Think you know Japan? Think again – Japan is one of those TEFL destinations that often 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. The truth is that many ‘modern’ technologies in Japan now seem outdated, and while you can certainly find a robot or two, it’s more of a tourist gimmick than a day to day experience. What you’ll be more impressed by in Japan, particularly once you step out of the capital, are the majestic scenes of natural beauty, the unblemished countryside and humble abodes of the locals, and a country steeped in history, tradition, and culture.
This 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 is anything but cosmopolitan, 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 English teachers in Japan and you can find work all over the country. Jobs vary greatly, from ‘English assistant’ roles where you’ll feel 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 positions available for everyone. So, wherever you’re at on your TEFL journey, if Japan appeals, you can find a way to get there.
- Popular locations for TEFL jobs: Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Fukuoka, Nagoya, Yokohama, Nagasaki, Sapporo, and Sendai
- Average salary for EFL teachers: The basic monthly salary for full-time positions is likely to be in the region of 220,000 – 280,000 Yen (£1,600 – £2,000 / $2,100 – $2,675) per month. 250,000 Yen (£1,820 / $2,390) is a common rate. International school jobs may pay as much as 600,000 Yen (£4,360 / $5,730) per month. Freelance or part-time hourly rates start at 2,000 Yen (£14 / $19) per hour, up to 6,000 Yen (£44 / $57) per hour.
- TEFL qualification requirements: At least a 120-hour TEFL qualification
- Prerequisite university degree: Required for most positions
- Term times: The academic year starts in April
- Currency: Yen(￥)
- Language: Japanese
- Teaching programmes: Private Language Schools, Eikaiwa, JET Program, Public Schools, Bilingual Kindergartens, University, Freelance, Online, Volunteer
- Age restrictions: Under 65
- Previous teaching experience: Useful but not necessary for most jobs
While Japan might not be exactly what you imagined, the stereotypes about the students are true – your typical Japanese student will be shy, quiet, modest about their ability, good at reading and writing but reluctant to speak, and reluctant to offer opinions. Teaching kids can be a lot of fun, but adult classes can be a struggle if they 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 teacher to be formal, respectful, professional, and to support their learning without pushing them too hard.
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 when you’re in Japan.
Requirements for teaching English in Japan
|Country||Avg. monthly salary||Degree required||Start of term||Teaching experience||Housing & flights included||Suitable for non-native English speakers||Age restrictions|
|Cambodia||£650 - £950
($800 - $1,200)
|China||£1,200 - £1,600
($1,500 - $2,000)
|Yes||September||No||Yes||Yes, if degree obtained from an English-speaking country||Under 55|
|Hong Kong||£1,600 - £2,800
($2,000 - $3,500)
|Yes||August||No||Not usually||Yes||Under 60|
|Indonesia||£700 - £1,100
($850 - $1,350)
|Yes||July||No||Not usually||No||Under 60|
|Japan||£1,600 - £2,200
($2,000 - $2,700)
|Malaysia||£900 - £1,850
($1,100 - $2,300)
|Myanmar||£1,000 - £1,800
($1,250 - $2,200)
|South Korea||£1,300 - £2,000
($1,600 - $2,500)
|Thailand||£800 - £1,050
($1,000 - $1,300)
|Vietnam||£950 - £1,300
($1,200 - $1,500)
Japan has a reputation for being an expensive place to live, and it’s certainly true of Tokyo, where even a working couple can struggle to get more than a rented room with shared kitchen facilities. However, get outside of the capital and Japan is immensely affordable. Some chain schools will pay the same whichever branch you’re at, so on ‘Tokyo wages’ in a small city or town, you’ll be living like a king. 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 from 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 trainlines – 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. Space is a commodity and you’re unlikely to find a roomy apartment.
- Accommodation: £810 – £1,031 / $1,051 – $1,337
- Utilities: £121 / $157
- Health insurance: Cost of typical visit to a GP: £69 / $89
- Monthly transport pass: £70 / $91
- Basic dinner out for two: £23 / $30
- Cappuccino in expat area: £3.63 / $4.70
- A beer in a pub: £4.01 / $5.20
- 1 litre of milk: £1.51 / $1.96
- 2 litres of Coca-Cola: £1.49 / $1.93
(living costs sourced from Expatistan)
“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 share house 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, and 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.”
Ursula, TEFL Org graduate taught in Japan
Discover more student stories from TEFL Org graduates.