Thanks to the demand for English education, there are a number of programs and avenues one can go through to come to Japan as an English teacher even for people who have no prior teaching experience.
With higher salaries compared with most of the rest of Asia for English teaching, Japan is an attractive destination for English speakers looking to work in a completely different culture.
The top three ways to move to Japan and teach English in Japan are:
In this article, you’ll find an overview of these three avenues and their requirements and benefits so you can find out how to come to Japan as an English teacher.
All three options in this article usually require a bachelor’s degree, which is mostly necessary for obtaining a working visa. An occasional exception is the Eikaiwa schools who may be willing to sponsor a visa for someone with an equivalent qualification or experience, but this can be difficult to find.
So without further ado, let’s dive right into it!
The JET Program
The JET Program, or the Japan Exchange and Teaching program, is a Japanese government initiative through which English-speaking individuals are recruited and sent to Japan to work in public schools and government offices across the country.
Some of the positions that JET participants (or JETs as they are known) take are Assistant Language teacher in public schools and Coordinator for International Relations in government offices.
The scheme was started in 1987 to promote internationalism in Japan, and it has expanded its recruitment from 4 countries to 57 countries currently. It’s the only government-backed English teacher recruitment program of its kind in Japan, making it more secure and reliable than any other avenue.
The rewards and benefits are very attractive to new graduates and therefore the application for participation is competitive.
Contracts for teachers under the JET program usually last for around 10 months. You work slightly under an American full-time schedule at 35 hours a week Monday through Friday, and these contracts can be renewed depending on your experience.
What are the Requirements for the JET Program?
In order to teach for the JET program, you have to have a bachelor’s degree in any field from an English-speaking institution.
The JET program does not require a TESL or TEFL certification on top of your bachelor’s degree, but having one is beneficial and may help candidates rise above the competition.
Japanese ability is not necessary for the assistant language teacher positions. In fact, there have even been rumours that would-be teachers without any Japanese knowledge are preferred over those to do, with the theory being that the students need to work harder to communicate with teachers with no knowledge of Japanese.
On the other hand, placements in government offices require Japanese to be used and those with some knowledge of the language will be at an advantage.
What are the Benefits of the JET Program?
Salary starts at 2,800,000 yen, around $27,000. Each year you extend the contract, your salary also increases. This is considered decent pay for an entry-level teaching job with no experience or degree in a relevant field.
The JET program also pays for and helps arrange your flights to and from Japan. They’ll assist you with finding housing and airport pickup, as well, making transportation and adjustment easier on teachers.
Finally, the JET program teachers are all covered by four types of insurance:
- National Health Insurance
- Pension Insurance
- Employment Insurance
- JET accident insurance
The Japanese government currently allows temporary residents to claim back up to three years of their pension payments when they leave Japan, so those who do JET for three years receive a nice windfall some months after they return home.
JET program placements are usually in rural areas, so if you are dreaming of a fast-pace life in Tokyo then the JET programme might not be for you.
However, if you can see yourself living in the Japanese countryside then JET can make your dreams come true!
Let’s take a look at another avenue for teaching English in Japan: Eikaiwa, or English Conversation schools.
Eikaiwa School ESL Teaching
Eikaiwa schools are English schools/academies created to support the public English education system.
These schools have been traditionally aimed at enhancing students’ ability to hold conversations in English. The theory behind this is that Japanese people learn English as part of their compulsory education but never have the chance to actually put it into practice.
The Eikaiwa school therefore serves as a place for the practical application of English. It is not uncommon for entire lessons to consist of simply having a conversation, which comes as a surprise to teachers unfamiliar with the concept, but this is exactly what is required — and what the student is paying for — in many cases.
Some of the small and independent Eikaiwas can have a very relaxed atmosphere with very little supervision of the teachers from the management. The larger chain schools usually have a more rigorous approach and teachers can expect to be assessed and coached.
Such schools are private, so they offer different benefits than public school teaching.
Students of Eikaiwa are extremely varied in terms of both age and English ability. I used to go from teaching a three year old toddler to teaching an 80 year old great grandmother every Friday!
What are the Requirements?
Eikaiwa schools are similar to the JET program in that they simply require native English proficiency and a bachelor’s degree in any field. Of course, having a TESL or TEFL certification is beneficial, and knowledge of Japanese will put applicants at an advantage.
There are several well-known Eikaiwa schools which sponsor visas for successful candidates from outsides Japan which we will cover below.
What are the Benefits?
Eikaiwa schools feature higher entry-level salary rates than the JET program, usually. Starting salaries begin at 3,000,000 yen (around $29,000) and increase depending on experience and school status.
They also feature more flexible working hours and holidays than other English teaching positions. Class sizes are also smaller than public schools, so you can give more one-on-one attention to students and class discipline is usually easier to handle for the younger students.
Eikaiwas will also pay for the insurance that you’ll need, including national health insurance, employment insurance, and pension insurance.
Here are some of the big Eikaiwa companies who sponsor work visas.
This is one of the biggest programs in recruiting teachers to Japan. They hire all year round but mostly during the spring season.
This private English offers opportunities of all sorts. There are over 250 branches all over the country, so one could end up teaching anywhere!
This company focuses mainly on one on one language lessons for adults. The program is flexible, and bonuses are also available. Experience in a corporate environment is an advantage for this program
ECC Japan provides placements teaching people ranging from children to adults. The program recruits teachers globally.
Among the over 10,000 Eikaiwa Schools in Japan, there is a large number of smaller schools who in theory have the ability to sponsor visas for teacher, but who might be less willing to take a chance on someone not yet residing in Japan.
University ESL Teaching
Finally, we have teaching English at a University in Japan. These are the most lucrative positions, and usually have tighter requirements for instructors than other types of English teaching jobs.
What are the Requirements?
It will be hard to find a university that will accept candidates with only a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field. Bachelor’s degrees in TESL, English, Education, etc., will serve as an advantage, but having a master’s degree in any of these fields is preferred, and often mandatory. Not only that, but many Universities prefer teachers who already have experience teaching at other Universities or schools.
You can find recruitment sites to post your resume on. These recruitment agencies will help pair you with a school that needs a position filled if your credentials are sufficient. Securing a direct contract is more difficult without a command of the Japanese language.
What are the Benefits?
Out of all the options on this list, University English teaching offers the most benefits.
You’ll start with a decent salary: at least $40,000. Not only that but your working hours will be far less than those at a public school or Eikaiwa school – anywhere from 5-20 hours less per week, with the same or better payments of the insurances covered previously.
You’ll be teaching college-age students, so in theory you can have challenging and fulfilling discussions about the English language with your students!
However, teachers should be prepared for the comparatively relaxed natured of Japanese universities, which often comes as a surprise at first.
Students are required to work extremely hard during high school in order to get into university, and the three to four years of university life is essentially a holiday by comparison.
With simply graduating from a university with a good name usually being enough to secure a job thereafter, many students choose to do the minimum required amount of work to graduate. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but it is very common.
As with the students who have worked and worked to get into them, teaching English at a university in Japan also comes certain level of prestige, especially if you land a job at one of the famous schools such as Waseda, Keio or Tokyo University.
One well-known company which provides placements at many different client universities is Westgate, which has positions including a return flight and starting at JPY 260,000 ($2,500) per month.
New teachers can expect rolling contracts for a year at a time, and contract renewal can be quite worrisome for those in this position. Staffing and funding issues affect the number of positions available and contract extensions are not guaranteed. It is therefore advisable for new teachers to build up a network of connections to turn to in case they end up having to search for a new placement.
Each of the choices on this list comes with its own set of benefits. Whichever you choose, teaching English through any of these avenues is a good way to experience TESL education while being immersed in a new culture.
With plane tickets often paid for, relatively decent salaries paid, and flexible work hours available, teaching English in Japan has never been more popular.
In addition to the official JET Program website and those of the large Eikaiwa schools listed above, Job boards such as GaijinPot and Jobs in Japan are also a good place to start the hunt for your first job. The JIEC Program is also a good place to look for those with a bit of teaching experience who are interested in teaching kindergarten-age kids.
We have outlined above the top 3 avenues which can sponsor your visa to come to Japan. Once you are here with a valid visa, there are many other opportunities to be found including becoming a freelance teacher in Japan.
The JET Program
Teaching English in Japan
An Intro to Japan’s 5 Big ‘Eikaiwa’ Companies
Teaching at a Japanese University
Moving from ALT to University Teacher in Japan