Think you have an idea of what it’s like to teach English in Japan? Think again! Japan is one of those TEFL destinations that can leave expats stumped. Many TEFL travellers head out to the land of the rising sun expecting gob-smacking technology, futuristic experiences, and robots on every corner. But, while the neon streets of Tokyo might deliver this stereotype to some extent, there’s so much more for teachers to discover in this country soaked in history, tradition, culture and natural beauty.
From the first steps you take in Japan, you’ll find yourself rooted in the country’s rich history, scenic landscapes and undeniably forward-thinking culture; but the demand for English teachers remains high.
In 2020, Japan ranked 53rd in the world for English proficiency, something the nation is keen to address. Therefore, there’s never been a better time to teach English in Japan. Whether you’re taking your first steps towards attaining a TEFL qualification or you’re already narrowing down your list of countries to teach in, you’ll find everything you need to know in our Teach English in Japan Ultimate Guide.
Japan: An Overview
Japan’s exquisite blend of old and new gives Japan an enduring appeal to both the newbie and seasoned TEFL teacher. Despite the bustling modern cities, Japan isn’t necessarily cosmopolitan as a whole, and while children now learn English in school, it’s not a place where proficiency is high. As such, there is a good demand for new faces to teach English in Japan and you can find work all over the country. Teaching English abroad is increasingly popular, but especially so in Japan.
Teaching jobs vary greatly, from assistant language teachers roles where you might feel a like little more than a human CD to accompany the textbook, to independent kindergartens and bilingual schools where you’ll have the freedom to strive for academic excellence.
There’s a strong market for teaching business English to adults, and children’s classes are booming, even lessons for babies – no, seriously. As such, there are teaching jobs available for everyone, and career prospects for any English teacher look good. So, wherever you’re at on your TEFL journey, if teaching abroad in Japan appeals, you’ll find it easy to take your next step.
Let’s take a quick glance at the need-to-know information if you’re considering making the move to teach English in Japan:
- The most popular locations for TEFL jobs in Japan are Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Fukuoka, Nagoya, Yokohama, Nagasaki, Sapporo, and Sendai.
- Salaries for EFL teachers in Japan will vary depending on location and experience but on average, English teachers can expect schools to provide teachers a basic monthly salary for full-time positions in the region of 220,000 – 280,000 Yen (£1,600 – £2,000 / $2,100 – $2,675) per month, with 250,000 Yen (£1,820 / $2,390) being a common rate. However, international schools may pay as much as 600,000 Yen (£4,360 / $5,730) per month. Those looking to add some freelance classes or part-time work can expect to make between 2,000 Yen (£14 / $19) per hour, up to 6,000 Yen (£44 / $57) per hour.
- Like other popular TEFL countries, many schools in Japan will also offer flight reimbursement, performance bonuses and accommodation as part of a salary package.
- To teach English in Japan, you must have a bachelor’s degree and TEFL certification with a minimum of 120 hours completed. These are required to obtain a work visa. However, if you don’t have a degree, it may be possible to teach on a working holiday visa, student visa, spouse visa or a Japanese visa.
- Previous teaching experience isn’t required to teach English in Japan. However, any prior experience can be useful when applying to higher-paying roles.
- The maximum age for a teaching position in Japan is 65
- The academic year in Japan starts in April, with the first term running until July. After the summer holiday, the second term starts in September and runs until Christmas. The final term runs from January until late March.
- Teaching opportunities in Japan range from language schools or eikaiwa to the government-backed JET Program, public schools to bilingual kindergartens, universities to freelance tutoring and business English classes for adults.
- In Japan, you’ll be paid in Yen (￥)
- Japanese is the most widely-spoken language of Japan, with the Toyko dialect considered standard Japanese. In a 2020 report, it was estimated that less than 30% of the population speak English, with just 2% having fluent English. Try to learn a few phrases before you go – a polite onegai shimasu (please) and arigato (thank you) are good places to start!
Requirements for Teaching English in Japan
Like anywhere, there are specific things ESL teachers will need before they make Japan their home country, whether it’s teaching children, teaching adults, or both!
Whether it’s working in a private school, partaking in a teaching program or working in one of Japan’s high schools, there are things you need to know before you make the trip.
Let’s break down what you’ll need to know before venturing to the land of the rising sun.
No question, if you’re looking to land teaching placements in Japan, the best way to go about it is with a TEFL certification. English teachers new and old will surely agree that wherever you go, teaching abroad is far easier having a TEFL certification to hand.
You don’t need a master’s degree to teach English in Japan, and most schools will accept teachers even without a great deal of experience. However, a TEFL certification is crucial, with at least 120 hours of study completed. Even if you do hold a degree, TEFL certification will give you an undoubted edge when it comes to job options, and landing a competitive salary.
There’s high demand for ESL teachers in Japan, and plenty of students need teachers, but not at any cost. TEFL certification will, in Japan or anyone else, provide demonstrable proof to schools that you have the skills for a job teaching English.
Teaching English in Japan without a degree
Can you teach English in Japan without a degree? The short answer is yes, but your options will be limited and you’re unlikely to find yourself working full-time.
As we mentioned earlier, the legal requirement from the Japanese government for a work visa is a bachelor’s degree. This means that, for those without one, this isn’t an option. But don’t give up just yet – there are several workarounds for those who hope to teach English in Japan without a degree.
The most popular option for those without a degree is the Working Holiday Visa for Japan. The main reason for this type of visa is as the name suggests – to allow people from specified partner countries to have a holiday in Japan, using part-time work in the country to fund their travels.
You’ll need to be aged between 18-30 to apply for a Working Holiday Visa, be able to prove ti to the Japanese government that you can support yourself financially when you initially arrive or show you have a return ticket out of the country. If this sounds interesting, we take a more detailed look at the requirements for Working Holiday Visas later on in this guide to teaching English in Japan.
If you don’t qualify for a Working Holiday Visa, there are three less common options that allow you to teach English in Japan without a degree. Firstly, it is possible to teach part-time if you are studying for your degree in Japan, with options to learn in either English or Japanese.
Secondly, if you are married to a Japanese citizen, you will have the right to work on a spousal visa. Finally, if you have a Japanese passport and Japanese citizenship, you will be able to work as an English teacher, even without a degree – although this is the least likely option as it requires at least five years of living in Japan to obtain naturalisation.
Teaching English in Japan with no experience
Wondering if you can teach English in Japan with no experience? The good news is that (unlike those looking to teach without a degree) teaching without experience in Japan is actually relatively easy for ESL teachers.
With such a large population and high demand for English teachers, there’s always a wide range of job opportunities available for all levels of experience. Even a brand new TEFL teacher should be able to find a job teaching children or adult learners in Japan without too much difficulty. Of course, those just starting out might need to work a bit harder to land a well-paid position or get their CV to the top of the pile.
A TEFL certificate with a minimum of 120 hours will almost always be required in place of experience. For those wanting to give their CV a boost – especially non-native English speakers – and those without any experience, it’s worth considering a Level 5 course or Advanced TEFL. These can provide you with the confidence and skills you need to have a fighting chance against other, more experienced teachers.
If you’re starting to apply for teaching jobs in Japan and don’t have any prior experience, you may want to look into positions at smaller, private language institutes and rural schools. These are likely to be less competitive than roles at popular international schools in large cities, where more people want to work. No question, though – there are plenty of students and the high demand means that a lack of experience won’t bar you from ESL jobs.
Visas for teaching jobs in Japan
The most common route to becoming an English teacher in Japan is to obtain a work visa. There are two types of work visas that TEFL teachers can receive, with each allowing you to work in a different educational setting. These are known as the Instructor Visa and the Specialist in Humanities Visa.
If you have received a job offer from a public education institution, like an elementary or high school, you’ll likely be granted an Instructor Visa. On the other hand, if you’re going to work for a company that teaches business English or teach at a private language school, you’ll most likely be given a Specialist in Humanities Visa.
The requirements and process to get one of these two visas for teaching jobs in Japan are essentially the same.
To apply for a work visa you’ll need the following:
When it comes to the actual application, you’ll need a valid passport, a completed visa application form from the Japanese Embassy website, a job offer and a Certificate of Eligibility from your school or employer, to be in physically good health, several passport photos and to show proof of some savings for starter costs in Japan.
- A bachelor’s degree (in any subject)
- Maximum age of 65
- A clean criminal background check
- 120-hour TEFL course (preferred)
- Passport from U.S., U.K., Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa (preferred)
- Prior teaching experience and/or a degree in English/education (preferred)
Working Holiday Visa
If you’re applying for Japan’s Working Holiday Visa instead of a Working Visa, you’ll need the following:
Unlike some other countries, it is possible to travel to Japan and find a job as an English teacher when you are already there, although many teachers prefer to have their work organised before they leave their home countries.
If you do arrive to teach English in Japan on a tourist visa and are later offered a job, your employer will need to sponsor you and ask the government for an Application for Change of Status of Residence form. This isn’t too difficult but can sometimes be time-consuming, meaning you may need to leave and re-enter Japan if your 90-day tourist visa runs out before your new work visa arrives.
- Be between 18 and 30.
- Possess a passport from a partner country including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Korea, France, Germany, UK, Ireland, Denmark, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Norway, Portugal, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Iceland, Czech Republic and Lithuania.
- Have not received a working holiday visa from Japan in the past.
- Be able to show either £2,500 in cleared funds or £1,500 and a return ticket
It is illegal to work as an English teacher in Japan without the correct visa. Those who do decide to risk it face serious consequences, including deportation and barring.
Find out more through our guide to becoming an English Teacher in Japan
Teach English in Japan: Salary and Cost of Living
Wondering how much English teachers make in Japan or what the cost of living is like? We’ve got you covered!
Japan has a reputation for being an expensive place to live and, while it’s certainly true of Tokyo and other big cities – where even a working couple can struggle to afford more than a rented room with a shared kitchen – those willing to look outside of the capital will find Japan immensely affordable. Some of the large chain schools will pay the same salary whichever branch you work at, which means on ‘Tokyo wages’ in a small city or town, you can live like a king!
Read on to find out more about what to expect from salaries and the cost of living in Japan:
How much can you make teaching English in Japan?
If you’re teaching English in Japan, you can expect a basic monthly salary for full-time positions to be in the region of 220,000 – 280,000 Yen (£1,600 – £2,000 / $2,100 – $2,675) per month, with 250,000 Yen (£1,820 / $2,390) being a common average salary for English teachers.
However, the amount you can make as an ESL teacher in Japan will depend on where you live, what kind of institute you teach at and what previous experience you have to offer. For example, if you work at an international school, it’s possible to earn as much as 600,000 Yen (£4,360 / $5,730) per month.
In Japan, it’s also very common for English teachers to take on part-time or freelance work alongside their main job. Those looking to earn a little extra from tutoring can expect to charge between 2,000 Yen (£14 / $19) per hour, up to 6,000 Yen (£44 / $57) per hour.
Don’t forget, a salary isn’t the only perk of teaching abroad in a Japanese school. Many schools or employers will add other incentives to a salary package, including things like flight reimbursement, bonuses, and housing stipend, and can even cover commuting costs to and from work.
How much does it cost to live in Japan?
While it might be known as an expensive country, the reality is that living costs in Japan will largely depend on where you are based and your lifestyle choices. It should go without saying that living in the centre of Tokyo or Kyoto, shopping at designer stores and eating or drinking at expensive bars every weekend will eat into even a generous salary. In contrast, working in the countryside on a good salary and living like a local means you’ll be able to live well and save.
Take a look at the table below to get a better idea of the average living costs in Japan:
|Country||Avg. monthly salary||Degree required||Start of term||Teaching experience||Housing & flights included||Suitable for non-native English speakers||Age restrictions|
|Teach in Japan||£1,600 – £2,000
($2,100 – $2,675)
|YEN (¥)||USD ($)||GBP (£)|
|Inexpensive restaurant meal||900.00||7.86||5.80|
|Domestic beer (0.5 litre)||425.00||3.71||2.74|
|Water (0.33 litre)||108.84||0.95||0.70|
|YEN (¥)||USD ($)||GBP (£)|
|Regular milk (1 litre)||192.66||1.68||1.24|
|Loaf of white bread||215.12||1.88||1.39|
|Regular eggs (1 dozen)||237.68||2.08||1.53|
|Apples (1 kg)||691.50||6.04||4.45|
|YEN (¥)||USD ($)||GBP (£)|
|One-way ticket (local transport)||220.00||1.92||1.42|
|Monthly pass (regular price)||10,000.00||87.32||64.43|
|Taxi start (normal tariff)||640.00||5.59||4.12|
|Gasoline (1 litre)||149.04||1.30||0.96|
|YEN (¥)||USD ($)||GBP (£)|
|Electricity, heating, cooling, water, and garbage (for a regular apartment)||22,166.22||193.55||142.81|
|Regular prepaid mobile tariff (per minute, local without discounts)||35.71||0.31||0.23|
|Internet (60 Mbps, unlimited data, cable/ADSL)||4,737.81||41.37||30.52|
|Clothing and Shoes||Cost|
|YEN (¥)||USD ($)||GBP (£)|
|Pair of jeans (Levis 501 or something similar)||6374.99||55.66||41.07|
|Summer dress in a chain store||4,381.87||38.26||28.23|
|Nike running shoes (mid-range)||8,132.48||71.01||52.39|
|Men’s leather business shoes||12,103.51||105.68||77.98|
Knowing where to go makes a big difference too – buy fruit, veg, meat, and fish from local markets and you’ll grab a great deal, and head to supermarkets after eight o’clock at night and you’ll grab some bargains. When eating out, look out for amazing lunch deals, which are often half the price of dinner menus, and choose budget ‘family restaurants’ to make your money go further. When you’re shopping savvy in Japan, you can save a large chunk of your wages each month.
If you commute every day transport prices can stack up, but many employers will pay for your travel card. If you live somewhere with a city tram these are often very cheap to take, as are local train lines – it’s just when you get the subway frequently or travel by bullet train that prices rocket. Renting is hugely expensive in Tokyo, but in smaller cities, it’s really quite affordable, with good deals to be found on the outskirts of busy areas. It’s worth noting that – especially in places like Tokyo with a population of 37 million – space is something of a commodity and you’re unlikely to find a roomy apartment!
English teaching jobs in Japan
Wondering what it’s really like teaching English in Japan? For starters, the stereotypes about the students in Japanese culture are generally true. Your typical Japanese student will be shy, quiet, modest about their ability, good at reading and writing but reluctant to speak, and reserved when it comes to voicing their opinions.
Teaching kids can be a lot of fun, but adult classes can be a struggle if the students aren’t willing to talk! However, you always get students who buck the trend, and a lot can depend on class dynamics. Japanese students expect their teachers to be formal, respectful, professional, and to support their learning without pushing them too hard. English teachers teaching abroad will have respectful students willing to listen, in response.
Japan is full of unusual teaching gigs that probably seem a bit odd compared to your prior teaching experience. You might get offered work teaching English to employees in a bar so that they can attract foreign clients. You may be offered a short gig teaching Christmas carols to kids in a non-bilingual kindergarten, just so they can perform them at the Christmas talent show. Your private language school might run ‘parent and baby classes’ where you’re teaching someone who can’t even speak Japanese yet.
The best thing to do when faced with this sort of lesson is to laugh it off and go with the flow – it’s just part of the job. Either way, you’re teaching English in Japan.
Let’s look at a few of the most common types of teaching jobs in Japan below:
Private language schools
Working at a private language school in Japan is where most new TEFL teachers in the country will start. You might be teaching full-time at one of the big international schools or part-time during evenings and weekends at an ekaiwa.
Teachers at private language schools in Japan can expect to work around between 12-30 hours per week, depending on whether they are full-time or part-time. Classes will usually start between 10am to 1pm and last until 6pm or 10pm, five days per week, typically including the weekends.
There are numerous chain companies that hire across the country, and with all materials provided, it’s a great choice for new teachers. A job at one of these schools will most likely include flight reimbursement, health insurance, pension, social insurance, and local travel reimbursement. Some also provide accommodation (at a cost) or can assist in finding somewhere to rent. At an international school, it’s possible to earn as much as 600,000 Yen (£4,360 / $5,730) per month.
If you want to see the latest English teaching jobs in Japan, don’t forget to visit The TEFL Org Jobs Centre. You can also see the highest-rated bilingual or international schools in Tokyo by visiting the Good School Guide.
English teaching programmes in Japan
Nervous about teaching English in Japan for the first time? The JET programme might be the perfect place to start. JET allows participants to live and work in Japan as a teaching assistant at a public school but with extra support and training throughout the contract.
Established in 1987 with the aim of improving language learning and promoting cultural exchange in Japanese schools, the programme has seen more than 4000 graduates take part. The government-run Japan Exchange and Teaching programme is aimed at recent university graduates with a keen interest in Japan.
There are three main roles that potential teachers can apply for within the JET programme:
- ALT (Assistant Language Teacher)
- CIR (Coordinator for International Relations)
- SEA (Sports Exchange Advisors)
ALT positions are the most common, where you’ll work alongside a Japanese English teacher. For new TEFL teachers, this can be a great way to ease yourself into teaching, without the daunting thought of being left to deal with a large class of students all on your own!
You’ll usually be involved in preparing teaching materials and may be expected to work between a few different schools in the same area (which is why a drivers license is sometimes required for these roles)
ALT’s working in the JET programme can expect a good salary package, which will most likely include a 36 million yen annual salary (£24,000 / $31,500), help with accommodation and flights and paid annual leave of between 10-20 days.
To be accepted into the JET programme, applicants must be able to show that they have:
- A bachelor’s degree (in any subject)
- Be a passport holder from a participating country
- Have a genuine interest in learning about Japan
- Have lived in Japan for no more than 6 years in the past decade
Teaching English in Tokyo
Thinking about teaching English in Tokyo? Good choice! If you can cope with the hustle and bustle (Tokyo is, after all, the world’s largest city and home to an incredible 37.2 million people) you’ll discover an addictive mix of a futuristic metropolis and traditional old town.
Backstreets hide incense-swirled temples and beautiful gardens while the neon centre delivers a non-stop dose of future-focused fashion, technology and food. Nightlife dazzles in a range of after-dark adventures, from hidden whisky bars to late-night galleries. Meanwhile, those wanting to escape the city’s endless beat for a day or two will find the nearby tranquil countryside within easy reach. Japanese culture is the envy of the wider world, and it’s little surprise as to why.
Teaching English in Tokyo can be a life-changing experience. Many new teachers arrive with a job teaching English already in place, although it is possible to find teaching work once you get to Tokyo. Most TEFL teachers will find themselves at a private language school or eikaiwa, but with such a huge population, it goes without saying that job opportunities are as vast and varied as you might imagine! Whether you want to teach business English, young learners or teens, or tutor privately, Tokyo is an ideal place to find a job as a TEFL teacher, and muster some priceless teaching experience along the way.
Salaries in the city are obviously higher than in other parts of the country, but it’s worth weighing up the fact that Tokyo was ranked as the 4th most expensive city in the world for expats in 2021. If you’re hoping to live cheap and save money, Tokyo is likely to disappoint. However, if you’re looking for a good enough salary to live and enjoy life on, the magic of chaotic Tokyo might just be for you!
For more information, check out our guide to Teach English in Tokyo
TEFL Org Teacher Story
Want to know what it’s really like living and working in Japan? The best way to find out is to hear directly from those who’ve experienced it for themselves. Here’s what Ursula – one of our TEFL Org graduate teachers – had to say about her experience of teaching in Japan.
“When I arrived at my apartment, I found I was staying next to two teachers who worked at the same company as me. Often teachers that are hired from overseas get accommodation organised for them to lessen the stress of finding a place. Teachers got the choice of either a small single apartment or a share house. A sharehouse is a kind of dormitory for adults. All sorts of people live there, from foreigners to students, to office workers.
“The guy in the room next door knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to go to dinner. I was so tired from the flight that I nearly walked into the glass screen in front of the restaurant. But we talked and laughed, and I realised I was in my new home.
“Still, that first night I lay in bed and honestly thought: what have I done? I was out of my comfort zone and far away from everything I’d ever known. It felt like I’d been dropped on an alien planet. The first few months were incredible and incredibly confusing. It took quite a while to get used to even basic things: the supermarket, the train and the teaching itself.
“The train stations in central Tokyo are notorious for being confusing. I barely travelled through them alone in the first few months. But after some years whizzed through them with ease: proof that you can pick up anything with time. The first few months can be tough for many teachers. As we all arrived not knowing what to expect, people reacted in their own way. Most of us had our first experience living abroad in such a different place. Some people felt homesick or it wasn’t right for them. But often negative feelings lessened, when, after a few months, we were all more adjusted.”
Find out what our other TEFL graduates have to say about teaching in Japan by reading more of our student stories.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Why should I teach English in Japan?
Though the Japanese government is quite strict on entry requirements, the demand for ESL teachers in Japan is immense.
Despite its outward focus, and the popularity of Japanese culture worldwide, Japan ranked 53rd in the world for English proficiency in 2020, and upping the nation’s language skills is a focus.
Foremost, you should teach English in Japan because if you’re qualified, the job opportunities are plentiful, from high schools to kindergartens, via adult learning classes. Japan is looking for both native English speakers and those who aren’t, but are qualified to teach English. The students are most definitely there, whether English is your first or second language.
What’s more, Japan is a fascinating country, full of respectful students in both public schools and private schools, with competitive salaries for ESL teachers.
Q. Can I teach English in Japan without a degree?
As covered in this article, gaining a Working Visa without a bachelor’s degree is very hard indeed.
However, the doors aren’t closed. One of the best options is a Working Holiday Visa, if you’re aged 18-30 and can prove you have the financial means to support yourself. Alternatively, you. can complete a degree while working in Japan as an English teacher, or, if you’re particularly lucky, you can gain a spousal visa, provided your partner is a Japanese native.
Alternatively, a teaching program like JET might be the answer for teaching English abroad in Japan. Either way, to provide a short answer: without a bachelor’s degree, teaching in Japan might be harder, but it’s certainly not impossible.
Q. Can I teach English in Japan without experience?
Yes, you can certainly teach English in Japan without prior teaching experience.
A high-quality TEFL certificate from an accredited and widely-recognised course provider will help immensely. At the least, and especially if you don’t have experience, a TEFL certification is a must.
Japan, though, has high demand for English teachers, so while experience might help you get into more salaried jobs, it’s certainly not a huge problem to Japanese schools if you’ve not got an extensive CV.
Naturally, there are plenty of questions that prospective ESL teachers have about teaching in Japan. While Japanese culture is well-understood, it’s less well-known that the country is desperate for those ready to start teaching English abroad.
We’ve scoured the internet for the most searched questions on what it’s like to teach English in the jewel of Asia’s Far East.