Teaching in Japan won’t make you rich. It will, however, allow you to live comfortably in one of the most intriguing countries in the world. Japan is consistently one of the top places for ESL teachers due to its competitive salaries, attractive benefits, and high standard of living for both residents and visitors.
Related: The Best TEFL Courses in Japan
How much can you make teaching in Japan?
The average salary for Japanese ESL instructors is ¥250,000 yen (marked by the ¥ symbol), or about $2300. There is no shortage of ESL teaching jobs in Japan and some teachers stand to make quite a bit more than that depending on their school and experience.
Eikaiwas: ¥200,000 – 250,000
Eikaiwas are private institutions or language schools and tend to cater to students looking for extra help. From a teaching perspective, they are also the most common job available and have teaching requirements that are fairly easy to meet. A word of caution, though – eikaiwas usually operate in the afternoons, evenings, and on weekends in order to attract students outside of normal school hours.
Public Schools: ¥200,000 – 280,000
Public school teachers in Japan are called “ALTs,” an acronym that stands for Assistant Language Teachers. While their salaries are similar to those of eikaiwa teachers, their hours differ greatly. Public school teachers can expect to work normal school hours (meaning no weekends) and those working for the government-sponsored JET program stand to earn a bit more than other ALT teachers (though the application process is more strenuous).
Universities: ¥300,000 – 600,000
If you’re qualified to teach at the university level in Japan, you can expect to earn a salary that dwarfs all other school types. Couple that with low hours and top-notch benefits and it’s not hard to see why these are some of the most desirable jobs in Japan.
International Schools: ¥250,000 – 600,00
Legitimate international school jobs are scarce in Japan, partly because of the size of the country but also because they are so appealing that most teachers stick around for a bit.
The major benefit of working in international schools, aside from the generally higher English proficiency of the students, is the substantially higher pay compared to other educational institutions. Assuming you meet the requirements, it’s easy to pull down an above-average salary in addition to benefits like discounted or free tuition for your kids.
Be forewarned, though: lots of these jobs are passed down through networking so don’t be surprised if you have to work harder than usual to land an interview.
Private Tutoring: ¥3,000/hour
Private tutoring gigs are just as prevalent in Japan as other countries and industrious teachers can expect to land them without much effort. If you can establish a good location and schedule, the hourly rate makes it easy to pad your normal salary.
Here is a great video about salary distribution based on a survey of teachers:
Benefits for ESL Teachers in Japan
As we mentioned earlier, the teaching salaries in Japan are not the only appealing thing about working there; the benefits packages offered by employers, designed to lure top talent, are often quite competitive as well.
Most teachers can expect perks ranging from the expected (end of contract bonus) to the “wow – that’s awesome” (discounted or free tuition).
Let’s start with what’s not included in most contracts – housing. For some reason, Japanese employers have not joined other ESL schools in offering their teachers a free apartment. Instead, what they usually offer is assistance finding a place to live or access to apartments at a set rate so teachers know how much to expect to pay in rent (usually around 50,000 yen). For teachers used to having an apartment provided as is typical in Korea and China, this is something to consider.
Curious what average teacher housing is? Here is a cool video of a teacher’s apartment in Nagano:
Unlike housing, bonuses are synonymous with ESL teaching. At the very least, teachers in Japan can expect an end-of-contract bonus (usually equivalent to one month’s salary). Some teachers are also eligible for additional bonuses related to performance, retention, and recruitment that can really enhance their monthly teaching salaries.
Take a look at this typical sample contract for an ESL position in Japan to get a better idea of what sort of bonus you can expect. Just remember that most contracts contain clauses indicating that a teacher must complete the full term of the contract (usually one year or more) in order to qualify for any bonuses.
Getting to and from Japan is not cheap. That said, prospective teachers can breathe easier knowing that most schools will reimburse their airfare. While some will take it on to your first paycheck, others will make you complete your contract before paying out (to reduce the risk of being used as a free ticket to Japan).
Japan is unique in that some eikaiwa jobs require teachers to travel to other language centers and even companies in order to give lessons. If you are hired for this type of job, expect the company to compensate you for travel expenses. If they are unwilling to offset your travel expenses, you might be wise to consider another employer as the costs of traversing the city can easily eat into your salary (and sanity).
If an employer is pinching pennies to save on their teachers’ travel costs, chances are that they won’t be forthcoming with other types of financial support for their employees. Take a reluctance to reimburse for travel on the part of an employer as a red flag.
Cost of Living in Japan
Teaching salaries in Japan mean nothing without knowing how far your hard-earned yen will go once you’re there. The downside of life in one of the wealthiest nations on Earth per capita is that living expenses can add up fast.
While it’s impossible to document every cost you may incur during your time in Japan, looking at some of the basic necessities should provide a clearer picture of what you can expect to spend.
The following prices are from Osaka and are meant to serve as an average – things in Tokyo will cost slightly more while smaller cities will be slightly less.
|Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Center
|Bottle of Domestic Beer
|Average Meal for 2
Source: Numbeo // Prices as of June 2020
How much can you save as a teacher in Japan?
How much money you can save teaching ESL in Japan depends heavily on your lifestyle; some teachers are able to put away half of their paycheck or more while others choose to live basically check to check.
If you live and eat like a local, saving at least 50% of your salary is entirely possible. On the other hand, if you travel, go out, and eat western food all the time (there is nothing wrong with that), expect your yen to go fast but to have a ton of awesome memories instead.
What to Expect in Terms of Japanese Teaching Salaries Based on Real-World Examples
Scenario #1: I’m a new teacher with bachelors and no TEFL
Possessing a bachelor’s degree in any field from an accredited Western university is the primary prerequisite for finding ESL employment in Japan.
Always keep this in mind: currently, there are far more ESL jobs in Japan and elsewhere in Asia than there are qualified teachers willing to relocate halfway around the world.
Never mind job ads that specify a “preference” for more candidates with a TEFL; for some, it may be a hard-and-fast rule, while others are likely engaging in”wishful thinking.” When push comes to shove, schools will almost always hire a teacher with the minimum requirements if they believe them to be a good fit.
At this eikaiwa, the starting salary begins in the ¥250,000/month range.
Scenario #2: I have a bachelors and TEFL
Having a TEFL is a definitive advantage. The certification indicates a sincerity and dedication to teaching English that employers appreciate.
You likely won’t notice a huge bump in salary ranges offered by Japanese schools on the basis of TEFL accreditation alone.
Remember that ESL salaries are not set in stone — the primary advantage of having a TEFL is that it renders you a more attractive commodity to employers and gives you negotiating leverage during salary discussions.
Scenario #3: I have a teaching degree or license
As a teacher with a relevant license or higher education such as a master’s in education, you occupy the most sought-after category of teachers.
In fact, you might find yourself headhunted as employers and agents attempt to recruit you before you ever need to pound the pavement to look for a job yourself. Who doesn’t like to feel wanted?
Check out this job ad – up to ¥400,000/month for a candidate with a BA or MA in education and/or a teaching license:
Scenario #4: I’m a non-native speaker or don’t meet another requirement
Unfortunately, your options are going to be extremely limited in Japan as a non-native speaker and/or with a lack of credentials (at least a bachelor’s degree).
Per the Japanese visa laws that we discussed earlier, non-native speakers must have amassed 12+ years of education in a Western school to qualify for legal employment.
If you’re a non-native speaker or don’t have a degree, consider building up your resume in another easily accessible country in the region such as Cambodia that does not have the same strict requirements. Also, consider an affordable 100 or 120-hour TEFL course to supercharge your resume.
Over time, as you amass experience and credentials elsewhere, even as a non-native speaker, you are sure to become more valuable in the eyes of Japanese employers.
Some job ads, like the one below, do not indicate that a bachelor’s degree is necessary. However, keep in mind that Japanese law requires proof of higher educational attainment to get a working visa:
How to Increase Your Japanese Teaching Salary
The most basic yet effective step you can take to increase your salary as an ESL teacher is to invest in a 120-hour TEFL course through a respected provider like iTTT, Lexis TESOL, or others.
If your ultimate teaching aspirations entail working in the highest echelons of the ESL world in Japan – namely, international schools – then earning your teaching license is crucial.
In addition to helping you access employment opportunities that are simply unavailable to unlicensed teachers, having a valid teaching license also puts you in the driver’s seat during negotiations over your salary.
Many employers understand that, despite the number of credentials under a candidate’s belt, there is often no substitute for hard-earned experience.
In prospective employers’ eyes, gaining teaching experience sheds light on a few aspects of your character: a.) you are into teaching for the long haul, b.) you have proven yourself reliable enough to maintain employment for extended periods of time, and c.) you are less likely to experience “culture shock” or other difficulties associated with life in a foreign country.
In the TEFL field, as in other economic sectors, greater experience correlates to higher pay.
The Bottom Line on English-Teaching Salaries in Japan
While Japan is notorious for its high cost of living, this concern is largely offset by the considerably higher salaries paid to foreign ESL teachers compared to regional rivals like China, Thailand, or Vietnam.
Furthermore, as a highly developed nation with rich protections for workers foreign and domestic, Japan offers stability in terms of employers’ legal obligation to fulfill contracts that don’t exist in sketchier nations for ESL employment like those in Southeast Asia and even, unfortunately, even in adjacent, giant ESL markets like China.
Add the high salaries and worker protections to the intriguing character of Japan and you have a recipe for a fulfilling experience in the stunningly unique island nation.