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!


  • Good evening!
    It was really informative to read all comments here and to get familiar with different experiences.
    I also have a vital question which I am trying to get an answer on for so long already.
    Just let me introduce myself briefly. My name is Yuliya, I’m from Ukraine and I have been working as an ESL teacher for almost 5 years in Turkey and China. I am holding a bachelor degree in International Economic from University of Ukraine and a TEFL certificate.
    And I’m dreaming about living and working as a teacher in Japan. I am interested in all aspects of life in Japan, learning language and experience the culture through local people.
    Am I eligible to apply for JET Program and do I have a chance to be selected? Or does it depend on each case?
    Thank you very much in advance.

    • Hi Liya,
      Well, for JET you need to apply in your country and it depends if there are even any JET ALT positions available for your country.
      When I wanted to apply there were none. Non-native speaking English countries don’t offer that many positions on the ALT JET part, but CIR positions might be available if your Japanese is good. Check with your embassy. :)

      I just did a quick Google search, but here you go:

      • Thank you for your quick reply.
        I have been checking JET official website many times in order to see my country in the list of participants, but without any success for now.
        Well as I see from the list there are many non native English speaking countries in it. Let’s say many European countries.
        Will you suggest to visit Japanese Embassy in Ukraine for further information?

  • Hey there! I’m currently struggling a lot with the information there is concerning obtaining a working visa as a non-native speaker who wants to teach English in Japan. Maybe you can help me a bit?
    My background: I’m 31 years old, German, a paralegal in a patent attorney’s office and I’ve dreamt of living and working in Japan since I was about 13 years old. Right now I’m obtaining a TEFL certificate, a student visa for a language school in Japan for October and afterwards I want to obtain a bachelor’s degree in Germany, preferably in “Bildungswissenschaften” (related to teaching and stuff). I had English in school for about seven years and I have studied Anglistic in university for about five years, but didn’t get a bachelor’s degree (I got a very good job offer, so I quit the university – stupid, in hindsight). Now my question is, is it possible for me to obtain a working visa for the Specialist in Humanities category with this? Does my time in university contribute in any way to the 12 year English education requirement, or is it necessary to complete English courses or something like this? Sadly I can’t really find any reliable source on this matter, so I thought maybe you are able to give me some pointers.
    At the moment I’m pretty devastated because chances of obtaining that visa seem non-existent for me, and since I’m already 31 years old, I’m not able to obtain a working holiday visa anymore. I’m not sure if the student visa for the language school would help (I intend to go for that visa again after obtaining my bachelor’s degree, so that I’m able to study Japanese for another year).
    Thank you a lot in advance!

    • Hi,
      Nobody will be able to give you a reliable answer to that.
      In fact, you won’t be able to obtain a visa for an English teaching position with what you’ve told me.
      It doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I got it, too, but I already had the working holiday visa and had worked as English teacher in Japan for a year on that and they first rejected my application. Only with the help of my boss and letters from a school where I did some tests for English teaching in Japan, the second try was successful.

      It will be easier to change from another visa to that one than trying to obtain it out of the blue, but as it’s not “standard” it really depends on many factors like the immigration officer who’s in charge of your case etc.
      I’m afraid nobody will be able to give you a reliable answer to that because there simply is none. :(

  • Hi, thank you for a very informative post! It’s cleared some questions I had and given me an idea of whether ALT or Eikaiwa is for me.

    I’ll be finishing my Bachelor degree (major Japanese, minor publishing/editing) in 2-3 years. The issue is I’ll be 50+ years old by then. Even though I look younger than that, and I’m fit and healthy, will I struggle to find work? I’m reading here and elsewhere people aged in their 40s who have submitted scores of applications over a year or more and getting no replies. They have Bachelors, are native english speakers, so the sticking point must be age. Will I face the same challenge? I’m at a point now where I’m deciding whether to put all the time and energy into the degree but face the prospect of not being able to find work, or putting that time and energy into other things in life. I don’t understand the age-ism — I know of younger people who have quit jobs, regularly turned up late or disinterested, and caused issues for the schools. Wouldn’t an older person who appreciates their opportunity and less likely to take it for granted be more attractive? PS I’m willing to live/work outside of Tokyo, Osaka, etc, in less popular cities such as Nagoya, Sendai or even Tottori Prefecture. As long as it’s not a village miles from civilisation and only populated by obachan.

    I never had the opportunity to live and work in Japan when I was younger, and now that I can do it it feels like the door is closed. I just want the experience for 2-3 years before I really get old. Thank you.

    • The reason why they don’t like hiring older people especially for eikaiwa is for once that you’re supposed to sing and hop around with the little ones and they assume that you have more energy when you’re younger. Another reason is that they think older people have too much of their own ideas and might be stubborn to accept the ways of the school.
      Right now you cannot start a job in Japan anyways as borders are completely closed and nobody knows for how long.

      Apart from that, you can just send job applications and see what happens. No harm in that. Though, I’m quite sure because of the current situation they’ll surely prefer those already living in Japan.

      • Definitely not planning to find work in Japan anytime soon! As I said, it’s 2-3 years away for me still. Not even the second coming of Commodore Perry could open up Japan today — when the Japanese close a door, they really close it.

        It’s ridiculous really, most teachers work until retirement — sometimes longer. I know elementary school teachers who are in their 60s and are just as energetic as they were when they first started. Are Japanese schools afraid we’ll break a hip and sue them? Or is it foreign teachers not wanting to share the stage with older people because it’d be uncool having someone their dad’s age hanging out with them at work dinners? I think there are many reasons, on different levels, for the reticence to hire people 40+. The main one is just ageism. It sucks, especially as I pointed out, I see so many people in their 20s and 30s who do nothing but whine about how hard and awful it is living in Japan. In many cases, it’s not Japan making it this way — it’s them! They don’t know how lucky they are, and how many people would gladly swap places with them and be better at it.

        Anyway, Japan won’t be going anywhere and I’ll cross this bridge when I get my degree. For anyone else 40+ who are facing the same hurdles, Interac accepts applications from people up to 60 years of age. Pay’s not special, but if you’re only doing it for a couple of years and for the experience of living in Japan, it’s worth checking them out.

  • I would also like to know how these jobs (ALT/Eikaiwa) differ in paving a way for higher job opportunities? Do both of these provide work visa for just 1 year or more?
    And most importantly, I am currently applying for a teaching position at GABA Corporation. Anyone here who have some experience with the company, please let me know your reviews.

    • For most jobs beyond teaching English you will need very good Japanese skills.
      There are international schools and university jobs that might pay more, but you need certain qualifications. Just a few years in Eikaiwa will not land you a job there.

      They do sponor the visa for as long as you do the job with that company. In the beginning immigration gives you 1 year, later 3 or 5 years. But if you have no job sponsoring you anymore, I don’t know exactly how things work then, but you probably lose your visa status after a certain time without finding another job / sponsor.

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