If you are from a country outside the English-speaking world, teaching English in Japan has most likely only rarely crossed your mind before stumbling upon this text. However, if you meet the few criteria listed below, chances are that you are eligible for becoming a bonafide genuine sensei, just like me, right here in the land of the rising sun and in time for Tokyo 2020.
How many of those boxes did you check? All of them? Great! You’re off to a good start!
Now, the absolute first thing you need to do is research. And I cannot stress this enough. According to the Education First English Proficiency Index, Japan ranked 35th out of 72 countries globally and 10th out of 19 Asian countries. This low score is one of the primary reasons why Japan keeps importing English teachers. Another one is because the 2020 Olympics are just around the corner, and Japan needs to be ready to deal with myriads of tourists flocking to Tokyo. Now, just like with any other market, this increased English teacher demand situation is a fertile ground for all sorts of opportunities.
First, a few words of caution: as a non-native speaker you will not be allowed to teach at “normal” elementary, junior high or high schools unless you are from a country eligible to participate in the JET program. This might seem discouraging, but don’t fret! You are still eligible to teach at private conversation schools, better known as eikaiwa (英会話). These schools range from small neighborhood studios to mega-large corporations with branches all over Japan.
OK, so now that you know what to focus on, open your favorite web browser and type this magical phrase: “teach English in Japan”. Voilà! You now have access to dozens of English conversation schools all over Japan which might be willing to hire you, even as a non-native speaker. Go through their requirements and pay close attention if they say they will only hire native speakers or not. Word of advice, though: go for major corporations which have several schools (or centers/studios) across Japan. Those are more likely to sponsor your visa.
Another option is to just come to Japan as a tourist and look for jobs while you are here. Personally, I would not recommend this unless you are certain you will have enough money to cover your living expenses for at least two to three months. The absolute minimum, in my experience, is JPY 100.000 – 130.000 per month, and that’s JUST for accommodation and food. But money in Japan is a different story in and of itself…
Short answer? Wherever you want. There are, however, a few things you need to ask yourself first:
Do I want to teach children as young as 3?
Do I want to teach senior citizens?
Do I want to teach business English or just conversational, everyday English?
Am I OK with living in less populated rural areas, or do I want to live in a really big city?
Once you have clear answers to all of these questions (and any other you might think of), you will find it much easier to zero-in on a particular area of Japan where you would like to live/teach. Bear in mind one thing, though: as much as you might be captivated by a certain place because of what you read online, try to stay objective and consider different aspects of living in a certain city or area as opposed to visiting that city or area. Personally, I chose Nagoya because in my opinion it is neither too small nor too big (it is about the same size of the city I come from), it is cheaper than Tokyo, has an excellent transportation system, local food is great and many other reasons.
So, why not consider Japan as your next teaching destination? If you are motivated to live abroad for at least a year while doing what you were trained to do – teach English – this might be a perfect opportunity for you to open new horizons, meet new people, and generally make the world a more tightly-knit place.