So You Want To Work In Japan?

For the next few months, the newly chosen JETs count-down the last few months until their plane finally departs, while daily other job-seekers scour the forums hoping for some joy.

Through interviews with teachers, working in the two main English teaching sectors, I hope to provide some insights for those wondering what it could be like to work in Japan.

In the interest of having the best possible Japan experience, also ask yourself a question:

Why?

Why do you want to work in Japan? What do you imagine it will be like?

Belinda was told by a previous JET teacher that she would work maybe 10 classes a week, and have a lot of time for travel. Instead she found the job to be, pretty hard-core, with many more responsibilities than she imagined. Now working as a private ALT, she wonders if her lack of expectations about other aspects of Japanese life and culture, helped her have a smoother experience.

The JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme, is a government sponsored scheme that places English speaking teachers in the public school system as ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers. Current JETs, Aaron, Lauren and Sarah discussed their situations, prior expectations and gave advice during their interviews. (Aaron and Lauren’s interview were done during a local band party, so there is a little back-ground noise).

Aaron

Lauren

Sarah

Another question is: Are you happy to be placed anywhere?

Anywhere?

Japan is a small country, but has a lot of distant islands, some which are closer to Taiwan than Tokyo. Everywhere, even on the main island of Honshu, even within KYOTO prefecture, there is a large amount of rural.

JETs and other ALTs, who can be placed in any far-flung public school, will probably find themselves in the most remote areas however, there is a lot more support available, as well as JET business meetings and other functions that provide some semi-regular sense of connection.

“First year is kind of fun – because everything is different. Especially socially – it’s just like university all over again. ” Belinda, former JET teacher.

Not everyone teaching in Japan comes over with JET, or even works as an ALT in a school classroom. Some are hired by private companies, of which Eikaiwa, or English Conversation schools, make up a large share.

While Eikaiwa usually are in the larger towns and cities, teachers tend to work alone, or far from coworkers, and without even the online support that JETs enjoy. Eikaiwa teacher Emily discussed this concern during her interview.

What kind of person are you? Can you adjust to a different culture? Somewhere that can be difficult to find food that is familiar. Food to fit a specific diet, or even simply vegetarian?

Another wall that foreign teachers often butt up against is that of the culture-clash, where problems, to which the solution might appear perfectly obvious (and completely different) on both sides, become huge issues. Drawing on her 8 years of experience in Japanese schools, I talked with Belinda about this situation.

I’m not talking about conforming but… it makes sense in a country that’s so small, with such a large population of people of the same culture… of course it’s going to make more sense to fit in here… you can’t be as loud or individualistic as you want… knowing all those and knowing why they exist and being more respectful and fitting in and at the same time, when you see things that aren’t working and you feel that from other people in that culture that it’s not working right… I think THEN you can support or give insight or contributions yourself. So there is a place for contributions at the same time as fitting in. I reckon I’d recommend that to anyone coming to Japan. — Belinda, former JET teacher.

Ryann, working for a different Eikaiwa to Emily, described some issues that she hadn’t expected before starting her job:

Hopefully, the interviews have helped fill in some blanks for those considering working in Japan and, along with a more realistic grounding of what to expect, not diminished your desire to come here. Japan is a fantastic country to live and work in. There will be times of frustration, and moments when you double-take, but there will be many more when you are simply happy that you came.

Thank you to Belinda, Aaron, Lauren, Sarah, Emily and Ryann who contributed their time and advice.

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7 thoughts on “So You Want To Work In Japan?

  1. Pingback: Teachers tread water in eikaiwa limbo | R.B.Bailey Jr

    • Hey Driagoolinde,

      Unfortunately there really aren’t other jobs. Potentially, if you have near native level Japanese, as well as some engineering skill, there might be work. Alternatively, some Japanese companies which have management in America, might do exchange. A friend who worked at Takeda could come to Japan for 2 years with his family, for example. Sometimes people find work once they are here – bartending, modeling, etc, but that’s definitely only once you’re in country.

      Good luck with your search! ^^

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for the reply. It was very helpful ^.^ I’m hoping to be a mangaka. I’m working right now on being a published author in USA.

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      • If you want a different job than teaching english you’d need the near native Japanese speaking skills, w/ either a degree OR 10 years experience in the field you want to work in. Generally for first world countries, you gotta have 8-10 years experience if you don’t have a degree, then you have to go through applying for a visa, and then potentially waiting a couple years for the visa to be approved. Also, you’d have to find a place that would hire you before arriving in Japan most likely… As for being a mangaka, doing manga is pretty different than doing american comics, so unfortunately a degree in american sequential art may not be enough? Your BEST bet to become a mangaka (the fastest way) without having the monies to send yourself as an exchange student in one of the VERY FEW universities in Japan that even offer it as a 4 year degree, is to get a job teaching english (which you’d need a degree in SOMETHING to get) and take manga night classes after work. Most mangaka get their credentials having the previous experience of already working under another mangaka, OR they attend a manga school. Typically manga school is two years, and is the equivalent to an AA in America. It’s a vocational certification. Nothing fancy, and pretty affordable if you have a job that pays for it. There are many chain schools in various locations that you can look up. If your Japanese isn’t good enough to look up that info, stop right there and improve your Japanese first. The teachers WILL NOT CATER TO YOUR LACK OF LANGUAGE SKILL. CLASSMATES WILL NOT HELP YOU. Your classmates will see your work and give you criticism (as with most art classes). And you will be competing with other foreigners from China, Korea, and Singapore who already have the language and art skills, but are simply attending to get a degree so they can go back to their home countries and work in a studio there, possibly as an outsourced service. Manga schools also do not have exchange student programs, so simply attending a manga school will not support a visa. Is this dream impossible? Absolutely not. It may come if you’re patient and have the right mind set. Your only actual problem is what you’d do AFTER getting a mangaka assistant job, which is less than $18k a year. So unless you have somewhere to crash or some relatives in Japan, it’s quite tight. And lots of foreigners have “succeeded” in getting there but most reveal an undesirable work life of long hours and low pay. If after reading all of this you still want to, I applaud your determination and sincerely hope you get wherever your heart takes you.

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      • Thanks for your indepth comment Ro~! It’s so true, that there are some people who succeed in jobs other than English teacher in Japan, (and if you check out the Just Japan podcast, you can hear lots of stories from photographers to business owners) but the truth of the matter is that lack of Japanese language skills is a huge obstacle to most people. There are few people, even amongst those I mentioned who didn’t at least start as an English teacher… It’s not a bad gig, and English speakers are very lucky to get such an easy ticket to Japan. Few other languages are given as much freedom in Japan (or any other country…).

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