How can I make this English-teaching-in-Japan thing happen (again)?
November 13, 2012 11:53 AM   Subscribe

How can I find a teaching job in Japan, with a Masters degree in TESOL and 17 years of teaching experience? I guess this isn't your usual "I want to teach in Japan" question, since I'm qualified enough to compete in the tough market, but how do I go about it?

I'm gainfully employed but am having a major episode of wanderlust and would love to go back to Japan. (I lived and taught there years ago.) I'm also lucky enough to work at a place that will give me a leave of absence to satisfy this urge.

I'm not currently living there, which apparently leaves me at a disadvantage. It seems from looking around that it's tough to get a job without a work visa, and tough to get a work visa without a job. Do I get a comparatively low-paying job with a company that recruits here and then start looking once I get there? How should I go about approaching this job hunt?
posted by smilingtiger to Work & Money (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Have you thought about teaching with DOD?

My dad worked with the DOD as a therapist. My parents were sent to Iwakuni and Atsugi Japan. THEY LOVED IT.

You get the best of both worlds. You can live and work in Japan, but make great money and build up your pension.

DOD employees get housing allowance (or can live on base), utilities paid, a trip home every year, shit-tons of paid time off, PX, Commissary and Gas privilages. You come in at an officer's grade, so you can hang out at the Officers Club if you want.

I can't say enough about what a cool deal this is. You can move all over the world if you like. Getting in is a giant PITA, but once you're in---YAY!~
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:01 PM on November 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ohayo Sensei is the standard go-to. However, given your credentials, you are overqualfied for most of the positions offered. However, there is the occasional university position listed on Ohayo Sensei, which are the positions you would want to be targeting.

My first recommendation for you would be the Japan Association for Language Teaching (全国語学教育学会), which lists many jobs including a fair number of university assignments in its monthly news letter. Unfortunately, its website of is down. I fear this means that the organization is defunct, but I do not know. Its Facebook page shows activity from late July 2012, so it may be that the main site is just having temporary difficulties. Also, there are local JALT SIGs that may be able to help; Google would help find the SIG for the area where you would like to teach. The contact information for JALT is:

The Japan Association for Language Teaching ・ JALT 事務局
Urban Edge Bldg 5F, 1-37-9 Taito, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-0016, Japan
〒110-0016 東京都台東区 台東1-37-9アーバンエッジビル5F
Tel: 03-3837-1630 Fax: 03-3837-1631

I'd also recommend the JSTA.

The biggest factor is going to be what your long-term intentions are. You speak of doing this doing a leave of absence, so I presume this is going to be a short-term project. If so, any of the short-term Ohayo Sensei listings would be appropriate. University assignments would only be appropriate for a period of one to several years. If you are interested in teaching long term, it is also worth bearing in mind that Japanese universities generally do not offer tenure to non-Japanese language instructors.
posted by Tanizaki at 12:56 PM on November 13, 2012

Thanks for the advice so far! Ruthless Bunny, sadly, I'm not American, so that option is out. (I wonder if a Canadian option exists, although I kind of doubt it.)

Tanizaki, my long-term intentions would depend hugely on what my working/living situation would be. I'd be happy to give up my job here if I could get a good one there. I guess it's the foot-in-door part I'm finding to be a challenge.
posted by smilingtiger at 1:00 PM on November 13, 2012

Sorry to follow-up, but I did omit one aspect in my original comment.

Since you are not in Japan, you are frankly at a disadvantage applying to these jobs from abroad. A way you could remedy this would be to go to Japan on a tourist visa and pound the pavement while in-country. For Canadians, you can be in Japan without a visa for 90 days, which should be sufficient time to conduct your job search. Obviously, it would be better if you had the work visa while doing your search, but I think your credentials really make you stand out in the Japanese ESL market and the prospective employer would be willing to sponsor your visa.

The big downside to this approach is that you will need savings or others means to support yourself.
posted by Tanizaki at 1:15 PM on November 13, 2012

I taught with ECC - and found them to be a lovely, genuine school. I'm from CA - missed the interviews in SF, and actually interviewed in Toronto. I was in your shoes... I understand about the job/moving/visa struggle. I got the job, they organized the visa, then I moved (this was 2006-2007).

It's a chain school, but a very good one, and no sales pressure of ANY kind if put on the teachers. 36 hrs. week. I had lots of regular casual students, and regular (weekly, long) classes with students who did stuff like... homework. ! I interviewed in December, and started at the beginning of the school year in April. They have schools in most big cities, so you should be able to get to an area you're interested in (of course, everyone wants to be placed in Kyoto or Tokyo, so maybe barring that...) I worked out of Nagoya.

Once you're there, you can build a network of private students in your free time, look for a private school to teach at, etc... you're there (and working) so you can take the time you need in person. ECC automatically offered all their teachers a one-year visa extension too. Additionally, ECC often hires teachers into admin roles for the school (esp if you speak or are learning Japanese).

ECC's Website
also useful: University of Michigan International Center
posted by jrobin276 at 1:23 PM on November 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, I forgot to add - ECC will organize an apartment for you too.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:25 PM on November 13, 2012

Have you thought about teaching at an international school? The pay will likely be about the same as that in your home country. Your background may be particularly attractive to a Canadian international school in Japan. And from other international school teachers that I've talked to when I was exploring this route, they often recruit abroad, though usually at conferences specifically for the international schooling community.
posted by so much modern time at 3:16 PM on November 13, 2012

The Jet Program has an age limit of 40.

James English School in Tohoku has a good reputation.

Peppy Kids Club has a good reputation as well and is also in good shape.

International schools are going to be more challenging because so, so, so many people want to teach at them. As well, the number of expats has declined since the "Lehman Shock" and 3/11, so there will be fewer students.

Trying to get a college or university job will be more difficult, because Japan's post-secondary enrollment is declining year over year.

If you choose the route of relocating to Japan, choose someplace that is relatively affluent (ie, low unemployment) and with lots of families, as really the only market that is healthy in the eikaiwa sector is the kids market. Children can be counted on to stay for longer periods as students (start at 5 and stay on potentially until the start of junior high).
posted by KokuRyu at 6:14 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

To be blunt, the market here is crap. Salaries are way, way down, and a lot of jobs are essentially outsourced. Anything that's not eikaiwa is hiring right now. pretty much all of the good jobs that will start in April are being advertised now, and what's left in January is going to be the less desirable positions.

For university positions, the competition is ridiculous, and the community is pretty incestuous. When I was teaching at a university here, every time there was a vacancy, the other foreign teachers went all out to sway the school into giving the job to their friends. When I was hired, everyone wanted to know a) how I even heard about the job, and b) who helped me get hired. All of that, and job conditions are getting worse by the year.

If you're thinking of coming back for a short time, you could have some fun, but it might be hard finding anything that actually challenges you, and it would be very difficult to start a new career here. Legal questions aside, it's still quite common to see job listings with notes like "Age up to 35."

Anyway, along with Ohayo Sensei, there's also Gaijinpot and, both of which have decent job listings. They're updated daily, unlike Ohayo Sensei. Mostly they advertise openings at language schools and high school jobs through dispatch companies, but it is a start on getting a visa.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:31 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're in Vancouver, you might want to contact Glenn Alexander (his email contact info is at the bottom of this page), who used to do a lot of work placing TEFL teachers in Japan, notably for TCLC, who gave me assignments all over Japan when I first arrived in Japan in 1994. I interviewed with Glenn several years ago (about 7!) when I was trying to figure out a way to get back here, but even back then the job market was pretty soft. Still, he's a good contact, and due to your experience and credentials, he may have some ideas.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:12 PM on November 14, 2012

In case anyone's still checking this, I'm currently going through the application process with Westgate. Has anyone taught there? Any tales of happiness or woe to share?
posted by smilingtiger at 10:56 AM on November 16, 2012

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