People come to Japan for a planeload of different reasons. Some have an extreme fascination with Japanese culture: anime, J-pop, Japanese festivals, and the Japanese language. Other foreigners may be seeking a way to broaden their horizons, broaden their resumes, up their dating game (let’s be honest), or find a professional change of pace. Regardless of the reasons for coming, one of the common vehicles for people to realize their Japan dreams is through teaching English.
Japan can offer the ultimate teaching experience if you’re truly interested. I know it’s been life-changing for me, in a good way. However, not everyone who comes to Japan loves it as much I do. A major part of having a Japan lifestyle you can enjoy is being happy with you job. For the vast majority, the workplace is where you will spend the majority of your time. If you hate the company you work for, or if your job has you locked into a miserable situation, guess what? You’re probably not going to enjoy your stay in Japan either.
But before we look at the five best teach-in-Japan companies, let’s quickly look at a quick list of different styles of teaching we can encounter when teaching English in Japan.
- Eikaiwa – These are tuition-based, English conversation school businesses; Student base – Adults and kids
- Public kindergarten (幼稚園 – youchien), Elementary School (小学校 – shougakko), middle school (中学校 – chugakko) or High School (高校 – koukou) – Schools created by the Japanese government and in close conjunction with Japan’s Ministry of education; Student base – Kids/teenagers
- Private Kindergarten (Youchien), Elementary School (shogakko), or High School – These are also tuition based schools; Student base – Kids/teenagers
- Private Lessons – One-on-one lessons arranged through intermediary company’s student database, or on your own; Student base – Usually adults, but parents will sometimes request private lessons for their children
- University – English lessons can either be taught as extracurricular courses at a university or as classes for college credit; Student base – College students
- Business English Dispatch – Teachers are sent to businesses to teach employee groups or one-on-one business English lessons
Now on to the Japan Guy’s top five teach in Japan companies:
Perhaps one of the most coveted Assistant language teaching (ALT) positions to get into. Although I haven’t had the chance to work for them personally, I’ve only heard good feedback from friends and other colleagues who have worked for JET.
Why It’s Good: JET appears to be one of the best hybrid you can find.
a) Schedule – You get the benefits of an ALT schedule which means having a summer vacation.
b) Salary – Often the biggest gripe for public school teachers is that the salary sucks big fat bootie cheeks (and from my experience it does), but with JET from what I understand, you pay would be comparable to what you receive at a good paying eikaiwa (if any JETs or former JETs care to share salaries, I’m curious to know).
c) Japanese practice – Being that you’re in a school where people speak Japanese every day and you have lunch with the kids everyday means it’s tough not to pick up some Japanese.
JET is like having your English teaching cake and eating it, too! The downside is that unless you’re a member of management, the number of years you can teach for JET is limited.
Official Website: http://www.jetprogramme.org/
This is a smaller, tighter-knit company that focuses primarily on teaching kindergarten. I just joined them this year. As far as teaching jobs go, it’s one of the best deals you can find.
Why it’s good: JIEC has a great system set up for its teachers.
a) Staff -JIEC is every bit as professional as any other English-teaching company that I’ve taught for, but it’s professional in a laid back way (if that makes any sense)
b) Pay – My probational salary was 280,000 but jumped to 300,000/month after the first 60 days on the job. For a first year salary, you’d be hard pressed to find a company to match that.
c) Schedule – Although I don’t have a full summer vacation anymore. The kindergarten schedule is one that allows me to have some form or work-life balance. SUPER IMPORTANT!
d) Japanese – You will often be the only foreigner in the kindergartens you teach for. This means you often have no choice but to interact in Japanese.
e) Resources – Teaching kindergaren means you’re going to have to do some preparation to keep kids engaged, but JIEC really goes out of their way to make sure you have access to resources (both physical resources and digital) that make your job both easy and fun to do.
JIEC rocks. The only downside would be that sometimes kindergarten kids can wear you out (if you’re not a kid person, this won’t be the job for you)
Official Website: http://www.jiec.org
3. AEON & ECC
Aww, this was the company that got me started on this Japan journey. Sure I’m a bit biased, but not every company I’ve worked for will be on this list. Here’s why AEON makes the top five:
a) Professionalism – You may think this doesn’t matter, but when you encounter a company that isn’t so professional, you instantly feel the difference.
b) Salary- I’m not sure about you, but this DOES MATTER. Being a nice teacher is important, but working for a salary that leaves you struggling downright sucks. AEON offered a very comfortable 280,000 to start (I’m not sure if it has changed) with raises every year until reaching salary cap.
c) Assistance – Don’t take this for granted, but having a company that offers top notch assistance when you don’t understand something is worth its weight in yen. AEON was very good about that.
d) A System – AEON trains you on exactly what you need to teach and it takes away so much of the guess work.
The downside to AEON is that it’s harder to pick up Japanese as you will be expected to speak English whenever you’re in the school. Teaching freedom is an issue for some teachers, too.
*ECC and AEON are similar eikaiwas which is why I grouped them together. I haven’t worked for ECC, but from what I hear the overall systems are quite similar.
I actually interviewed with Westgate because it was recommended by two friends. I landed the position but ended up going the JIEC route instead. Westgate appears to be a very solid choice because it gives you a chance to teach English at the university level (people drool over the opportunity to do that).
Salary: At 275,000 yen to start, Westgate’s pay is competitive.
The Magic Words: Flight Reimbursement! For those who are coming to Japan for the first time, that flight isn’t cheap. Westgate reimburses up to $1200 USD of that flight. Can you say “helpful?”
Breaks: Although I don’t think these are paid, teachers at the collegiate level have more vacation blocks/per year than most teachers.
I’m not exactly sure how it works, but if Westgate is on a term system I would imagine you would have to be reevaluated term by term for employment.
Official website: http://www.westgate.co.jp/
5. Japanese Board of Education (BOE)
Okay maybe this isn’t a company, and maybe it’s a little easier said than done. But if you you get hired directly by a BOE, you can bypass the public school middle man. Often the low pay you receive as a standard ALT is the result of the dispatch company you work for. The dispatch company give you a cut of what they receive from the BOE.
Why this is good:
a) Salary: Getting hired directly means that your salary can be SIGNIFICANTLY higher than the cut you receive from a dispatch company.
b) Schedule: You still would have the ALT schedule with the full summer vacation.
c) Japanese: Public schools can be some of the best places to enhance your Japanese skills.
I had a good experience with this company, but it was only for part-time work. Simul is a company that connects its teachers with business English clients. This is a part-time job, which is why it make the honorable mention list, but some people have successful been able to work full-time using this system.
Why It’s Good: This is another one of those have your cake and eat it too situations.
a) Flexibility: You can choose whether or not to take particular assignment, which is great for working around a busier schedule.
b) Pay: Although this is a part-time gig, if you land a string of evening jobs (Simul teachers are paid more in the evenings and for longer lessons) you can earn really good money for the hours you invest.
c) Clients: You can end up teaching business English classes at some really fascinating places. My first assignment was at a major Japanese company that rhymes with “Tony.”
One thing I’m not sure of is whether or not you’d still receive those summer pay cuts.
With this list, keep in mind that no two schools (even within the same company) will be the same. In addition every person is going mesh differently with the staff they work with.
When I say “the best” teaching companies, my choices are based on my personal experiences, comfort level, life/work balance, as well as feedback from other teacher working for the company.
What’s Your Top 5?
I haven’t worked for every teaching company in Japan. Collectively though, I think there are a lot of readers out there who have worked for other companies who have had great experiences. What English teaching company(ies), here in Japan, gave you your best teaching experience? Please share in the comments section below.
Feel free to give your own top five list and let’s see where everybody’s lists overlap.