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So you want to work in Japan? If your Japanese is as abysmal as mine your only choice is to become an English teacher. You’re in luck though, as its not as bad a job as you might think and you need even less experience then you probably thought you needed. The only true decision you need to make is what kind of English teacher you want to be, as Japan offers many (if truth be told, too many) options to choose from. Here’s a run down of the most common.
ALT (Assistant Language Teachers)
ALTs teach English within Japanese elementary, junior and senior high schools but truth be told, you can sometimes be little more than a classroom assistant or foreign novelty. The work is easy, with many ALTs I know basically getting paid to study Japanese in the break room rather than actually teach.
PROS: non-stressful, easy work. Generally good hours (depending on the school), If you apply through the JET program then the pay is much better than other teaching gigs.
CONS: easily boring, lack of incentive for producing materials/lesson plans, the age of the children and the difficulty at being able to secure a non-rural placement.
Eikaiwa (Conversation Schools)
By far the easiest way to come to Japan from overseas is to apply directly to one of the top Eikaiwa schools in the country (AEON, ECC, Berlitz etc). They will handle everything from the right visa to subsidised accommodation and the staff are always helpful when you want to do things like get a phone contract or open a bank account. Again, you don’t need any experience but be mindful that the hours are long and you will have no choice but to work Saturdays.
PROS: The money is good, you get to start at around noon most days, the students you teach are generally nice and friendly and you do get a say in where you would like to be placed. (Most people are placed close to cities)
CONS: The hours are long and the work can be tiring and repetitive. Some students can be really awful as some business men can be overly flirtatious. Also, since Monday is always part of your weekend, you don’t get extra days off for National Holidays.
The best of the three in my opinion is working for private schools or international kindergartens. To get these kinds of jobs you generally have to be living in the country already or have some experience teaching before. However, there are always exceptions to these rules. Hours are good (9-6 weekdays generally, depending on the school) and you can take on more responsibilities and feel more like a real teacher than any other teaching job in Japan. Pay depends upon experience and qualifications but is generally a bit lower than Eikaiwa. If you love teaching young children then this is the option for you, but if you hate hearing kids cry then I’d suggest looking elsewhere.
PROS: The hours are favourable, you have your own class for a whole year so you can watch your kids grow and develop. Companies are usually smaller and therefore make you feel more like a family member than another employee
CONS: While working with kids can be really rewarding, it’s also the hardest work you’ll ever do. If you don’t absolutely love this job, you’ll definitely hate it.
Private teaching is also another option to consider, though it requires a lot more research and a building of foundations and relationships with clients that doesn’t happen overnight. The great things about private teaching are being able to choose your own hours and earning potential as well as needing only a Working Holiday Visa rather than having to get a company to sponsor your 3 year Specialist in Humanities Visa.
The choice is of course entirely yours, but beware. Many companies will ask for a minimum one year contract. So if your not 100% certain of the job, don’t be afraid to ask questions before signing the dotted line.