Feature photo by lopesFamily. Photo above by amirjina.

Everything you need to know on securing an English teaching job on the island nation.

Chances are, if you have a college degree and are reading this article, you are qualified to teach English in Japan. A degree in any field, English language fluency, and adaptability are the only qualifications many companies require.

Of course, a teaching certificate, a professional demeanor, and deep reserves of patience won’t hurt either. Because so many people possess the skill set required for teaching jobs in Japan, competition can be stiff. But if you know where to look and know what you’re looking for, your job search can be a success.

Who You’ll Work For

Photo by Alex Halavais.

First, you need to know what jobs are available. If you expect to walk off the plane and into a public high school classroom where you’ll plan your own lessons and develop your own curriculum, think again.

While this does happen, most entry-level jobs for foreigners are for assistant language teachers (or ALTs) at public schools or as conversation teachers at private companies.

There are one-stop programs that will place English speakers in public schools as ALTs, provide working visas, and often even pay for living expenses and transportation to Japan.

If you are looking for a tried and true program, check out JET (the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program), which is run by the Japanese government.

Applications are accepted once a year and the interview process is intensive. It is, however, worth it.

JET pays a decent living wage, provides a nationwide support network for ALTs, and takes care of all paperwork. An equally established, but privately held, ALT placement company is Interac.

Alternatively, many public and private day schools in Japan hire teachers and assistants directly. Look at the links section below to find places where these jobs might be listed.

Day school positions are ideal for those who are already residing in Japan and teachers with quite a bit of experience under their belt. Japanese speaking ability is also a big plus when applying directly with a school.

Then there’s the option of working at an English language conversation school, or eikaiwa. Eikaiwas are geared toward a wide range of students, from preschoolers to retirees.

These jobs are plentiful. Since most students at these schools have day jobs (or day classes), hours tend to be on evenings and weekends. With these positions, you are more likely to teach alone and be responsible for developing your own lesson plans.

For this reason, many companies require a teaching certificate of some kind before they’ll offer you an interview, so look into getting your TESOL or TEFL certification. Unless you go with a big corporation (and even then it’s a good idea), research the eikaiwa company you are applying with thoroughly. I will provide links to a few well-established ones in the next section.

Photo by MShades.

The Hunt

Ok. So you’ve decided on the kind of position you’re gunning for. Now where do you look?

Teaching sites: Check out these websites devoted to teaching English as a second language (ESL):

Japanese Media Sites: Many newspapers and magazines in Japan have up-to-date job listings. These are probably your best resource if you want to apply for a position directly rather than apply with a program like JET:

Eikaiwa Companies: Look for job openings and research companies directly through their websites:

Photo by jrkester.

Know Before You Go

Accepting a teaching job in Japan is not the same as accepting a job in your home country. You have to think about visas and living arrangements thousands of miles away. You have to communicate with people in a foreign language and you have to leave life as you know it behind for the length of your contract term.

For a lot of people, it’s a thrilling prospect. Taking a teaching job in Japan is the chance of a lifetime to completely immerse yourself in a foreign culture. But make sure it’s right for you. Give it a good long think before hopping on a plane. Moving to and living in Japan is not easy for everyone. It wasn’t for me. It is rewarding and life-changing…but it’s not easy.

Ok, ok. You’re sure you want to do it. The next step is research.

Check with your country’s embassy and find out what the visa requirements are for working in Japan. Next, research the company or companies you are applying with. Search the internet for forums by and for English teachers in Japan. (There are more than you think, and users are nothing if not opinionated.) gaijinpot.com and ithinkimlost.com are solid sites.

I would also suggest boning up on Japanese culture. Research business practices and social customs. There are also a number of books available written by former teachers in Japan. Two books written by JET Program alumni are Learning to Bow by Bruce Feiler and Japan Diary: A Year on JET by Eric Sparling.

Photo by Andy Ciordia.

Better Your Chances

Now some tips on how to make your resume stand out when applying for an English teaching job.

  • Get a teaching certificate. There are vacation TESOL courses in southern Thailand. There are online certification courses. There are weekend classes, and there are year-long intensive diploma courses. The options are plentiful for acquiring a teaching certificate. It not only makes you more marketable, but a teaching certificate course will prepare you for the day when you finally step into a classroom full of eager students.
  • Learn Japanese. This is a no-brainer. If you’re moving to a foreign country– any foreign country– the more you know of that country’s language, the better. A move to Japan may seem easy and breezy after your vacation in Tokyo where English signs and English speakers abound. But once you take that job in a tiny rural town in Hokkaido, you’ll wish you had spent more time figuring out how to say “I’d like to turn on the electricity in my apartment, please.”
  • Volunteer tutor. Give back to your community and build job skills at the same time. Volunteer at an after-school program to get a feel of how to work with students. Also, many cities offer opportunities to teach English as a second language to immigrants and refugees. Check out volunteermatch.org to see what is available in your area.

Photo by gwaar.

Finding a teaching job in Japan doesn’t have to be a daunting task …as long as you know what to look for. Remember to do your research and think it through. Good luck, and I’ll see you in school!

Community Connection: For more advice on looking for work in Asia, check out Mike Jones’s “Top 10 Online Resources for Finding a Job in Asia.”