Teaching English In Japan: What To Expect

Written by Dan

Are you considering taking your teaching career abroad? If so, Japan is a great place to start! Teaching English in Japan can provide an incredibly unique experience. Discovering the culture and language of a new country is one of the most rewarding aspects of living abroad – plus, it’s sure to be full of fun experiences along the way. This blog post explores what to expect when teaching English in Japan and highlights some tips for making it an enjoyable adventure. With the proper preparation, hopefully, you won’t be surprised by anything too much! Let’s get started on our journey together into Japanese classrooms!

teaching english

1. Overview Of Teaching English In Japan

Expectations from the Job

When you begin teaching English in Japan, you’ll be immersed in a completely different education system. Japanese students are often very disciplined and respectful. However, the teaching methods might differ from what you’re used to. For example, rote learning is common, and there can be a strong emphasis on memorization.

The job can be demanding, with full-time hours and sometimes additional responsibilities such as club activities or special school events. However, the reward comes in the form of a competitive salary and the satisfaction of helping students improve their English skills.

Basic Requirements for English Teachers in Japan

To teach English in Japan, there are some requirements that you must meet:

  1. A Bachelor’s Degree: A 4-year degree from an accredited university is a standard requirement for most teaching jobs in Japan. The field of study doesn’t necessarily need to be in education or English.
  2. TEFL Certification: While not always required, having a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification can make you a more competitive candidate. It’s especially relevant if your degree isn’t related to teaching or English.
  3. Native English Speaker: Most schools prefer native English speakers. However, opportunities may still be available if you’re fluent in English and have strong teaching credentials.
  4. Clean Criminal Record: A clean criminal record is a must for many jobs working with children.
  5. Good Health: Some schools may require a health check-up before you start teaching.

Salary Expectations

As an English teacher in Japan, you can expect to earn anywhere between $1,700-$5,000 per month, depending on your school type. This wide range is due to the various types of English teaching jobs available, including public schools (lower end), private language institutes (middle), and international schools (higher end).

Living and Working Conditions

Japan is a developed country with high living standards. However, the cost of living can be high, especially in cities like Tokyo and Osaka. On the other hand, smaller towns and rural areas offer a lower cost of living.

The work environment in Japan is professional and organized. Punctuality is highly valued, and so is respect for hierarchy. Understanding these cultural nuances can help you adjust better to your new job.

2. Understanding the Japanese culture – tips on how to communicate with locals 

Embracing the Cultural Differences

Japan is a country where tradition and modernity coexist seamlessly. Unique customs, arts, and social behaviours mark the Japanese cultural landscape. As a foreigner, embracing these cultural differences can enhance your experience and foster a deeper appreciation for Japan’s rich heritage.

Communication Styles in Japan

The Japanese tend to be indirect and subtle in their communication. They often rely on non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, gestures, and silence to convey their thoughts. This high-context communication style may contrast with Western cultures’ more direct, low-context style standard. Understanding this difference can help prevent miscommunication and misunderstandings.

Respect for Hierarchy

Japan’s Confucian heritage has instilled a deep respect for hierarchy and order. This reverence for hierarchy is evident in professional settings, schools, and even within families. Junior members are expected to show deference to their seniors, and it’s essential to use the appropriate honorifics when addressing superiors or elders.

Language Barrier

While English is taught in Japanese schools, it’s not widely spoken, especially among the older generation. Learning basic Japanese phrases and greetings can facilitate smoother daily interactions. Additionally, demonstrating an effort to learn the language is often appreciated and can foster stronger connections with locals.

Understanding Japanese Etiquette

Japanese etiquette is intricate and deeply rooted in respect for others. Here are some additional aspects to consider:

  1. Punctuality: Being on time is highly valued in Japan. It’s seen as a sign of respect for other people’s time.
  2. Public Behavior: Japanese society values harmony and order. Therefore, loud conversations, eating while walking, or talking on the phone in public transport are generally avoided.
  3. Bathing Etiquette: If you visit a traditional hot spring (onsen) or public bath, remember to wash thoroughly before entering the bath.

Engaging with the Local Community

Building relationships with locals is crucial in understanding Japanese culture deeper. Participating in local events like cherry blossom viewings (hanami), summer festivals (matsuri), or tea ceremonies can offer insights into Japanese traditions. Joining local clubs or groups, such as a calligraphy class or a hiking club, can also provide opportunities to engage with locals and learn more about their way of life.

teaching in Japan

3. Getting Around

Public Transportation in Japan

Japan’s public transportation system is renowned for its punctuality, safety, and coverage. It is the preferred method of travel for most residents and can be easily navigated even by newcomers.


Japan’s train network is extensive and efficient, making it the primary mode of transport for many:

  1. Local Trains: Local or commuter trains run within cities and suburban areas. They are frequent and reliable, making them a convenient option for daily commuting.
  2. Shinkansen (Bullet Trains): Shinkansen lines connect major cities across Japan at high speeds. While tickets can be pricey, they offer a comfortable and time-efficient way to explore different regions of Japan during your time off.
  3. Regional and Express Trains: Regional express trains are a good alternative for destinations not covered by the Shinkansen. They are slower but also cheaper.


Buses complement the train network by serving areas less accessible by train. City buses are helpful for short-distance travel, while long-distance highway buses are a budget-friendly alternative to trains for inter-city travel.

Trams and Monorails

Some cities like Hiroshima and Kagoshima have tram networks, which add local flavour to the public transport mix. Monorails in places like Tokyo and Okinawa provide scenic elevated urban landscape views.

Private Transportation


Cycling is not just a recreational activity in Japan; it’s a practical mode of transport, especially for short distances in residential areas. Some schools and workplaces even provide bicycles for their staff, making it an economical and healthy commuting option.


Owning a car in Japan can be expensive due to maintenance costs, parking fees, and toll roads. However, having a car could be beneficial if you’re stationed in a rural area with limited public transport. Remember that you’ll need a valid international driving permit or a Japanese driver’s license.

Taxis and Ride-Sharing Services

Taxis are ubiquitous in Japan, though they can be costly for long trips. They’re convenient for late-night travel when trains and buses aren’t running. Ride-sharing services like Uber are gradually gaining presence but are currently available only in limited areas.

Travel Passes for Foreigners

Several travel passes offer unlimited rides on specific transport networks for a set period. The Japan Rail Pass, Seishun 18 Ticket, and regional passes like the Kansai Thru Pass are cost-effective options for extensive travel.

Remember to familiarize yourself with the local transportation rules and etiquette. For instance, queueing and waiting for passengers to alight before boarding trains and buses is customary. Also, talking loudly or using cell phones is generally avoided on public transport.

4. Living quarters

Accommodation options for teachers in Japan can vary significantly depending on the employer and the location. Here are some of the most common types:

Employer-Provided Housing

Many schools, especially those that hire foreign teachers, provide housing as part of the employment package. This is particularly common with the JET Programme and private language schools like AEON or ECC.

  1. Furnished Apartments are typically single-occupancy units equipped with basic furnishings and appliances. They’re usually located within a reasonable distance from the school.
  2. Teacher Dormitories: Some schools offer shared housing in a dormitory-style setup. Teachers have private bedrooms but share common areas like the kitchen and bathroom.

Independent Housing

If the employer doesn’t provide housing, or if you prefer to arrange your accommodation, there are several options:

  1. Leopalace21: This is a popular choice among foreigners in Japan. Leopalace21 offers furnished apartments with flexible lease terms and minimal upfront costs.
  2. UR (Urban Renaissance) Housing: UR apartments are public housing managed by the Urban Renaissance Agency. Regardless of nationality or income, they are available to anyone and do not require a guarantor.
  3. Private Rentals: You can rent an apartment through a real estate agent. However, this often involves higher upfront costs (like critical money and a security deposit) and may require a Japanese guarantor.

Shared Housing / Guest Houses

Shared housing, also known as “guest houses” or “gaijin houses,” is another option. Residents have their rooms but share common spaces. This can be an excellent opportunity to meet new people and reduce living costs.

Remember, housing in Japan can be smaller compared to Western standards, especially in big cities. Also, contracts and dealings related to housing are often conducted in Japanese, so it might be helpful to have a Japanese-speaking friend or coworker assist you.

5. The Classroom Experience

Teaching English in Japan can be a rewarding experience, especially when you see your student’s progress and enthusiasm. Here are some tips to help you create engaging and memorable lessons:

Understand Your Students’ Needs

Every class is different, with varied learning needs and goals. Some students may need English for travel, others for business, and some may want to enjoy foreign movies without subtitles. Understanding your students’ needs can help you tailor your lessons to be more relevant and engaging.

Use Visual Aids and Real-Life Materials

Visual aids like pictures, flashcards, or videos can make your lessons more dynamic and easier to understand. Real-life materials like newspapers, menus, or song lyrics can make lessons more practical and relatable.

Incorporate Interactive Activities

Interactive activities can make learning fun and promote active participation. These could include role-plays, group projects, games, or debates. Encourage students to use English as much as possible during these activities.

Teach Culture Along with Language

Language and culture are closely intertwined. Sharing interesting facts about English-speaking cultures can make your lessons more engaging and give students a broader context for their language studies. You could discuss holidays, traditions, popular music, or typical dishes.

Provide Constructive Feedback

Regular feedback helps students understand their strengths and areas for improvement. Try to balance corrections with praise to keep students motivated. Also, consider individual feedback sessions where students can ask questions and discuss their progress.

Keep Learning

As a teacher, you should also be open to learning. This could mean improving your teaching methods, learning more about Japanese culture, or developing Japanese language skills. Showing your students, you’re also on a learning journey can build rapport and mutual respect.

Teaching in Japan can be an enriching experience that offers a chance to influence students’ lives and opportunities for personal and professional growth. By understanding the cultural nuances, navigating the transport system, securing comfortable accommodations, and creating engaging classroom experiences, you can make the most of your time as a foreign teacher in Japan.

Remember, every challenge encountered is a learning opportunity, and every day is a step closer to becoming a global educator. Embrace the journey with an open mind and a willingness to adapt. As you navigate this unique cultural immersion, you’ll undoubtedly create memories that will last a lifetime.

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.






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