Teaching English in Japan has long been a relatively easy gateway into living and working here. Essentially, anyone whose first language is English and has a college degree has a chance of finding a job with a company that will sponsor a visa, and usually even help find a place to live. It can be more difficult without a degree, of course, but not impossible. The primary issue is that the requirements for getting work permission can be vague, and usually indicate either a bachelor’s degree or ten years’ experience.
These days, the industrial landscape is different. There are fewer opportunities for really good jobs, many of the major players have changed their employment practices, and changes in laws and regulations have hit job security. But the opportunities remain, and with some care you can still find something to fit you.
What Jobs Are Out There
The first thing to know is that there are various classes of jobs teaching English, each with different characteristics. Here’s a quick outline:
JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching Program):
This one you probably already know about. The JET program is a longstanding international exchange institution that takes university graduates and places them in schools in Japan to teach English and become part of the community. The requirements and process is clear, so it’s easy to apply, but competition is pretty fierce so it can be difficult to successfully find work.
ALT (Assistant Language Teacher):
ALTs work within Japanese public schools and teach English to the students there. The work is usually found through companies called dispatch agencies which have contracts with the local boards of education (BOE). The largest one of these is Interac. There are a few teachers who do get hired directly by BOEs but that usually requires some kind of personal connection with local officials, meaning people who already work and live in the community.
The dispatch companies will all have their own hiring requirements and procedures, so you’ll have to hunt them down, but below I will discuss how you can do that.
Some companies dispatch teachers to preschools or kindergartens. The work is similar, though the age group is younger. These are not technically ALT jobs, but they are close enough.
Eikaiwa means “English conversation” and is a general term covering companies that run private schools teaching English, of the sort that you’ve probably heard about already. Companies like GABA, NOVA, and Aeon are the current major players, and by far the majority of English teachers work for some of these. There are also many smaller, independent Eikaiwa schools (often run by former employees of the big companies) that can sponsor your visa as well.
Your chances of finding an Eikaiwa job are pretty good, if you’re willing to compromise some standards. The pay often starts low, and you may not be able to choose where you go, but the work tends to be stable and undemanding compared to ALTing.
Where to Find Them
The internet has made finding work in Japan so much easier than it used to be. JET is wholly internal, so the only way to find work is through the website above. However, the other opportunities can be found on job various job posting sites, in addition to individual school sites.
Job Boards (Eikaiwa/ALT):
- Interac (the biggest ALT dispatch company)
- Tokyo IS (Kindergarten/preschool dispatch)
I also very highly recommend talking to people already teaching in Japan. They can not only give you inside information on current employers, but they can also recommend you personally. Basic networking on popular Japan-centered sites can actually open doors. This also serves once you’ve gotten into Japan and want to improve your current work situation.
Once you have found a job source, of course, it’s important to be able to vet them, and so you need to know…
What to Look For
There are lots and lots of teaching jobs. Not all of them are created equal. The pay, benefits, and requirements will vary immensely, and without a frame of reference it can be difficult to judge what’s appropriate.
The basics you should be looking for are: visa sponsorship, accommodation support (apartment guarantorship or company housing), enrollment in Japan’s national insurance scheme (Shakai Hoken) and pay commensurate to the location. This last is very important. You must research how much money you will need to live in various locations. Tokyo is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live, while smaller cities can be quite affordable. The important thing is to research! Here is somewhere to start: Living in expenses (in Tokyo) or by Gaijinpot’s guide on average cost of living in japan and you can use google to help. In my opinion, you should probably avoid a listed salary of less than 220,000 yen a month unless you’ll be living in a rural area.
There is something else to be aware of, though. Not every company you find advertising jobs is going to be trustworthy. There are some shady employers out there, and it can be unpleasant to fall in with them. Issues like late payment, unreasonable scheduling, and more can turn what is already a difficult situation, i. e. living and working in a new country, into a nightmare.It’s always a good idea to research any potential employers by searching on GlassDoor, reddit subreddits like r/japanlife or r/movingtojapan, and on sites like Gaijinpot. Make sure you search before you ask, though, because particularly problematic companies will likely already be mentioned. You want to make especially sure that there’s no talk about payment issues, because that is a primary indicator of bad business.
Taking some effort to investigate your job and employer will pay off in the future, and any connections you can make to others in the industry you’re hoping to join offer a strong secondary reward for further down the line.