Teaching English in Japan.

Why would you want to?

For people who have an interest in Japan, learning Japanese is a dream. But learning Japanese is hard. Truthfully, textbooks and typical courses don’t prepare you for learning to communicate in Japanese. One of the biggest points is that they push the “proper” or polite Japanese onto students. Not that that is too hard. You can do it, but it’ll take a lot of time! On top of that, it’s not necessary and not very natural. That’s why there is a slight mixture of polite and casual language in the Japanese lessons at

Returning to the motherland

Anytime you talk to someone who speaks a second (or more) language fluently, they inevitably say, “You have to live there.” While that isn’t easy or even possible in many countries, it is very possible and downright easy in Japan. But, not all is a walk in a rose garden. So I’ll break down the three main options, giving the good and the bad points of each. I briefly introduced them in my last post, so if you haven’t read that yet, please take a look before you continue here. I don’t want to make this too long.

the JET program

This is the government program and perhaps the easiest to get into. It was once the only way to actually get into teaching in the public school system. In the past few years, the number of JET teachers has dropped though.

A JET teacher usually gets sent to elementary schools, so if that’s your thing, it might be a good choice.

The program also supplies you with an apartment (furnished) and a rather kind salary. The contracts are for one year and usually people can renew for up to 6 years.

The downsides

The jets that I have known work in a large number of schools. The bad side is that you’re never there enough to get to know the kids or make a difference. You’re kind of like a guest or special speaker.

Another thing is that because the program has fallen out of favor with local boards of education, jets are mostly put out into the countryside. But appointments are up to individual boards of education. So there is a chance to be somewhere a little closer to a big city.


Probably in the 80’s or 90’s when Japan’s economy was skyrocketing, an industry popped up. Japanese people have been studying English in school for decades, but to no avail. (I’ll write about that in another blog.) So, people began to study privately. And they paid big bucks to do it too!

Basically, there are advertised as a foreign experience. Ryu gaku, which means to study abroad, is how these are billed. These private schools bring young English speakers over and teach conversational English to people willing to spend a lot of money.

The upsides

If you want to stay only for a year or two, these schools are a good way to start out. The pay is the minimum allowed in order to qualify for a visa.

The work is easy (sometimes long though). No study or certification is necessary. In fact, I started teaching on my first day of training! There is paid vacation and paid sick days (not all that common in Japan). People who want to travel around Japan and hop over to other Asian countries find this type of job to be convenient.

The Downsides

These companies, big or small, are private businesses and many of them started out because it was easy to make a lot of money without putting in any effort. If you are serious about teaching, this probably isn’t for you. It’s like a dietician working at a fast food restaurant. And the lessons are monotonous!

While pay is ok, keep in mind, you’ll never be treated that well or even as a professional. Basically, you’re there to entertain people who have money to burn. Some students are more serious, others just do it for something interesting to do.

Health insurance is not given. Some places offer a sort of accident insurance that pays if you get sick or have an accident. Actually, they are not legal, but they are still used.

ALT jobs

ALT stands for assistant language teacher. This is the job that I currently do. It’s an opportunity for native English speakers to teach in the Japanese public school system, usually in junior high.

The Upsides

It’s the chance to see the real Japan. You meet a lot of people who have nothing to do with the ESL interest group. You meet a lot of children and see the basis for a lot of the culture. You get public holidays off and a long summer and winter vacation.

The pay isn’t bad, but it’s the lowest of all the available jobs. You are offered cheap insurance (which isn’t actually legal in Japan, but it works). The hours are probably the shortest out of all the jobs.

With an ALT job, you have a lot of time to travel and opportunity to get to know about real Japanese culture.

The Downside

The downsides of this job depends on your feelings about things. Despite Japan’s spending huge amounts of money on English education, they’re not very serious about getting students to the point where they can actually speak!

Working with kids isn’t for the feint of heart, or at least those who don’t like kids. Especially if you teach junior high. There are more discipline problems than the Japanese stereotype would lead you to believe.

Many schools in Japan don’t have heating or air conditioning (depending where in the country it is.) so if you’re succeptible to humid weather or freezing temperature, it might not be a fun experience.


To be honest, all jobs are good for getting you here. That being said, none of them are fulfilling. There are other jobs here, but the ones that I outlined are the ones for people coming for the first time. The others require more experience.

its important to know that in any of these jobs, you will not be treated fairly by the company that you work for. The owners and managers are often unethical and or incompetent. Yes, harsh, but I wish I had known that before I had come.

But, once you are here and get to know your way around, you can make choices that are best for you. Many people put up with it and just use it to earn money so they can easily and cheaply travel to mainland Asia and around Japan.

so, if you are interested in living in Japan or Asia in general, you can find a job pretty easily.

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