With the strong yen and increasing unemployment around the world, there has been no greater time to come to Japan to teach English. Furthermore, there are abundant entry-level teaching positions available which makes Japan an ideal destination for those who are just getting started in TEFL. There are also plenty of opportunities for mid-career level teachers, and these openings increase the longer you stay in the country.
Teaching positions are available in a variety of working environments, including language schools, primary, secondary and tertiary education, cram schools and large companies who provide classes for their employees. Almost without exception, they hire only native English speakers from the USA, United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and, in some cases, South Africa. Although Japan is very much a male-dominated society, female teachers are just as likely to be hired as their male counterparts and, in the case of young children’s classes, perhaps more likely. However, it should be noted that westerners of Asian descent have been known to face discrimination in the job market, largely due to Japanese stereotypes of what a westerner should look like. If you happen to be blond-haired and blue-eyed, then it’s likely that some schools will be falling over themselves to hire you, regardless of qualifications and/or experience.
In order to teach in Japan, it is necessary to have a university degree for the purposes of obtaining a work visa although, in most cases, the field of study is unimportant. TEFL certificates are not often required, though having one will give you a distinct advantage when applying for the more sought-after jobs and, with some of the larger companies, may even earn you a slightly higher salary. For full-time university positions, a masters degree is usually required. Preference may be given to those whose study area was in a related field, such as English, education or linguistics, but a TEFL certificate and good experience is often an adequate substitute.
For a long time, a salary of ¥250,000 (US$2,765) per month was the legal minimum for full-time foreign English teachers. While this is no longer the case, average salaries continue to be around this mark. In language schools, it is likely that you will work 40 hours per week over 5 days, of which 30 or more hours might be spent teaching. In primary and secondary schools, teaching hours are likely to be much less, however you can still expect a total working week to be around 40 hours. Corporate and university positions offer the most relaxed working schedules, and salaries for full-time positions can be in the range of ¥350,000-¥400,000 (US$3,872-4,425) per month. However, it should be noted that these positions are very highly sought-after, and are normally offered only to those who have spent considerable time teaching in Japan and, in the case of universities, have part-time experience in a Japanese college. These jobs are rarely advertised and it is often the case that out-going teachers recommend a replacement, so networking is extremely important.
The JET Program has been in existence, in it’s present form, since 1987. It is essentially a cultural exchange scheme and one of it’s missions is to hire native speaking university graduates to work as Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) in public schools. Teachers are hired from all of the major English-speaking countries, although more than 50% of ALTs are from the USA. While recruitment has always been highly competitive, the Jet Program has long been considered to be the ideal route to teaching in Japan. No experience is required and salaries at ¥320,000 (US$3,540) per month were above the industry average. JET Program ALTs also enjoyed less teaching hours and longer holidays than most other entry-level teachers.
However, in recent years, budget-cuts have led to an increasing number of education boards to abandon the JET program altogether. While they still have a legal obligation to provide native-speaking English teachers in public schools, many are now recruited indirectly, through third-party intermediaries known as ‘dispatch companies’. While ALTs employed in this manner can expect similar working conditions to their JET Program counterparts, salaries are often 30% lower and often don’t include full health and pensions benefits. They can also expect to receive reduced salaries during the winter and spring vacations and, in many cases, are not paid for the long summer vacation. It should also be noted that many ALTs, regardless of the hiring procedure, are placed in rural areas offering little access to other foreigners. Although this can be a great way to learn the language and experience real Japanese culture first-hand, it can be too isolated for some.
While salaries for English teachers are higher than in most other regions, the cost of living is a concern for many people. In reality, though, it largely depends on your lifestyle. Food prices are certainly higher than those in North America, but teachers from the UK and Ireland will find that the cost of meat and vegetables is quite comparable. Imported goods can be expensive, but those who are able to adapt to Japanese cuisine, shop in supermarkets and cook for themselves will reduce their monthly outgoings considerably. If you’re further willing to limit your spending on entertainment, it is quite possible to save as much as US$1,000 per month on an average salary, even more if the current exchange rate prevails.
However you decide to spend your salary, you can enjoy a good lifestyle in Japan. Japanese cuisine is world-renowned and you can expect to find a variety of exotic seasonal vegetables and just-caught seafood. Although certain cultural exports such as sushi, sake and manga have become increasingly popular the world over, there’s really nothing like trying them first hand in their country of origin. Japan also has a very low crime-rate, making it a particularly safe country for women. However, the usual precautions should be taken, particularly at night, in the major cities. Japanese cities are also extremely clean, in comparison to their size and population. It is a common sight to see shopkeepers and elderly people cleaning streets outside their properties early in the morning.
Japan has a lot to offer from an historical and cultural point of view; you can explore centuries-old temples, shrines and castles; huge fireworks displays throughout the summer; a multitude of ancient festivals, some of which continue long into the night; and take advantage of the vast swathes of countryside outside the cities.
There are great opportunities for foreigners. Many English teachers have gone on to become famous celebrities, rock stars and TV hosts. Learn the language and develop your skills, the very fact that you are a foreigner will open many doors in virtually any industry.
Japan is a great country to open a business. Red tape and bureaucracy will leave you scratching your head, but the tax write-offs and low effective tax rates make this a good place to start your business. Japanese people generally have a large amount of disposable income to pay for high priced products and services and Japanese value quality. Another thing to consider is that, this is not a particularly entrepreneurial country, novel ideas do not typically have much competition; until they become popular, that is, and then you will find a flood of imitators.
Why not weather the economic storm outside of your home country, see the world and maybe even save some money? This is a great time to be in Japan. You can find teaching jobs in Japan and around the world at: YouCanTeachEnglish.com