F.A.Q. Should I teach in/move to Japan?

April 7, 2008 at 4:53 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

In my time teaching in Japan, a lot of friends referred other people to me who were considering pursuing the same opportunity. I’ve posted some of these letters below.

What are your experiences teaching in Japan?

I’m considering teaching in Japan. Would you mind generally speaking about your job: hours, contracts, salary, other expenses in Japan, etc? I really appreciate it!

My hours are 8:30-4:15 Monday through Friday. My contract is a one year, starting in July, renewable up to to 3 times. My salary is roughly $30-32,000, tax free from both Japan and the US which is pretty sweet. My rent is also half-paid by my employer, the Kitakyushu Board of Education. I was hired for them through the Jet Programme.

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.

How much can I save?
My primary reasons for interest include my fastination with traveling and paying off some student loans. What do you feel is a likely savings potential? Thanks for all of your information!
Some people say they’ve saved 5-10,000 dollars. I thought I’d save more here than I have–about $6000 in two years. My boyfriend is strictly budgeting himself and will end up saving about $3-4,000 in one year.The thing about saving here, is that on paper it looks great. In reality though, my friends and I have found that we spend a lot of money keeping our spirits up. Traveling, shopping, dinners out, etc. Since I’ve gotten here, saving money has given way to “well I live in Asia, I’ll never be able to go Thailand again for so little money and without jet lag”…so the tradeoff of not saving as much as I’d like is that I have gotten to do a lot of wonderful traveling.

I have another friend, Matt, who everytime he got his paycheck, went to the post office and mailed home half his money. He made loans top priority, and did still get to go to Hong Kong as well. But at the end of the month, when we’d go out he’d usually have to stay home eating something cheap. He made do though.

Do your employers/co-workers they take advantage of you?

I am graduating this semester and thinking about moving to Japan. However, I hear some shifty things. Mainly that they try to take advantage of you and you don’t get to teach English like you would think. Like that youre a dancing foreign monkey for students’ amusement. Aside from that I’m sure it’s cool. I have an interview set up through AEON. What are your thoughts and recommendations on it? Any would be very appreciated.

I work in Japan through the Jet Programme, which is pretty competitive and applications are due in November. We are sponsored by the government and so our benefits are good (health insurance included, 20 days paid vacation, paid sick leave) and we get a lot of support.My boyfriend works through a private language company called OWLS. They place people in schools, and are a competitor of the Jet Programme that offers cheaper ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers). Unfortunately for Chris (my boyfriend), that means he doesn’t get health insurance (he pays $50 bucks a month for it), he gets very limited paid vacation, no sick leave, and a lower salary than me.

Also, whereas I got placed in an apartment and had an advisor to walk me through all the details of setting up life and working in Japanese schools, Chris didn’t have that support.

So this is the breakdown of the 3 main job markets for teaching English in Japan. 1) JET Programme; hired by government, work in public schools. 2) Private Language companies; hired by a business, work in public schools for lower salary (in my are of Japan, in northern Kyushu, KBS and OWLS are the names of two such companies. 3) Private language company schools like AEON, GEOS, and the now-bankrupt NOVA. You work for a private business giving classes and tutoring to people of all ages.

I don’t know anyone here who works for these schools, but I did originally consider NOVA as my backup if I didn’t get into the JET Programme, because my main objective was to live in Japan, more than to have a satisfying teaching job. I talked to a guy who worked for NOVA and he had a good experience. He did caution me though that I would be selling as much as I’d be teaching. So he’d use a textbook from the company, and he was instructed not to stray from their lessons or be creative, and was asked to sell things like flashcards and such to the customers as well. He enjoyed the people he met a lot, and I know he loved the one year he stayed here. He’s now in the Peace Corp.

As for being a performing monkey, occur in any way you are employed (JET, OWLS, AEON). The homogenous Japanese society has such a huge market for foreign teachers because it’s a way to get people to realize there is a world outside their tiny island. EVERY DAY I get stared at. I am always a spectacle. Each situation is different though, and while at one of my schools I am now settled and really love being there, at another school I feel like a spectacle, and Chris feels like every day at both schools, he is the performing monkey.

That said, living in Japan has been an eye-opening adventure. Every aspect of daily life is so similar yet so strikingly different to the U.S. Chris and I are both very glad we came, and melancholy and excited to be leaving in a month. I know I’ve grown a lot from this experience, and I am 98% glad I made the choice to move here.

How do I do a self-introduction in my interview or in class?
My AEON interview is coming up. I need to create a 30 minute class itinerary for teaching English and ive a simple 5 minute lesson. Do you have any suggestions? What would you think they are looking for and what type of basic material would be the best to cover? Basic introduction and greetings? Again, any help would be great. Oh, and do either of you regret choosing to teach English over there?? You can be honest 🙂

We’re both very glad we chose to come. Good luck getting yourself here :)Use the simplest present tense, basic English you can. Speak confidently and pace it slowly. Usually a lesson would have a warm-up and introduction of a grammar point, then practicing the grammar point.

I simple one to use, that doubles as a self-intro is the grammar point “I like —.” I would say a statement and do gestures along with it, 4-5 of them. (I like basketball, miming basketball. I like playing the guitar, miming air guitar. etc) Then I would ask the “students” to repeat after me. Then do some more gestures (swimming) but don’t say anything. Have the students complete the sentence using what you’re doing.

Then if you had time, you could cover “What — do you like?” (color, sport, fruit, food) and teach them “I like —-.” Then ask students individually to practice each. You say “What color do you like?” they say “I like fruit.”

I hope that helps! If you have to do a self-intro, keep it simple. I like —. This is my father, he likes —–. I come from America. I like Japan. I like Japanese food. That sort of thing. Again, emphasize your very, very basic English with pictures, gestures, moving your body, etc.



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  1. hi, your site is really really helpful! thanks a lot! the JET programme now allows applicants to renew up to 4 times (total of 5 years) now though 🙂

  2. Hi! I’m glad to help. That is a good point to highlight, about the option of extending to a 4th or 5th year. The only thing I’d like to add is that “ESID” (each situation is different). Depending on the board of education the JET is placed with, they may or may not have that 4th or 5th year extension.

    For example, my BOE didn’t offer it during my first year as a JET, and one particularly good ALT was sent home after her 3rd year even though she wanted to stay, because the BOE didn’t have enough money. The second year I stayed, they did offer people the option to extend past their third year, because they had come into some extra funding.
    Thanks for the comment!

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