Life in Japan

Want to Teach English in Japan? Choose Wisely: ALT vs Eikaiwa

If you plan to come to Japan and work here, the most common job you’ll end up with is teaching English.

But be careful! There is no such thing as THE teaching English job in Japan. In fact, there’s a huge variety and you might be confused when looking for a teaching position. So, today I want to introduce the two major options you’ll have:
Teaching at an eikaiwa (conversational school) or as an ALT (assistant language teacher).

Although both involve teaching English, there are some substantial differences and you should be well-informed before you make a decision.

 

ALT vs Eikaiwa – The Basics:

Work at an English conversation school (eikaiwa) almost always requires you to work from noon to late evening, simply because students are coming in after school or work. Class sizes are small, students are somewhat motivated as they (or their parents) pay for it. Usually you’ll teach the classes on your own. All (or at least the bigger part of) the responsibility (preparation, material, lesson plans) lies in your hands.

Working as an assistant language teacher (ALT) means that you’ll work in one or several Japanese schools (elementary, jr. high or high schools). Class sizes are huge (35-40 students are quite normal) and a lot of the students don’t care about learning English. Their motivation might be quite low. Usually you work during school hours (morning – afternoon) and a the Japanese English teacher of the class is in the room with you. While it depends on the school, you’ll certainly have less responsibility and less workload than in a regular eikaiwa school.

Here’s an overview infographic I created, for those of you who’re short on time: (*click to enlarge)

Teach English in Japan ALT vs Eikaiwa Infographic

 

This was just a rough summary of the differences. If you’re serious about landing a teaching job in Japan, you should read on:

 

The Salary:

I know that a lot of you are interested in how much you can earn as an English teacher in Japan. The average salary has been about 250,000 yen for many years now. A lot of “dispatch companies” providing ALT positions (e.g. Interac, ALTIA) often offer less than that. Unfortunately it’s common practice not to pay you the full salary in months with long vacations (August, December). Be very careful when choosing a job and read your contract thoroughly before signing it.

Your best option is to go with the JET Programme if you want an ALT position. They usually offer the highest salary of around 300,000 yen and pay the full amount even in months with a lot of holidays.

While the standard salary is 250,000 yen for eikaiwa schools, you’ll find a few that offer more. But be careful, often there’s a reason for the higher amount. It might be a position with a high workload or it might be in the countryside where a lot of foreigners don’t want to live it seems.

I wouldn’t recommend taking a job that offers less than 250,000 yen!

 

The Working Hours:

As an ALT you’re usually bound to the school hours and have the weekends off unless there’s a special event you might have to attend. Normally you’ll also have long vacations, though like mentioned, you might not get fully paid during that time.

I have no personal experience being an ALT and it certainly differs from school to school and city to city, but in most cases, you’ll have a lot of down time in the teachers’ room where you can pretty much do whatever you want. Most people use that time to study Japanese or read books. Others go crazy because they’re bored out of their mind. Some motivated ones try to create material they could use in class or come up with new lesson ideas.

As an eikaiwa teacher you’ll usually work from noon to the late evening (e.g. 1 p.m. – 9 p.m.) and most likely you won’t have the weekends off. Saturday is actually the busiest day for the majority of eikaiwa schools, so you’ll have to work on that day. Some schools are closed on Sun + Mon, so at least you’ll have two consecutive days off, but most of the time you won’t! In my first job I never had two days off in a row. That can be very exhausting.

Generally you’ll have less vacation time than an ALT teacher. You’re not bound to public schools’ vacation time. Depending on the conversation school you’re working for, you might get national holidays off or not. Pretty standard is to get 3-5 weeks off throughout the year, but each and every school is different, so check carefully before signing anything.

Working on Saturdays and until 10 p.m. during the week also means that it’s harder to meet people or catch up with friends. But if you’re a night owl, then the working hours are heaven!

 

Duties and Workload:

Most likely you’re going to be busier as an eikaiwa teacher. You’re teaching several lessons a day with just very short breaks in between – if at all.

Your day is probably going to look like this: You’re coming in the early afternoon, preparing for all of your lessons at once. Then, you’ll teach one lesson after another. Finally, you can go home in the late evening.

It depends on how big the school is and how many teacher there are, but some small, family-run eikaiwas have barely enough staff members, so if you get sick, there might be nobody to take over your classes.

As an ALT, that’s not going to be such a big problem. If you’re sick, you’re sick. It’s not like they cannot do without you. Depending on the school(s) you’re working for, you might spend a lot of your time alone in the teachers’ room, bored. However, you might have to travel to different schools throughout the day.

There are special events you have to attend as an eikaiwa and ALT teacher such as school festivals, speech contests and usually there’s also an observation day where parents come in to see what’s going on.

Depending on the school, you might not only have to teach, but also help keeping the school clean, sorting material, creating new lesson material, selling products to students etc.

Especially when you’re teaching little kids as an eikaiwa teacher, you often have to be more of an entertainer than a teacher – being all happy-go-lucky, dancing and singing with the kids. This might not be for everyone – and that’s also a reason why some schools prefer younger teachers as they are worried older people won’t have the necessary stamina.

And I can see where this is coming from. If you teach little kids for several hours every day, it can be very exhausting. At least, I feel that way sometimes and I’m only in my early 30s. emoticon

 

Dress Code:

Most schools want you to wear proper business attire. As an ALT you might be allowed to come in casual wear. Again, this depends greatly on the school you’re working for. Some companies such as Interac have a rather strict dress code.

Usually business wear includes a suit and tie for men and a blouse and jacket for women, although as a women I’ve stretched the dress code quite a bit (especially in summer) and never got scolded. And just so you know, my Japanese co-workers did the same. emoticon

 

The Students / Customers:

Classroom sizes in public schools are fair big between 25 – 40 students. So, if you’re working as an ALT, it often feels rather impersonal. It might be hard to manage such a huge class even with a Japanese teacher around. Don’t expect all of them to be eager to learn English. Obviously, all the students in the classroom are pretty much the same age. You won’t get much of a variety throughout the day. If you want to learn more about what life is like as an ALT teacher, I highly recommend reading Baye’s book “Loco in Yokohama“.

As an eikaiwa teacher, you’ll have much smaller class sizes (1-9 students per class). Classes are much easier to manage and most(!) students are more or less motivated. You’ll teach the same students at least once a week which means it’s great for bonding with them. If you stick around long enough, you’ll see them grow up and you get to know them really well. You’ll teach a variety of ages throughout the day. Usually you’ll start with the little ones at kindergarten age, then elementary and later that day jr. high and high school students or adult conversation classes. Of course, this means you need to be able to prepare a variety of lesson plans and get along with people of all ages, but it never gets boring.

 

Teaching Method / Material:

As an ALT, the teaching material depends on your particular dispatch company/school/team teacher. So, sometimes you’re allowed to design your entire lesson on your own, sometimes you have to stick to premade lesson plans. Most of the time, you’ll be team-teaching with the JTE (Japanese Teacher of English), so especially for people who have no teaching experience this might be reassuring. Depending on your team-teacher it also can be hell, though. emoticon

As an eikaiwa teacher, you’ll be using the material and teaching method you’re school is using and promoting. There are several popular methods and materials out there and it would go too far to explain all about it. Most eikaiwa schools want their teachers to adapt to their system and then create their lesson plans accordingly. I’ve noticed that thus some schools are looking for young, inexperienced people as they fear that experienced English teachers might be too stubborn to follow the eikaiwa’s teaching method.

As long as it’s a good method, I don’t see any issues. You have a lot of freedom, but an already premade template you can follow. And most schools welcome new suggestions, ideas or material you created on your own as addition to what they’re offering.

The problem with the big chain eikaiwa schools is that you are often not only a teacher, but also a promoter. You’re supposed to sell things (CDs, books etc.) to your students. I’ve heard many people complain about that. As I’ve only worked for small, independent eikaiwa schools, I’ve never had this problem, though.

 

Speaking Japanese:

A lot of people ask me if it’s necessary to be able to speak Japanese if you want to teach English in Japan. The easy and short answer is: no!

BUT of course it will help greatly in your daily life if you speak the language of the country you’re living in! So, study, study, STUDY once you’re in Japan!

I’ll be honest. In my job as an eikaiwa teacher it helps a bunch that I can understand (and communicate) in Japanese. When I’m teaching 3-year-old kids who suddenly start crying and I’m the only adult around, I naturally speak Japanese with them to calm them down. It would be so much harder if they couldn’t understand me.
Junior high school students can be very rebellious and I’ve seen teachers who couldn’t manage a class simply because they didn’t understand enough Japanese to keep them under control.

That being said, a lot of eikaiwa schools actually forbid you (or at least ask you not) to speak Japanese with the students at all. It’s their only time when they’re immersed in English and if they think you cannot understand them, they’re forced to use English to communicate with you. While I understand this approach, it certainly doesn’t always work that way. And I get my students to speak only English with me, although they know I understand Japanese. Also, they know they can always ask me in Japanese if there’s a real problem (e.g. if they suddenly feel sick).

In most eikaiwa schools, the business language among co-workers is English. Usually all staff members can speak English to a certain degree, so you’ll mainly communicate in English (although that differs from school to school, of course). And I only communicate in Japanese with my co-workers these days.

As an ALT teacher, you’re immersed in Japanese. Everyone around you will most likely only speak Japanese. Some of the teachers in the teachers’ room won’t be able to speak English at all. Even the JTE (Japanese English Teacher) won’t be too fluent in English (trust me). It’s a great way to boost your Japanese skills and I can see it might be harder to work as an ALT if you understand close to zero Japanese.

98% of all job positions in the ALT and eikaiwa field won’t require you to speak Japanese, some might prefer Japanese skills, but it’s not a must. So, don’t be afraid of that, but make sure to study once you’re here (at the latest) because, hello, you’re in Japan now!

 

The Work Visa:

Last but not least we also have to talk about the work visa. Unless you’re a Japanese citizen, you’ll need a proper work visa. However, the type of visa you need for an ALT position is not the same as that for an eikaiwa one!

If you’re a native speaker of English, then you don’t have to worry. You can easily obtain either of these work visa types as long as you fulfill the requirements (passport of an English-speaking country, thus having been educated in English for several years, a BA / BS degree in any field). You can find the exact requirements for the “instructor visa” (for ALT) and “specialist in humanities” (for eikaiwa) when you click on the respective links.

It does, however, matter a lot if you are a non-native speaker of English. In my experience it is a little bit easier to obtain the “specialist in humanities” visa, simply because the rules about “being educated in English” are less strict than for the “instructor” visa. That means you’re probably going to have an easier time if you go for an eikaiwa position (and thus humanities visa) as a non-native speaker of English. Don’t take this for granted, though. You need a bit of luck as well and obtaining a visa in Japan is always an adventure anyways.

 

Where To Find Teaching Jobs?

Good question. Here are some great resources if you’re looking for an English teacher position in Japan:

The ones with the asterisk (*) are my personal favorites as I’ve found jobs through them.

 

ALT Teaching Positions:

The following companies offer teaching positions for assistant language teachers:

Eikaiwa Teaching Positions:

The following companies offer teaching positions for eikaiwa teachers:

 

What Should YOU Choose? ALT or Eikaiwa?

First of all, you should try to figure out whether teaching is for you or not. How? Well, just do it!

Before I came to Japan to teach, I thought I would hate teaching little kids. But I wanted to come to Japan so badly, that I just thought I should give it a try. I ended up loving it! You can read all about my “coming to Japan” story here.

This video shows the daily life of eikaiwa teachers. Take it with a grain of salt:

 

Like I said in the beginning of this article, ALT and eikaiwa positions are only the two major English teaching job opportunities. There are a lot more like working at international kindergartens or schools, working for companies to teach business English or even teaching at universities. The requirements for these kinds of jobs are usually higher and it’s harder to get in, so for “newbies” the two job types I introduced today are promising a smoother start into working life in Japan.

Which one is for you? I think one main factor to focus on is the working hours. Would you prefer “normal working hours” or are you a night owl like me? Then, working at an eikaiwa school might be the better option for you.

Another point you should consider is class size. As an ALT you’ll have huge class sizes versus smaller ones in most eikaiwa schools. Which would you prefer?

As an assistant language teacher you’ll be immersed into Japanese school life and it will also boost your Japanese skills (if you’re willing to study at the same time, of course). As an eikaiwa teacher you won’t see much of the typical school life, but you usually get to know your students really well and see them grow (up).

Only YOU can decide which is the better option. Sometimes it’s just best to try both. Maybe none of these two options is for you, but you won’t know until you try.

 

What’s Your Experience?

I know you might have a lot of questions even after reading this article. Feel free to ask me anything in the comments below and I’ll do my best to reply or write another article to help solve your fears, worries and any issues you might have.

However, I also think it would be very interesting to read about other people’s experience with teaching English in Japan. I’m quite sure that not everyone would agree to what I’ve written in today’s blog post and certainly everyone has rather different experiences, so please share them with all of us!

179 Comments

  • Thank you so much for this informative article. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on THIS conundrum! I got a BA in Art History, double majoring in Japanese Studies and Global Asian Studies, studied in Hiroshima at the Peace Institute while in undergraduate. Worked for various Japanese culture organizations, for different Japanese and East Asian Museums. I’m finishing an MA in Arts Management (basically non-profit arts orgs) in the next few months. I always wanted to do JET or teach in Japan. I really just want to do it now that I’ve explored a lot here in the US.

    Do you think I would be qualified enough for JET or other ALT’s/Eikawas now that I am X years out of college 32 years old (a grandma!) with some tattoos on my arms? I saw on their self health assessment on the application you have to disclose the placement and size of EACH tattoo! My Japanese is basic at best now as well.

    Do you think it would be possible to teach english for a few years and look into employment in museums in Japan as a gaijin?

    Can I request to be in Tokyo or Kyoto/larger cities to these companies? Or is that taboo/unrealistic? I’m again thinking my tattoos will go over better there.

    I can’t thank you enough for your time weeding through that and any insight you might have. Truly. And thank you again for all of your guidance on this site!

    • Hi Saira,
      I think you might be overqualified for JET actually. ;)
      I don’t see any problem. You shouldn’t struggle finding a job.
      However, big cities like Osaka / Tokyo are very competitive as EVERYONE wants to be there. You can always request to be placed there, but there’s no guarantee you’ll end up there.

      Tatoos can be a problem, but not so much if you cover them up.
      Most onsen won’t let you in, though. ;)

      I have no experience with working in a museum (in Japan), so I have no idea how your chances are for that one. ^^;

  • Hello there Zooming Japan, how are you? Hope you’re doing pretty fine.

    I just checked out your website, and I found this “article” extremely fascinating, due to your lovely explanation of every single detail of it.

    Well, if you allow me I’d like to introduce myself and ask you for some advice.

    I’m Fabio and I’m 29 years old, I’m Venetian, which means I speak fluently Italian and Venetian, but due to traveling a lot with my family and due to living abroad as well, it allowed me to learning/speaking English, Portuguese, French at, I would say, a “Native” level.
    I’ve been a private teacher , a salesman (’till today), I made also volunteering in Africa and South America and so many other things in my life already.

    3 months ago I’ve been to Kyoto, spent 3 weeks there, and I definitely felt a humongous connection between me and that town, it’s like I’ve found my own “nirvana”, the respect, the peace, the way of living, the culture, the education, just everything, I was just in love, and it still endures… I miss it deeply.

    After this incredible trip, I can’t stop thinking about getting back to Japan, but as a teacher, or just as an ALT, I just love being helpful.

    Do you think I can find a job as a teacher or an ALT in Nihon?
    Do you think they would accept me for teaching English, or maybe Italian, French etc?if I can, It would be like the “time of my life” really.

    Is it easy for applying , I mean, to finding a job? And what about the Visa, is it complicated to get it?

    I forgot to mention that I also speak a bit of Japanese, and I’ve practing the art of “Shodo” at home, just love it.

    Looking forward to your reply.

    Thanks a lot,

    Regards

    Fabio.

    • Hi Fabio,

      Wow, you’ve done a lot of things already indeed. I’m impressed. :)
      And I totally understand how you feel. Sounds all too familiar. *g*

      Not to burst your bubble but there are almost no jobs for language teaching other than English. And the few you’ll find are very competetive, so you’d actually have better chances teaching English. I’m positive that you could find a job, but I’m worried about the work visa (like mentioned in this blog post).
      As a non-native speaker of English you’d need to prove that you’ve been educated in English for 12 years or that you’ve got a degree in ESL or something like that.
      I’m not sure if Italy is eligible to get the “working holiday visa”? If so, I’d get that instead. You’re still under 30, so you might get it. :)

      Good luck to you! ^__^

  • This is my favourite of your posts so far, because it has helped me so much with understanding how teaching English in Japan works. These programs have been on my radar for quite awhile now (thanks to my parents working as university professors) and I am now seriously considering participating in one, since I have graduated with a BM and my focus is now on travel! Hurray!

    Something that I’m really wondering about though, is how easy or difficult it is to land a job as an ALT or Eikaiwa without going through one of the dispatch companies/programs, and what might be the benefits and downsides to that? For instance, I was hoping to travel to Japan and explore at first, using cheap travel tactics like staying at hostels and hopefully make some connections at the same time with programs like WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). After reading your blog, I came to understand that the less urban the area, the less applicants there are for positions (awesome pointer, thanks!). Would it be a better to travel around Japan as a ‘backpacker’ and look for teaching jobs as I go, or is it better to go through one of the dispatchers? My primary concern is that I don’t want to leave too much to chance and end up in one of those ‘bad’ assignments where I’m heavily restricted ; I’ve heard that some teachers end up not being able to socialize much with anyone else involved with the school, be it staff, student, or parents, instead being restricted to waking up, going to work, then going home and passing time alone. I also read that you’re more likely to get a job if you’re already in Japan.

    • Hey Aidan,
      Why don’t you apply for jobs while you’re still outside of Japan?
      For most ALT jobs it’s going to be dispatch, at least in the beginning, unless you want to try JET.
      For eikaiwa you can apply directly (and most of the time from outside of Japan).

      Please keep in mind that it’s illegal to enter Japan on a tourist visa and then look for a job (though many people do it anyways).
      For what you seem to have in mind the “working holiday visa” would be great, but it depends on your nationality. Not everyone can get that one, unfortunately. ^^

  • Hi! Thank you for sharing this. This is very useful. Im really interested in teaching Eikaiwa to children.
    I am a Japanese citizen, residing in the Philippines but Ive never been to Japan. I only finished 3 years in college. Is it possible to land a job if I apply here in the philippines?

    • I’ve met people from the Philippines who were working as an English teacher in Japan, so definitely, yes!
      If you have Japanese citizenship, you don’t even have to worry about a work visa. ;)

      Some schools are biased when it comes to hire Asian-looking English teachers, but don’t worry. There are enough schools that don’t care about it at all, as long as your English is very good.

  • Hello, I’m really excited that you are still answering questions on your blog regarding teaching in Japan. I have a really silly question. Is it true that subway and train lines do not have any English signs? Do the subways and trains announce the next stop in both English and Japanese? I’m currently trying to learn Japan but I doubt I’ll be able to learn to read Kanji anytime soon.

    Please and thanks^^

    • It depends on where you are in Japan. In the countryside there rarely are any signs in English, but in big cities and at popular tourist spots it’s not a problem at all.
      And even in the countryside they usually have written the current station’s name at the station in English or at least in Hiragana somewhere, so it’s not that bad. ;)

      Kanji take time, but it will be so much easier if you know the most common ones if you plan to live in Japan! ;)
      You can read how I learned Japanese here, maybe you can find some pointers for yourself as well. ^^

      • Thank you so much for answering my question. I figured that the metro system would be similar to the one in S.Korea. Where most of the stops would be in English, but I just needed confirmation. That’s great to know. I’m planning on taking a trip to Japan this June. Thanks for providing the link to your Japanese learning tips. I definitely plan on taking advantage of your tips. Thanks again!

  • Hi Jasmine. I am so glad I found your article when I was looking for English Teaching Jobs in Japan! :)

    I have been searching for ESL teaching jobs for years but had no luck since I only explored Korea and a little on China. Good thing I learned about ALT thus, stumbling at your site.

    I am from the Philippines and have a University BS degree. I have also been an English Communication Skills Trainer / ESL for the BPO industry for almost 5 years. I also had a very short stint of teaching English to Japanese students online; from what I recall, I held that job for only two weeks. :( But the longest teaching/training I had was with my jobs in the call center industry. Although I am a non-native speaker, I carry an American Accent when I speak. ;) My job included teaching and training phonetics/pronunciation, grammar and culture.

    I hope those experiences I mention would be enough to get me to teach in Japan, Eikaiwa in particular as I am a nocturnal person like you. :)

    Do you think I will get lucky enough?

    Thanks in advance! :)

    • Hi,
      I don’t see any issues here. I’m not familiar as to how difficult it is for someone for the Philippines to obtain a work visa, but I’ve met a few English teachers from your country in Japan, so I suppose it’s not a problem.

      Good luck and keep us updated! ^^

  • Hi, extremely cool post and thumbs up for still answering on coments!

    I’m 21 and do not have any degree, save my high school exams. I plan to go to Japan on a working holiday visa, which I’m eligible for. I do have some teaching experience as a music teacher and substitute teacher at a primary school in Denmark. I’m not a native English speaker, but have spent 3 1\2 years at international schools and consider myself fluent (to the extent of thinking in English).

    And naturally I have a few questions… With the whv you can also teach as an ALT? (since they have different ordinary visas)
    As far as I understand there aren’t really any set qualifications for English teaching itself (only for the visa) right? Does the JET program require any degree though?
    Also I have quite a few Japanese contacts, also foreign English teachers – does it help to have connections to get a job?

    Thanks a lot in advance and thank you so much again for this enlightening post!

    Sincerely
    Lars

    • Hi Lars,
      It’s probably not correct to say that there are no certain requirements for English teaching positions, but usually they’re less demanding that the visa requirements.
      Naturally you’ll have more chances with a degree and / or experience, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have a chance to get such a job. :)

      Yes, you can also work as an ALT on a working holiday visa, that doesn’t matter.
      For a real working visa, there’s a different between eikaiwa and ALT, but it doesn’t matter for the WHV.

      I’m not too familiar with the JET programme. I know that they have different requirements for each country, so please check the JET programme offered for your country.
      For Germany the requirements were set high and there was only 0-1 positions available per year. It’s a completely different story for English-speaking countries such as the US, though.

      It might help if you have connections. We sometimes filled a new position at our school with a friend that a leaving teacher recommended, for example.

  • Ok, so I know I JUST asked a question about the visa for an Eikaiwa position on another post, but I just read in your post here that the type of the visa is a “specialist in humanities” and I just read that one of the requirements for one is that “The Applicant must have graduated from university and should have majored in a subject relevant to the activities she plans to undertake in Japan.”

    So I’m just asking for your personal opinion here – do you think that a BA in Translation with German and English would be considerate relevant? xD

    I’ve set my heart on that BA, I want to study EXACTLY that, but of course I’m also looking at how to get to Japan and be an English teacher after that. :/ I’m just hoping that would suffice. I have an opportunity to be an English teacher at this Jugendzentrum where they offer Nachhilfe to students that are between 10 and 15/16 of age, either one or two days a week. Do you think that could help my visa?

    Ah! I have so much time to figure that out and yet I’m just too excited to let it go. :D Thank you very much in advance!

    • It doesn’t matter what I think.
      It also doesn’t matter if there’s someone who got a visa with the same qualifications.
      It depends on so many things as cases like yours or mine are completely up to the immigration officer treating the case.
      My first visa application also was rejected, my second one wasn’t. The content was exactly the same, just the immigration officer was different. Go figure …. :(

      Don’t be so eager on what COULD help you to get a visa in Japan. In the end that’s all up to luck (unfortunately).
      Just try to do what you enjoy doing instead, so you won’t have any regrets. :)

      Good luck to you! ^^

  • I want to be an ALT or Eikaiwa, but I have tattoos. I tried to find information about it on the websites I researched, but so far I haven’t found anything. Would I automatically be declined for having tattoos? None of my tattoos are visible except during the summer time, and in the winter you can’t even tell I have tattoos. I’m willing to wear long sleeve clothes and pants even in the warmer months.
    None of my tattoos are offensive or crude, most are small. But I know Japan sees tattoos as being taboo.

    Could someone please reply back soon.

    Katie

    • Hi Katie,
      I don’t see a problem. You’re not obligated to tell them that you have tattoos and if they’re not visible, I really don’t see why that should be an issue.

      Tattoos are still associated with being a criminal (being part of the yakuza) in Japan. But all of them know that it’s very different for Westeners, so they’re slowly adapting to that.
      There even are onsen (hot spas) in Japan that now accept foreigners with tattoos.

      Go for it! :)

  • A friend told me just recently how wheelchair accessible Japan is. I am a native English speaker with a Ph.D. in social policy (social work) from the University of New York at Buffalo, in Buffalo, NY.

    I have some experience teaching ESL/conversational English to individuals from S. Korea and China. I am a wheelchair user and I’m 63-yrs-old. Is it possible for me to find a teaching position in Japan? What about housing; is there accessible housing? A big drawback is that I only speak English and have always had difficulty trying to learn other languages.

    I work well with small groups of students, which means that I’d probably be more interested in Eikaiwa positions, yet again, my biggest barrier might be physical access to buildings. What advice can you give me about finding work as an English teacher?

    • Hi Janine,

      To be honest, I think an eikaiwa job might be very difficult to get in your case. Most eikaiwa jobs require you to dance and jump around with little kids which is why they often look out for young, energetic teachers. In your case teaching business English or even a job at a university might be more likely.
      Also, ALT jobs might be difficult as well, because the majority of Japanese schools are not barrier-free. :(

  • Hi Jasmine,

    I absolutely love your site. When I was planning my trip to Japan all those travel reports and bits of cultural insight were invaluable.
    Now that I’m back from my 6 week trip I have the “problem” that I absolutely fell in love with Japan. Especially Kansai – I freaking love Kyoto.

    I just have to go back and work there. And once again, one of your posts provided excellent information on that very topic.
    As far as I can tell an ALT position would be the far better fit for me. Though how would you rate my chances?
    I’m 29, Austrian (hello neighbour), have a MA degree in Architecture, am fluent in English and have the required education in it (4 years Hauptschule + 4 years Gymnasium + 6 year university+semester abroad) and worked at a university for a bit (though with very limited teaching).

    • Hi Markus,

      Thank you very much.
      I suppose you know that they decided to give Austria the opportunity of a “working holiday visa” as well?
      Until you’re 30, this is still a possibility for you. It will make things soooo much easier, because you don’t have to worry about obtaining a visa or being rejected because you already bring your own visa.

      Your job opportunities might not be too bad, but you might not easily get a work visa for being an English teacher. That’s the fate we non-native speakers all share.
      I’m not sure if it’s still that difficult nowadays, but I suppose they haven’t changed those rules as there are plenty of native speakers and so they don’t have to make the visa requirements less strict for us non-native speakers in that regard. ^^;

      Good luck to you! :)

  • Hello (:,
    Thank you for this very informative post, I stumbled upon on this post whilst I was looking for different types of jobs in japan, as someone who loves children and the Japanese culture I would love to be able to teach English in japan, but I’m I have no experience in actual teaching, as of now I’m 20 and just graduated from university with a degree in creative technology my first major in screen and media studies, second major in design specialising in creative writings with a supporting japanese, I also speak Korean but I am a Native speaker of English, I have no job experience what so ever as I’ve been focusing on studying :P.
    With my current ‘qualifications’ do you think it will possible for me to get a teaching Job or job in general in Japan,
    Once again thank you for this post have a wonderful day (:

    • Hello Tae,
      For a proper work visa you need at least a BA / BS degree or 10 years of experience in the job you want to do. Considering your age, I think you have neither of those?
      You would find a job, but you also need a work visa and those are the requirements. You can easily look it up if you google “instructor visa” or “specialist in humanities visa” for Japan. ;)

      Good luck!

  • Hi, I’m a 21 year-old university student majoring in Japanese. I’ll be graduating the end of next year and am very much interested in teaching English in Japan. My Japanese is at an intermediary level and I can also read and write Kanji and I’m fluent in English. I just have a few questions…

    Having read a few articles regarding being an eikaiwa, apparently teachers are not allowed to explain things using Japanese. Is that true or does it only depend on the type of company that hires? I find it easier to explain grammar in Japanese to my friends and then show them examples in English. They seem to understand it better as well.

    Is it necessary for me to obtain a TESOL/TEFL certificate?

    Thank you for writing this article. It has really helped me in figuring out what I want to do and it’s wonderfully informative.

    • Hi Arya,

      It depends on the eikaiwa, but a lot of them have set up this rule.
      Most of the time you are not in charge of explaining grammar to them. For that, there are Japanese English teachers.
      Especially with little kids they want you to speak only in English as this is their only opportunity to listen to as much English as possible.
      I’ve worked for different places and all the kids knew I could speak Japanese, but I made it a rule that we were only allowed to speak in Japanese if there was an emergency or – if after trying hard in English – they still couldn’t understand something. Worked quite well and the school was ok with that.

      For new students, I’ve seen them freaking out when they suddenly are alone in the room with a strange foreigner who’s much taller than their parents. And if you approach them only in English, you’ve lost them forever. In that case, I slowly start in Japanese until they feel comfortable enough.

      In junior high classes I’ve seen teachers with zero Japanese ability who were bullied quite badly by the students.
      If you can speak Japanese you have a lot more power over your students.

      I’m not sure if this might also happen to you as an ALT. You might only be allowed to use English during classes, but you will have tons of opportunities to talk to other teachers and students in Japanese outside of class (same goes for some eikaiwas).

      TESOL/TEFL is not necessary for most jobs, unless they require it. Usually that’s stated in the job ad. ;)

  • A close friend of mine worked as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) in Tochigi, Japan. He worked there for 2 years. The pay was below average and most of the Japanese teachers were allowed to treat the foreign English teachers in demeaning ways. The Japanese teachers were allowed to be racist and xenophobic in their treatment of the foreign teachers, because the Board of Education allowed it. My friend joined a new Junior high school. He was very pleased to be given the chance to work there so he did his best to be polite and respectful to all of the Japanese teachers. But in the first month of working there a Japanese teacher forgot to ask my friend for a payment of around 10USD. As a result of this lack of communication, my friend was falsely accused of not paying the 10USD. My friend was accused of this in a loud uncivilized manner by the Japanese teacher in front of school students, a few teachers and the vice principal of the school. This happened in the Teachers Room. So my friend tried to explain that the Japanese teacher had forgotten to ask him for the payment. But the teacher refused to listen to my friend. Then a 3rd year teacher stood up and started to intimidate my friend. He started shouting abusively at my friend and then started walking in an intimidating fashion towards my friend. When he reached my friend he assaulted my friend physically. My friend was physically injured and in deep shock as he had never been treated like that in his life. He refused to defend himself physically but he did warn that teacher to stop assaulting him. The vice principal was watching all of this just a meter away and did absolutely nothing to help. My friend then immediately left the school and he obviously couldn’t continue to work there again. After a few days the Board of Education tried to force my friend to return back to the school. The Board of Education said that said teacher made a small mistake! Crazy thinking from the Board of Education! My friend still refused to return back to the unsafe environment of the school. Eventually my friend left the Board of Education. The teacher who assaulted and injured my friend was never reprimanded for his illegal behavior. His physical assault is deemed illegal under Japanese law. He is still employed at the Board of Education. He is obviously very racist and xenophobic towards foreigners. His uncontrollable violent behavior, makes him dangerous to work around young children and even adult teachers in that city. My friend said that working at the Board of Education was the worst experience of his life. The Board of Education pleaded with my friend not to tell anyone about what happened at the school. They didn’t want the local newspapers to find out about the violent incident and they didn’t want the students’ parents to find out about it too. That Board of Education is indeed a sick place to work in.

    • Hi Jason,
      While I understand your feelings I had to censor your comment. This blog is not for accusing people or schools – even if the story is true.
      Until a few years ago the GaijinPot forums were a good place for posts like this, but unfortunately it’s gone.
      I hope you understand.

      I still think your comment is important as it shows that there are bad schools out there.
      I remember reading a lot of horror stories online back in the days and was scared that I might run into such a school as well.
      But truth is, the majority of schools is not like that and usually people rather rant about their bad experience than about all the good things they’ve experienced.

      That being said, I’m really sorry about what happened to your friend.

      On the other hand, I’ve also met a lot of foreigners who screwed around with schools. So, there’s that as well.

      Thanks for taking the time to share your friend’s story.

  • Hello! Wow thanks for keeping this post alive for two years!

    My partner and I are very interested in becoming English teachers in Japan. We are in the early stages of deciding what kind of position would be right for us. I’ve noticed on the interac website and aeon that they try to place couples as close as possible to one another. Does anyone know what that actually means? If we were in the same city that would be fine, but we’ve done long distance for a long time so 2+hours commute to visit one another would be very frustrating. We aren’t fussy about where we are placed, any prefecture would he great! I guess what I’m asking is what is the likelihood that we can be near each other?

    Thanks!

    • Hi Rachel,
      I hope someone who went there with a partner can answer this question.
      Unfortunately none of my co-workers had a partner who also came over to Japan, so I don’t know.
      But why don’t you just ask Interac and the likes when you have an interview with them? I’m sure they can answer your question accordingly and if you don’t like their reply, you can just refuse to work for them and find something else.

      Good luck to you!

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