Jobs in Japan - English Teaching Jobs

By James Gibbs.

If you have been following Japan you may be aware that much has changed since the so-called "bubble" years of the early 1990s. At that time the Japanese economy was roaring, the stock market was riding the crests of the waves, and Japanese people were spending money nearly as fast as the rising value of their assets put it into their pockets. Thus, this was a kind of peak for many businesses that used native English speakers, particularly conversation schools.

With very low start up costs, there was an explosion in the number of eikaiwa (English conversation) schools. Even after economic reality, too many schools chasing a limited number of students at high prices, began to set in, schools continued to open. This was mainly because English conversation is a hobby for many Japanese. With very low start up costs, these people wanted to have their own business doing what they like to do, even if it was not a great success financially.

Inevitably there was a shake out in the industry with many schools going under from 1991 to 1995 (approx. 5 to 10 percent of the schools). Today, however, the industry is strong with more revenues than at the peak of the bubble. The only difference is that prices have come down a little, and there is more pressure on the schools to cut expenses. In particular, there are many small start-up schools that offer more reasonable prices with monthly payments by students rather than yearly payments.

Nevertheless, wages are still relatively high, and there is abundant opportunity for people to increase their earnings after a year or two in Japan. Most people I know who have worked in Japan for more than two years earn between Y400,000 and Y600,000 per month, including English teachers.

The majority of jobs for new arrivals fall under this category, and they are relatively easy to obtain and generally pay well relative to other opportunities for a young person just out of college. Moreover, even if you do not wish to do this kind of work, but rather something in the area of your expertise, teaching English is often the ticket to getting started in Japan.

First of all, it is very easy to get a working visa under this category for any college graduate with a sponsoring school. As there are over 7,000 schools (including branch schools) in Japan using foreign teachers, there are many positions available. Although there will be some requirements to change to a different type of visa at the end of the one-year contract, it is certainly much easier after you have established yourself as a resident in Japan. You will still have to jump through some additional hoops to obtain a different kind of visa, but you will have a kind of "squatter's rights" leaning in your favor.

Even though you may have never considered yourself to be a "teacher," relax! This is a piece of cake. Do not let the "teaching" label fool you. You will not be giving instructions to a class of 30 on how to conjugate verbs or diagram sentences. What you will be doing is providing "English conversation," in other words just talking to people. Usually this is in very small groups of one to four students, sometimes over coffee or tea. Although there are all kinds of approaches and methods, the core of this huge industry in Japan is providing students with a chance to speak English. Often there will be a textbook with drills and activities, but all of these things are intended to facilitate conversation. The classes are invariably easy to conduct.

To better understand the concept behind this industry it helps to look at the Japanese educational system. English language instruction is a requirement from junior high school (three years) to high school (three years) to college (four years). However, the methods are rather old and conservative with most of the emphasis placed on passing written examinations. Consequently, there is a serious deficiency in the speaking aspect of the education, which is perhaps the most enjoyable part of learning a language. When you combine this with the fact that English is pretty much the language of the world and imperative for people from a small country like Japan, the result is that there is an enormous demand for English conversation classes.

Salaries for new teachers average around 2,500 per class for in-house work. Thus, a 25-hour work week earns a teacher 250,000 (approx. $2,000) per month, which is in fact a standard number of teaching hours and a standard starting wage. For a full-time position, however, many schools require a teacher to be present for eight hours a day to conduct the five lessons, thus the hourly rate for the 250,000 monthly salary decreases a little. In return for the full-time package, many schools offer other benefits such as subsidized and or furnished housing, vacation and sick days, etc.

If a teacher's work consists of going out to teach at companies, the hourly rates run from 3,500 to 5,000 per hour, often in two-hour evening blocks. The extra pay basically compensates for extra travel time and the fact that those two hours may likely be your only work for the evening as opposed to teaching three or four in-house classes in an evening at the school. Teaching a larger class also takes more energy out of you.

Regarding salary, Immigration rules require a school that sponsors a teacher to guarantee a minimum pay of 250,000 per month. Given the fact that many of these jobs are filled by 21- to 25-year-old people, often just out of college with little or no work experience, it is rather healthy remuneration for a first job. Moreover, many of these jobs go wanting because the turnover is so high.

As a natural phenomenon, about 70 percent of foreigners in Japan will return to their home countries every year or so. In addition, many English teachers move on to other types of work, better paying schools or even begin devoting much of their time to their own private classes out of their apartments or going to students' apartments.

Thus, there is a situation where teaching positions are constantly opening, and given this shortage of necessary labor, schools that list various requirements in want ads for teachers often find themselves bending their rules. After all, if they have 20 students scheduled to attend eight classes the following day after a teacher quit suddenly or they were just unable to find a suitable person in time, it is rather difficult to run their business. "Can you start tonight?" is not an uncommon phrase in the business of English conversation in Japan.

An Interview Story

In one of my first interviews as a 22-year-old, I remember discussing various details about the prospective job I was interviewing for, and I was disappointed that it turned out to only be one two-hour evening class once a week to a group of salarymen at a company.

After about 30 minutes the school owner abruptly ended the interview saying, "We have to go now!" Along the way in the taxi, he gave me a textbook and explained the details of the class and what I was supposed to teach that evening. I said, "Well I guess I can do it, but I am not sure if this is something I can do every week." I remember the pay was not so good, and the school was on the other side of Tokyo from where I lived.

At the end of the class, the students with whom I had developed a very good rapport called a taxi for me, and I went home. I did not call the school back because the class was far away, it did not pay so well, and I had had another offer with a full schedule.

The next week, two days before the class, however, the school owner called me to make sure I would be teaching the class. Then I explained to him that I really did not want to teach that class. He pleaded, saying the students would not be happy with another teacher change, but I remained firm. After all, I had never committed to anything.

I then asked about getting paid for the one class I did teach, and he said that he would not pay me if I did not continue the class. I promptly hung up on him and kept his textbooks. He was still ahead moneywise as the books were only worth about half of what he owed me, but it certainly was not worth a train ride across town to argue about.

This story happened ten years ago, but things have not changed that much. There are more English schools in Japan than ever, and there are more classes with more teachers than ever. Therefore, with the exception of a few large chain schools that seem to constantly be hiring through their own channels, often overseas, most English schools in Japan are glad to have people living nearby send in their resumes. They need the flexibility to replace teachers who leave or shorten their availability. Most smaller schools also like to have a few pinch hitters nearby for those few occasions when some of their starters might be out with the flu.

This leads to an important point about finding teaching jobs in Japan, particularly related to part-time work. It is best for both parties, the teacher and the school, if the teachers can work at nearby schools. Pay scales do not differ that much, but a teacher can be much more satisfied with a given salary minus a large amount of commuting time. Even with a good paying class, it tends to become a burden after several months when the teacher adds in the two-hour commuting time (door-to-door, going and coming back). So, if a teacher can locate jobs nearby, he or she will be more satisfied and stay in the position longer, which is good for the teacher, the school, and the students, a win-win-win situation.

Thus, you will notice that the lengthy list of English schools in this book is organized geographically by telephone number. It could have been organized by zip code or by city, but telephone numbers provide a pretty good indication of location. Schools with similar prefix numbers will be in the same area. I recommend that you open the book to the phone number closest to your own home number; look at the addresses and determine the locations of the nearest schools. Then walk in and hand deliver your resume, mentioning that you live nearby and are available to teach on several days.

When running ads for teachers in newspapers, some schools are often reluctant to give out their addresses simply because they are taking 20 to 30 calls in a few days. They just do not want to deal with that many people, and they certainly do not want that many people showing up at their office on that day.

By walking in on any day, school managers will generally be glad to know someone nearby is available. If you seem suitable to them, they may even be extra glad because they will not have to go through the trouble of paying to run an ad and then expend all of the time and effort to sift through all of the responses.

There is an additional benefit to organizing the schools by phone number. Much of the standard job hunting activity is done through the want ads in various English media sources, particularly the Monday edition of The Japan Times. Often you will only find a telephone number and are not sure who you will be calling or where they are located. With the layout of this book, you can get exact contact and other information on the schools you will be calling by looking up their telephone numbers, a benefit many of the other people calling will not have.

The screening process may be tough with a school not giving out its address or fax number. However, having this information can give you an edge over the competition. Also, you can save time by avoiding calls and possible interviews with schools that are far away. Again, you can determine exact locations of schools either by looking up their phone numbers in the main text or by looking them up alphabetically in the index.


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