A seriously awesome guide for people who are seriously interested in teaching English in Japan!
Japan’s been a premiere English teaching destination since the early 1990’s. The massive TEFL teaching industry, as we know it today, essentially began in Japan when they started recruiting and employing foreign English teachers ‘on a large scale’.
As you can imagine, learning English in Japan is a BIG deal and there’s a huge demand for foreign English teachers, primarily from native English speaking countries like the US, Canada, UK, Australia and South Africa.
Japan is a preferred teaching destination to many westerners for a number of reasons. The country is a safe place to live, highly organized and ultra modern – even bizarre – in many respects. Where else can you buy live lobster from a vending machine!
The Japanese also have an incredibly rich culture, offering an interesting mix of traditional and modern beliefs. These unique traits make Japan one of the most fascinating countries in the world and a top English teaching destination!
Alright, let’s dig in and get started!
2. ARE YOU ELIGIBLE?
2A. Are you eligible for a Work Visa?
You’ll need to meet these 2 simple requirements in order to qualify for an English teaching work visa with the Japanese Immigration Office. Click the box for details.
And that’s it! Now let’s check the school hiring requirements to see if you qualify for the actual jobs with Japanese employers.
2B. Do you qualify for jobs with schools?
Qualifying for a work visa is different than qualifying for jobs with Japanese employers – which have their own hiring policies. Therefore, you’ll need to meet employer requirements in addition to being a native English speaker with a bachelor’s degree.
2C. Can you acquire the paperwork?
In order to secure a job and acquire your work visa you’ll need to attain a number of documents. These documents will eventually be sent to Japan for processing purposes. All candidates, regardless of their nationality, need to acquire these documents.
If you list teaching credentials on your application you will need to provide documentation to verify them. Related credentials may include;
- Valid teaching license
- Teaching certificate or PGCE
- TEFL or TESOL certification
- Proof of full-time teaching experience
- JET Application Form
- Self-Assessment Medical Form
- Statement of Purpose
- Two Recommendation Letters
- University Transcripts
3. JOB DESCRIPTION
3A. Types of Teaching Jobs in Japan
There are many types of English teaching jobs throughout Japan; schools, private schools (alternative to public school), private language schools for children, private language schools for adults, international schools, after school programs, colleges & universities, corporate offices, English camps and more. However, the large majority of positions (over 80% of jobs available to westerners) fall into one of the following categories: Public Schools or Private Language Schools known as Eikaiwa’s. The truth is jobs with i-schools, universities, etc. simply aren’t attainable to most candidates; the positions are limited and typically require lots of credentials like 2+ years of full-time teaching experience, teaching licenses and PGCE’s or MA degrees in related fields. Therefore, we’re not going to cover these kinds of jobs in this guide. Instead we’ll be focusing on the primary job options (Public & Private Language Schools) where the lions share of opportunities are found.
Public schools are exactly what you’re thinking – government funded schools with standardized curriculum just like public schools in the West. There are 3 types of schools in this sector, public elementary schools, public junior high schools and public high schools.
The Japanese public education system mandates that English be taught as part of the curriculum from fifth grade; the focus is generally on English grammar. Because of this mandate many teaching jobs are available at the junior high schools, although some elementary schools and high schools also employ native English teachers. We’ll explain how you can apply and secure public school jobs in the following sections!
PRIVATE LANGUAGE SCHOOLS (a.k.a. EIKAIWA’S)
Eikaiwa’s are for profit businesses and their business is English education. In order to attend these schools students pay tuition on a month by month or semester basis. If we told you the industry was huge it would be an understatement – literally! Japanese parents spend billions of dollars on private education every year and there are tens of thousands of registered Eikaiwa’s littered across every Japanese city and prefecture!
Eikaiwa’s constitute the majority of teaching jobs in Japan!
The quality of private language schools vary! Most Eikaiwa’s are decent offering comfortable working conditions, some are totally amazing with excellent conditions while others are sub-par and will likely make you want to switch employers after a few months on the job. Eikaiwa’s are usually franchises, similar to McDonald’s or Subway but specializing in English education instead of fast food. GEOS, ECC, Aeon, and Berlitz are the most prominent Eikaiwa franchises and constitute 24% of the market in Japan. Smaller franchises and independent schools make up the remaining 76% of the industry.
3B. Public & Private School Differences
Although both sectors are comparable in many ways there are a few key differences worth noting.
Number of western teachers at the school: Public schools typically employ one foreign teacher only whereas Eikaiwa’s employ numerous foreign staff. The number of foreign teachers at a private language school differs, some have 5 or less and others have 20 or more. If you’re keen on having a support network with fellow Americans, Canadians, Brits, etc. then pursuing jobs in the private sector is probably more appealing.
Co-teaching: Foreign teachers working in the public school system are referred to as ALT’s (Assistant Language Teachers). The name says it all – the foreign eacher is there to ‘assist’ the Japanese homeroom teacher. The homeroom teacher is responsible for allocating duties to the ALT but both parties work in unison and share mutual responsibility for lesson planning, class management, homework, testing and teaching. It’s also worth pointing out that ‘classroom responsibilities’ of an ALT differs from school to school. Some homeroom teachers expect their ALT to take a leading role during classes while others prefer to limit the ALT’s responsibilities. Private school teachers are on their own, meaning, they manage all aspects of the classes they teach independently. This may seem like a big responsibility – it is – however, private schools only have 5-12 students per class (public schools have 30+) so preparation and classroom management is substantially easier. Furthermore, Eikaiwa’s separate students based on their level of English which makes things less challenging.
Location: The JET Program does not confirm job location until the candidate has been approved and accepted a position. This means you could end up in downtown Tokyo or somewhere completely rural…it’s a total unknown. Basically you’re applying to a program, not a specific school, and it’s at the discretion of the program to determine where you’re needed.
Locations with private schools are handled differently because you’re applying to specific schools, not a program. Therefore, you can pursue particular locations; an advantage if you want to work somewhere specific.
3C. How Much Can You Earn and Save?
As a first time teacher with limited qualifications you can expect to earn around 240,000 Japanese Yen per month which is the USD equivalent of $2200. Unfortunately it’s difficult to answer the ‘saving’ part of this question. Someone living in Toyko or Osaka for example, will find it harder to save than someone living in a smaller city where the cost of living is lower. Likewise, it’s easy to burn through paychecks in the big cities where eating out and sprawling entertainment districts are difficult to avoid. However, it’s fair to say that westerners in the big cities are able to supplement their incomes easily through private tutoring, something that’s possible in smaller cities as well but harder to organize. Getting back to the savings question; saving 50,000 – 60,000 ¥ each month (around $500 USD) is a reasonable expectation to have.
4. HOW TO LAND A JOB
4A. Recruiters, Job Boards, JET Program, Eikawa Hiring Departments and Referrals
Recruiting Agencies are popular ‘job fillers’ for Japanese private language schools and a go-to option for many people looking for paid teaching gigs. A recruiter serves two parties; the customer (per-se) which is people like you, the teacher candidate, and the schools which are basically their clients. Ultimately recruiting agencies are playing match maker by matching candidates who are searching for jobs with schools that are searching for teachers. The benefit of using a recruiter is pretty straight forward, they collect a fee whenever they place a new teacher. This means they have a personal interest in assisting you, because their incentive is getting paid! They’ll also help you navigate obstacles during the job and visa process which is a plus.
Note: Some recruiters also deal with public school positions in different capacities. Certain agencies recruit candidates directly for the JET Program, explained on the following pages, others recruit candidates for individual public schools that prefer to hire teachers independently – without JET assistance.
The downside to recruiting companies (and individual recruiting agents) is that they aren’t equal and what you get in terms of support, assistance and job offers, will vary. If you decide to use a recruiter, which you should definitely take advantage of, make sure they have a good track record and have been in business for a few years, at least. The last thing you want is a fly by night recruiter who ends up disappearing (yes it happens in this industry) mid-way through your job or visa application.
We’ve included a list of reputable recruiting companies to consider (end of this document), in case you’re interested.
JOB BOARDS are another way to hunt for jobs in Japan. There are 2 ways to utilize a job board; post your profile along with your employment preferences and wait for recruiters or schools to present you with opportunities. Or browse the active job listings and apply to the listings you’re interested in. The downside to using job boards is that your personal information is totally public (assuming you post your profile) so you’ll end up getting contacted by a lot of dodgy recruiters and employers. If you don’t mind filtering through all the noise, using a job board will likely do the trick, if not, stick with a small group of hand selected recruiters or consider the next option with JET.
JET – Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program – is the government program that’s responsible for processing and allocating successful applicants to the different Education Boards in all 47 Japanese prefectures. To be clear, JET is not a recruiting agency, furthermore JET employees do not have an incentive for helping you land a job. Their primary objectives are: 1) Conducting ‘quality control’ on candidates to ensure the public schools get the best teachers possible. 2) Ensuring there are enough quality candidates to fill vacant positions.
If you’re primarily interested in pursuing public school jobs then you’re best bet is to go through your respective JET application channel – there are specific JET Program websites for Americans, Canadians, Brits, etc. We included the official links in the resources section. The alternative way to pursue public school jobs is through a recruiter that works with specific public schools or Education Boards outside of the JET Program. These options are rather limited though so going straight to the primary source – JET – is recommended.
Private Language School (Eikaiwa’s) Hiring Departments: As mentioned earlier, the majority of Eikaiwa schools in Japan are franchises. Every franchise has a head office and many of those offices operate an in-house foreign teacher hiring department. These hiring departments are in place to help school franchises fill their foreign teaching staff needs. Basically, many private schools are too busy, or lack the necessary resources, to hire foreign teachers independently so they use the hiring department of their respective franchise instead. Applying to the hiring departments of Eikaiwa franchises is a relatively simple process – you visit their site, complete the online form, attach the necessary application materials and wait for a response. If your application clears the initial screening stage you can expect someone to guide you through the remainder of the job and visa process. It’s very similar to using a recruiter!
The final way to job hunt is by REFERRAL or WORD OF MOUTH. Unfortunately this scenario only works if you have a trust worthy contact with someone who is currently teaching in Japan. If you have a reliable source that’s willing to introduce you to a reputable school then it’s definitely worth pursuing as long as you’re interested in the student age groups and location of the school. Keep in mind, you’ll still need to be approved for a position by the school.
4B. When You Need To Begin Applying
Public Schools: The JET Program separates incoming teachers into three different groups (group A, B, and C) and each group has a different arrival date. Typically, group A will be expected to depart for Japan in mid July, group B in late July and group C in mid August. JET also ‘short-lists’ a smaller group of teachers for early placements. These teachers typically depart in April or May.
JET begins to accept new applications in September of the previous year, meaning, if you want to start a public school teaching contract in the summer of 2019 you would need to begin the application process sometime in September of 2018. The application deadline is typically late November or early December. To be safe, it’s best to have your application submitted by the end of October – at the latest.
Private Language Schools: Unlike public schools, jobs in the private school sector hire new teachers year round – literally. Generally speaking there are more job vacancies in this sector during the spring and fall months, however, finding quality opportunities in the summer and winter is relatively easy. Most Eikawa’s will post new job openings 3-5 months in advance, therefore, you should plan to apply around this time frame.
4C. How To Prepare – Top Tips & Advice
RESUME – The resume you send to schools and recruiters is very important. Both parties (schools and recruiters) will automatically make assumptions about you (it’s inevitable) based on this document. Before you send your resume out, make sure it’s up-to-date, formatted in a way that’s easy to read (Japanese aren’t native English speakers) and highlight any teaching related experience you have. Teaching, tutoring, mentoring and coaching (paid or volunteer gigs) are all relevant so make a clear section at the top of your resume that says ‘WORK RELATED EXPERIENCE’.
PHOTOS – Make sure you look your best in the photo you decide to use. Your photo should say ‘friendly and professional’ (metaphorically speaking) to potential employers.
TEACHING CREDENTIALS – Unless you majored in education at university, have a valid teaching license, or you have a full year of English teaching experience under your belt you’ll likely need to get TEFL certified in order to make your application competitive. TEFL certifications aren’t mandatory for teaching in Japan but jobs are still competitive and employers obviously prefer candidates who have a basic understanding of English teaching fundamentals. In short, having a TEFL certification on your resume will make you’re application more appealing to recruiters and schools.
SCHOOL INTERVIEWS – If your resume, photo and credentials are very important, which they are, then interviews are paramount! You’ll need to impress during your interview(s) otherwise you won’t receive offers, it’s as simple as that! Preparing for your interview in advance is an important part of the process. Ultimately Japanese employers are looking for candidates who will be able to adapt to Japanese culture and control a classroom filled with students, therefore, it’s key to demonstrate clear and confident speaking skills in a friendly but professional manner. FYI: Most interviews are conducted via Skype with video, make sure you look your best when conducting video interviews. Check our ‘The Only Way To Prepare For English Teaching Interviews’ guide, it may save your life!
ONE JET APPLICATION – You can only submit a single application for public school jobs through JET once per hiring session.
NO LIMIT ON PRIVATE SCHOOLS – There is no limit on how many private schools you apply with. Similarly, there is no limit on the number of recruiters you work with for private schools. However, don’t overdo it because many recruiters work together and/or have the same clients (schools generally work with multiple recruiting agencies in order to draw from a bigger pool of candidates) and if they know you applied with 10 other agencies they’re not going to spend much time working with you. Our advice, start off by applying with 2-3 agencies. If things aren’t working out then apply to a few more.
AVOID ‘PROGRAMS’ THAT REQUIRE FEES – By all means, avoid companies that promote teaching jobs as ‘teach in Japan programs’ that require some type of fee. Businesses that require fees for helping you land a job are complete nonsense and a waste of time and money.
DON’T GET DISCOURAGED – Failing an interview is totally normal and part of the process so don’t stress it, seriously! It’s important to remember that most schools are interviewing multiple candidates for each job opening but they can only offer 1 job to 1 person. Failing doesn’t mean the school thinks you’re a poor candidate, it just means they felt one of the other candidates was a better fit. Who knows, maybe you’re a boy but the school wanted a girl teacher this time, maybe you’re an Aussie but the school preferred someone with an American accent, etc. There are countless reasons for failing an interview but again, it’s totally normal so learn from it and move on to the next one.
4D. Job & Visa Process – Start to Finish!
A) PREPARE YOUR RESUME & PHOTO
Update your resume so it’s tailored for teaching English as a second language and choose a good photo that says I’m friendly & professional. Reference letters may also be needed depending on the kind of jobs you pursue. Now’s the time to start thinking about potential sources.
B) BEGIN ORGANIZING YOUR VISA DOCUMENTS (to apply for your work visa later on)
Acquiring your criminal record check, notarizations, sealed transcripts and other documents isn’t complicated but it does take time. Determine how much time you’ll need.
5. MAKE IT HAPPEN
To make this happen you need to stop thinking and start doing! Becoming a teacher in Japan is not that complicated, 1000’s of people just like you do it every year. If you have a TEFL certification or you majored in education then you’re already good to go for the majority of jobs in Japan. If not why not kick start your overseas teaching aspirations by starting a TEFL course. Not only will it qualify you for many of the jobs and prepare you for the role, it will literally get you motivated and itching to go!
5A. Get TEFL Certified
Is having a TEFL certification necessary for teaching at a Japanese Public School? It actually depends on your other credentials. We’ll explain. Being TEFL certified is NOT a mandatory JET Program requirement; anyone who meets the minimum English speaking prerequisite and has a university degree is welcome to apply. However, ‘welcome to apply’ and having your application approved are completely different things. JET is a very popular program and they receive far more applications than the number of job contracts available, it’s competitive. JET filters through applicants based on different criteria – obviously – and teaching credentials are one of the important criterion they look at.
In summary, if you have no prior teaching experience and graduated with a major in an unrelated field (something other than education, linguistics, etc.) then you’ll most likely need to get TEFL certified in order to make your application more competitive.
What about Private Schools (Eikaiwa’s)? Is TEFL necessary for teaching jobs in this sector? Each private school has their own set of hiring requirements. It’s safe to say, some private schools hire candidates without TEFL, although they obviously prefer candidates who have it. Basically, it’s not mandatory for all schools in this sector but it’s definitely advantageous because it will qualify you for more/better opportunities.
FYI: Having a TEFL qualification is pretty standard for landing jobs with schools in the big cities like Tokyo where competition is higher.
Are there any TEFL requirements, such as number of course hours, or am I free to choose any TEFL course I want?
You’re free to choose any online, in-class or combination course you want – obviously – just make sure the course you decide to go with meets these simple criterion.
- The course should be accredited
- The course should consist of 100 hours or more (courses under 100hrs are not viewed as a credentials by most employers in Japan)
Online TEFL Courses
Combined TEFL Courses
JOB RESOURCES FOR TEACHING IN JAPAN
JET Program website for American candidates – jetprogramusa.org
JET Programme website for Canadian candidates – jetprogramme.ca
Eikaiwa (Private School) Hiring Offices
Thanks for reading, we hope it was useful!
Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions about teaching in Japan or TEFL certification.