Wondering what's it like to teach English in Japan? Super. You are in the right place.
In this post I'll talk about the culture, the environment, the teaching scene and share some video interviews with teachers in Japan.
I'll also be doing some comparison to some other Eastern Asian countries like Korea, Taiwan and China.
"So in Japan having a debate is a really big issue. So it's totally different. Like in America we like to argue all the time. But in Japan people don't.
Some Japanese students find it easier to debate in a different language like English. So that is always interesting to see. So that is what I like, different experiences."- Jeanie in Tokyo, Japan
You'll hear more from Jeanie and other teachers in Japan later. But now we'll talk a bit about teaching in Japan.
The teaching scene in Japan
- Requirements: 4 year degree & native English speaker, plus possible preferences for experience, TEFL certification, etc. More on the requirements to teach English in Japan
- Job Market: Most Competitive
- Average Salary: 250,000 Yen ($2,030) a month
- Cost of Living: Most expensive
- Housing: Not free, employers sometimes help find
- Airfare: Usually only a free flight home with the JET program
- Teaching hours: 22-30 a week
*These are just averages expect differences between institutions
There's a lot of rules and it's the most formal
I heard someone say once...
"They pretty much do things by the book here."
And that sums it up most of the time.
Japan is the most formal place to teach in Asia. Some schools will expect you to dress in a suit and tie. And that is quite different from the flip flops that I normally wore to work in Taiwan. And if that sounds too relaxed for you then I remember one of my bosses in Taiwan complaining about one of the teachers who used to work there walking to school barefoot^^.
In East Asia you often take your shoes off when entering the school or classroom and wear slippers or not.
You get some visa freedom here
You'll have the most freedom here in regards to your visa.
In Japan your employer is not connected to your visa. This means that if you quit your job, you can keep the visa and ﬁnd a new job without having to leave the country to get a new visa. However, you still need an employer/sponsor to help you get a job.
In Taiwan, China and Korea the employer basically owns your visa and that makes changing your job more difficult.
In Japan you can also change the status of your visa in country granted there is enough time.
For example, if you enter on a tourist visa or working holiday visa and find a job you can change it to an employment visa. I entered Japan on a tourist visa and within about a month of submitting my documents I got a residence card.
I didn't have to leave the country.
In China, Korea and Taiwan you can't typically do that as you have to leave the country for a visa run to get a new visa.
It's the cleanest
Japan is by far the cleanest place to live in East Asia.
The streets are pretty clean and there seems to be a greater awareness about the environment here than in the other places. For example, public bus drivers will turn off the buses at red lights to conserve resources although some of them are still pretty stinky exhaust wise.
But it's still not perfect there is still pollution: some buses stink, people still dump garbage off the side of the road, etc.
You'll see a far greater array of fashion styles in Japan than in the other countries. Self expression seems to be more acceptable here than in the other places. Japan has also started a number of trends in Asia, like for example anime and cosplay.
You'll also ﬁnd a greater diversity of music styles here. In the other three locations you'll ﬁnd mostly mainstream pop music.
Japan is hip. Japan was the ﬁrst country in Asia to embrace Hip Hop. You'll also ﬁnd Elvis Presley imitators, low riders, and their own unique styles like Cosplay.
Is it expensive?
Not for me. I think to travel here it can be, but not to live here. I live in Fukuoka and found a pretty cheap place to live in. $300 a month for rent. I came here and looked.
Here's a video of my place.
If you are dependent on your company then they will just put you in whatever is convenient for them. You'll have more options if you come and look.
It's more westernized
Japan is the most modern and westernized although you're not in Kansas anymore. It is a wealthy country - the third largest economy in the world, but it's considerably smaller than China or the USA. The level of comfort here will be the highest.
People are pretty polite
The people here are generally very polite, reserved and well mannered. If someone bumps into you, you'll most likely get an apology or two. This is different compared to other countries like China or Korea where pushing can be common especially among older folks.
As Jeanie say in the picture above people don't like to debate. Most East Asians don't like confrontation and that's part of the culture.
The earth shakes here
Japan lies in the Ring of Fire. Making it a very active place with many earthquakes and volcanoes. Taiwan also lies within this area.
It's bike friendly
There are many bikes in Japan. People of all age groups ride pedal bikes. You won't see many pedal bikes in China, Taiwan or Korea, but here bikes are aplenty and Japan is bike friendly.
But you better follow the rules or you might get stopped by a bike cop. They want you to register your bike and use a light at night time.
What's the teaching like?
Well, it depends on the school. Most teachers will work in either an eikaiwa or as an ALT in a public school. Eikaiwa's are small language schools that students attend after the normal public school classes. Class size can range from about 1-15 or so students. Work hours are often in the evening. Kindergartens are in the day time.
Some examples of eikaiwa are: Geos, ECC, AEON, Berlitz, etc. Those are all big chains, but smaller ones exist too and those are the ones that I usually prefer.
Learn more about eikaiwa.
ALT (assistant language teacher) teachers are placed in public schools working 8-4 or so. Your role is as an assistant so you are normally second in command. You classes are much larger usually 20-40 students or so. JET and Interac are examples of ALT teaching jobs.
Courses aren't required for the visa, but a good course (not like the two I took) will help you do your job (make your life easier) and it won't hurt your application.
See the link on how to get a job below.
I am a fan of Japan. I like the vibe. I moved here in January 2019 after visiting for the first time in 2008. I currently live here in Fukuoka, on a cultural visa.
Some observations and snap judgments about living in Japan:
- They drive on the left side of the street (which will mess with you if you are from a country that doesn't).
- Japanese seem to like to run or I seem to like to hang out where people run (parks).
- Popular sports seem to be baseball.
- Japan is bike friendly, but the cops are strict about theft and the rules.
- I hear lots of sirens.
- Bowing is more common here than other places.
- People smoke in many restaurants like in other Asian countries.
- It's quieter than China, Korea and Taiwan.
Teachers in Japan talk deep stuff: The banana game, debating, ups & downs and then answer the question, "Is Japan foreign friendly?"
Chances are you will teach kids
This graph was taken from what employers want (in Japan). Most jobs there are for teaching children. Teaching children is challenging and you need a certain skill set to do so well. This course (TEKA) provides specialized training for teaching children.
Who will I teach?
You can teach whoever you want. You can teach adults, teens, elementary or kindergarten. There are different kinds of schools. In some schools you may teach many different ages. However, there's a 70+% chance that you will teach mostly children.
What are the programs to teach English in Japan?
Or should I teach in an eikaiwa or as an ALT?
Unless you have a teaching license (not a certificate) or a master's degree then teaching in an eikaiwa or working as an ALT are the basic options for most teachers in Japan.
Learn more about these programs + how to get a job teaching in Japan.
- How to get a job teaching English in Japan
- How to move to Japan to teach English (cheaply)
- Japan vs. Korea - Where should I teach?
- How do I get prepared to teach English in Japan?