Japan seems to attract an almost endless supply of EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teachers, and for good reason. Very few local teachers are qualified or able to provide instruction in spoken English, and so demand for native speakers remains high. Furthermore, there are abundant entry-level teaching positions available which makes Japan an ideal destination for those who are just getting started in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). There are also plenty of opportunities for mid-career level teachers, and these openings increase the longer you stay in the country.
Note: Most people refer to teaching English abroad as ESL (English as a Second Language). ESL actually refers to teaching English to immigrants in an English speaking country. Teaching English in Japan is really EFL (English as a Foreign Language).
Teaching positions are available in a variety of working environments, including language schools, primary, secondary and tertiary education, cram schools and large companies who provide classes for their employees. Almost without exception, they hire only native English speakers from the USA, UK, Ireland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.
In order to teach in Japan, it is necessary to have a university degree for the purposes of obtaining a work visa although, in most cases, the field of study is unimportant. Previous experience and/or TEFL certificates are not often necessary, though they may give you a distinct advantage when applying for the more sought-after jobs and, quite possibly, a slightly higher salary. For full-time university positions, a masters degree is usually required.
Average salaries for full-time teachers continue to be around the ¥250,000 (US$2,950) mark. Take a look at some current English teaching jobs in Japan to get a feel for the typical salary and benefits. In language schools, it is likely that you will work 40 hours per week over 5 days, of which 30 or more hours might be spent teaching. Holidays can be anything from 2-4 weeks per year. In primary and secondary schools, teaching hours are likely to be much less, however you can still expect a total working week to be around 40 hours. Holidays will be in line with regular student breaks. Corporate and university positions offer the most relaxed working schedules, and salaries for full-time positions can be in the range of ¥350,000-¥400,000 (US$3,872-4,425) per month. Of course, such positions are much harder to come by.
The JET Program, which places Assistant Language Teachers in public schools, has long been considered the ideal way to begin teaching in Japan. ALTs enjoy a salary of ¥320,000 (US$3,540) per month, cheap accommodation and extensive holidays. However, due to budget cuts, many education boards have abandoned the program and now hire teachers indirectly. Salaries tend to be 30% lower and often don’t include holiday pay and other benefits.
Although the cost of living can be quite high, a frugal lifestyle would enable most people to save up to US$1,000 per month on an average salary. Avoiding expensive imported goods and adapting to the Japanese way of eating will save a considerable amount on groceries.
Japan has a lot to offer from an historical and cultural point of view; you can explore centuries-old temples, shrines and castles; huge fireworks displays throughout the summer; a multitude of ancient festivals, some of which continue long into the night; and take advantage of the vast swathes of countryside outside the cities.
Whether you are just starting out in TEFL, continuing a career, or simply want experience Japanese culture first hand, it is hard to find a better destination for teaching English.