The Jet Programme is the best way to go if you can. Their application is due each year around the end of November. It’s a lonnnng application, so get started early–no less than a month or two. JET gives the best support, support network, benefits, and wage of any ALT (assistant language teacher) in the country. Private companies usually exist in larger cities. My boyfriend was able to come over here and get a job from a private company that works in the same school district as me after he arrived. Businesses like AEON and NOVA are a last resort–worst pay, worst hours, and it’s more of a business than a teaching position. Plus NOVA is going through a huge bankrupcy scandal.
When people think of crazy-high-tech-expensive Japan (including me before I came) they are usually thinking of Tokyo. The rest of the country is surprisingly behind the times of life in the US. Expenses for me are about the same as they were in the US, and I live in a city of 1 million people (though most people from the JET Programme get placed in countryside). I don’t own a car though, which I think can get a bit pricey. The only things that are really more expensive are groceries and going out. Fresh produce is expensive because so little is grown in Japan, but the grocery cost is eased by eating a lot of Japanese food, and eating with the seasons–what is cheapest. I’d say groceries are about 1.5-2x that in a supermarket in the US. More like eating strictly at Whole Foods or something.
Going out can be expensive too, as in a whole night out. Eating out is a wonderful thing to do here, because there are so many little places with great food. But most meals with drinking run 20-60 dollars, and are often followed by karaoke for 10-30 dollars. I don’t go out that often though, maybe one night a week, and we’ve learned ways to avoid spending too much out (think drinking outside convenience stores before heading to a bar).
I would definitely recommend the experience. It’s been life-changing for me, and I hear from almost no one who regrets it. Most people would encourage it. That said, it’s pretty challenging. I cope with A LOT of staring (cute at first, now it’s annoying/disrespectful/enraging), discrimination, and racial ignorance. There is a strict way of doing EVERYTHING in Japan, and it took me a long time to figure out what things I’d compromise on and agree to, and what things weren’t ok for me even if they brought disdain from others.
I got really sick here this year and there medical system is like that of the US in the 1950s. That was awful.
Also, it’s incredibly frustrating to be a woman here at times. Gender roles are also very antiquated, and I’ve heard that some Japanese women consider American women to be more like men than women.
Not to scare you. Just to be honest! Now, please keep in mind that with all that opinion, I’d STILL suggest you do it if you’re interested. I’m still happy I did it, and I feel like I have a whole new vision of myself, discrimination, gender equality, and the strange differences and similarities between the US and Japan. I’ve also gotten to travel to Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Malaysia since being here.