Teaching English in Japan

Job Opportunities in Japan

Jennifer May paints a picture of the JET Programme

Japanese junior high school student.

There are several ways to go to Japan to teach. I originally went to Japan on the JET Program, then got a job as a private ALT, and finally worked for a private junior and high school. I had great experiences in each job.

Other possibilities include private schools that teach every age from elementary to adult, and are called English conversation schools, or eikaiwa. These schools are different in every way including contracts, pay, work hours, accommodation, and curriculum.

Teaching post ions also exist in tertiary education for lecturers at universities, two year colleges and specialist schools (senmon gaku) throughout the country either as full-time tenured faculty or part-time lecturers.

In addition there are many agencies that place teachers in company classes or outsource teachers to teach supplementary classes at universities and colleges.

Japanese high school student.

The JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme

The JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme is widely known all over the world as a great opportunity, and it is competitive to enter. It takes an impressive application, essay, interview, and physical exam. To be considered you need a Bachelor's Degree in any subject, although an education degree and/or certificate will get you to the top of the candidate list. If you manage to get on the JET Program, you are one of the luckiest. Contracts are one-year, and you can sign a new contract yearly for up to five years.

Not only will you get good pay, round-trip airfare, and benefits (national insurance and pension), there is a fantastic support system. There are help lines manned 24-7, booklets of doctors, and personal advisors.

The JET Program also has its own language course, and it's free. Depending on where you work, there are additional study meetings and appointed "sempai." These are people who have the same position as you, but have been there for at least a year and know the ropes. They will take you around town, help with apartment issues, and plan get-togethers and nights out on the town.

The JET Programme is a government-sponsored program between the Japanese government and the governments of other countries. This year (2006-2007) people will travel from 44 countries to Japan.

Most are ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers), others are CIRs (Coordinators for International Relations) and SEAs (Sports Exchange Advisors). There are over 5500 participants in the JET program of which 90% are ALTs.

There are preparation and information meetings before leaving home countries, which provide a great opportunity to meet others from your country who will be in the same situation. JET alumni tell you everything you need to know about what to take with you and how to meet and greet your teachers and/or co-workers.

Once in Japan, there are three days full of orientation and advice meetings that cover everything from how to introduce yourself to how to hang your laundry out to dry, how to make English classes fun, to disciplining your students, getting a cell phone to paying your bills. The friends you make here will last throughout your time in Japan and provide a great support group.

The next stop is your contracting organization. This could be a prefecture, city, or local government or a private school. From the Tokyo orientation, everyone boards a bus destined for their prefecture, or an airport. Every contracting organization treats new JET arrivals in their own special way. There are orientations, tips, and resources.

One thing that is said over and over again is "Every situation is different." A lot depends on where you go to teach. ALTs can be placed at a school, or at a board of education. They teach at elementary and/or junior high schools or high school. Some teach adults at community centers occasionally as an additional responsibility. Many ALTs join after-school clubs including sports, arts, academics, or music.

The mission of the JET Programme is to promote "internationalization." Foreign language teaching is secondary, and if you are able to incorporate your culture and your interests, or international topics, as content in your English lessons, you are the ideal ALT (although not necessarily the best language teacher).

Applications become available every year in late September and the deadline is in November. It is best to call the Japanese embassy or consulate near you to get accurate information, as the dates change yearly. They will send the application to you, or you'll need to pick it up.

JET Programme Websites

Two government organs are involved in the JET Programme: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR).

JET Programme website of the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations

Private ALT Positions

Japanese junior high school students.

Private ALT jobs are available at boards of education, private elementary, junior high, and high schools.

If you want to get a job as a private ALT, look into boards of education that also hire JET ALTs. If an organization hires JETs and private ALTs, you will get a contract that is similar to the ALT contract including pay and benefits. The JET salary is about 1/3 higher than most advertised salaries for foreign teachers. The difference between the jobs is basically who funds the salaries and benefits. The jobs are the same.

As an ALT you assist Japanese teachers in the English classroom. It is team-teaching, and you create activities together to go into a joint lesson plan. You do not teach alone. Schools and boards of education encourage you to get involved in lunch-time and after-school activities.

Private Schools

Getting a teaching position at a private school is usually a good job, too, but you do need to look at the contract and make sure you understand your responsibilities and benefits. The contract may only be in Japanese. If you are hired by a school directly, there is a good chance you will be expected to take part in all of the responsibilities of a Japanese teacher. Those include teaching, running an after-school club, and being a member of at least one committee. Japanese teachers spend a long part of their day at the school, and classroom teaching seems to be a rather small part of their work.

My position at a private school had me teaching 18 classes a week, had me on the basketball coaching staff, and placed me on the religious committee. (This was a Christian school.) Unlike the JET or private ALT job, I was a full-time teacher responsible for creating curriculum, lesson plans, activities, making and scheduling exams, figuring grades, and writing evaluation comments. With these responsibilities came more benefits, too, and I felt the job was more rewarding than the ALT job. These are things to consider, though, before signing a contract with a school.

Japan Job Bulletin Boards

Dave's ESL Cafe
ELS News

Conversation Schools - eikaiwa

The eikaiwa or English conversation schools such as Geos, ECC and Aeon/Amity are everywhere in Japan, usually located near busy railway stations. Some of these schools pay for flights to Japan, and some do not. These jobs usually pay less and have fewer benefits. Most of the hours are at night and on weekends.

One man who worked for one of these schools had challenges because, as he put it, the school was more about making money than about educating people. His major complaint was that students did not have to test into classes. They could choose their class by looking at the textbooks.

So, his classes would have a variety of English abilities, and that made teaching difficult. His impression was the school wanted people to sign up for the classes and pay the fees (expensive), so let the students into any class they wanted. This held the other students back. He ended-up breaking his contract and going home early.

Osaka-based Nova, previously the largest of the "Big Four" Eikaiwa schools, had a mixed reputation in Japan and its teaching operations were partially suspended in 2007 by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry for illegal business practices in regard to students' long-term contracts. In 2004 Nova attempted to prohibit its teachers from "dating" their students, which lead to challenges in the courts. Nova, founded by Nozomu Saruhashi, was the largest employer of foreign workers in the country with over 7,000 employees working in around 600 schools across Japan. Around 2,500 new teachers took up work with the company each year before the company went bust and Saruhashi faced prosecution.

Conversation School Recruitment Sites


When signing up for any job in any country, make sure you understand your contract. Remember, every country has their own laws, and you may not have all of the rights that you enjoy in your home country. Don't expect the same treatment around the world. Also keep in mind, that experiencing other cultures is a great way to find a new appreciation of your own culture, and discovering things you wish you could take home to your own culture, as well.

Alternative View of JET

Brian McVeigh in his book Japanese Higher Education As Myth points out that the JET Programme "has been criticized for being merely window dressing, intended to project an image of an 'internationalizing' Japan," few of the participants have formal teaching training and: "Not a few ALTs have complained that they are given little direction, not utilized effectively in the classroom, used as 'living tape recorders' or simply ignored by Japanese teachers."

Related Education Links

General Union For Teachers in Japan
Culture Shock In Japan
Popular Japanese Words 2004
Popular Japanese Words 2005
Japanese-English Electronic Dictionaries

Books on Japanese Language