Before you pull up anchor and set sail to the Far East to teach English in Japan, check out these hot tips to enjoy the most rewarding experience possible in the Land of the Rising Sun.
About teaching English in Japan
Here are the highlights of ESL work in Japan to consider:
- Because Japan is an island archipelago removed (and protected in terms of invading marauders) from the rest of Asia by water, that separation has allowed it to develop its own unique cultural and geographical features. If you’ve spent any time on the more exotic corners of the internet, you know for sure there is no other destination like Japan in Asia or elsewhere.
- The Japanese government mandates ESL education in all public schools from kindergarten through high school, and has programs specifically geared towards recruiting and placing teachers in schools (more on those later). So there are available jobs aplenty.
- ESL jobs in Japan offer a relatively high rate of pay compared to the global average. You can expect to earn close to $2,000 at the lower end of the scale and upwards of $5,000 at the higher end. The mean salary you can realistically aim for is $2,500-$3,500. Japan is one of the most highly developed nations in East Asia. Accordingly, while the cost of living is high in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, you can potentially save significant money if you live and work in smaller cities, townships, or more rural prefectures. Plus, if nature’s more your thing than the concrete jungle, the more remote stretches of Japan are stunning.
In a later section, titled “what it’s like being an English teacher in Japan,” we’ll discuss the finer aspects of Japanese work culture that you’ll want to familiarize yourself with if you’re a first-time teacher there.
See our full guide on the 7 Best Places to Teach in Asia
What are the requirements to teach English in Japan?
Here are the basic requirements for most ESL positions in Japan:
- TEFL certification. This is a king of ESL credentials – increasingly a standard qualification for ESL jobs worldwide. You can get certified at your own pace, even if you work or go to school full-time, from your living with TEFL Hero’s fully-accredited 120-hour online course. Always look for accreditation in a TEFL course you are considering. Read more about how to get TEFL-certified in our comprehensive guide.
- Bachelors (4-year) university diploma
- Native English speaker. This qualification is commonly construed to mean Ireland, UK, South Africa, United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand passport holders.
Get Certified to Teach Anywhere!
Don’t have a degree? See How to Teach English in Thailand Without a Degree
How much do English teachers make in Japan?
Salaries for ESL instructors working in Japan vary widely, from $1,700-$5,000 USD. $2,500-3,500 is the average salary for ESL teachers. Your pay depends on a few factors:
- The type of institution (read on to learn more about the different types of schools hosting ESL teachers in Japan)
- Your previous experience and credentials
- Your negotiating tactics during the interview (more on those later as well)
Unlike many other ESL destinations in Asia (like teaching English in Vietnam or Thailand), Japanese schools will frequently offer teachers a host of additional financial incentives such as flight reimbursement, free housing, and free school meals as part of a standard compensation package
Types of English teaching jobs in Japan + salaries
Let’s survey a few of the more plentiful ESL job types available to teach English in Japan.
Job #1: Jet Programme
Japan’s flagship East-West conduit for funneling English teachers into well-paying ESL positions is called the JET Programme (Japan Exchange and Teaching).
Here are the key features of a Jet Programme position:
- One of the longest-running, largest international exchange programs for ESL teachers worldwide
- 35-hour workweeks Monday-Friday
- Placements are offered throughout Japan, so you’re likelier to land in a smaller town/rural area than with other programs/schools if that’s your preference
Learn more about how to apply for the program. The multi-stage application process is rather bureaucratic and lengthy, so be sure to apply for the standard August start date well in advance in October or November.
Here’s an intro video from the official YouTube program page:
Job #2: Private language school
Private language schools are scattered throughout the Japanese islands.
Here’s what you should know about teaching English at a private language school:
- Most concentrated in bigger and medium-sized cities
- Work hours tend to fall on weekends and at night (after school/work when learners have free time)
- Private schools often cater to specific age groups – ranging from small children to primary school ages to high school ages to adults (especially adult professionals interested in business English).
- Less extensive application process than public school programs
Job #3: Public School
The Jet Program is the most popular vehicle for getting placed at a public school, but it’s not the only one. Private organizations like Interac also perform the same function, and some public schools even recruit teachers directly.
The key considerations to be aware of regarding working at a public school in Japan are:
- The hiring season runs from January to April, typically.
- Going this route will likely place you in a rural area – so city slickers might look elsewhere like a private language school
- The salary is typically around $2,000/month, but might include other perks such as housing or free meals
Interac is a reputable private entity that places teachers in public schools throughout Japan as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher). Crucially, their main selling point is the logistical and institutional support they provide, from helping with housing arrangements to liaising with the school where you work.
Here’s a little bit more info about Interac and how it works:
Where to Teach English in Japan
As with other countries, the highest concentrations of high-paying ESL jobs are situated in large urban centers.
The largest city and Japanese capital, Tokyo is likely the first city that comes to mind. But it’s not just the biggest in Japan – according to some estimates, its 37-million+ metropolitan area is the largest in the world by population.
Tokyo’s a world-class cultural destination with an endless supply of ultra-modern neon-tinted diversion.
Osaka, home to the Panasonic and Sharp headquarters, is the historical commercial and industrial powerhouse of the country. It’s full of historical landmarks stretching back centuries, including Shitennō-ji Tempe, the original Buddhist temple in Japan.
Kyoto was the seat of the Empire for over a thousand years until 1869. Like the previous two cities, its historical and cultural gravitational pull is immense.
How to find English teaching jobs in Japan
Let’s run down a succinct but highly effective blueprint to getting hired to teach English in Japan:
Where to start
You’ve got a few basic choices to get hired
- A program like Interac or the others listed in the above sections (ideal for new ESL teachers and/or those unfamiliar with Japan or Asia)
- The DIY route through online job boards
- Personal connections via your professional network (often only available to experienced teachers with region-specific contacts)
First, on the job placement programs. Such highly-rated programs to consider that place teachers in Japanese schools include:
- Jet Programme
If you have the pioneering spirit to venture out on your own without the backing of a program, I highly recommend the DIY route, as it allows greater flexibility and more negotiating room to teach where you want with the pay you want.
Landing a full-time, well-paying ESL position before you ever leave your home country is absolutely feasible via online job boards like:
How to get hired
Here are the indispensable components of a get-hired-ASAP strategy. If you follow these simple rules, you will get hired for a high-quality position:
- Update your resume (if you need help, the web is full of free resume polishing resources)
- Get TEFL-certified ASAP (displays both your teaching bona fides and your seriousness/commitment as a teacher)
- Snap a professional, friendly passport-style headshot to include with all applications (for whatever reason, Asian employers love, and often require, a photo to accompany responses to job ads)
- Talk to everyone, including all programs and recruiters that display interest in your candidacy (even if it doesn’t pan out, at the very least that’s one more industry connection to potentially utilize at some later point)
- If you’re going the DIY online job board route, commit to sending at least two new emails daily to new job ads
- Follow up within a week if your application/email goes unresponded to; it’s entirely possible, likely even, that the school or recruiter simply lost your email in their swampy inbox
- Always research any employer before accepting a position. This includes checking sites like Glassdoor and Reddit to get unbiased feedback from actual teachers who have worked at the school or program
- Stay diligent and positive. If you have the basic qualifications and present yourself professionally, you absolutely will land a rewarding job, even if it takes a little while. Always remember that, as an ESL teacher in the global market, you are a valuable commodity. There are more teaching positions at any given time than instructors available to fill them. It’s a seller’s market.
What kind of visa is needed to teach English in Japan?
You’ll need an employer-sponsored work visa. These come in one of two forms:
As mentioned previously but worth repeating, one of the biggest advantages of working with a program like Jet or Interac is the institutional visa support provided. Having an experienced local agent working on your behalf to navigate the bureaucratic labyrinth will save you massive amounts of time – not to mention your mental health.
Before you accept a position, always inquire about what type of visa support the employer offers so you don’t brave the immigration paperwork alone.
What’s it like being an English teacher in Japan?
Using gross domestic product (GDP) as the metric, Japan has a highly advanced economy – one of the highest in East Asia and, in fact, the world. Its social services are top-rate.
As a relatively socially regimented society compared to the West, the Japanese are extremely polite and tidy in their habits. Teachers in Japan are held in high esteem. You’ll likely be surprised, if you don’t have experience teaching English in Asia, just how well-respected and well-treated you are.
DaveTrippin made an excellent summary video regarding working as an ESL teacher in Japan:
Here is, perhaps, the hottest Japan ESL tip of all: Before you arrive in Japan, you would be wise to steel yourself for the hard truth that work culture in Japan is notably different than work culture in the West, especially the modern West.
Japanese employers demand a lot of time and effort from their workers. Indeed, Japanese culture is so work-centric that personal identity is very much tied to who the individual works for. When you meet a Japanese person, they’ll likely include their employer in their personal introduction. “I’m Abe, and I work for Toshibi.”
That’s just how things work in Japan (and throughout East Asia). There’s no fighting it. To learn more about navigating sticky cultural issues while working in East Asia, check out my blog post on that topic.
Other Asian countries to teach English
- Teaching English in Thailand
- Teaching English in South Korea
- Teaching English in China
- Teach English in Vietnam
- Teach English in Taiwan
FAQs About Teaching English in Japan
Here are authoritative answers to your most pressing and frequently asked questions regarding Japan ESL work life.
How much do teachers make in Japan?
ESL teachers in Japan make anywhere between $1,700 and $5,000 depending on school type and personal qualifications. The average is $2,500-$3,500.
Can I teach English in Japan without a degree?
Not likely. A degree is a near-universal requirement for Japan. But it’s possible to live in Japan and teach English online with no degree.
How much money do you need monthly to live in Japan?
That depends on the area. In Tokyo, the monthly cost of living is a minimum of $2,000 including rent. In rural areas, the cost of living drops to as low as $1,300/month.