Working for an Eikaiwa – What’s not to Like?

The Land of the Rising Sun isn’t for everyone.   But like Sirens to a sailor, Japan exerts a pull on the naive to the point that any job, no matter how miserable, seems tolerable in exchange for a brief encounter.  I was among that number.

Now, you can’t put the words “Japan, “miserable,” and “job” into one sentence without mentioning “eikaiwa,” in the next.  Try it—it’s physically impossible.  Jobs at Eikaiwa (English conversation schools) are plentiful, due to the ample supply of Japanese folks willing to pay to learn English.  And, perhaps fortunately for you, the teaching qualifications are close to nonexistent.  If you speak English and have a college degree, Congratulations, you’re qualified.  A number of eikaiwa schools will even arrange for an apartment and help you sort out official hassles like a visa, health insurance, bank account, and taxes.  Plus, the salary is reasonably good.  Yo, what’s not to like?

To understand why working for an eikaiwa will be your personal Hell on earth, let’s begin by looking at a typical job ad:

Work 40 hours per week, and teach 25 class hours per week.  Tue-Fri 1-10pm, and Sat 10am-7pm. Salary of 220,000 yen per month.

Actually, that sounds great!  220,000 yen per month is about $2,800 U.S. a month, or $33,600 a year.  Pretty sweet, especially if you’re a new graduate who’s last job was at the Foot Locker.  40 hours a week?  Well, you’d be doing that anyway.  And you’re really only “working” 25 hours a week, which is less than a part-time job.  It’s like a paid vacation to live in the land of your dreams.  Sign me up!

You know, I dropped by the supermarket last week.  It was around midnight and I thought I’d just pick up a couple of cocktails on my way home.  Then, as I passed through the refrigerated section, I saw a package of sushi for 70% off.  70% off!?  Are you effing kidding me?  Cheap raw fish—how could that not be a good idea?  I’ll spare you the details from several hours in my bathroom, but let’s just say that sometimes when something looks too good to be true, it is.

But back to the eikaiwa.  If 25 hours of teaching a week sounds like 25 classes, or five per day, you’re well on your way to buying a package of week-old tuna rolls.  You’re teaching by the hour, not the class.  So if classes are 50 minutes long, you’ll teach 30 classes a week, or 6 a day.  Even still, you’ll have ten minutes between each class, during which time you can relax.  Just kidding.  You don’t get a break.  You have to talk with students.  A teacher talking to students?  Sounds a whole lot like teaching.  So in reality, you’re doing 5 extra 10-minute mini-classes every day.  That brings your teaching load up to about seven hours a day, during which time you’ll be lucky if you can take a doodie break or down a gulp of coffee.

Now, before we go any further, it’s reality check time.  Teaching looks easy.  Kind of how being President of the U.S. looks easy.  But it’s an incredibly tough job, both mentally and physically.  Teaching, I mean.  Being President is, by comparison, a piece of cake.  As an eikaiwa teacher, you’re on your feet all day long, talking, writing, gesturing, with people watching every time you want to scratch your privates.  Four hours of teaching feels like 8 hours doing any normal job.  Hope you don’t get itchy. Picture being an actor putting on a one-man show, on stage for seven hours, every day.  Then picture the audience not laughing at any of your jokes because you’re speaking a language they don’t understand.

I speak from experience with a lot of hard jobs.  As a construction worker, I shoveled, carried, and hammered shit from sunup to sundown.  As a programmer, I stared into a computer screen for 12 hours a day.  Night shift at a convenience store?  Did it.  Bike messenger?  Yup.  Corporate  manager?  Uh huh.  Foot Locker?  Yeah.  Dishwasher at a Chinese restaurant?  Jeez, did that too.  And in Japan, I’ve done a dozen more jobs.  The conclusion?  Did you know that when Sinead O’Connor sang “Nothing Compares to You,” she was singing about an eikaiwa?  Little known fact.

But it gets worse.  The typical contract that states you’ll be teaching “25 class-hours per week” also includes a clause for overtime.  This means the school can require you to teach additional classes in exchange for overtime pay.  Now, I like money as much as the next guy, but I also wouldn’t hit myself in the head with a brick for a few extra yen.  Yet after six hours of teaching, interspersed with 10-minutes bursts of talking to students, I’d choose the brick over more hours of teaching.  But since I had no choice, I watched my workload shoot up over 35 classes a week, plus the additional 10 minutes between each class.  I wasn’t the only one, of course, as all the other teachers were in the same boat.  The first time a teacher passed out in class and got carried to the hospital, I was like, What the hell’s going on?  The second time it happened I was like, Oh, that again.  The third teacher that went down, I think I just stepped over her lifeless body and walked into class.  No time for people dying—I gotta teach English.

A lot of people complain about other aspects of eikaiwa work.  Having to take out the trash, vacuum the carpets, sell study materials, or get chewed out by the manager.  But seriously, those are just minor annoyances.  The real problem is in the fundamental structure of the contract, and the Godless desire of the company to work you to death.  Oh, and the schedule.  But I’ll have to tell you about that in next week’s thrilling conclusion.

94 Replies to “Working for an Eikaiwa – What’s not to Like?”

  1. Haha I love how you write. It’s nice that someone talks about the bad side about teaching english in Japan. As I for one want to do so in the future but it does not look like a good prospect. Either way, I’ll take that bet. I’ve heard and talked to many people who said teaching in Japan was great.

    Overtime work is common in asian countries and some don’t even pay you for your “over time” work. You can work from 10am – 10pm!

    Great post

    1. Yeah, don’t get me wrong–teaching English can be a great job. It’s the number of hours per week you do it that determines whether you’re loving life in Japan or enduring a hell of your own making.

      It all depends of finding the right situation. Landing that sweet job comes down to reading the want ads carefully and asking the right questions, like “How long is each class?” “Will I be asked to teach more classes per week?” and “How close is the nearest liquor store?” Find a good job with cool people and you’ll be set.

      1. You speak on allot of truths on your blog, that only long term residents can connect to. youve sort of joined the club and “get it” which there arent many that do. The truths are universal. I think you need to marry, work for Japan inc in the trades or other occupation other than ALT, and youll discover the other universal truths about Japan, then can add them to your postings. They are only found by experience, and can be fleeting because they are uncomfortable; the mind puts them away, so its refreshing to connect to them every now and then. I should make a list myself. ALT tends to shield people from the very real world of Japan with all its hierarchy and how they treat foreigners in that dynamic. Marriage also provides the opportunity for discovering new truths that will add to the list. I can tell if your married or not? Seems you just have a GF, which isnt really taking the plunge. If you are married, I stand corrected. ALT and GF tend to skirt around the more heavy stuff, but you have touched on quite a bit that you wont find in the JVLOG community. . It seem all of them are ALT types as well, commenting much about nothing or creating their own stupid drama with each other.

        1. Being married in Japan just makes it even worse, extra taxes, insurance and taxes again. Being married just brings out the darker, harder no future side of Japan.

  2. This is absolutely the truth. I tell people this all the time. I came to Japan on a NOVA visa. I had no idea. I was in the military as an enlisted man, I drove grave yard cab with people starting fights, throwing up, running out on the fare, everything. These things were like the Club Med compared to working at NOVA, which I did for two months and no more, until I was lucky to find an out.

    I tell people it was the single worst job I have ever had in my life. The blogger here paints a perfect picture of what an eikaiwa is. And in Japan you’d be better off doing just about anything than working at an Eikaiwa. Go get a job where you have to speak Japanese, work in a factory, anything but one of these places.

    1. Congratulations on having gotten out after two months. I did it for a year, at the end of which my manager handed me an envelope with a cash bonus, which had been stipulated in my contract. It was in the middle of my going-away party. I thought, Hmm, that’s strange—why give it to me now, with everyone drinking and talking to me? I’m normally a super-trusting dude, but I thought, Well, maybe I ought to just count this real quick. Sure enough, $200 short. And I was like, Ummm. You know that not all the money is here. She turned red, and what she didn’t say was, “Bullshit, Let me see that!” Instead, she was just like, “Oh, I must have mis-counted,” and ran and got the rest of the money. Amazing. After a year of working like a slave, that was the thanks I got.

    1. Thanks, and sorry to hear that you’re living in the belly of the beast. What’s ridiculous are the working conditions, for real. Just remember that most jobs start in April, which means that if you want to look for a new position, you’ll need to start pretty soon. It seems incredibly early, but a lot of places try to line up new recruits many months in advance. By the time Christmas rolls around, a lot of good jobs will already be filled. I always wait too long, and am annually reminded that Japan is not a good place for procrastinators.

  3. What a bummer to not like the eikaiwa you ended up with. The hours I taught at my NOVA eikaiwa were shorter, 1:20-9 or 10-5:40, the students and staff were really either very serious into studying or just having fun (both good with me) and the kids classes, while not exactly amazingly effective at teaching English, were mainly fun and flew by. No talking to students between lessons, holidays nearly always approved, overtime = never (unless you applied for it and then you got 130% regular salary), shift swaps were easy to sort out, the social life with the other teachers was like nothing else I had encountered (in a good way), there was no manual labour or dirty jobs and I got paid 242,000 monthly. I could save about 100,000 some months. The only things that seemed to suck were power-tripping staff (just nod and say “yeah, yeah”), psycho kids (give em to the power-tripping staff) and the shirt and tie.

    So even NOVA, which had the worst reputation when I taught there was pretty decent, we had a lot of people who were there long, long-term and not because of lack of choice – they actually liked working for them.

    In short, my reasons for liking my eikaiwa are way better than your reasons for disliking yours. Sorry you picked a bad one.

    1. There are some decent Eikaiwa positions out there, but they seem to be more the exception than the rule. It sounds like you found one.

      The unfortunate reality is that many folks are hired from overseas and simply assigned to a school. That was my situation. The place I ended up with was the luck of the draw. I went through training with a guy who was assigned to a school five minutes from his apartment, and he taught an average of 4-5 classes a day. Same company, only he was biking to work every day while I was on the train for an hour and a half. In the end though, he broke his contract and flew back to the States. I guess even a relatively easy schedule is no guarantee you’re going to be loving life.

      1. Even your training partner lucked out better than you. Sure you arent the exception?

        NOVA wasnt as bad looking back on it. Most people left because they were:

        a) Women who wouldnt stay long in Japan even if their job was being paid to shop and chat on their mobile. Japan aint for them

        b) People who found better paying jobs (rare)

        c) Whiners who will never be happy at any job. Their job is bitching and telling the world how bad they got it

        d) People who had other stuff going on back in their homeland

        I know NOVA people who teach at the 2.0 version now. Their conditions and bosses sound much worse than anything I had to put up with. Is that what you got caught up with?

        1. No doubt, people do say I’m exceptional all the time. My track coach said that with my ability I could skip the Olympics altogether and go straight to the Special Olympics. That’s how good I am. Even the doctor says I’m a very impotant person. At the Eikaiwa, same thing, and it seems like all the teachers I’ve met have had the same story. But hey, it’s a big country, and there’s a lot of different situations out there. But if I had to do it again, I’d volunteer to pick strawberries for my room and board rather than work at an eikaiwa. Just sayin.

  4. Omg, what a nightmare! despite it sounding like a rite of passage for gaijins teaching in Japan. I’m curious what happens to folks esp. Americans who won’t stand for those awful conditions since we have pretty decent labor laws here in the states?

    1. Certainly, a lot of people bail on their contracts, either because Japan didn’t live up to their expectations, or because of the working conditions.

      Although there are Japanese laws in place to try to prevent businesses from working people to death, they are roundly ignored. For example, I worked at a place that had a time clock and whose written policy was to pay overtime for all hours over 40 hours per week. That sounds pretty solid, right? Unfortunately, the unwritten rule was that after you’d worked 8 hours, you had to clock out and keep working, off the clock. Gotta love that.

      1. Decades ago I taught Company classes in Japan. Overall my job was okay, but regarding work hours and overtime, only actual contact time, hours spent teaching counted towards incurring any paid overtime. One class I taught involved, a 4 hour train journey, half hour taxi ride, followed by a half hour wait prior to the start of the class. The class was for 2 hours. It was then the same return trip, getting back at about 23:00. That was my evening class. I had already taught a morning class at a different company. So after a 14 hour day, a split shift, only the 4 hours of actual teaching time counted towards OT, which was incurred only if I taught in excess of 56 hours per month. At the time I left Japan, my employer increased those hours to 65! Eventually after returning home, I left teaching, for a job that paid me for every 15 mins of OT incurred! I miss the weather and food but not the unpaid OT. From current TEFL job adverts in Japan it looks like pay hasn’t changed in decades!

        1. Yep, that sounds like teaching in Japan all right. Many days I spent more time hanging onto train straps than I did standing at the blackboard. Just thinking about it makes me want to go back to bed.

          1. Ken-san,

            are you still working as an English teacher?
            Are you planning to make this your career? (Or is it already?) As in, I don’t know, working at the university level or opening your own Eikaiwa or smth.?

            If so, have you ever pondered another career path?

            When I started working in Japan I did quite a bit of translation / interpretation / teaching, but I realized after about two years of working these irregular gigs that this is not a sustainable career. (By the way, being a German the job market for teaching felt overall slightly less appealing than for English native speakers.)

            So I went job hunting in “respectable” companies and after two failures and about 1,5 years wasted I found a good company and made the first step into what can now be called a career as a businessman (business to business sales and other management activities).
            I am absolutely sure that this was the right path to take for me.

            1. You know, I change jobs in Japan so often that it’s hard to say what I do any more. I’ve had a couple of corporate jobs. They paid well, but the working conditions were kind of horrible. Cramped quarters, low morale, lots of bureaucracy, and an overall lack of planning.

              Honestly, I like teaching English. With the right schedule, it’s a rewarding job with lots of freedom. The only trouble is the money. You’re not exactly socking it away for retirement teaching 3rd graders the alphabet.

              So I’m still doing a mix of teaching and “other” stuff, but I expect something will change before too long.

  5. I think I had it lucky. I only worked at NOVA part-time. Then I had a 4 day week job with a school called LADO and got paid quite well. I had a few university jobs and then started my own Eikaiwa school/cafe.

    But teaching was hell at times. The worst was teaching kids at NOVA. That was when I quit. Teaching at universities was crazy too.

    I got offered some shocking contracts when applying for some jobs and thought screw this,I am going to start my own school. But starting my own school had it’s own problems.

    Never gonna teach in a commercial eiakiwa school again.

    1. It sounds like you’ve also had experience teaching at lots of different places. There certainly are pros and cons to the profession, and a lot hinges on your working conditions and contract.

      I’ve never tried opening my own school. That always seemed like a big step. What kind of challenges did you encounter?

  6. I`ve just been fired from my eikaiwa job. Compared with the situations you described, it sounds like I had five years of easy living – rarely any more than 15 hours of work a week. To be sure, there were annoyances like frequent last-minute schedule changes, unpaid bonuses, a miserable smelly boss, split shifts, and an almost complete lack of meaningful support while teaching classes of rebellious elementary schoolers, a dismal workplace with ancient textbooks and an overhanging tobacco odour, but nothing too serious to make me want to give up the 2000 dollars a month.

    What got me fired was trying my best to be a good teacher, putting in my best efforts and encouragin students to put in an effort and behave well, when all they really wanted was a happy, smiley gaijin to play games with kids and live up to stereotypes for the older ones. So, without warning or any request to change into that blessed person, I was relieved of my job, home and visa, and given a Dismissal Recommendation that stated that the main reason I was fired was for something that could not be put into words.

    Comparing my situation with other eikaiwa, I repeat that I was lucky. But if the *best* you can hope for is a dead-end job in the middle of nowhere, which could end at any moment leaving you with the choice of hanging around fighting while burning up your savings or just going home, then why on earth bother?

    1. Man, that sucks. Yeah, I think one of the harder things about living in Japan is how little safety net you have here. Lose your job, get sick, or have any kind of problem, and your world can collapse pretty quickly.

      Hopefully your experience will enable you to get another position quickly.

  7. Just to put things in balance, though. My friends, both foreign and Japanese, really came through for me. Lurking a lot of sites about eikaiwa and life in Japan, maybe many foreign teachers end up with negative feelings about the Japanese in general, but from my experience the reality is that it`s the business that`s rotten, not the people. Like everywhere else in the world, there are some lovely Japanese people and some scumbags and all shades in between. Perhaps the world of eikaiwa tends to attract the less scrupulous business people?

    It must be tough to run an eikaiwa. Learning a language, like learning to play a musical instrument or sport, requires a lot of effort and persistence. It must be very hard to sell that to kids. So many eikaiwa sell the image of fun and meeting exotic foreigners, without mentioning the effort part, and students become disenchanted when they find that learning English is harder than it looks, and that it takes more than a couple of lessons to pass an exam. If you sold eikaiwa honestly – i.e., practice hard for several hours a week and expect to take two or three years to reach conversational level – then you might have difficulty finding customers.

    I tried to balance fun and games with such things as respect, courtesy, thinking for oneself instead of being just told the answers, and solving problems — and look where it got me!

    Anybody could probably make a very easy life in eikaiwa simply by spoonfeeding students to save them from thinking and by playing games for the bulk of the lessons. However, they`d have to live with taking a fairly large salary without giving value for it. And even if one did take the easy route, they`d probably be fired anyway in the long run. It`s just the nature of the beast.

    After six years in Japan, five of which were in eikaiwa, I`d say start saving, learn the language, and get out once you are ahead. There`s no security in eikaiwa, and the best years of your life can go by all too quickly if you`re not paying attention.

    1. You know, it almost sounds like this might have been a good thing to you, since it’s put you onto a new path, whether you wanted it or not. Maybe your next job will be the start of something great.

  8. Well…..I feel dumb. I left a comment on a previous post you wrote (at least I think I did) where I wrote about how awesome you are and how your words are like the wondrous Nile river flowing through the keys onto the screen (didn’t actually say that, but let’s pretend I did, here have a beer.)
    The dumb part I’m referring to was when I wrote that I was considering becoming an English teacher in Japan (since getting accepted is as easy as blinking, maybe easier) just to have the opportunity of living there for a year or two.

    Now I have seen the truth, and it’s painful…..

    *a single tear rolls down the right cheek*

    well I’m over it. I’ll do some other job; getting to Japan (and not being kicked out, or have a bike stolen) is what matters.
    Thanks for the identity crushing words that are so well written ;).

    Honestly, you’re writing is great.

    1. Well, you know, not trying to crush anyone’s soul or anything . . . just, as they say in America, keeping it real. You guys still say that, right? Jeez, all my English is stuck in like the year 2000. Anyway, yeah, there are a lot of different gigs over here, and somebody probably has a good one, so maybe you’ll be lucky. Hey, the other day I found over 600 yen in the coin return slot of a vending machine, so anything can happen.

      But yeah, come over here and do something. I honestly think one of the best plans is to take a job teaching English because it gets you here, serve out your one-year sentence, and then get a decent job. The trick is to start looking for a new position after about six months. And not to get so burned out that you just go home. And not to die of alcoholism. So there’s a handy checklist for you.

      1. What kind of job did you switch too after working for an Eikaiwa? I ask because I’m currently 17 and I plan to go to Japan as either an Eikaiwa or ASL. I love to tutor (and I’m sure I’ll love teaching) and love Japan’s geography, so it’s -kind of -perfect. Are you still in a type of teaching position?

        1. Short answer, yes. Teaching English is what I always wanted to do, and I’m happily doing it now.

          After the eikaiwa, I taught at a university, then a kindergarten, then at some corporations, then I did a desk job for a while, then another university, then some grade schools, then some more corporations, then a high school…that’s about half of it. I’ve had just about every type of teaching job you could imagine. It’s pretty good work, if you don’t have to do too much of it.

    1. Hah, that’s good. Pretty much sums it up, I think. People wanting to work for an eikaiwa should be careful, to say the least.

  9. Yep, this is pretty much it. I now have a manager who conveniently “forgets,” to

    -pay my overtime (I had to petition my company for several tens of thousands of yen worth of back pay)
    -give me a salary slip so I can check whether she bothered to pay my overtime
    -schedule a lunch time for me

    This manager also loves to randomly declare parties during my off hours that are of required attendance during which I am forced to chat up my students the whole time and I don’t get to eat (after working for nine hours) because I barely get the chance to even sit down. Manager likes to reserve the restaurant and take students’ money and reservations all before even asking the teachers if they are available on that night off. Well, why ask, because it doesn’t matter to manager.

    1. Ah, memories. They all come flooding back. The long hours of teaching, the miscalculated pay slips, the “parties” you’re required to attend so you can spend more hours teaching English for free. Eikaiwa job, how I miss you!

  10. Japanese publisher wants to tell the story of English instructors in Japan

    I used to work for an eikawia, and knew people who worked at Berlitz, NOVA and GABA. When I told the publisher he was shocked!

    He wants to write a “tell all” book about the English conversation industry, and perceptions and ideas for improvement of English language instruction for use as a communication tool. The book would be in Japanese as most Japanese have ‘no idea’ about the aforementioned.

    I will be including my story.

    Would you know someone who would offer insights and be willing to have their name used?

    Contact me through Facebook or LinkedIn

  11. Loved the article. I’m looking to go to Japan and find some sort of part time work that allows me to mitigate some of the costs of living there but also leaves some time to travel and explore. Willing to lose money on the trip (I live in NYC now so this concept of “saving” money is adorable to me). Want to be there for about a year. Any suggestions on jobs I could find/how to get them? Willing to do pretty much anything as long as the conditions aren’t as horrid as you describe an Eikawia…

    Much appreciated!

    1. The visa’s the issue, you know. If you have American citizenship, it’ll be hard to work part-time. You’ll almost certainly need a visa sponsorship for full-time work, which is not unlike indentured servitude. You sell your soul; they give you a visa. That’s how it works.

      On the plus side, Japan is very inexpensive, so you won’t need too much money to live here. It’s getting a job that’s a challenge. Be sure to check out: How to get a job in Japan.

  12. Hey Ken, I really love your blog, hilarious and (even if it wasn’t your intention) really makes me look forward to moving to Japan. I start teaching at an eikaiwa in late June and had a question about side jobs. I’m signing the company contract that requires me not to have a second job, so I understand the risks, but after doing the math, I need more income than the 250,000 yen they’re paying me. Also, I start work at 3:30pm (Tuesday-Saturday) so I have all morning with nothing to do. What are my options for a side job? If I started working for an actual corporation making a second paycheck, would my first company find out? Is it illegal, I mean, is my work visa tied to only working for one company? Is being a private tutor my only option?


    1. Ah, I know that schedule. I always found myself going to bed at like 2 or 3 in the morning, but maybe that’s just me. Anyway, it may be a challenge to find another position during the day, since most businesses and individuals want classes at night. But you might be able to get a gig teaching at a kindergarten or something.

      In terms of legalities—and bear in mind I’m no lawyer—but I don’t think you’d be doing anything too illegal. However, when it comes time to pay your taxes, you’d need to file them yourself to keep your first employer from finding out. And asking them to let you do it yourself would probably raise some suspicions. I mean, they’ll do it for you all nice and easy, so they’d naturally wonder why you’d want to do it yourself.

      But to answer your question, no, I don’t believe that your work visa is tied to working for only one company. Some companies allow their employees to hold side jobs. And no, I don’t think your first company would find out, except for when it came time to file your taxes, and then it’s going to look fishy.

      Being a private tutor would be an option, but at that time of the day, it might be hard to find people who don’t work or otherwise go to school.

      Yeah, that first year is usually a bit rough like that.

      1. Thanks! That’s a big help. So I’d need to do my own taxes? I imagine 5% for local taxes, then the municipal tax total at the end of the year. If I stay with my company another year, however, they maybe wonder why my health insurance premiums skyrocketed much higher than everyone else. Oh well, I doubt I’d stay a second year. Hours are great but the pay is crappy. Probably a better idea to work regular day hours and use my evenings for tutoring kids (and lonely housewives).

        Used what you told me on Google and found some good information here:

        Kind of shocked that I have to pay 10% of my total salary in prefecture and municipal taxes…that was definitely not part of my orientation. I don’t know how they think I’d be able to pay that without a second job.

        Thanks, Ken.

    1. Early on, mostly database and data interchange between businesses. Later, a lot of online education, including website design. I’ve used well over a dozen languages.

        1. I must say, I loved being a programmer. I enjoyed the creativity and sense of accomplishment that came with producing something that looked and worked well. Making good money and being well-regarded was also nice. So I miss that part.

          But I left it partly because I just got bored with sitting at a desk all day. After a few years, I understood that my entire life would be spent inside an office building, and I wanted to do something else, and something with people.

          Working as a teacher in Japan definitely has its perks. In the schools, I get a lot of fresh air (well, fresh for Japan), and teaching adults I really get paid just to have interesting conversations with people. It’s also rewarding to learn the language and culture, which I couldn’t have done in the same way if I’d stayed in my cushy office.

          Ultimately, this is one of those What’s-Your-Favorite-Food? kind of questions. I’ve been fortunate to have had a number of good jobs in my life, and can’t really say one type was better than another. My only regret is not saving more money in the past, so that I could now blow it in Japan.

  13. So if people run out on their contracts without completing it, what are the consequences? Do you get banned from Japan? Can’t apply for any other jobs?

    1. I’m planning to write a post about this, but the short answer is that generally, there are few negative consequences. If you’re really unhappy with a job, leave. Same as anywhere.

  14. Well, looks like this will be me after all. I held out for a few months there, but that’s enough unemployment for me. Eikaiwa here we come baby.

    1. Unemployment is completely underrated, especially for those with a predisposition for it. Me, I could not work all day. It’s actually my best thing.

      At any rate, I hope you got a good school. Keep us posted on how it works out for you. And—I hate to say this, but—ganbatte.

  15. Hey Ken,
    I have applied to about 12 eikaiwa jobs (mostly for teaching children) and got zero responses. This isn’t helping out my ego much when everyone says you just need a BA, and need to be a native english speaker. I mean I of course have the first two requirements, in addition to 12 years work experience (unrelated to teaching) in addition to 2 years working as a teachers assistant. I guess I’m a bit older, 35, and am applying with my wife to all the same places, with hopes to be placed in the same area. But really, are those that much of a killer for getting hired?

    1. I don’t think those two things are the problem. 35 is probably close to the median age for English teachers here. Being married may not help, but lots of people are, and it’s not a big disadvantage.

      I suspect you’re applying to places that are hiring primarily within Japan. Not many companies want to employ teachers moving from overseas. It’s a huge deal for someone to move halfway around the world, set up an apartment, get a visa, etc., and companies know it, probably better than you do. So they’re not going to bring you over for a job that pays 30 thousand a year, when getting set up in an apartment might run you five thousand.

      Only large schools and companies that really need “foreigners” are going to go to that trouble, so that’s where you should focus your efforts. Look for eikaiwas and dispatch companies (middle men) who are recruiting overseas. Keep the faith.

      1. Thanks man, thats good to hear about the age and marriage thing, I was a little worried about that. Yeah even some of the bigger schools are stating only “select” people from overseas will be accepted, even from just 3 months ago, don’t know if things got stricter recently, if they take forever to respond to applications, or if I just thought this would be easier.
        Thanks for the response, it’s a pretty amazing resource of info and insight you provide here. Not to mention when I’m trudging through my suck-ass job and all of a sudden I’m like, cool look at this, an article about magic pickle juice, I love that stuff. Gets me through the day a little easier.

        1. Nah, you’re okay. You just thought it’d be easier, but looking for a job always sucks, no matter where.

          Of course, you only hear about the success stories, the people who got a job and moved to Japan. Not so many people are talking about how they tried and failed. Don’t forget that a lot of jobs start April 1, so companies and schools start scrambling for people late January through March. You might want to get a TEFL-esque certificate or two prior to that time, then load the torpedoes.

  16. Hi, I just landed on this page from search engine, so please forgive me if you’ve already answered the questions i will ask elsewhere. The website loads very slow where I am currently and I can’t go to different pages to look for the answer. But are there any other companies or organizations that you suggest other than eikaiwa? What websites did you use to get a job -if any- and how long did it take you to land your first job in Japan? What does a good contract look like? Thank you very much, sorry again my internet here is retarded.

    1. Other than an eikawa? Absolutely. Look into being a JET, an ALT, or if you have a Master’s Degree, a university instructor.

      I don’t remember what website I used to get my first job, but it might have been Gaijinpot. I sent off a resume, got a reply in (I think) a couple of weeks, did an in-person interview and demo lesson a couple of weeks later, and maybe four months after that, shipped off to Japan.

      A good contract looks like anything that’s not an eikaiwa, basically. That is, if you’re teaching more than 3-4 hours a day.

      I also strongly encourage people to look to countries other than Japan, although I doubt anyone ever listens to that.

      1. Hi, thanks for the reply. I actually read some of your posts and other comments on Japan and took your advice. I think I’ll search in other countries for now and hold off on Japan for work and stick it with only for tourism. Thank you for being straight up and not trying to paint Japan as a fairy tale. Saved me from being stuck and depressed.

  17. Well, I feel like an idiot.

    I have a little over a week until I fly off to Japan to work at an eikaiwa. I’ll be in the middle of a small town (I prefer the city) and be making a little less than ¥250,000 a month. But it seemed much better than working at Wal-Mart and living at home (which I am doing at the moment).

    I wish I’d stuck with Computer Science in college instead of switching to Asian Studies. 🙁

    1. Nah, you’ll have a great time. Speak a lot of English, act like you know absolutely nothing, and it’ll be a really fun adventure. Stay exactly a year and a half and then fly home and Japan will forever remain the most wonderful country on earth.

      Coming here’s never a mistake. Moving here and starting a life as an immigrant…well, you know, that’s gonna involve some other issues. So don’t do that. Just live the life of a foreigner English teacher and it’ll be all good.

      1. I don’t know, though.

        I think maybe I should go back to school. My job prospects are really awful where I am right now, and I think I’d just be pushing back getting a real job by going to Japan. I’ve already been here a couple years ago to study abroad.

        BTW, you mentioned that you used to program. Did you have a degree in Computer Science?

        1. I majored in comp sci for a couple of years, then switched to English, thanks for asking. Then when I got out of school, by some luck, I got a job as a programmer, which led to other jobs. Nobody ever cared a bit what my degree was in, once I proved I could code.

          Now, I don’t know you at all, so I really can’t give any advice. But my advice would be to nut up and go for it. It sounds like you’re just having cold feet. So you blow a year in Japan—so what? Maybe something else good will come of it. And if you really feel stressed, you can always break your contract and work somewhere else. Or fly home. I know people treat the contract like it’s written on crystal, but it’s just a job after all. Don’t like it? Quit.

          Just don’t get married. Okay, so apparently now I’m full of advice. Anyway, that’s what I’d say.

  18. Alright, loving the blog and all that. Not gonna throw lot’s of compliments at you, cos well you hear that enough I’m sure.
    Living and working in Jay-pan doing the English teaching dance (same mate, same).
    Just wanna ask a question based on your last comment. You ended it with the advice of “Just don’t get married.” Now this isn’t a loaded question or anything but why not? The reason I’m asking is it seems this is the route my life is taking at the moment i.e. Gonna be getting hitched to my GF (who is Japanese).
    Just wanna know if you have any prior warning as to why this would be a bad idea. Your advice has never steered me wrong in the past Seeroi-San.

    1. All right, look, I’m a dude who didn’t buy a bed for years because he was never sure the whole “Japan thing” was going to work out. I mean, you don’t want to drop 8万円 on a piece of furniture and then decide Screw this, I’m moving to Thailand.

      But I feel where you’re coming from. About every two months, I think “I really ought to marry that girl.” Of course, it’s always a different girl, but still. So I think that speaks to some human need we all have for certainty and permanence. Those are valuable and worthwhile things to pursue, to be sure.

      But I also know that I might not want to live in Japan forever. It’s conceivable that I could move to another country with good food but friendlier women, like Vietnam or Canada or basically anywhere. I could get used to maple syrup. Currently, I’m about two suitcases and a boat ride away from saying Sayonara to Japan forever, and I like that. Just set the bed ablaze and catch a taxi to the harbor. Maybe the desire for freedom is something else that people share, or maybe it’s just me. Anyway, I don’t think I’m the only one who tries to balance competing desires. Most folks just do it better, is all. At any rate, leaving Japan’s gonna be considerably more logistically challenging with a wife and potential children.

      So my sole piece of advice from this whole crazy long comment is: have a serious discussion with your girlfriend about having children, and how they’ll be raised and supported, for the next twenty years. When I think about getting married, I’m thinking Free Sex for Life, although I suspect women have a slightly different outlook.

      But most people aren’t me, which is apparently why the human race has survived. We all have to make choices in our lives. Some choices expand our options, and some contract them, and even the way we evaluate those decisions differs from person to person. To some people, having kids enriches their lives and expands their world immeasurably. But when I think about holding a baby in my arms, my first thought is Wow, this is gonna really cut into my beer-drinking time. Still, I’m sure you’ll do what’s right for your situation and personality. Just light that fuse and it’s Safe travels, space man.

  19. The only downside to teaching English is that regular Japanese folk are profiting off of your ability to speak English and smile. Most Japanese people can speak a fair amount of English at the end of Junior High School. The reason that they don’t is because they are too shy to do so.
    This business is very lucrative if you just take the time to learn the business. I am an Aussie, and I have been in Japan for 16 years. I am fed up with making others rich, so I started my own school. It was the best thing I ever did.
    If you wish to survive eikaiwa with dignity, my sugestion is to work for yourself.

  20. It sounds like from a previous post you think being a university instructor is superior to working for an eikaiwa. Do you have first hand experience and could you elaborate on why? I understand the Cons you’ve posted on the eikawa, any detailed thoughts on the university jobs?

    It appears as if we are relocating to Japan for my partner’s work (and I’ll be coming as a trailing spouse.) As we are a SS couple I obviously won’t get a dependent visa so I am currently looking for options to stay legally. I have a BA and MA from a top school, and over 20 years experience working in higher education at a major US school in NYC – although on the administrative side. I am also completing a TEFL soon. i thought I’d try to coast a year or two in Japanese classes and then shoot for a teaching job on the English side. We will likely have a 5 or 6 year commitment. I’m not opposed to teaching (as I did it on the elementary side my first year out of college 25 years ago!!) but want to make sure I can find the right fit.

    Any thoughts on the university jobs most welcome. Thanks for all the insight here. I’ve spent a lot of time in Tokyo over the past 15 years but the thought of relocating is daunting.

    1. Being a university instructor is one of the better English teaching jobs in Japan, simply because the contact hours are lower and the pay is higher. And you have more control over what you teach. And you probably have to put up with less administrative BS. Working for an eikaiwa is pretty terrible, from everything I’ve witnessed. I’d probably rather be a dishwaser in an izakaya. But university instructor, yeah, it’s a real job, and good work if you can get it.

  21. I’ve got an interview with them on Thursday (which was clearly not a challenge by the sounds of things), but after reading this and all of the comments I’m starting to lose my interest in the leap.
    My question is, I am currently in the process of applying for graduate jobs that would commence in Feb 2016, would it be a bad idea to work for a short period for them (4-6 months) within the gap between now and when I would start the graduate job (both for the experience and to build upon my blank sheet of paper that I call a resume)?
    It seems like such a good opportunity, but I would rather not be tortured and traumatized just for the sake of it.

  22. I currently work as an ALT. The first year was cool but I ended up signing up for a second year because all the jobs I applied for during the hiring season fell short =|

    While the work is easy, I initially came to Japan to improve my Japanese but working at a public school with the “NO JAPANESE” rule is counter productive.

    Ive been wanting to get a part time job at an Izakaya to boost my listening, speaking, and reading level (menus) but the f**king Instructor visa restrictions are complete BS.

    I went into an interview and instantly got asked when I could start only to apologize and terminate the offer because of the visa not allowing me to do any part time work unrelated to teaching english.

    If I could get out of the teaching mentality for a couple hours a week and work in a kitchen (I love cooking), I would be so much happier.
    Teaching isn’t my passion, which this job showed me, so Ill be continuing to job hunt for real jobs.

    1. Yeah, that’s a common problem. The visa restriction really keeps you locked in. Ways around it include getting a permanent-resident visa after just 7-plus short years, and marriage, which is well-known for providing a life of freedom and ease.

      I think the easiest thing to do is Move to the U.K., get citizenship there, and then come back to Japan on a working-holiday visa, after which you can finally pursue your lifetime dream of working for minimum wage in a neighborhood izakaya.

      As for the “no Japanese” rule in schools, I’ve always found it interesting that it only applies to “foreign” English teachers. Japanese English teachers speak Japanese all day long. But I guess it makes sense because, you know, you wouldn’t want to teach children that people who look “different” might actually speak, act, and think the same way. That’s no way to raise a nation.

      1. How did you work in three clever ironies into such a short space? Damnit Ken! I’ve been trying to write this damn thing for you for a week and all I’m doing is taking up my lunch time with more screen staring.

        1. Sacrificing lunch is your first mistake. It’s the most important meal of the day. Well, that plus breakfast and dinner. Although snacking’s right up there too, actually. Man, I just realized I’m pretty hungry.

          Well, whatever, if you succeed in writing your masterpiece of a thousand words or less, then you’ll be doing a lot better than I am lately. I gotta spend less time at the beach and more time at the typewriter. Wait, that can’t be right.

  23. Hello Ken,
    Thanks for your reply to my question on your other post about getting a job in Japan.
    I read it, and read it again, and again…
    (You’re still my favorite!, uh, or, your blog is my favorite!)

    Now, reading this post, I’m scared of the Eikawa jobs!
    Gosh, it really sounds terrible, and I’m not sure if I can handle it mentally and physically.
    So all the foreigners teaching English go through all this and stand it?
    Wow… I bet they must really love Japan!
    Because I’m sure they won’t stand these kind of work conditions back home.

    You suggested to me the easiest way to get a work visa and come to Japan is to find an English teaching job…
    and I guess I don’t have any other choice but that,
    but reading your post and the comments make me afraid of being one!

    I guess that’s why you need to balance it out with beer, huh.

    1. Well, there are better and worse eikaiwa jobs. Just bear in mind that if the job’s not working out, nothing prevents you from looking for a better one.

      There are contracts, but they’re completely non-binding. I fulfilled my 1-year contract out of some misguided notion of duty, and in retrospect I’d say it was a mistake. It’s bullshit to guilt-trip somebody into staying with your company while you pay peanuts and treat them horribly. If you find yourself in a miserable situation, do the same thing you’d do anywhere else. and vote with your feet. There are plenty of better jobs out there, and companies would do well to respect that and treat their workers better.

      So I’d say, don’t worry. Just get over here and you’ll start to sort everything out.

  24. Thanks so much, Ken!
    Gosh, your words puts me at ease. You’re a live saver!
    Have you considered life coaching or something like that here?? seriously!

    Will keep you posted – hope to get a chance to drink beer with you and listen to your journey in Japan someday!
    (if I land that infamous Eikawa senei job, and earn enough to drink and hang out! – or might have to settle with that 70% supermarket sushi…at least it’s sushi, right.)

    1. Nothing wrong with supermarket sushi.

      Honestly, I think you’re going to be fine in Japan. I mean, bearing in mind that looking for a job always sucks because you have to deal with uncertainty and rejection. But you sound like an ideal candidate and I’d bet many schools would be happy to have you. PS: Look for ALT jobs—they’re way better than eikaiwa. They generally start hiring around January-February, and on into mid-March.

  25. Just about to turn in my letter of resignation. 1 month and 1 weeks notice. Tried for 2, couldn’t get it… lol. But 1 month doesnt sound TOO bad. Anyways, I want to work in Japan in the future. Get my Japanese to lvl 2, lvl 1 JLPT, get a real skill (thinking something to do with travel) and hopefully in the future there might be an option.

    Anyway, are there really no bad consequences of leaving?

    1. By leaving, do you mean breaking a contract?

      Well, I don’t want to encourage people to bail on their obligations. I believe that if you sign up to do a job, then you ought to see it through, even if it’s tough.

      On the other hand, you can’t take that too far. You have an obligation to yourself as well, and if a job is truly horrible—and you can find a better one—then it’s the same as any other job. Leave if you can do better.

      I’ll also add that I’ve seen companies fire employees who were under contract. So bear in mind that if things didn’t work out from the company’s point of view, they’d have no qualms about breaking the agreement.

      As for consequences, I haven’t seen any. I suppose they could contact the immigration bureau and have your visa revoked, but if you left under good terms (love your company, but Mom’s sick, gotta fly home), then that probably wouldn’t happen.

  26. I’m currently at NOVA 2.0. English teachers get an Independent Contractor job there, which boils down to being a popularity contest of sorts – not normally that big of a problem, because they’re always booked, but still – no paid holidays and when they call in sick, they either find someone to substitute for their lessons or they pay 500 Yen per lesson they couldn’t do.

    I’m a German teacher though, got a proper contract with a base salary, boni such as “regularity bonus” or for classes of 4 or for 1:1, and some for doing a lesson at all. All in all, it’s not too bad.

    I can move my shifts without real problems and my colleages are a cool bunch.

    I’ve been living here for almost 3 years now (spouse visa, planning to get citizenship), had some other jobs before (I somehow doubted that teaching German is a thing, but it’s surprisingly popular) and applied without actually expecting a reply.

    So yeah, I find the job pretty good. I’ll move closer to Tokyo next spring, too, then I won’t have that horror commute of almost 2 hours I got now.

    Thought I’d post something positive here, because, really, all my former jobs were the slavery hell people usually mean when they talk about “working in Japan”.

  27. Ken, your posts are hilarious and love how it all goes back to 2012 and the comments are still going. I am Australian who is currently residing in Tokyo under working holiday visa. As I read, I don’t need to worry about the major problem everybody is facing. Visa. Although, I had an interview with Kids Duo but that also looks pretty tough job and they said, ‘We are not like eikawa’, but I the working condition they proposed was very much eikawa system. Thank you for all your hilarious posts and I hopefully to find anything to start with. By the way, as I have asian back ground I don’t think they liked me as they want someone who has western features.
    Oh. Question before I go, I read few comments but what happens when you breach your contract? They can’t cancel my visa I guess, is there a fee?

    1. Well, here’s the deal. Oh, and thanks for the comment too.

      In principle, breaking a contract’s a bad idea. If somebody hires us to do a job and pays a fair wage, then we should honor our commitments. In all areas of life, we should avoid doing harm as far as possible. That’s the Boy Scout view of the world.

      Realistically though, hey, half of all marriages end in divorce. So clearly breaking contracts is a pretty common thing. And if you find yourself in a job that’s just not working out, or you have an opportunity that can’t be passed up, then yeah, you’ve got to look out for yourself.

      What follows is rumor and conjecture. I’ve known several people to break contracts with no repercussions. The cases I’ve known haven’t resulted in cancelled visas, so once you get a visa, it appears to be yours. I’m almost certain they can’t charge a fee, unless there’s one specified in the contract. That’d be unusual. And I’ve heard—although I’m not sure I believe it—that legally a company can’t enforce a labor contract anyway; that according to Japanese labor law, the only requirement is that you give two-weeks notice.

      Good luck with your job hunting!

  28. It should be noted that a strong dollar has drastically changed the translation of a salary in Japan to USD. As of today, a 220,000 yen salary would amount to $1,964 a month or $23,571 a year. BIG difference… This also doesn’t take into account the many companies/schools that will pay you half salary for months in which students are on vacation/there are fewer lessons. If you have bills back home, prepare to line up some extra part time work. Not necessarily a deal breaker, but a weak yen is something to be aware of.

    1. Boy, isn’t that the truth. If you have any kind of foreign loans or credit car bills, then working in Japan is a pretty terrible strategy for paying down that debt. You wouldn’t be the first person to leave poorer than they arrived.

  29. Hi Ken, great blog here.
    I was wondering, if you earn, say, 270 000 Yen (like what AEON claim to pay) and pay 50 000 for monthly rent (with half of it subsidized) how much can you reasonably expect to save per month?

    1. Good question, and realistically, a max of about $300 a month, if you don’t party. That is, assuming you come to Japan and don’t go out having a great time, which I many people find hard to do. It’s not uncommon for AEON teachers (etc.) to go home in debt.

      The math’s seductive. You think, oh, 270,000 – 25% taxes and whatever = Wow! maybe 200,000 take-home! Subtract 25,000 for rent and you’ve got 175,000 left to play with. In actuality, that’s a slim margin. We could run through the monetary details if necessary, but suffice to say, on that salary, you can live what amounts to a modest life.

  30. Hey Seeroi-sensei! Lol. Always nice to see your post.
    Anyway, based on your experience, have you seen an Indonesian or non-native English speaker, e.g, Asian, teach English as an ALT or at Eikawa?

    I’m Indonesian, and planning to get teaching job there (via dispatch company like Interac, etc). What do you think about the possibilty?

    1. Absolutely, I’ve seen folks from a wide variety of “non-native English” countries working as ALTs and in other English-language jobs. The notion that “English” is the purvey of the U.S., Canada, England, and Australia is insanely outmoded. Like, just the other day, I met a teacher from New Zealand. Whoa. Apparently they’ve mastered the language too, so go figure. Shuuuu…sheeep!

      Sorry, Tourettes. Anyway yeah, of course, you’re going to face bias. Japanese folks are likely to prefer somebody who fits the mold of frat-boy, circa 1980. You go with your blond Flock-of-Seaguls haircut. But all right, so we’re a little backwards here. Still getting used to the internet, whatever. Wikipedia, hello.

      Bottom line: it’s an uphill battle, and you’ll face a lot of racism. And welcome to Japan. But you can do it, if your English is up to snuff. Ganbatte ne.

      1. aww, okay. thank for the reply, eh. currently, I’m trying to learn some Japanese and all that freaking kanji atm, hope it will get me some leverage, eh.

        Anyway, looking forward to your next post, seeroi sensei. I really love it when you talking about a topic but end up telling us about your girlfriend(s).hahaha. Good day to you!

  31. Thanks for the great insights, Ken
    I remember reading this a long time ago and setting Eikaiwa work to the side, but I think I should revisit the possibility.

    Two decades ago I was a refugee to the states. Through a combination of dictionary diving at a young age, ESL, and straight up exposure I was able to speak English more fluently than most people I have known.

    Being in a family that made ends meet and not wanting to return to my family’s debt-ridden early years, I joined the military instead of taking on student loans. Penny Pinching habits saved me up a nice amount and I was able to see quite a few places.

    Okinawa and mainland Japan have been my favorites, and I am hoping to get a government job when I get out this November.

    Constantly deploying, however, has made it so that it’s difficult to stay in touch with my contacts, who are even leaving the area that I was going to try to work at. I’m certainly capable, but I’m sure you’re familiar with “who you know” being more valuable than “what you know”.
    I’m typing this on my phone using an unreliable wifi puck in the Phillipines.

    If you always expect the worst case scenario, you’ll be pleasantly surprised maybe 12% of the time.
    With that in mind, and if the situation arises, I’m wondering whether I should job shop straight from Okinawa or use that GI Bill I earned in the states and then go for it.

    On one hand, I have many friends and coworkers for support now in a place I like to live in, and on the other I will have a degree to work with, but I will probably work with much less support.

    I know I pretty much wrote my life story, but I’m just curious what input you might have on my situation. I have enjoyed this side of the world, warts and all, and I’d like to stick around.

  32. If it makes anyone feel better (or worse) teaching in China is extremely similar. 10-12 hour days, mandatory “overtime” weekend classes put your work load at about 6-7 days a week most weeks. No summer vacation because of sweet sweet summer classes. Your boss is free to pimp you out to commercial companies for his/her own financial benefit. I did a 1 hour long recording for a Chinese metal company trying to attract German investors, my payment was a guitar which I never received. That one may be on me though, no idea how I let myself get roped into it. If you are getting better results than another teacher they will just give you one of their classes on top of your already staggering amount. I have some friends who had to deal with more or less the same thing, one who is still doing it, bless her. Point is stay strong teachers of the Japan, you have comrades in China. Not me, I jumped ship a few years ago.
    Love the blog it’s hilarious yet informative, hard to find these days, keep up the good work.

  33. Sir K, I’ve got a question regarding part-time jobs.

    Is it possible for a gaijin to be hired as a part-time librarian there in Japan? Are there English libraries where a no read, no write (in the Japanese language) foreigner can work at? I am not sure if you’d know about this or if this question makes sense in Japan, but I’m taking chances.


    1. It doesn’t seem too likely. I’ve never seen an English library, although there are English sections in bookstores. As for working in Japan, unless you’re teaching English, you generally need to be fairly competent in Japanese. Also, don’t forget you’ll need a visa.

      1. Hmmmmmmm~, that’s disappointing. I was thinking of applying for an English teaching job and then take some side-job, say, as a librarian. Dreamer. HAHA

        Demo, arigatou gozaimasu K-sensei! (Is that right?). At least I can move on and think of other alternatives. ‘Hope I can work there and live my Japanese dream ^^ (I do take note of the downsides of staying there, which you’ve hinted at throughout your articles XD).


        1. Your Japanese sounds fine. Keep up the good work!

          In terms of side gigs, after you get here, you may find various things opening up. They may not be what you expected, but who knows, maybe Dog Groomer will turn out to be your dream job.

          1. Dog Groomer? That’s fine.
            So long as the dog’s mine. XD

            Really. How ominous. I hope things turn out for the better. ~_~

            Thank you anyway!

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