How to Teach English in Japan: Everything You Need to Know

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Japan Overview

Due to its isolated geographical position as an archipelago of Pacific islands as well as its rich cultural heritage, Japan is astonishingly unique in terms of its vibrant, one-of-a-kind culture. Many Western visitors who come to teach English in Japan become enchanted by the country’s distinctive features.

In addition to the natural beauty and cultural allure of Japan, many ESL teachers are attracted to the relatively generous pay offered by Japanese schools – frequently, in excess of $2,000 per month.

In this article, we’ll explore all the facets of teaching ESL to Japanese students that prospective teachers should consider before committing to Japan.

We’ll discuss:

  • The relative perks of teaching ESL in Japan.
  • The teaching requirements for foreign ESL teachers in Japan.
  • The various Japanese ESL jobs available to foreign teachers.
  • Average ESL teacher salaries in Japan.
  • The visa process for foreign ESL teachers in Japan.
  • Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about ESL work in Japan.

Let’s get started with what makes teaching English in Japan an attractive option for so many teachers.

What Are the Requirements to Teach English in Japan?

Before you begin the job search, you should first determine if you meet the relatively basic criteria for most English teaching jobs in Japan.

In order to qualify for the appropriate visa, prospective teachers should:

  • Possess a bachelor’s degree (BA or BS) in any major.
  • Be a native English speaker (i.e., hold a passport from a native English-speaking country) OR have received 12+ years of education in an English-speaking environment.

In addition to the government’s mandates, schools may often add their own requirements in job ads:

  • TEFL certification. (see our recommendations for the top online TEFL courses to enhance your resume).
  • Certified criminal background check.
  • Teaching experience inside Japan.

Because more ESL roles are available in Japan than there are qualified teachers to fill them, most schools are flexible to some degree in what they expect from incoming teachers.

Even if a school lists in their job ad specific requirements that you don’t fully meet, take your chances on applying anyway. More often than not, the school will seriously consider your application so long as you meet the basic visa requirements.  

For more detailed information regarding what qualifications you need to land a job in Japan, please visit our in-depth article on Japanese teaching requirements for ESL teachers.

What Does the Average Japanese ESL Job Pay?

As we mentioned earlier, the average ESL teaching salary in Japan is substantially higher than in neighboring countries like China.

Your salary will depend heavily on what type of ESL work you find.

In the chart below, we’ve broken down employment by school type for a side-by-side comparison of their relative average salaries for teachers:

School Type Japanese Yen USD
Private/Eikaiwa ¥200,000-¥250,000/month $1,800-$2,250/month
Public ¥200,000-¥280,000/month $1,800-$2,500/month
University ¥300,000-¥600,000/month $2,700-$5,400/month
International ¥250,000-¥600,000/month $2,250-$5,400/month
Tutoring ¥300/hour $9-$15/hour

Eikaiwas (privately-run language centers) offer the lowest pay among Japanese institutions while international schools and universities offer the highest.

To get a better idea of all the factors involved in Japanese schools’ pay structures for foreign teachers and how much you can expect to earn in Japan in your new English-teaching role, visit our page dedicated to Japanese ESL salaries.

How Does the Visa Process Work for ESL Teachers in Japan?

Unlike in more chaotic Asian bureaucracies, the Japanese visa process is straightforward and generally corruption-free.

Depending on the employment type and the individual circumstances of teachers, three types of visas are generally issued to foreign ESL employees:

Each visa type has a slightly distinct set of advantages and disadvantages. Because school and corporate administrations are usually responsible for the legwork to procure visas on behalf of their foreign employees, your employer will likely know which visa option to pursue.

What Documents Does Japanese Immigration Require from Foreign ESL Teachers to Issue a Visa?

ESL teachers in Japan should be prepared to submit the following documents to satisfy Japanese immigration protocols:

Again, most employers have knowledgeable staff that can help guide teachers through the often-confusing bureaucratic maze. To explore the Japanese visa process more in-depth as well as the various visas available to foreign ESL teachers, head over to our Japanese visa page.

What Are Teaching Jobs in Japan Like?

When determining whether an ESL job in Japan would be a good fit for you, there are several factors to consider. Here are a few of them.

How Do the Various Types of ESL Jobs in Japan Compare?

ESL teachers in Japan have lots of options.

Eikaiwas are local language centers unaffiliated with the government schools. They generally educate children but others offer classes to adult ESL students.

As with language centers around the globe, the working hours at eikaiwas differ greatly from other Japanese schools. Because eikaiwas generally service students after school after school and working adults with full-time jobs, ESL teachers at the schools can expect lots of evening and weekend hours with less work during the weekdays.  

Professional English teachers who work in Japanese public schools are called Assistant Language Teachers, or “ALTs” for short. ALT jobs are quite common throughout Japan.

The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program is a special initiative by the Japanese government introduced in 1987 dedicated to “promoting grass-roots international exchange between Japan and other nations.” Most of the jobs offered through the JET Program are as ALTs, but some can be found as well in liaison roles for international education organizations.

University ESL teaching positions in Japanese universities pay substantially higher than any other public-school model in the country – by far. If you have a minimum of a master’s degree plus a teaching pedigree, you are in a good position to land one of these highly coveted jobs.

Lastly, we come to the large supply of top-tier international schools in Japan. The Japanese elites generally prefer to send their children to be educated in international schools and pay top-dollar for the access. In turn, teachers at international schools generally earn salaries that dwarf those of teachers in eikaiwas or Japanese public schools. Tokyo alone is home to 42 high-paying international schools.

What Resources Can ESL Teachers Use to Land a Job in Japan?

For a regularly updated source of well-paying Japanese job ads, visit ESL Authority’s Japan job page.

Other online job boards that function as great resources for discovering ESL openings across Japan include:

As we mentioned earlier, don’t be afraid to approach schools even if you think you might not be fully qualified; your ESL talents are likelier in higher demand than you realize.

The Benefits of Life in Japan as an ESL Teacher

Check out this informative video on the ESL lifestyle in Japan:

Relatively High Pay for ESL Teachers

In Japan, even inexperienced teachers — provided they meet the basic teaching requirements that we’ll explore further below — can take home more than $2,000 USD per month. The average pay at international schools and universities is even higher. We’ll break down teachers’ salaries more in-depth later on.

You should be aware, however, that Japan is also generally more expensive in terms of day-to-day living expenditures than its neighbors – especially in the cities.

High Standard of Living

Japan is home to one of the highest standards of living on Earth.

With Japan’s wealth come all the benefits of modernity. Japan has high-speed rail, ultra-modern healthcare facilities, and other impressive infrastructure.

Japan consistently scores highly on global quality of life rankings. Compared to the rest of the world, Japan has low pollution, high education rates, long average life span, and numerous other markers of a healthy, prosperous society.

The Rich and Unique Cultural Heritage of Japan

Japan has historically developed separately from the outside world both geographically and socially, spending centuries in near-total isolation. In this cultural vacuum, an utterly unique society bloomed. To this day, Japan remains one of the most exceptional cultures on Earth.

The Japanese cultural influence has spread across the globe in the form of cuisine, philosophy, fashion aesthetic, anime, the subtle, sensual art of Japanese geishas, and so many more intriguing aspects of Japanese culture that are native to the island nation alone.

When you travel to Japan to take up an ESL position, you’ll be embarking on a pilgrimage to a cultural Mecca sure to leave a lasting impression. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Teaching in Japan

Can Foreign Teachers Without a Degree Find Work in Japan?

No. Although some anecdotal accounts persist on the web of non-degreed teachers supposedly thriving in Japanese ESL positions, the math doesn’t add up. The legal requirements for the two main types of visas available to foreign teachers – Instructor and “Specialist in Humanities” – explicitly call for a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and are inflexible in this regard.

Must Foreign ESL Teachers in Japan Be Native Speakers?

Not necessarily. Being a native speaker is a major leg-up in finding a job, yet many non-native speakers find meaningful ESL employment in Japan under one of two conditions:

  • The ESL teacher is not a native speaker per se but holds a passport from a North American, European, or Oceanic nation recognized as a “native English-speaking” country.
  • The ESL teacher attended an English-language school for 12 years or longer.

Do ESL Teachers in Japan Need a TEFL Certificate to Find a Job?

Not necessarily. Having a TEFL certificate, like being a native speaker, is a definite advantage but is by no means a deal-breaker for many employers. For more competitive jobs, TEFL certification might be a hard-and-fast requirement that an employer insists on, but many ESL teachers in Japan land rewarding positions without ever having earned a TEFL accreditation.

Do Japanese Schools Require Teaching Experience from Candidates for ESL Positions?

As a general rule, no. To draw from the widest pool of potential teachers possible, Japanese recruiters rarely rule out inexperienced teachers. It’s common to catchphrases like “teaching experience preferred” on job ads, but that is largely a tactic intended to attract higher-tier candidates on the assumption that the job may be more exclusive (and hence higher-quality) than it really is as well as to buttress the school’s own image as a superior institution.

The exceptions to this rule in Japan are international schools and universities, which often insist on experience from their teachers due to their more rigid standards.

Do I need a criminal background check to gain ESL employment in Japan?

At the moment, no. Although immigration protocols are forever in flux, there are no current national requirements by the government which mandate that ESL teachers submit a criminal background check to get a visa. Most schools don’t require them either.

Furthermore, minor crimes can usually be expunged pursuant to the respective laws of the nation where the conviction occurred. If you have a non-felony crime in your background, you might consider having it legally removed to avoid any bureaucratic snags in the future.

Can ESL Teachers in Japan Work on a Tourist Visa?

No. Working in any capacity on a tourist visa is a violation of Japanese law that exposes teachers to an array of negative legal repercussions. The Japanese work visa process is simple and speedy, so there’s no good reason for an ESL teacher to not apply for the appropriate visa.

Can ESL Teachers Already in Japan Switch Visas from Tourist or Other Types to Work Visas In-Country?

Yes, switching visas while remaining in Japan is possible with a visit to a local immigration office.

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