Teaching English in Japan

Country Guides

Japan has one of the lowest scores on international English tests and has taken steps in recent years to improve English language teaching at schools with increased instruction and greater use of native English speaking teachers alongside Japanese teachers in the classroom.

Having said this, jobs are more scarce now than they used to be and in recent years it is becoming harder to find work in the popular cities like Tokyo or Osaka. Jobs can still be found, but you may well have to try harder for them and offer more. Part of the reason is the overall downturn in the economy but also recent problems such as the earthquake in the north.


By law you need a degree to obtain a visa to teach in Japan. A TEFL Certificate will also increase your chances of getting work as there is more competition for work than there was a few years ago. In addition, having a TEFL/TESOL qualification will also entitle you to increased salary at some schools (especially the larger chains).

Some countries have an agreement with Japan which entitles their citizens aged 30 or younger, to a working holiday visa regardless of whether they have a degree or not. Check with your embassy to see if your country is one of those who have undersigned this agreement with Japan.

Having said this, in some cases it is possible to bypass the requirement for a degree. For this, you will need considerable teaching experience and visa sponsorship from your employer.

Speaking Japanese is by no means necessary although it can help you secure a job in some cases. And also being pleasant and well dressed will also make a difference.

Ideally it is best to find work before you go, however often teachers will find work once they are in the country. What often happens in practice is that teachers go to Japan on a 90 day tourist visa then have interviews at different schools (telling immigration you are there as a tourist, of course). Once you have a job the school will help you change your visa to a working one.

Although you can sometimes get the visa in Japan, often it will mean a quick trip out of the country to Singapore‏‎ or Hong Kong (also good for shopping!) and then coming back on the new visa. Sometimes the school will help pay for this. It can take from a couple of weeks to a few months to change the visa.

Pay & Conditions

As well as many smaller schools, there are several major chains of language schools in Japan. There are a high number of Eikawas or “conversation schools” where the emphasis is on conversation classes. However, you will also need a good understanding of grammar‏‎ as traditional language learning is still very common.

You may also be able to find work – especially if you are not fully qualified or have less experience – in a company in-house course. Some large companies offer their employees English lessons as perks; sometimes they will take on English native speakers without qualifications for these positions.

The working week is usually around 30 – 35 hours. Pay is around 250,000 JPY or [currconvert base_curr=”USD” base_amount=”3150″] per month which is enough to live on reasonably well but from this you’ll likely have to pay a lot in accommodation which will begin at about 60,000 JPY or [currconvert base_curr=”USD” base_amount=”750″] per month.

Eating out can be expensive so it pays to manage your money well till you are familiar with costs and expenses.

Private or hourly lessons can pay between [currconvert base_curr=”USD” base_amount=”10″] to [currconvert base_curr=”USD” base_amount=”35″] per hour.

Old hands advise newcomers to bring at least [currconvert base_curr=”USD” base_amount=”5000″] with them as it may be a month before the first paycheck comes in and there are a number of setting up expenses to deal with right at the start of the contract, notably the cost of renting an apartment which, with the deposit, can be about 3 or 4 months’ rent.

Note that unlike many other countries, permanent foreign residents in Japan are not entitled to welfare benefits when they get old and are in need. This should be borne in mind if you are considering remaining in Japan for many years and then retiring there.

Cultural Notes

  • In Japanese society listening and silence is highly regarded and thus students are far less ready to speak as they are in say British or American schools. Thus it can sometimes be difficult to motivate students to talk. Likewise, it is considered impolite to raise your voice and display highly demonstrative behaviour.
  • Greeting is by a slight bow of the head or, when shaking hands, to hold with a light grip and avert the eyes.
  • Avoid hugging or body contact.
  • Do not stare; it is considered rude or intimidating.
  • Do not stand with your hands in your pocket which is considered rude.
  • Keep your mouth closed when yawning or laughing (you can see people covering their mouth when laughing).
  • Blowing your nose in public is considered rude.
  • In general Japanese people tend to be quieter and more reserved than Westerners.

See Also

Japan – JET English Teaching Program

More English Teachers Needed in Japan!

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  1. I

    This is an irresponsibly written article. Not only does it encourage basically illegal action, but it’s not even accurate.

    For a non-Japanese person going to Japan with the intention of working, they need a visa to enter the country. It’s a legal requirement. A tourist visa is usually something automatically given to a tourist, through agreements between Japan and other countries, for the purpose of travel (not for work).

    By going to Japan on a tourist visa, with the intention of finding work, essentially you are lying to the government of Japan. If you enter the country and the Immigration official asks what your purpose is, and you don’t admit that you are there to find work, then you are also lying.

    If you’re not already in Japan with a proper visa, the right way to find a job in Japan is to be offered a job before you go. Japan is a separate country from your country. It’s not like you’re from some town in Oregon and head out to New York to find a job, a city in the same country.

    There are many companies that recruit non-Japanese people that are willing to sponsor a visa. Some of them even have offices outside of Japan and have recruiting events. Many companies, big and small, don’t have any recruiting activities outside of Japan other than advertising, but are still willing to go through the proper procedures to get your visa. It may take time to find a job, but this is the way to go. Another way is that you already work for a company that transfers you to Japan.

    A reputable company will not hire someone who is in Japan on a tourist visa. A small company that doesn’t really care for due procedure may do so. Do you want to work for a company like that? The Immigration office where you apply for a proper visa will also frown upon your application. You will not be a priority being the person who is on a “tourist” visa, yet obviously there to work.

    Going for a “visa run” is also obviously a way of cheating the system. And, no, there are not companies that are going to pay for someone’s trip to South Korea, Thailand, or wherever else. Why would a company risk its reputation to do something which is essentially illegal, and at their own expense? The kind of companies that hire people who do “visa runs” are likely the kind of companies that are there to squeeze every little bit they can get out of their employees.

    Who is this article trying to appeal to? It’s misleading.

    Anyway, I’m not 100% against this type of action, but I think you need to at least make some sort of disclaimer, and need to acknowledge the problems associated with this “advice” as well, for the job-seeker and the other people involved. Overall this article is taking the wrong approach.

    • Pete West

      Thank you for your feedback. Our article is meant as an overview for people who are considering going to Japan to teach. It talks, amongst other things, of how teachers have found work there. It clearly states the legal route but it also discusses shortcuts people have taken. By including this information we do not condone nor encourage any illegal activities – least of all entering the country on false pretences. However, resorting to alternative ways of getting a job as a teacher is not uncommon, and people do it for various reasons. We feel we would do our readers a disservice if we were to deny or hide this information.

      By the way, if you would like to share your experience living and working in Japan as a teacher we would be happy to post your story on our Blog. Let us know!