses?

I paid 42,000, 47,000 and 50,000 for 3 different rooms in 2 different sharehouses. Those prices included utilities and wifi.

4. Get a bike

This is the free way to get around and it works good because Japan is bike friendly.

5. Get a phone and save money on internet expenses

I didn't actually get a phone until after I got my visa. I got a phone with Line mobile which is like an internet based phone in Japan and the contract was for a year. The cool thing with this is that you can tether your phone to your laptop and then you won't need pocket wifi or a MVNO.

6. Get a job and your visa

If you are in a city you can use Google maps to pound the pavement and go to schools with your resume and see if they are looking for a teacher.

You can also search sites like Ohayosensei, Dave's, or Gaijinpot.

7. Get some long term housing

Now that you have a long term visa you can get your own place. Most places in Japan are for 2 years, but I found one for 1 year. There are a lot of agents that you can go to and ask. Often there are a lot of fees: cleaning fees, agent fee, guarantor fees, deposits, and more fees.

I paid about 94,000 to move into a place which was cheaper than most as others were closer to 130,000+. Also watch out for dodgy agents.

This is how you can save money in the long term.

If you go with the housing the company like Interac, AEON, etc. supplies you then it's most likely going to be more expensive. I found a place in Fukuoka for 30,000 a month (w/out utilities) that was in a pretty good location, not in downtown, but close to the beach.

Housing that companies provide tend to be closer to 50,000 a month.

8. Outfit your house for cheap

A lot of the places in Japan are not furnished, but you can find some free furniture if you go to furniture stores and then look not in the front, but in the back. I don't know why but I found a lot of decent furntiure this way.

Yes, there is a lot of junk and old stuff that you won't want but you'd be surprised what you can find for free. 

The other way you can save is by going to Daiso and Don Quihote to get cheap stuff. Daiso is a Japanese dollar store. Some things are more than a dollar, but everything is cheap.

I was first introduced to Daiso in San Francisco when I lived there.

How much money do you need to bring to Japan?

Well, that depends on you and how long it takes to get a job. But after you get a job you can expect that it will probably be a month plus until you get paid (assuming you start on the 1st of the month).

Most private schools pay on the 12-15th of the month.

I previously talked about this on an old blog post about how much do you need to bring to move to China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

It depends. If you are strapped it can work. If that is the case then you can stay in a sharehouse and pay month to month until you save up enough to pay for a place.

And it can work if you have $5000 saved up.

The bottom line if you are frugal:

  • 2 month's rent in a sharehouse (84,000)
  • 2 month's worth of food (40-60,000)
  • A bike (6-15,000 for a used one)
  • Misc. (30,000)

That's only about $1600-2000. So you'd need to find a job within your first month for it to work.

Conclusion

The more common way is to get a job before you go and I know there are a lot of people out there that would disagree with doing it this way which is fine, but I think they are scared.

They care to much about "security" and security is an illusion. You just have to use your brain.

I never found a job in advance.

I think going there to look is more practical despite the expense. I taught English in China, Korea and Taiwan and I never had a job lined up before I went. And while I don't currently teach in Japan I do live here.

I understand that teaching or moving abroad can be scary, but if you do your research then there are a lot of benefits to flying there first.