A Beginner’s Guide to Travelling and Teaching English in Japan inner banner

A Beginner’s Guide to Travelling and Teaching English in Japan

Yearning for a new life experience? Teaching English while you travel could be the answer — and Japan beckons with the promise of endless opportunity.
26 Mar, 2024
A beginner’s guide to teaching English in Japan
A beginner’s guide to teaching English in Japan

Japan dazzles visitors with its neon-fuelled major cities, breath-taking scenic beauty, intricate culture, and endless quirks.

It’s a popular holiday destination, period. But what if you could explore the Land of the Rising Sun — and earn an income while you do it? If that sounds like your sort of travel experience, read on!

Teaching English while you travel is a fabulous way to see the world, and it’s an option open to many native speakers with a bachelor’s degree in any subject and a TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) qualification. Working as an ESL (English as a second language) teacher will enable you to engage with the local population in a meaningful way, and you’ll be making a real difference to the lives of your students as part of the deal. And the skills and life experience that you pick up along the way will almost certainly complement your future career choices.

Japan is a hugely popular destination for ESL teachers, thanks to its orderly social structure, excellent public services, and generous salaries. What does it take to land a teaching role, and what can you expect on the ground? Here’s a beginner’s guide to teaching English in Japan.

A beginner’s guide to teaching English in Japan
A beginner’s guide to teaching English in Japan

Why choose Japan?

First things first; why choose to teach English in Japan? Well, many ESL teachers are attracted by the country’s good quality of life, safe cities and towns, high performing schools, and exceptionally polite students. Moreover, Japan is renowned for its excellent healthcare. In fact, according to recent OECD data, 76% of Japanese citizens are satisfied with the standard of the health service in their country.

Japan also has one of the best public transport systems in the world. And with a rail pass in hand, you’ll be able to explore widely, easily, and cost-effectively during your time off.

A beginner’s guide to teaching English in Japan
A beginner’s guide to teaching English in Japan: Explore with a rail pass.

There’s actually not much of a downside to teaching English in Japan, apart from the high cost of living. However, teachers’ salaries are relatively good and assistance with accommodation is often provided as part of an employment contract. The country’s major cities and towns also offer a wealth of well-priced dining options, along with plenty of free activities and attractions.

A beginner’s guide to teaching English in Japan
A beginner’s guide to teaching English in Japan: Enjoy delicious cheap eats.

Finding a job as a beginner

Whether you’re an experienced ESL teacher or a complete novice, securing a position before you arrive in Japan is highly recommended; it’s less stressful, and will make planning and budgeting for your stay much easier. If you’re just starting out on your TEFL journey, one of the best and safest ways to do it is through the government-sponsored Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme — also known as JET.

Teachers who find a placement through this initiative are usually awarded an initial one-year contract (which can be renewed for up to 5 years), an annual salary of around $45,000 (AUD), and a number of paid annual leave and sick days. To be accepted into the JET programme, you’ll need to satisfy several requirements. These include having a bachelor’s degree (in any subject), a clean background check, and a significant interest in Japanese culture. Learn more by taking a look at this JET programme Japan guide.

If you’re offered a position through the JET programme, responsibilities will vary depending on the school you work at. But generally, you’ll be employed in a supporting role: preparing class materials and working alongside an experienced teacher in the classroom. It’s a great way to get on-the-job training and to build the expertise to lead your own classes in the future.

A beginner’s guide to teaching English in Japan
A beginner’s guide to teaching English in Japan

Although a TEFL qualification isn’t required to join the JET programme, it will certainly help your application stand out. TEFL courses can either be taken online or in person at a training centre, and getting qualified before you leave for Japan will allow you to head into your first day on the job feeling capable and confident in your skillset.

Get your documentation in order early

Living and working in a different country presents a unique set of challenges. To ensure things go smoothly, have all your required documentation organised well in advance. For example, to be eligible to work in Japan in any capacity, you’ll need to apply for a work visa prior to your departure. You should also check the Smart Traveller website for specific requirements for Australian residents planning to reside overseas.

How to get the most from your time in Japan

The bulk of English teaching roles in Japan are offered in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Fukuoka, Nagoya, Yokohama, Nagasaki, Sapporo, and Sendai — all of which are also major tourist destinations. So, there’ll be plenty to see and do during your time away from the classroom.

Tick off the quintessential sights from your bucket list, but equally, leave plenty of time just to immerse yourself in the local way of life. You’ll be in the box seat to experience Japanese culture on a deeper and more personal level than any general tourist — so take full advantage of it. Take part in social engagements with colleagues, shop in traditional markets, eat at local restaurants, and attend any festivals that take place in your city of employment.

A beginner’s guide to teaching English in Japan
A beginner’s guide to teaching English in Japan: Travel widely during your time off.

Consider learning the language yourself

It may be tempting to try and get by without speaking anything but English during your stay. However, the number of Japanese who speak English fluently is quite low and you could end up living in an expat bubble. Some basic local language skills will also be invaluable in the classroom, as you may find yourself working with young children or even adults who need a little support in their mother tongue. Consider doing a course to get the basics down before you arrive in Japan. It’s likely to make the overall experience even more rewarding.

Do you have any tips to add to this beginner’s guide to teaching English in Japan? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

The information contained in this story is general in nature and does not constitute professional advice in any way. We make every effort to ensure this content is accurate, but we do not guarantee it. You should do your own research and seek the advice of professionals before acting or relying on any of the information provided in this story.

Additional images: Depositphotos, Bigstock, and Envato

Adam Ford

About the writer

Adam Ford is editor of Top Oz Tours & Travel Ideas, and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger, and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa, and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.



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