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Teaching ESL in Japan

Japan is one of the most popular travel destinations in Asia. It ranks among the top ten choices in terms of excellent salaries and benefits for ESL teachers according to reviews on gooverseas.com. Competition for these much sought-after jobs is stiff, but there is a huge demand for English teachers by public, private, and juku (cram) schools, universities, conversational language schools, and corporations. English as a second language is a prerequisite for high school and university level students, and businesses in Japan need employees who have acquired good English language skills to interact on an international level with investment companies and financial institutions. Osaka, Tokyo, Yokohama, and Nagoya, the larger cities in Japan, have the majority of ESL teaching positions available. There are numerous opportunities to teach ESL in Japan whether you prefer the fast paced lifestyle of a city, rural area, or one of the four islands, Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, or Kyushu.

Credentials/Qualifications/Documentation/Hiring Process

Applicants must provide proof of citizenship with a valid passport from the U.S., UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, or Canada. There are exceptions, of course, depending on the employer who may accept citizens from the EU or other countries. A 4-year college degree is a standard requirement to teach at public and conversational language schools, but universities require a postgraduate degree in addition to two years’ teaching experience. Private schools and corporations may have different requirements.

Formal TEFL credentials or CELTA certifications are not always required to teach ESL in Japan (having more uncertified teachers than any other country), but certification will certainly place you higher on the list of competitors. A few schools will accept either ESL certification/or a college degree.

Some schools will take an initial application by email or phone to save on paying for or reimbursing airfare, but personal interviews will always be required before hiring. Obtaining a work visa is the next step in the hiring process, and most employers will cover the costs involved in traveling to and from Japan.

Contracts, usually for one or two years, or longer, begin in April or September. They should specify paid vacation time, holidays, and year end bonuses. Businesses and community type schools may have shorter terms of employment in their contracts.

Work Schedules & Salaries

Japan’s school year is divided into three semesters, Apr-Jul, Sep-Dec, and Jan-Mar, with a 1-2 month’s summer break and a shorter spring break. Public schools require about 30 teaching hours a week, while teaching hours at private language schools are frequently longer and may include evenings and weekends. Although there is not a lot of variation or flexibility in teaching methods at Japanese schools, ESL teachers are given more leeway in classroom instruction. There are generally 25-30 students per class.

The average monthly salary is about $3,000/month, somewhat lower outside major cities, and higher for top level ESL teaching jobs (annual tax rate about 10% of income). Paid vacation time varies, but generally includes 3-4 weeks in August and two weeks in December/January. Teachers are paid for all national holidays and any bonus personal days. In addition to an excellent salary, you can add to it by earning as much as $37/hour and more for tutoring ESL in Japan.

Advantages

Housing or an allowance for it is often provided, and your airfare is either paid for or reimbursed. ESL teachers have access to Japan’s universal health care program; its facilities and doctors considered some of the best in the world. Schools assume part of the cost, some as much as 70%, but you may still need to buy some type of supplemental coverage.

The average cost of living is about $1500-$1800//month, depending on your lifestyle, but most ESL teachers live quite well on the generous salaries in Japan. Average rent outside the city is $500/month for a small 900 sq ft apartment, but one in the city can cost over $900/month and utilities can run as high as $175/month.

Disadvantages (or things to remember)

Transportation, for the most part, is not nearly as reasonable as it is in other Asian countries, South Korea for example, which may limit your options for travel around the country. Even though Japan is known for their high speed rail, you probably will find it uncomfortable and very crowded. Taxis are expensive, and even the cost for a monthly bus pass can be as much as $95. Many ESL teachers buy mopeds, bikes, or even small vehicles, which is more economical in the long run than using public transportation.

Overall, food is not cheap, but it is less expensive if you shop at local markets or buy from street vendors. Eating out is expensive too as compared with South Korea or Taiwan, but comparable to the U.S. and other countries. Although the water is clean, bottled water is definitely suggested for personal use.

If you’re not familiar with the Japanese language, this may be a problem in rural areas, but not so much in the major cities. Language lessons are more available in the cities, as well.

Job Outlook

Although hiring is done year round, the prime months for finding jobs in Japan are January-April. Dave’s ESL Café, eslemployment.com, gooverseas, teachaway, and transitionsabroad are all good sources of information on jobs and living and working conditions. Frequently, you can apply directly to the sponsor/employer online for a specific teaching position. For example, you can apply for a position at the well-known Dean Morgan Academy with locations in the Tokyo districts of Shinjuku, Ginza, and Ikebukuro. Native English speakers are needed to teach part time 32 hours, four days a week. Salary range from $2200/month to $2400/month plus a transportation allowance.

Conclusion

Japan is a safe, fascinating country of worldwide appeal, with historical and religious treasures and a blend of ancient traditions and advanced technology in a modern lifestyle. The opportunity to teach ESL is certainly worth serious consideration whether you have little or no experience, or are highly qualified and seeking a challenging, new adventure. You’ll find most of your students are well mannered and respectful, while at the same time they are highly motivated, intelligent, and eager to learn. Keep in mind that the Japanese people are very structured in their daily lives and more formal in personal and business relationships than you may encounter in other countries. Once you understand their customs, you will gradually adjust to their way of life. Teachinginasia.com has some excellent information on living in Japan. Enjoy the unique culture and many attractions, and use some of your off-duty time traveling to other interesting places such as Bali, Hong Kong, and Thailand. If you’re ready for a different and exciting experience to enhance your teaching career, Japan should be on your priority list.

Sharon L Slayton

June 2013

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