Working as a TEFL Teacher in Japan

We are continuing our series all about all the wonderful places around the world to travel as a TEFL teacher. This week it's Japan.

Attractively located as a centre for Asia-wide travel, Japan is an exciting destination for work and travel for many newly-qualified EFL teachers. With its archipelago stretching over 3,000km from the northern beauty of Hokkaido to the tropical haven of Okinawa, Japan really is a country of contrasts and a treasure trove of new experiences to be explored and enjoyed. While often chosen for its rich history and vibrant culture, or it’s exciting food, futuristic technology and incredible anime, it’s also important to remember that Japan holds many opportunities for the aspiring EFL teacher. 

Why Japan?

Many people who go to Japan to teach English are there because of a strong motivation to be in Japan itself. Maybe they grew up with the video games or anime that have become synonymous with Japan, perhaps they’re fascinated by the history and culture of this formerly secretive nation, or perhaps the long to get to grips with the language that challenges so many people inspired to learn it. For them, a career in EFL is a means of enabling their wish to spend time in this fascinating country and of opening doors to a new culture. But like many parts of Asia, Japan also offers a range of different, exciting teaching opportunities that are perhaps not so readily available in Europe or South America. 

Typical Jobs

Depending on the type of work you’re interested in, teaching contracts in Japan can differ quite substantially and so it’s worth breaking down teaching in Japan into perhaps 3 main categories: School, University and Private Language Schools.
Let’s start out with the schools, as many new teachers to Japan take their first jobs working in Elementary, Junior High or High Schools. These contracts tend to run from April – March, with limited numbers of 6 month contracts also starting in late August, and are primarily found through agencies or government programmes. In these roles, you’ll generally be working as an Assistant Language Teacher alongside a local teacher, though in Elementary schools in particular you may find yourself getting to take more of a lead on the teaching. There are also lots of opportunities to find university work in Japan, and again, these jobs are usually found through agencies. Contracts for university work tend to be much shorter, often ranging from around 3-5 months. In the Private Language Schools, where you’ll be working with smaller groups of younger learners and/or adults, contracts vary and while the longer contracts tend to offer more benefits, there are also usually shorter contracts available at various starting points throughout the year. 

When initially looking into work in Japan, you’ll find that visa sponsorship is an important thing to consider and while you may be tempted to go it alone and find work for yourself, the visa process can be quite complicated and working with agencies can help to overcome this. 

Top Tips 

Check the entry requirements carefully. Due to local visa restrictions, you’ll usually find that teaching work in Japan requires you to have a university degree. Most agencies and government programmes also have quite a strict list of other minimum requirements for people looking to find teaching work, so it’s worth taking the time to check these carefully and make sure that you meet everything they’re looking for before starting your application process.

Make sure you have support with arrival and settling in. Depending on where you’re based in Japan, day-to-day living can take some getting used to and it can be very difficult to rent property, open a bank account or get registered with a doctor as a foreigner, no matter how good your language skills are. Most agencies offer support to new arrivals to help them with the transition, including taking you to meet your new schools, but make sure you check the set up in advance and know what to expect when you arrive.

Throw yourself into the experience and try new things. Most people come to Japan because they’re looking for something different, and it’s important to remember that and to embrace the new opportunities that come your way. When you first arrive in Japan, it will feel as though there’s a secret code of some sort that everyone else is on and you aren’t, but over time you’ll get used to way things are done here and as long as you show enthusiasm and willingness to get involved, your new colleagues are usually endlessly forgiving of perpetually confused foreigner!

Go back to school. Learning a new language is always a really exciting challenge, but if you haven’t studied Japanese before then some help to get you started is always a good idea. Keeping in mind that, unlike with most European languages, you’ll also need to learn to read and write again, it’s worth finding yourself a teacher and some good self study resources. Some teachers who work in elementary schools manage to join in Japanese classes with the younger students, which can be a great way to sort your hiragana from katakana and begin to learn some important kanji characters too, whilst also helping you find out more about your students and their learning context.

To start your TELF journey in Japan, you need to get qualified. Check out our options for face-to-face or online CELTA here.