5 Things I Wish I Knew About Teaching English in Japan

Always wanted to move to Japan or ever wondered what it’s like to teach English abroad? Traveller and eikaiwa sensei, Jenie, shares her experiences and tips about hiring processes, settling in, and the best and worst things about teaching English in Japan.


Japanese Students Photo © iStock/ferrantraite

Over two years ago, I decided to uproot my life in Singapore and take a sabbatical from my advertising career to teach English in Japan. My infatuation with this multifaceted country has turned into a life-changing adventure I will always cherish. 

If you’re daring and determined enough, teaching could be the first step (or leap) towards fulfilling your dream of living in the land of kawaii, exceptional cuisine, amusing subcultures, and extreme politeness. Here are some things you should know about relocating and teaching English in Japan:

#1 The application process can be tedious

When I heard about one of the biggest conversation schools in Japan (eikaiwa in Japanese), I signed up for their orientation seminar in Singapore and applied to be an instructor without hesitation. 

I got called in for my first interview the following morning and passed the second one via Skype weeks later. Barely a week into 2015, I received some great news, then immediately prepared the documents for my working visa. By mid-April, I was at the airport with two fat suitcases and my one-way ticket to Tokyo. 

#2 Finding a home requires luck

The company sent me a comprehensive guide for expats in Japan, stating what to bring, what to expect, and where to live. They let me choose a location and once I was assigned to a learning studio, I started scouring property sites in English, such as Oakhouse and Sakura House. I was fortunate to have found a furnished apartment just 15 minutes away from my workplace, which I easily reserved online.

#3 You’ll survive without Japanese skills 

Teaching English is one of the few jobs that foreigners with zero Japanese language proficiency can have. My mom thought I was crazy for moving to Japan without knowing any Japanese, but luckily, instructors in my eikaiwa are discouraged from speaking the language, so online dictionaries and Google images are real lifesavers. 

For my daily life, I get by using a few apps, a handful of survival phrases and through non-verbal communication. Don’t be too carefree like me, though, and start learning the language before you move. 

#4 You’ll enjoy flexibility and freedom, but…

As an independent contractor, I had the freedom to choose my weekly schedules and take vacations whenever I wanted, without the need for the boss’ approval. This is an amazing job perk for travel addicts like myself. 

The downside is, I wasn’t entitled to paid vacation and sick leaves, so if I didn’t work, I didn’t earn. There is a scarcity of benefits for contractors too, but if you value having the luxury of time for your passions (teaching, included), then I say go for it. 

#5 You’ll find teaching rewarding 

Another advantage of teaching in Japan is meeting people from all walks of life. For two years, I had one-on-one, 40-minute lessons with college students, housewives, business professionals, retirees, and company big shots, and they taught me a lot about Japanese culture, too. 

Generally, they were self-motivated individuals determined to achieve their goals – be it to study overseas, travel the world, get a promotion, or simply to learn a new skill. I may be their sensei but my clients had also imparted valuable life lessons I’d definitely take with me when I decide to leave this amazing country.

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  • Rin said

    Thanks for sharing. I have a few questions:
    Which employment agency would you recommend, and would I need to have TESOL or TEFL qualificationI? I have a Bachelor of Arts - is this enough?
    Thank you.

  • Amelia said

    Hey Rin,
    I spoke to our writer, Jenie, and found out a bit of extra info for you.
    She didn't apply through an employment agency, but directly to Gaba Corporation. They accept online applications and assist with the visa application for successful candidates. About the qualifications, TOEFL and TESL certifications are not required in most one-to-one conversation schools. However, local public & private schools and companies like Berlitz require them.
    Hope this helps!

  • Mike Sandy said

    Just an anxious to receive information from you.


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