Japan provides a unique opportunity to experience a culture which has fully embraced technology of the modern age while retaining its rich cultural traditions over the millennia.
It is also a popular destination for those seeking positions to teach English since there are numerous job options throughout the country. English is taught far and wide in Japan, and so ESL teachers have the option to teach in big cities or in smaller towns and villages.
For most Japanese high schools and universities, a second language is a prerequisite. English is the most widely taught second language because the business world demands it.
Finding a Teaching Job in Japan
When looking for jobs as an ESL teacher in Japan, there are a multitude of options. While it is possible to find jobs while already in the country, if you would like to have your visas processed and avoid all confusion with legalities, it is best to make all your arrangements before arrival. That typically means finding a job online, and in the case of Japan, that shouldn’t be a problem. There are regular job posts for jobs in Japan throughout the year. Check out our ESL jobs in Japan section, for example.
Since the school year is divided into trimesters, the peak hiring season for public and private schools is March/April and August since schools seek teachers about four months prior to the start of the trimester. Other jobs teaching professional or business English can be found year round as there are numerous language schools where students are constantly coming and going.
Typical English Teaching Positions
There are four main types of teaching positions available to ESL teachers in Japan. You have the option to teach in high schools, universities, in a language academy, or for a corporation as a business English teacher. Teaching in high schools and conversational schools will pay less but allow you more free time, whereas universities and corporations will demand more time but will also pay better and offer better benefits.
Though having CELTA or TEFL or some other form of ESL qualification typically help prospective teachers, it is not a necessity for Japan. Most teachers in Japan are uncertified; the majority of high schools and language academies will require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and that the prospective teacher be a native English speaker. If you do not hold a degree, there are certain jobs where a minimum of three years of ESL teaching experience is sufficient. If you want to teach in a university or a higher-level school, a graduate degree and some sort of language certification will definitely be an advantage and help you stand-out.
Contracts and Salaries for English Teachers in Japan
Most jobs in Japan are done on a contract basis. The normal contract is usually for a year if you have a job lined up from outside the country. Depending on where you teach, you may be provided with a place to live as well as have your airfare covered. While this scenario is common, it is not always the case, so make sure you know exactly what your contract states.
In Japan, the typical work week will range from 13 hours for part time and 30 hours for full time positions.
Working in a public school or private school, you will always be given all national holidays. In almost all public schools, you can expect to get 3-4 weeks off in August as well as 2 weeks from January to December as holiday. You will typically also get a percentage of your regular pay for the time off.
As an ESL teacher in Japan, you can expect to earn anywhere from about 1200 – 3000 USD per month (about 113,000 – 280,000 JPY). The salaries will vary based on where you are working and whether the institution provides housing or extra amenities. Bonuses are not usually part of the normal pay scheme in Japan; however, you could consider the housing or airfare, if provided, to be a bonus.
Visas for ESL Teachers in Japan
Working in Japan or any country can be a pain in terms of getting the right paperwork and visas filed. There are over a dozen types of working visas available to foreigners who wish to work in Japan. The most commonly used by young ESL teachers is the working holiday visa. It is available to people between the ages of 18-25 who wish to stay in Japan for up to a year. This is, however, only available to people from a limited number of countries.
You can check Japan’s ministry of foreign affairs website for the most update information and requirements for the various types of visa here.
Cost of Living
While living in Japan, especially the bigger cities, can be very expensive, it doesn’t need to break the bank. The exchange rate for USD as of June 2013 is approximately 1 USD to 96 yen (it tends to fluctuate daily).
While the cost of living varies from area to area in each city, there are some general rules of thumb. It is always more expensive to live in town, close to the subways. Almost all apartments include utilities in the cost of rent and include a bathroom and bedroom.
Apartments commonly referred to as “aparto” will be smaller and more economical. They typically include a bedroom, a bathroom, and usually a small room which can serve as living dining and kitchenette. If you are looking for a larger apartment, you will most assuredly pay more, but you will need to ask for and look for apartments that they refer to as “manshon.”
Most people would recommend having at least $2000 USD per month in order to live comfortably. You can expect to pay about 75,000-90,000 JPY (approximately $750-900 US) for a relatively comfortable apartment, and if you decide to cook at home and minimize entertainment expenses, you can even save some each month.
Of course, these prices are not set in stone. Costs will vary based on the lifestyle you wish to live. Eating out at local food stalls can be as cheap as 500 yen, and the average meal in a small restaurant can range from 1000 – 3000 Yen. There is such a wide variety of things to eat that you could spend all day in a market going from vendor to vendor and never try it all.
Most of the expat community in Japan is comprised of other Asian nationals, although there are significant numbers of North and South Americans. Due to the high demand to learn English, there is a large influx of foreigners entering Japan to work as teachers.
The U.S. also still has military bases in Japan from World War II. There are approximately 35,000 U.S. military stationed in Japan. Some retired military personnel also choose to make Japan their expat home.
While there is a sizeable tourism industry, the amount of tourists in country varies based on the time of year; however, you will never feel overwhelmed by an influx of tourists.
Travel – Local and Distant
Due to all the associated expenses, traveling in Japan can become expensive if you decide to get a car. It is however; very easy to navigate the city once you have an idea of how the subway systems work. You can always download a subway map app for your cellphone or get maps from the subway stations. It is also easy to travel outside the cities using the train system to visit outlying towns or villages, depending on where you are. The TokyoMetro website can be very useful in planning and calculating the cost of your trip from Tokyo.
For weekend trips and vacation destinations, Japan offers a multitude of options that serve a variety of interests. There are numerous shrines and temples in both Tokyo and Kyoto for those interested in the historical significance of such sites, some of which are thousands of years old. If these type of attractions interest you, the Nijo-jo castle in Kyoto offers an interesting insight into the lifestyle of the first Tokugawa shogun.
For the tech-savvy, the Akihabara Electric Town is well worth a visit. This area of Tokyo is always bustling with activity as many new electronic items are market tested here. Even if you have no intention of buying, it is still worth a visit to see what new gadgets and technology will be available to consumers in the next few years.
For those seeking to enjoy the natural beauty of Japan, a trip to Mt. Fuji is a great option. It is the highest peak in Japan and lies only about 60 miles southwest of Tokyo. This well-known symbol has been depicted by several artists and visited by many sightseers and climbers. It has also been submitted for full inscription on the World Heritage List as a Cultural Site.
There are always things to do in bigger cities depending on where you want to teach. If you are in Tokyo or other large cities, there are always bars, restaurants, movie cinemas, clubs for dancing, as well as art museums and exhibits.
Karaoke is very popular and you can always find places to showcase your musical talents.
Pachinko is another popular cultural phenomenon. A mixture of slot machines and pinball, it allows players to bypass gambling laws by exchanging their winnings for goods available in the parlor.
There are also a few dozen popular theme and amusements parks such as Nikko Edomura, which allows you to travel back in time to a town set in the samurai era.
For those who are seeking relaxation and quiet meditation, there are dozens of hot springs and tea houses.
It may become slightly more difficult in smaller towns to find new and different diversion, in Japan’s larger cities, you will never be bored. There is something for everyone and something is always open.
There are over 100 regional dialects of the Japanese language but the most common are eastern, western and Kyushu. The good thing is that everyone is capable of understanding the basic messages being conveyed in each language. If you are traveling to more remote regions, such as the Ryukyu Islands, you will find that their dialect is unintelligible and very different from standardized Japanese. Most citizens are fluent in several languages, so as long as you attempt to use one of the major dialects, you should be able to convey your meaning effectively. If you find that you are still having difficulty communicating or simply want to learn one of the many Japanese scripts, many schools offer classes for their teachers or you can pay for private lessons.
Japan is famous for its “different” cultural habits, let’s call them. Some, of course, have even been exported to the West to some degree, and so they may not be completely foreign to you. However, if you spend a decent amount of time in Japan, you are likely to run into some new ones you’ve never heard of.
One cultural phenomenon is the large number of people who enjoy cosplay and roleplaying. This is where people dress up as cartoon characters or characters from their favorite movies for the fun of it. This has become even more prevalent with the increasing popularity of anime and manga movies.
Another subculture which may seem strange to outsiders is known as the hikikomori. This is a group young people, usually teenagers and young adults, who do not communicate with the outside world. They are, in essence, hermits. You are unlikely to encounter these individuals, but if you do come across one of their members, do not be offended if they ignore your presence.
Some of the food oddities you will find are candy in the strangest flavors. For example, Kit-Kat bars in grape, strawberry, licorice, melon, and cantaloupe flavors. Although they may seem strange, you just might find that you enjoy some of these new flavor twists.
One thing that often confuses tourists is the yellow lines on many of the heavily travelled transportation routes. You will find that if you are in larger cities such as Tokyo, there will be yellow lines or brick in the sidewalk and subway station. It may seem unusual, but there is a logical explanation: it is used to help guide the visually impaired to their destinations.
Something else to be warned about – some may snicker or giggle at your efforts to speak Japanese unless you are fluent. Try not to take offense at this. The Japanese are not used to hearing others trying to speak their language. As an English-speaker, you probably hear non-native English speakers all the time. The Japanese don’t.
And that, oddly enough, brings us to the final cultural point. The Japanese you meet and interact with will probably be exceedingly polite in most cases. For some, this is actually a point a frustration. They never feel “let in” to the culture. It always seems there is a kind of wall of good manners up with the Japanese. And so that may happen to you too. Different people deal with it in different ways, and you can choose your own, but it should be noted that fighting this cultural habit is, well, futile. You are but one lonely foreigner up against centuries of tradition. Picking your battles is always wise, and this is one that should probably be left unpicked.
These are just a few examples of the cultural deviation you may experience as a westerner, but do not let this prevent you from pursuing a teaching career in Japan. There are multitudes of employment and cultural opportunities available to anyone seeking to live and teach in Japan.
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