And FYI I spent 3.5 years teaching in Korea and I currently live in Japan (for about 10 months).
Are you qualified to teach in Japan or Korea?
The requirements to teach English in Japan and in Korea are to be a native English speaker (not always in Japan) and to have a university degree. Those are for your visa. TEFL courses are not required by law, but some schools can prefer them and a good targeted course will help you do your job.
What's the work schedule like?
Both countries have relatively similar work schedules. If you teach in a private school then you will usually work from 2-9, 3-10, or 2-8pm. If you are teaching adults you may have morning/daytime hours and the same in a kindergarten.
If you work in a public school with JET or EPIK then you will have daytime hours from about 8:30-4:30.
What kind of school will you work in?
There can be individual differences, yet there are similar kinds of schools in both Japan and Korea. Your options are mainly to teach in private schools, public schools, or in universities.
- Public schools: Native English speaking teachers in Korea and in Japan typically work as ALT teachers in public schools. ALT stands for assistant language teacher. You will have a native Korean or Japanese teacher in the classroom with you who is the lead teacher.
The EPIK program is popular in Korea and the JET program is a popular program in Japan and Interac is a private company that does the same.
- Private schools: Private schools or academies are referred to as hagwons in Korea and eikaiwa in Japan. They are similar. They both primarily offer after school classes to students although they can have morning hours too if it is a kindergarten or if it is for adults. You typically have more autonomy (as a teacher) in one of these schools.
- Universities: To teach in a university in Japan you will usually need to have a master's degree. In Korea you may also need a master's degree or extensive experience, yet I have met teachers who have taught without a master's degree. Extensive experience is also preferred.
Which job market is more competitive?
More people want to teach in Japan. Yet, I'd say there are probably fewer jobs there. Here's a graph I made from Google Trends.
To get a job in Japan from outside of Japan you would probably have to go through a program like Jet or through a company like: ECC, Aeon, Interac, etc.
You would actually be better off to be in Japan to look for a job and it's not as expensive as you think if you do it right (more on that in a bit).
You can check this page out for more websites on finding a job in Japan.
It would probably be easier to find a job in Korea. Korea's market is pretty good aside from the shrinking public school sector. ESLcafe is good site to look for a job in Korea.
For either place I would recommend reading this post on how to get a good job teaching English.
Where are you going to make the most money?
You will probably make and save the most money teaching in Korea. Korea has a lot of nice benefits including, airfare, housing, severance pay, pension pay and a monthly salary averaging 2,100,000 Won which is close to $2000.
In Japan the average salary is around 250,000 Yen a month which is a bit more on average than Korea's salary. Last I knew the JET program paid 280,000 Yen a month possibly with some benefits such as airfare and housing. Like their disclaimer says every situation is different. Benefits are generally pretty rare in Japan.
Where are you going to spend the most money?
Well, that depends on you.
Most people say Japan has a pretty high cost of living, but I live here now and my cost of living is pretty low. I pay about 30,000 Yen a month for rent ($300) and then maybe another $3-400 in utilities and food.
So it's pretty cheap for me, but it depends on you. I came here without any situation lined up and put it together myself.
Korea's cost of living is pretty similar depending of course on you, but since you'll have free rent you'll probably save more in Korea.
What's the environment like?
I'd say similar, but as you can see from the map Japan has more extremes.
Korea is pretty mountainous with cold winters and snow in most places. If you are in Busan or in Jeju you probably won't see snow. The summers are hot and humid.
Japan is also pretty mountainous with a fairly diverse environment with snow and cold in the northern parts. It's a little warmer from Kyushu on down to tropical Okinawa.
Hachoooo... What about pollution?
Pollution is a problem in Asia. Japan is cleaner than Korea. It's not perfect, but it's better. Korea is cleaner than China and Taiwan.
I didn't think Busan was very polluted when I lived there although it's more polluted compared to nearby Fukuoka. And I see a lot of people complain on Reddit about pollution in Seoul and the nearby area.
Basically the western part of Korea including Seoul will be more polluted and some of that is coming from nearby China. Northeast China is the most polluted part of China.
Who speaks more English?
I think Koreans tend to speak a bit more English than Japanese. I think there is more of an emphasis on learning English in Korea and that might be why there are more jobs or part of the reason.
But wherever you go it is a good idea to learn the language as it will make your life outside the classroom.
Which is more international?
I think Japan is more international. It's international in the sense that it has been influenced by America for a longer period of time. Which brings us to the next point...
What's the vibe and culture shock like?
There is more diversity in Japan as far as fashion, music, art, and architecture goes. It's more westernized and has been for a longer period of time. You'll see more diversity of fashion styles there, international musicians and artists go there, and the architecture generally looks better than Korea's.
Neither one is America though, so you can still experience culture shock if you are an American or not.
How are the people different?
From what I have gathered from others is that the Japanese tend to be more reserved and the Koreans a bit more emotional and expressive. But Korea and Japan are really not that different.
Which will you like better? I don't know, but I like Japan a lot better. Korea is a bit on the drab side for me. But if you are thinking of teaching English in Asia then Japan or Korea could be for you.
If you are at the stage of picking a place to teach one of the following stages will be the actual teaching.
Do you want to feel more confident in your abilities to teach English to kids (7 out of 10 jobs)?
This course is focused on teaching English to mostly kids in Asia.
- how to be the one in charge
- how to maintain your student's attention
- how to make your classes fun and educational
- how to deal with difficult students (shut down trouble makers)
- how to make the most of your time abroad and develop yourself along the way
- how to find a good school (or at least a decent one) and avoid problem schools and horror stories
- how to to create lessons with minimal prep (which will help heaps if you teach in a hagwon which is like 6 teaching hours a day)