How to Work in Japan as an English Teacher

If you 1) want to work in Japan, 2) were born in an English-speaking country, and 3) possess absolutely no other skills or abilities, then English Teacher’s the job for you. Trust me, I’d know.

So recently, a reader asked about a line I’d written before: “Your job is to stand there and look white. Or black or whatever, but at least foreign.”

And her question was,

As an Asian American planning to teach in japan, does this mean I have less of a chance in finding an English teaching job or get hired Japanese schools? Japanese employers are more likely to hire a “white” teacher than an Asian who is non-Japanese?

The short answer is no, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Because having been on both sides of the Japanese interview process countless times, I’d say there are bigger things to worry about if you want to work in Japan as an English teacher.

How to Work in Japan as an English teacher, in 7 Kind-of-Easy Steps

1. Have the Right Degrees and Certificates

A Bachelor’s degree is the de facto standard, preferably from a name-brand school. There’s probably a sensei or two without one, but for the most part, a Bachelor’s is the minimum barrier to entry.

Keep in mind that for every position, you’re competing with dozens, possibly hundreds, of other fools who also believe they’re God’s gift to English education. So possessing a degree in Linguistics, English, Education, or something similar will help you stand out.

Beyond that, a certificate with letters like TESOL, TESL, or TEFL will probably be helpful. If you’re just getting into this game, signing up for a CELTA course would be a great idea.

In addition, a Master’s degree is hella useful. Japan is thoroughly inundated with English teachers, so unless you want to spend the rest of your life playing Fruit Basket with 6 year-olds, it’s good to have something to keep your resume in at least the Maybe pile.

Further still, if you’ve got a Ph.D., there’s a shot at a full time university gig, but be advised those are few and far between. I know one guy with a doctorate who works evenings and weekends at an eikaiwa, and another who’s unemployed, so an advanced degree is no guarantee of career success.

2. Have Actual Teaching Experience

Ideally, you’d want to be a licensed English teacher in your home country, with several years of school experience. Failing that, having at least taught somebody, somewhere would look good on your resume. You don’t need to mention they were your cousins and uncles.

On the real though, it’s strange to think that anyone would fly all the way to Japan to be a teacher without ever having tried it out at home. But people do. In other words, you might want to date first before getting married. Just a thought.

3. Speak Well

Many hiring panels have native English speakers on them, and from the moment you open your mouth, it’s immediately apparent whether or not you’re a native speaker. A weird accent—whether from Scotland, Portland, or Portugal—can to count against you. Mumbles, ya gotta remember, you’re competing against a sea of other applicants, some of whom just happen to sound like newscasters. Some of whom actually are.

Speaking well is especially important if you look other than white or black, because there are literally thousands of folks from Nepal, Russia, India, China, the Philippines, Korea, etc. all of whom speak English, but not exactly the coveted American or British English. Employers are looking for true native speakers, not just folks who learned English excellent well. So you either need to establish your “native Englishness” right away or have enough qualifications to overcome that bias.

Beyond an English accent that’s spot on, you also need to demonstrate actual communicative skills. Be able to explain things clearly. But not in too many words. Be animated. But not too animated. Be funny. But not too funny. Speak confidently. But be humble. Interviewing is the world’s worst first date, with a line of people all more attractive than you waiting to sit down at the table, and only one gets chosen. But no pressure.

Speaking of speaking, how’s your Japanese? Some places won’t care, but many will. Learning the language is no easy task, but putting forth the energy to study Japanese will serve to remind you what hell your students are going through.

4. Have a Good Attitude

Are you a dick? And not even that, because the real question is, Can you not be a dick for the short 20 minutes we’re interviewing you? Experience suggests that Nope, many people can’t. A surprising number of applicants feel the need to assert themselves, prove they’re right, or otherwise wrap a length of rope around their necks. Just be a nice person.

Or at least pretend you’re a nice person. Is it really that hard? Apparently so. You may be sitting elbow to elbow with your colleagues for years. If you want to work in Japan, you need to convey that you can contribute to a positive environment and not just wreck the place. Come to school with a smile and leave the same way. At least in theory.

5. Be Young

Here I’m assuming you’re moving from overseas. Are you 21 to 35? Great, then skip to the next section. But if you’re 40 or 50, then what’s the life crisis propelling you to run away to Japan as an English teacher? Why don’t you have a husband, a wife, children, a life? Oh, you do? And you’re going to leave all that behind? Or bring it with? Either way, now the situation’s more complicated, and maybe we should just hire somebody younger and single. A Japanese work application may ask your marital status, and it will definitely ask your age.

Also, teaching’s hard. You may be on your feet for hours, speaking, singing, dancing, with students watching your every move, possibly without air conditioning or heat. In the summers I often sweat through my undershirt, collared shirt, and slacks, and emerge from class literally soaked down to the socks. Working in Japan as an English teacher is, I hate to say it, kind of a young person’s game. Can you give high fives to hundreds of students, day in and day out, without getting tired, sick, or just realizing you could be making more elsewhere?

So maybe you’re a 45 year-old with two kids, a dog, and it’s your dream to work in Japan. Unfortunately, the nation doesn’t exist for the express purpose of fulfilling your desires. The ideal candidate is qualified, energetic, reliable, unencumbered, and young. Surely that’s not too much to ask.

6. Look Like an English Teacher

Remember Lurch from the Addams Family? Yeah, ain’t nobody hiring that guy as a kindergarten instructor. Lurch-sensei may be the sweetest 7-foot tall dude in the world, but him cradling little girls on his lap isn’t something school principals want to see. If he were a 25 year-old woman, yeah, no problem. Now, is that fair? Hell no, but write a letter to Santa about it, because the truth is, appearances matter.

So let’s be real: Hollywood likes its cowboys white, in rare cases black, but Asian . . . eh, not so much. Or take Hooters, please. They didn’t get famous by hiring a bunch of dudes. I mean, Ken Seeroi’s super open-minded, but he’s not trying to get a refill of wings from some guy named Brad, even if Brad does have a B-cup chest. No way that’s happening. I’m gonna order a pitcher of beer first, then wait to see if Brad starts looking better in them orange shorts. If so, then eh, sure, maybe more wings.

Which is another way of saying that folks don’t flock to Japan to see white geishas and black sushi chefs, no matter how talented they may be. It’s “Giro Dreams of Sushi,” not Germaine.

Being Asian in Japan

Now, I’m not Asian, so I can only report what I’ve seen and heard from colleagues and friends, but it’s pretty obvious that there are tons of Asian Americans teaching here. At the dozen places I’ve worked, I’d say about 75% of the foreign teachers were white, 1% were black, and up to 25% were Asian, mostly of the American variety. With a 1% margin of error. If it’s true that Asian Americans comprise roughly 6% of the U.S. population, that’s pretty significant. When it comes to teaching English in Japan, being Asian may even be an advantage.

Here we need to include the caveat that in private, for-profit organizations, being white or black is probably a plus, because teachers are marketed to paying customers. Eikaiwa love to slap gaijin faces on their websites and posters and say, “Look, we have authentic foreign-looking people who can teach you real English.” This is kind of like if you wanted to be a gangsta rapper. Which school you gonna go with, the one with teachers who look like Ice Cube, or Vanilla Ice? Your choice.

But for a lot of other organizations, appearing “foreign” conveys the opposite message—you’re not one of us. Public schools don’t need to market you to students. The kids have to show up no matter what. Likewise, colleges and corporations don’t rely upon selling English classes. For these and many other organizations, they don’t care what you look like. They just need someone qualified and reliable, who can fit in.

7. Don’t be the Nail That Sticks Out

It’s no secret that heaps of “foreign” people move to Japan, stay a year or two, then fly home. They land at Narita with colorful backpacks and heads full of ninjas and Pikachu and can’t even last through a one-year contract (which is why many include a hefty completion bonus). The general consensus is that “foreigners” struggle to fit in. And to be fair, it’s largely accurate.

It’s not hard to see how many Japanese folks view “foreigners.” Just be white and sit down at an izakaya beside any random Japanese geezer. And before long, it’s Why did you come to Japan? Can you read the menu? Amazing. Aren’t you surprised that we wait in lines? Don’t you find the trains crowded? Aren’t Japanese people shy? Never mind the fact I’m an 80 year-old drunk who won’t shut the fuck up. Can you eat Japanese food? How about sashimi/natto/noodles/rice/tea? Because for “you,” Japan’s different. Right?

Working in Japan as an Asian American

Japanese folks are indoctrinated with the idea that their culture’s too weird, their food’s not what “you” eat, and the work in Japan is too hard. (Actually, it is too hard.) And that’s why “foreigners” leave. But Asian people . . . and I’ve heard this plenty . . . “well, at least they’re Asian.” So they’re foreign, but, you know, not white foreign. The perception is that other Asian nations, while clearly different and inferior to the amazing culture that is Japan, are still, well, Asian. So if you look Asian, then of course you grew up hanging out your laundry, taking showers at night, and eating kimchee. Don’t try to hide it. Never mind the fact you’re from Cleveland.

So from the perspective of an employer, looking “Asian” could be an advantage, because now they’ve got the best of both worlds—someone who speaks perfect English and can explain foreign culture, but who won’t rock the boat too much and may actually stick around. Maybe they can even relate to you in the way they could never do with a “foreign” person. I mean, sure, we know you’re foreign, but not like them.

What Japanese Students Think

Finally, let’s end with what students think. Because in my experience kids are pretty malleable. They react really quickly—Wow, it looks sort of like us, yet it speaks English!—but also adapt just as fast. They soon grasp that America is a land with lots of different races who are all Americans. Unfortunately, they miss the bigger point—that Japan is too.

Instead, from birth, Japanese kids are taught that the world contains exactly two kinds of people: Japanese and foreigners. They then spend the rest of their lives trying to explain away all the contradictions this brings. You’re black but were born in Ibaraki? Oh well, um, riiight—you’re half Japanese. Brilliant. But “Japan as a multi-cultural nation” is a lesson nobody’s trying to attend. Best just preserve the illusion that Japan’s homogeneous. Stay foreign, teach English, and everybody’s happy. Fruit basket.

80 Replies to “How to Work in Japan as an English Teacher”

    1. And thank you. It’s my hope that even folks not interested in working in Japan can gain some insights into the nation and the Japanese way of thinking. Glad you enjoyed it.

      1. I enjoy your stories. Question if i floated my sandwhich shop over to japan. What kind of hurtles would i need to jump through.

        1. I really wish I had the answer to this question. I can tell you that a number of “foreign” people do run businesses over here, so clearly it’s possible.

          Right off the bat, three things you’ll need are a visa, somebody to help you fill out all the proper forms, whatever they may be, and money. Marrying a Japanese national would help you with the first two. Marrying a rich one would help you with the third. Couldn’t really recommend that as a life choice, though.

  1. Hi Ken, great post! Is the job of your PhD friend as an English teacher or teaching a regular subject (e.g. intro microeconomics or something) in English? I am also curious as to how the chances are to escape the English teaching life and get a regular job having a couple of years of it in your CV? Last question, do you think perceptions in Japan towards their homogeneity are slowly changing or will that be the same for the next 50 years to come?
    Thanks 🙂

    1. The one friend working in the eikaiwa is an English teacher. His Ph.D. is in something like Linguistics. The other is in a more specialized field, which may well explain why he’s unemployed.

      It’s entirely possible to escape the English teaching biz, assuming you have another marketable skill. Something with computers would be good. But it does raise the question of whether or not you’d want to. I’ve done a few other things here, and always gone back to teaching English. Some of the teaching situations are pretty good, not necessarily with respect to pay, but at least in terms of free time and holiday breaks, and you’re not just moving a mouse from sunup to sundown.

      As for perceptions of homogeneity, I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that 99% of people everywhere have no fucking idea what they’re talking about. That includes me too, of course. We just follow the herd because most of the time it’s the safest thing to do, and working stuff out for ourselves costs us calories. So we mindlessly relay messages in a massive game of telephone, like “America’s the greatest country on earth,” “drink 8 glasses of water a day,” “margarine’s healthy,” and “Japan’s a safe nation.” Until one day the message changes, and everyone runs around saying something else. Maybe in the future DNA testing will make all of this a moot point, or Japan will be annexed by the U.S. more than it already is, but who knows? The way we currently decide who gets put into one bucket or another is already completely bonkers, so I wouldn’t count on that improving any time soon.

  2. I love, love your posts! Every time I get the alert I stop doing whatever I do to read you. I’m currently doing a degree in asian culture, Japanese studies to be exact and I plan to work in Japan after my degree. I learn so much from your experiences and you have that writing skills that makes you my fav blogger. Please continue I always enjoy reading you! Sorry for my english I’m french, but still learning. Thank you for these great stories.

    1. Thank you so much, Katherine. I really appreciate the encouragement. Hope you enjoy living in Japan as much as I have. I mean, more than I have. Anyway, I’m sure you’ll love it.

    2. Katherine,Seeroi San is indeed a great writer and social commentator of Japan,can I just ask,are sure you have read and fully understand ALL of his work,are you really sure you want to work in Japan? I say this in jest,sort of….as Ken would say….Just say’n.
      Another great post,by the way,any word from Akita Ben?
      Cheers Craig.

      1. Hi Craig!
        Yes I read all of his articles and I fully understand what it’s like to live in Japan as a gaijin as far as I know it. I don’t expect it to be easy nor always bright. I may very well hate it, but I want to experience it anyway by my own experiences. I love Japan not only for it’s cool side. I want to understand the real fascinating Japan and it’s culture, the good and the bad. Thank you for your input!

        1. Hi Katherine,
          It’s not the idea of Ken’s blog for us to talk,but go to Kamiyama near Tokushima,find Ikuko at Cafe on Y Va,I promise this will be the most important thing you do in Japan,and perhaps ever.A little cryptic I know,but you will understand when you get there.
          Bon Voyage.

        2. Just remember there’s a lot of Japanese people who want to leave this place to experience the cool, fascinating country you currently live in.

      2. Let me shoot Mr. Akita Ben an email and see what he’s up to. I’m curious as well.

        Personally, I really enjoyed working in Japan. For about a week. I loved the culture and the novelty too. For a few months. And then all the temples and sento and vending machines and crows picking at the garbage became super normal and the alarm clock was ringing and I had to run through the rain to stand on the rush-hour train. Then it’s figure out how to fill hours of class for a freezing roomful of disinterested students. After that it’s more rain, more packed train, buy groceries, do laundry, search for jobs in France, and drink beer until the alarm clock rings again.

        A change can be good, it’s fun to try out new things, and Japan fits that bill. If you come for a year or two, you can leave thinking it’s an interesting place with peculiar people. Stay longer and get deeper into the culture and, well . . . just leave after a year or two.

    1. Thanks for the props. Yeah, about 15 years now, off and on. I wanted to be an English teacher ever since I was a kid. Man, you really gotta be careful what you wish for.

  3. I’d add one thing to the “how do you get a job teaching English” thing. If you have a technical degree (engineering, science, etc.) and speak even a modicum of Japanese, you’ll be beating off the offers with a stick.
    Of course, if you have those qualifications, you can get a job in your technical field in Japan pretty easily, too

    1. Sorry, I had a little trouble catching that. ‘Cause what I picked up was, “Sco’ishaxent intwerd.” What’s that you’re saying?

  4. Great to see a new post Seeroi Sensei. I always enjoy your excellent and humorous writing.

    Okay so I’ve been studying Japanese on my own for almost three years and finally, now that I’m 60 years old and can take classes at the local community college for next to nothing as a “senior,” enrolled in my first Japanese class Fall quarter. It’s been very helpful since my self-study was primarily building vocabulary, but the class has helped a lot with grammar. I hope to be somewhat fluent after finishing the two-year course of study.

    My 1985 bachelor degree is in business administration, and I’ve been working in the aerospace industry, in supply chain management for my entire career. I’ll be retiring from that within the next four years. But I don’t want to be completely idle in retirement.

    I’ll probably be spending considerable time in Poland, because that’s where my wife is from. So I’m also studying Polish language. I’m thinking I may split my time between Poland, Japan, and maybe the USA, a few months in each country per year, with some vacation travel to other countries thrown in for good measure.

    Can you think of any gigs a old geezer like me with my work background can tap into in Japan on a part-time or occasional basis? I’m not ruling out teaching English but for me it may not be the best fit, especially from the employers’ perspectives.

    1. I like the idea, although you face a couple of challenges.

      The first is getting a visa. To get sponsored for a work visa, you’ll probably need a full-time job with a 1-year contract. Your best bet might be to explore working as an adjunct college instructor. I believe you could also enroll in a school as a full-time student and then work up to 20 hours a week. But I think it would be very hard to fly in and out every few months. There’s always WOOFing, but you can’t receive a salary and better hope you like potatoes a lot.

      The second is, of course, your age. Nothing you or anyone else can do about that. It sucks, but the world’s a competitive place and young people are valued for their appearance, vitality, and willingness to be duped into any number of horrible employment situations.

      You know, working in Japan is kind of the worst part of the nation anyway. You sure that’s really what you want to do here?

      1. I don’t know what WOOFing is, but I don’t want to be a mere tourist. I did six months of that in Europe right after college. With the important exception of meeting my then future wife there, it proved to be a somewhat shallow experience. So I’d rather engage the society on a deeper level, as a participant instead of a tourist, whether that means as a student or a サラリーマン。Maybe a student visa is the best way to go for me, especially if it allows part time work. I was thinking of taking some intensive and and immersive 日本語 classes in Japan to help me master the language anyway.

        1. I’m back after googling WOOFing. What came up was WWOOFing: World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. All I can say is no thanks. I tended a little plot for six years in an organic community garden near where I live and had my fill of it thankyouverymuch. The tomatoes were fantastic though.

          1. Yeah, I feel ya. Let’s follow up on the question of how best to engage with Japanese society. Clearly, floating around here as a tourist is a vacuous existence. So what do real Japanese people do? Well, all kinds of things of course, so if you have a particular hobby, you can probably find a club where people do that. I’m into hiking, so I’ve been part of some hiking and camping groups. That’s worked out pretty well.

            I’ve also volunteered on farms, which in terms of work isn’t exactly fulfilling, but it does bring you in contact with real people doing real things. I mean, as for what actual Japanese people do (outside of the office, where it’s rarely Take a Foreigner to Work Day), farming is pretty high on the list. Honestly, if you wanted to “try out real Japan” for a few weeks, WWOOFing might be the lowest-cost and lowest-hassle way to do so. Because that’s authentic Japan.

            The other big thing Japanese folks love to do is learn English. But then we’re back to the work visa problem. And by becoming an English teacher, you’re self-identifying as a foreign person and will be treated as such. Even outside of class, you’ll be taken places where “foreigners like to go” and introduced to things that “foreigners want to see.” It’s exactly like if a Japanese person came to visit you and you took them to Disney World and then Las Vegas. That’s about as far from real life as one can get.

            And now maybe you see why I spend so much time hanging out in izakayas and snack bars. I’m entirely serious too. By going into a place with no English signage and only Japanese people, you’re immediately immersed a non-foreigner-centric environment. It’s not glamorous, but at least the food’s good.

            1. Well, I’d say I have three main hobbies: Hiking, sailing and learning Japanese, the latter bordering on an obsession. I used to ski but it’s gotten pretty expensive and I’m not a spry youth anymore. Hiking would be the easiest to get involved in a group. Sailing, well, I’d have to either buy or rent a boat in Japan, or sail a boat across the Pacific…not something I’m inclined to do with my Catalina 22, although I’m considering buying a more capable sailboat after I retire. Is sailing a “thing” in Japan? Know any yachties or yacht clubs? If there are marinas for pleasure craft like in the USA then living aboard would certainly save on housing costs. And I could rub shoulders with Japanese yachties at least. As for the language learning, there are some language schools where the foreign students have the option of staying with a host family. That seems to me the best way to approximate living like a Japanese while also being a student. If the language school is located on a college campus that would be a bonus.

              1. Well, I found this:

                So apparently there are a pleasure craft among Japan’s sea of commercial fishing boats.

                In terms of ease and practicality, living with a host family seems a lot more realistic than living on a sailboat. But maybe I just need to expand my thinking.

        2. I know exactly where you’re coming from. I think a lot of people want to better engage with Japanese society, including many Japanese folks. The question is, how?

          Bear in mind that, as a student, you’re surrounded by other foreign people who want to learn Japanese, so while your knowledge of Sweden may improve, you’re pretty far from existing in Japanese society. For a part-time job, well, not a lot of 60 year-olds working in convenience stores, so you’ll likely teach English. So between a Japanese school filled with foreigners and a job where you’re speaking English, you’re awfully isolated from real life here. I only mention it because many foreign people exist in that bubble, “living in Japan” without really living here, which undoubtedly contributes to much of the misinformation flowing out of this nation. It’s not an easy to place to just show up and integrate into. Let’s look at WWOOFing again…

          1. Yeah if I was inclined to hang out with ex-pats, why even bother leaving the US? Hanging out with foreign students may have certain advantages but still somewhat defeats the purpose of being in Japan. Working in retail would not be my first choice although in working with the public I imagine there may be opportunities for biliguals…to help the Yankee tourists don’t you know. As for WWOOFing…well if I can drive the tractor that might be okay but at my age I certainly don’t want to be bent over in a rice patty planting seedlings.

  5. Nice one! I am long out of the game and things may have changed but I am curious if the hierarchy of English teacher jobs still exists.

    Back in my day, in the first rank you had university teachers and JETS, in the second major eikaiwas like GEOS, AEON or NOVA (though NOVA was the McDonalds of eikaiwas) and then, at the bottom, the independent and dispatch schools where you were basically part time or on short term contracts.

    I have really fond memories of teaching English – probably because I was young and stupid, had no responsibilities and there was a really good social network amongst the teachers. I never really liked teaching kids (Japanese kids are brats) but I enjoyed the adult lessons as a lot of my students were genuinely interesting and profound people who taught me a lot of what I know about Japan.

    Anyway, thanks for the article!

    1. Heh, yeah Japanese kids are brats. But maybe kids everywhere are. I mean, I guess by that measure I was born a Japanese child.

      That is basically the hierarchy, although above that you can add instructors at private high schools, universities and corporations, depending on the particular work situations.

      I think your memories are accurate. When the students are engaged, teaching English is a great job. But that’s a big “when.”

  6. I know it’s not really the topic of this post, but I feel adding a short paragraph: “You won’t earn much in Japan (any more). If you want to live like a king, try China.” would be helpful 🙂

    1. That’s an excellent point. The wages are pretty horrible. You can survive, but that’s about it. I’m sure that’s a factor in why English teachers don’t last longer in Japan.

      There are a lot of places in the world where you’d make more, and with less hassle. Living like a king in China does sound rather appealing…[starts googling].

          1. My last monthly pay packet in 1984 was ¥245,000. Rent for a 2DK was ¥48,000 per month. Gym membership was ¥7,0000 per month. I can’t remember other costs like income tax and health insurance now, but I saved ¥80,000 per month. However, my father was shocked at how little money I returned home with. The normal expectation perhaps was and perhaps still is, that the young and adventurous go abroad to seek their fortune, not to return home empty handed.

            1. If we’re talking money I can add:

              The first job in Japan I had was called “coordinator for international relations” and it was either part of the JET program or a local addition to it, I don’t remember
              Anyway, I earned about 240.000 per month but got very cheap rent. I think it was 10.000 or so per month. Paying all other costs I usually had a good sum left each month. This was 2007/8.

              Now I earn significantly more but not in any language teaching function or some such, but as a middle management guy in the German office of a Japanese company. I chose this path because I didn’t see much potential in going into the language teacher / translator / interpreter direction (interpreter seemed to be the best option among these).
              Also language teacher / translator can be quite boring at times, while interpreter is sometimes very stressful 🙂

            1. That’s a pretty good video, including the comments. It should be required watching for anyone considering moving to Japan.

      1. As someone who’s spent a lot of time in Chinese culture and speaks the language, I would caution you against teaching English in China. There’s no rule of law to ensure that your contract will be followed. In my experience, terms may change unexpectedly. Sometimes leaving the country can be challenging. The government may desire your presence longer than you would like. I’d look elsewhere right now.

        1. Well, that’s terrible to hear but good to know.

          Sounds like almost the opposite problem to the one here. In Japan, the difficulty is figuring out how to stay. If what you’re saying is accurate, then the challenge in China is how to leave.

  7. And be from an English speaking country otherwise it CAN get difficult. Well, I’m German and worked as an English teacher in Japan for 7 years, but it’s not so easy. 🙂

    I used to have an Asian American (3rd generation Japanese) co-worker in Japan. The funny thing was that he couldn’t speak Japanese at all and when we were out and about people always approached him and ignored me, but as he couldn’t understand shit, I then replied in Japanese and that blew away a few brains, I guess. ;P
    Other than that he didn’t have any issues being an English teacher in Japan.

  8. I feel like something is missing here, I can’t put my finger on what exactly it is though… maybe it’s ‘Make sure you live in the Tokyo Metropolitan area?” as well but I’m not 100% sure.

    It isn’t easy getting a job in Japan… the requirements for everything are very high and even if you fulfill a lot of them, your chances are still fairly slim.

    For example: I married a Japanese man (no visa issues here) and moved to Japan (my Japanese isn’t good by any stretch but I can get by and have a basic conversation / read things and sit online all day typing and horrifying people with my attempts at using new grammar points, lol).

    It has been a year since I have had any form of gainful employment… to say that I’m thoroughly depressed about the situation is an understatement. No matter what I apply for (and I’ve applied for pretty much everything at this point, IT jobs that I’m qualified for, (10yrs+ exp in London in these kinds of roles), English teaching jobs, convenience store jobs…) and I can’t even get a single interview for anything.

    I feel like an absolute failure and I’m not sure how much more of this I can take, it’s just an empty, pointless existence, there’s only so much studying one can do in a day and only so many TV series to watch and games to play. I can’t go anywhere or do anything either because I’ve got no money – it’s not possible to spend the entire day jogging either, lol. I absolutely hate relying on others and I don’t want to be a housewife – that’s my idea of a nightmare!

    So yeah, people, seriously try and have a job lined up before you land, otherwise when you get here… be prepared for this kind of weird mental torture where you’re totally isolated, have no support network of any kind and just slowly lose your mind for various reasons.

    1. I know where you’re coming from. A lot of us have been there, and it’s easy to get depressed. Finding a decent job can be super difficult, particularly outside of Tokyo. The lack of a support network is probably the hardest thing. I’ve spent a lot of time on park benches and staring at canals. Maybe that’s why so many people in Japan go fishing, just so they can sit alone and stare at the water and not look weird.

      You’re not a failure, and you’re not alone. Moving to another country and setting up a life is hard. Everything’s difficult. It took me a fucking year just to buy a bicycle. So I don’t know what the solution is, but I’m sure it’s not just you who feels that way. If you don’t mind sharing, what prefecture are you in?

  9. A decent job… haha, I wish! Any job will do, whatever the prefecture minimum wage is will be fine… I just checked and it’s around 850 yen/hr in Ibaraki where I am, that’s fine for me – I just need to do something, anything (and I want to improve my Japanese) so I can stop feeling so useless and perhaps buy some umeshu?

    I know what you mean about sitting on benches and staring at canals, I’ve started doing that too, although in my case I’m staring at a big lake for reasons that I don’t understand – it’s just something that happens in Japan I guess?

    As for moving here… I didn’t expect it to be easy at all but I didn’t think it would be quite this hard? I can’t describe the feeling or sensation of melancholy at all, it is like I am a compass which has no direction? It just keeps on spinning and I keep on gradually losing confidence if that makes any sense at all.

    1. Sure it makes sense. I’ve felt like that plenty here, and know a hell of a lot of other folks who feel the same way. Being an immigrant anywhere is undoubtedly hard. Being one in Japan, eh, maybe harder, at least socially.

      You sound pretty sharp, so I don’t guess there’s much I could say that you haven’t already thought of. Keep trying and eventually something will turn up. At least that’s what people tell me.

    2. Have you tried applying at your local Juku? Not talking about one of those big chains, but a small local one, which may have only one office. I worked in one for a couple of years and it was very nice. I don’t think they are very picky if you speak English as a native language and at least rudimentary Japanese.

      Also, I don’t know anything about your husband of course, but he should very much help you find a job, no? My wife certainly helped, when I was in Japan (although I didn’t have much trouble finding a job) and I helped her now that we live in Germany (she also didn’t have much trouble, but it still took a year and a half to brush up her German and learn some Germany-specific work skills for her industry).

      What about your qualifications? Do you have at least a Bachelor’s degree? And how about your Japanese? Having JLPT 2 (or higher) would greatly improve your chances.Have you tried applying at your local Juku? Not talking about one of those big chains, but a small local one, which may have only one office. I worked in one for a couple of years and it was very nice. I don’t think they are very picky if you speak English as a native language and at least rudimentary Japanese.

      Also, I don’t know anything about your husband of course, but he should very much help you find a job, no? My wife certainly helped, when I was in Japan (although I didn’t have much trouble finding a job) and I helped her now that we live in Germany (she also didn’t have much trouble, but it still took a year and a half to brush up her German and learn some Germany-specific work skills for her industry).

      What about your qualifications? Do you have at least a Bachelor’s degree? And how about your Japanese? Having JLPT 2 (or higher) would greatly improve your chances.

      1. My local juku somehow already has all the teachers it needs.

        Yeah, my husband should probably help me but honestly, he’s too busy with his own work (and he’s kinda a workaholic).

        I’ve got a bachelors degree and I’m working on my Japanese but it’s difficult, realistically it’ll probably take me 2-3 more years to get to a decent (N2ish?) level, well, I know most of the kanji for that and a bit of the grammar already but I can’t actually speak Japanese to save my life… well, I kinda can but I can’t really string together good sentences yet unless I’m typing where it doesn’t have to be instant and I have a bit of time to think about it and even then… lol.

        It doesn’t help that I speak to approximately no-one in Japanese on a daily basis either. I don’t have money for classes but I do go to my local community centre once a week as it’s as cheap as chips.

        There’s also another massive problem for me… his parents just want me to get pregnant and forget about getting a job entirely. I don’t really want this at all and to me it seems extremely dangerous, to be unemployable in a foreign country… with a child? Sounds like I may as well walk down the motorway the wrong way with my pants down!

    3. I moved to Japan with my Japanese wife who I’d met in my country,I’d never studied the language and had fundamentally no interest in the place,pretty much went on a whim.Well BANG,spinning compass? my compass claim close to China Syndrome,at the zenith I got in the car and was driving to the airport,I was leaving,jeans ,T shirt passport.Goodbye.Literally kilometers from the airport I was talked back,what followed was a fantastic 4 years.Hard?yes,glad I did it? absolutely,recommend it? well yes,but with some caveats.
      My wife and I started our own business (not English teaching),and were succesful finanicially and personaly.
      For you, right at this second, I would say cool your jets,life,wherever it takes you will get better,one day these hard times will be a memory.
      As for work,I don’t know you or your situation so difficult to offer much,other than to say I think there is a lot of opportunity if you think outside the circle.Here’s an idea,tourism is huge in Japan now,you like running (at least you said you did),take tourists on running tours.
      One thing I noticed was the 1st response I recieved from Japanese,be they family,spouse or the biddy next door was NO,it’s like an automatic response from everybody to any suggestion or idea that doesn’t fit neatly into the Japanese box.Can I sell ice cream out of that derelict fruit shop across the road? NO,it’s a fruit shop.,,,ah all I can see is an empty shop…Get used to the NO but don’t let it drag you down.I also tried swimming directly against the stream,the foriegn Salmon with the big lump on his head,you certainly don’t want to swim with the current,you’ll end up heading due south and in 10 years it’ll be like where the fuck did my life go? Try swimming diagnolly,maybe with the current for a short period,then flip your tail and try diagonal upstream.You’ll get to the headwaters,there’s nice calm places up there.

        1. “Also, I don’t know anything about your husband of course, but he should very much help you find a job, no? ”


            1. Hanayagi san, nice try but no banana!
              Regarding, “Also, I don’t know anything about your husband of course, but he should very much help you find a job, no? ”
              This is the sort of English up with which we will not put.
              You may be German born and bred, but your English Language ability puts you on a par with any native member of the English speaking world.
              But just in case you ever feel the need to reply “No speak English”, here’s Guillermo…………

      1. Thanks a lot for this, I feel like this has helped somehow but I’m not quite sure how, I can’t exactly explain it.

        I’m still trying to interpret this really but yeah, I think you’re right about thinking outside the box and trying not to be dragged down by everyone saying NO! – I’ve experienced that quite a bit so far and well… it’s time for a new direction.

        1. I’m sure you’ll work things out. Remember that lots of people feel the same way, in Japan and elsewhere, and that things will get better.

  10. Hey Ken, in one of your earlier posts, you said that you interviewed for corporate positions before deciding on teaching English. Do you regret the path that you chose? Sorry if that’s too personal a question.

    1. No, it’s not too personal, and it’s a really good question.

      Since coming to Japan, I’ve worked both corporate jobs and in schools, so it hasn’t just been one path. I’ve had about a dozen jobs here. (In the U.S., I mostly worked in large corporations.) It’s hard to say which is better or worse.

      The plus side for teaching is that, with the right situation, it’s a pretty easy and stress-free job. And it’s fun to teach people. I really enjoy it. Generally it’s pretty clear what you’re supposed to do, and you can dispense with all the corporate bullshit of meetings, performance evaluations, rules and procedures. You just teach and that’s it.

      The plus side for corporate work is, again given the right situation, you’re paid far more, and you don’t have to expend much physical energy. By that I mean that teaching requires you to be on your feet, moving, talking, sometimes dancing. It can be sweaty work. In a company, you’re usually in an air-conditioned environment, and moving a mouse is about all the physical exertion you’ll need to do. Other good things about working for a corporation are the crazy amounts of office supplies available, along with printers, copiers, maybe your own desk and PC, all of which may be absent from schools.

      Ultimately, it really comes down to the situation. If you can avoid overtime, work with good people, and make a reasonable salary with a fair bit of time off, then either can be good. But it’s probably easier to find a good teaching job than a good corporate job, all things considered.

      1. Thanks for sharing that, Ken. I didn’t realize you worked corporate jobs too, so you have perspective on both sides. I guess like most jobs, so much of it comes down to the working environment and the people you work with. I think it’s those, rather than the content of the job itself, that really determine whether a particular job is a long-term prospect or just something you do until you can find something better.

    1. That strikes me as a surprisingly complicated question.

      I’m going to assume that more people take baths in Awamori than Okinawa, simply because it’s colder. I’m also going to assume that more people take baths in the winter rather than the summer. Tokyo can hover around 40C in the summer, and I doubt many people want to soak in a hot tub then.

      Once a bath is drawn, several people will use the water, so a family of four is probably far more likely to take baths than someone who lives alone in an apartment. The cost of heating the water is a factor. Taking baths as a single person is something of a luxury. Baths are also a time luxury; showers are a whole lot quicker.

      So I guess my answer is, it depends on one’s living situation, as well as personal preference. Personally, I take one or two showers a day, and a bath maybe twice a month. But that’s just me.

  11. Hello Sarconia
    I don’t know if you are in the middle of nowhere or in a big town.
    I recommend you to join a class in a community center, those classes are extremely cheap and you can meet new people, whether those will become friends , that is another question, however , if you don’t meet people you will not make friends.

    Also it will help your Japanese and maybe some job opportunity will arise.

    I joined some classes after few weeks here and it helps a lot, it takes away part of the feeling of isolation

  12. Hey, Ken.
    I have been reading your blog for at least 5 years now, maybe it has been even 7, I am not sure to be honest. It has always been a great pleasure. Thank you for all the posts and have a Marry Christmas and a Happy New Year! All good to you and good luck with all of your future endeavours!
    Just to brag a bit myself. In the beginning of next year’s Spring I am moving to Japan myself! I still have to wait for a confirmation if it is going to be in Tokyo or Osaka, most likely Tokyo, but otherwise it has been decide. I will be spending at least several years in the country and we will see from there on.
    Have you ever considered having a fan meet up? If you are worried about your privacy just put on a surgical mask and ask people to not take pictures. And please do it not early than the middle of April or something, haha. If you are not very interested in that, I completely understand.
    Once again, thank you for all the fun.

    1. Hey, that’s fantastic that you’re moving here. Congratulations! What’ll you be doing?

      When I envision a meet-up, I picture it as the greatest party to which nobody ever came. I mean, Tokyo alone is such a big place that meeting anybody can involve hours of train travel. Not to mention that everybody, including me, would need to get to Tokyo. If we did it somewhere else, like Osaka, I imagine the attendance would be even less. That being said, I’m cool to meet regular readers if we can work out the logistics, so yeah, drop me a line once you get here.

      1. I think you would be surprised by how many people would be willing to come. Especially if it was announced early enough. Well, at least I would be more than happy to meet you, that’s for sure. When you say “line” do you mean Line the app or just in general to write to you? I guess probably here or on twitter or?
        I will be coming as a bit old student, on a scholarship. Well, 26-year-old to be exact, by the time I am in Japan. Not the oldest, but not the youngest either.

        1. Sorry, that was unclear. Yeah, I meant write here after you arrive and then I’ll PM you. No guarantees though. I’m not even sure what prefecture I’ll be in next year. Cheers.

    1. Fine with me. Not sure how meaningful such labels are anyway. If you want to be white or Asian or something in between, hey, go for it.

  13. Ken-sensei, Are there any Child Safeguard Measures taken by employers in Japan when employing ALT’s, JET’s or the like? How do Japanese employers avoid employing the likes of Richard Huckle, when it comes to the protection of children from predators?

    1. I had to submit a criminal background check from the U.S. I believe that’s standard for most educational positions.

      Although incidents such as Richard Hunkle’s (which occurred in Malaysia) are horrific, there are more immediate threats at home:


      “Last year [in Japan], the Child Welfare Center responded to 193,780 cases of children under the age of 18 who were abused by their parents or guardians.”

      I regularly see heartbreaking incidents of children being mentally and physically abused by their caretakers. So a more pressing question might be, Who’s protecting Japanese children from Japanese teachers and parents?

  14. I was considering going back to Japan to study or teach but seems like ageism would be a factor as by the time I quit my nursing job I’ll be in my 60s. I have a MATESOL degree, but I’m definitely not the cute gaijin I was in the 90s. Maybe I’ll just go for a cycling trip.

    1. Well, ageism is certainly a factor here, although I do know a few folks working as English teachers in their 60’s. Even at that age, you could probably land a job at an eikaiwa or dispatch company, were you willing to stoop to that level.

      As a cyclist myself, not so sure Japan’s the place you want. The roads are narrow and the traffic fast, especially in the countryside. I did a little trip through some low mountains on my motor scooter last weekend and it felt like I was risking my life the entire time, plus I froze my ass off. Of course it’s winter, but in any case think I’ll stick to trains myself. Nice and comfy, plus fast.

    2. Well, you could maybe qualify as an ‘expert’ providing advice for a fee without benefits? There’s plenty of old dudes here pontificating on every topic imaginable. Of course there’s the sexism issue..
      oh wait, you’re a senior nurse? you can probably give shots with the best I think – if they still need staff for immunizations. Or at a clinic offering services to foreigners?
      I love cycling around Tokyo from cafe to cafe passing through the quiet neighborhoods. There are certain longer rides you can do too as they have painted several bike lanes. For example down to futakotamagawa and then out to Yomiuri Land. But I agree that city to city would probably not be so pleasant.

      1. Bear in mind that to work in Japan, unless you’re a Japanese national, you’ll need a visa. Usually that requires a full-time job, which isn’t always easy to get. Alternately, you could enroll in a language school, which opens up the possibility of working part-time, such as in an izakaya or convenience store. Hard to imagine acquiring the qualifications to work in a medical capacity, however.

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