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Is Teaching English in Japan Difficult?

21st April 21

Japan is one of the most popular destinations for teachers of English as a foreign language. Aside from this high demand for teachers and high rates of pay, Japan has a lot to offer.

It has great foods, high living standards, a rich history and some of the most interesting cities in the world. If you want to live and work abroad and immerse yourself in diverse culture, it ticks all the boxes.

Also, most of the teaching roles available in Japan are handled by large professional organisations. This means you can be confident that you’re going into a good teaching role with proper pay and benefits.

Before you apply though, check the requirements. Most TEFL jobs in Japan require a bachelor’s degree in addition to a recognised TEFL qualification. This can be either Ofqual regulated or a CELTA certificate.

If you lack these qualifications, you’ll need to take on some additional studies. Although the demand is high for teachers of English, so are teaching standards. The better your TEFL qualification the better the chance you have of getting the teaching placement you want. You’ll also be in a better position to get the higher rates of pay.

But it’s important to establish if teaching in Japan is right for you.

Where will I teach?

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Because Japan’s economic and political fortunes are heavily intertwined with English-speaking markets – such as the US, Canada, the UK, New Zealand and Australia, speaking English well is all but essential.

Not least because individuals from these countries are far less likely to learn Japanese. Although this is in part due to English being widely accepted as the language of commerce. However, this makes speaking English all the more important for Japanese people. It gives them the flexibility to speak/deal with people from other, non-English speaking, countries too.

This not only opens up more business opportunities but travel/holiday destinations too.

It will come as no surprise then that English is taught throughout a child’s schooling, and at university. It is also sometimes offered to employees if their role is likely to involve international communication and/or travel.

Below are some of the key differences:

Public School

Teaching English as a foreign language within a public school is one of the easiest ways to get a teaching job in Japan. The Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET) and Interac both specialise in placing teachers in public school roles.

In this setting, you will be an Assistant Language Teacher working alongside a Japanese teacher. You will usually teach in classes of around 40 and you will be provided with textbooks to work with.

You will be responsible for developing activities to accompany the teacher’s lesson plan.

You will get 10 days of paid leave and national holidays off. You will be responsible for health premiums and paying into a private pension.

If you get a teaching role through an organisation like JET they will likely pay for your flights to and from Japan. They also tend to pay around $600 a month more than many other companies that place teachers in public schools.

Private Schools

Like private schools in the UK, you will be teaching smaller classes and working with a curriculum designed to help students pass Japan’s English as a Second Language exams.

Part of your teaching role will be to create and grade tests to assess their learning. You will also be expected to tutor those students who need it out of hours.

Private schools tend to work you harder than public schools, often requiring you to work seven days a week, including evenings and holidays.

The rates of pay are comparable with public schools however you will get your health insurance and pension paid. You get annual leave but it’s usually unpaid. Most will also offer a bonus should you complete your yearly teaching contract.

International Schools

Roles within international schools are by far the most popular. Mainly because the salary and benefits are better than mainstream education.

Because of this, competition for teaching jobs is fierce which brings with it higher requirements. Firstly, you need to be a fully accredited teacher in your home country. Mainly because the schools are modelled on the school structure of schools from the US, UK etc.

Benefits include paid annual leave, paid development courses, housing assistance, pension and a generous salary. Usually around $5,500 a month.

Language Academies

Language Academies are akin to a learning annex or evening classes. Students are there because they want to learn English, not because they have to. This usually means they are among the more engaged students you’ll get to work with as a teacher.

You’ll be expected to develop your own teaching resources to help them learn English in a fun and engaging way.

Classes are usually taught during evenings and weekends and the pay is around $35 an hour. Depending on how many classes you teach a week you could earn around $2,500 a month, however, there are no other benefits.


To teach English at a Japanese university you will be expected to hold a master’s degree, be a qualified TEFL teacher and have some years of experience in teaching.

In exchange for these qualifications, however, is a much-reduced timetable – just 10-15 hours a week with time to prep and grade work. You’ll also be earning around $5,500 a month with benefits, including 3 months of paid annual leave.

Is Japan right for me?

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Japan has a lot of traditions and cultural observances that you need to be familiar with before you embark on your teaching journey.

Failure to observe certain customs can result in extreme offence being taken. However, it’s worth noting that foreigners aren’t held to the same standards as Japanese natives. Because you weren’t brought up in the culture you’re not expected to know about all the social protocols.

Many foreigners living in Japan have commented on a sense of isolation. Housing applications can be rejected on the grounds that they aren’t a Japanese national. Unfortunately, prejudice against foreigners is common in Japan even to the point where you may find the seats next to you on crowded trains will stay suspiciously empty.

Foreigners living and working in Japan report the phrase ‘Well, you’re a foreigner so it can’t be helped’ being levelled at them with some regularity.

It is perhaps overly harsh to say that foreigners living in Japan are viewed as social pariahs. However, because of the language barrier and cultural divide, the Japanese can be reticent to engage.

This is partly because foreigners rarely observe Japanese customs and so are rarely expected to participate. For example, you won’t understand the subtlety of Japanese hierarchies and therefore the appropriate level of politeness to show someone. So holding you to that standard would arguably be unfair.

Depending on your perspective this can be a good thing. Although, it’s important to understand customs when meeting people for the first time and accepted manners at mealtimes.

Other things to be aware of

Japan, like all countries, has unfamiliar foods, laws and other traditions that can catch you out if unprepared. Here are a few to watch out for:

Key Money

This is an important one. Key money is a tradition dating back to the 19th Century following an earthquake in the Kanto region. Thousands of homes were lost and the only way to get a roof over your head was essentially to bribe the landlords.

This tradition has survived to this day and can range between $50 and $3,000. It’s not a deposit, you will never see that money again. Some landlords don’t charge key money but they are rare.

When negotiating with your intermediary ask about key money and if it’s something they cover as part of the cost of bringing you over to teach.


Fruit is expensive in Japan. Bananas are probably the cheapest but the prices quickly ramp up. Grapes can be as much as $25 and melons between $20 and $500.

On the one hand, the quality of the fruit in Japan is unrivalled but the cost is unsustainable, especially if you’re living on your own.

Other Foods

Japan has a reputation for unusual snacks and flavours but generally speaking, their food is both delicious and nutritious. That’s not to say you don’t need to take care when purchasing snacks in a supermarket.

Labels are rarely in anything other than Japanese which can lead to some surprise meals.

It is worth investing in a decent translation app so you know what flavour crisps you’re buying – unless you’re feeling particularly adventurous.

The Pop Culture

Japan is world-famous for its cartoon creations like Pokemon. Japanese consumerist culture is quite at odds with the more traditional elements of Japanese society. But both should be experienced.

The Japanese often combine their love of animation and cartoons with other aspects of their lives. So don’t be surprised if your food packaging is bedecked with adorably cute cartoon critters.

Japan is also the home of some of the most iconic videogames in modern history so you can expect those influences to crop up often too.

The People are very helpful

Despite some misgivings towards foreigners, the Japanese are notoriously helpful. If you’re lost and ask someone for directions, they will not only show you on a map but take you there as well. Even if it’s not on their way.

This can take a lot of the stress out of those early days living and working in Japan.

Start your Learning Today

Living and working as a teacher in Japan represents an incredible opportunity to immerse yourself in one of the most diverse cultures anywhere in the world.

But first, you need to get qualified.

learndirect is the UK’s leading online course provider. We’re here to help you achieve your learning goals. Our nationally recognised, Ofqual accredited Level 5 Diploma in Teaching English as a Foreign Language will give you the skills and knowledge you need to start your new teaching adventure.

To learn more about the course click the image below. All our courses are entirely online so you can start your studies the same day you enrol.

And because your learning material is available 24/7 you can qualify for your new role within weeks.

Take the first step of your new adventure and enrol today.

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