Teaching in Japan

Why should I consider teaching on the other side of the world?

I’ve always been curious about life in Japan. Perhaps the curiosity stems from having a Japanese mother. Having lived in London throughout my life, I never had a chance to visit Japan as a kid. Just before going to York, I went on a trip with my mother just to get a taste; it left me wanting more.

While at York, I mostly forgot about living in Japan and focused on my busy new life of independence. It was only a brief careers lecture in the Psychology department that eventually led me here. It was my final year, and some alumni members who had been to Japan on the JET Programme (an English assistant teaching position for state schools, or better known as ALT, ‘assistant language teacher’) came to the Psychology department to give a presentation.

My passion for the country slowly resurfaced as I listened to the presenters. That was precisely when I made up my mind to make the move once I had graduated.

Tokyo Sky Tree
Tokyo Sky Tree

JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching Programme)

Since the presentation was about JET, I thought it would be the best place to start. A quick word of warning: the application process takes up to half a year, and they need a lot of documentation. I suggest that if you want to take this route into Japan, check their website for when the next application is due and plan ahead.

I was asked to do an interview at the Japanese Embassy in London which consisted of an English and Japanese exam. Though Japanese is not a requirement, having some knowledge of the language and/or culture is a bonus as it shows interest. At this point I got stuck on the waiting list. I decided that waiting for so long without a guarantee of an answer of pass or fail was not a good option, so I went elsewhere.

job secured

I found a company called Interac. The teaching job was the same, though it was thought of more as a job rather than an exchange programme (as JET regard themselves). It was an ALT position in a state school. The application process was slightly simpler, with the added recorded demo lesson.

The tricky part here was that you were asked to do a demo class to an empty room. It was bizarre, but luckily I passed the application process and headed for Japan! My placement (as most placements for ALT positions are) was in the middle of nowhere.

It was a small town called Hitachiomiya in the Ibaraki Prefecture north of Tokyo. There were a few roads and a lot of mountains; a hiker’s dream. I was fortunate enough to be the only teacher selected for a particular school, which allowed to me to see progress within students and have more responsibility over them.

ALT positions are a great way to gain entrance into Japan, and to experience life outside of the typical option of Tokyo. The likelihood of getting a large city on one of these programmes is slim. The positions also give you a decent amount of time off work to go and travel around Japan, though school holidays on Interac are all unpaid.

Learning the historical roots of Japan in Kyoto
Learning the history of Japan in Kyoto

International preschool

An increasingly popular alternative is to work for an international preschool. While most of these positions require an education degree and/or a teaching license from your home country, applicants without such luck may still get a position.

I currently work for Kansai International Academy which is one of the biggest international preschool and elementary school in the area, with several campuses dotted around the Kansai area (Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo), and from this year, Tokyo.

While an ALT position may or may not be seen as a full time job (depending on who you are hired with), working at an international preschool most definitely is. I am currently a homeroom teacher which brings a lot of rewarding responsibilities that an ALT position may not have. Essentially, think of it as a full time teaching job you may get in England.

Conversation Schools

Another popular option would be to work for conversation schools such as Berlitz. These are commonly called Eikaiwa, or literally translated to English conversation. Most of these places give odd hours as they cater to students after they finish school or work.

what’s right for you?

For those who want more time off to study and experience Japanese culture, the ALT position may be the best option, with the JET programme paying quite well too (though there have been some talks of budget cuts recently).

However, for those seeking something a lot busier and full of responsibilities, an international preschool may be the better option. Most places also offer fully paid school holidays of up to 8 weeks per year which is a pretty good deal. The difficult part of getting a position within an international preschool is that most places require you to already reside in Japan. This is why an ALT position is often the easiest way in.

GaijinPot  is a useful starting point for finding work and apartments in Japan. Unfortunately, the job market in industries other than teaching is quite sparse for foreigners in Japan. Other people tend to find alternative work through company transfers to Japan.