Teach English in Japan – The Ultimate Guide

By Donald Ash | Japan Guides

Hello and Welcome


(Video Transcript)

Hello and welcome everybody.  This is Donnie, and this is the Fish Out of Water Video Series. 
And in this series we’re gonna discuss everything you need to know…well…the most important stuff you need to know, in order to teach English in Japan.

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Donald Ash and I’m from Atlanta, Georgia in the United States. "WOOT WOOT! ATL!" I have been living here in Japan as an expat:


“Expat – a person who lives outside of their native country.”

…for nearly eight years*, about seven years and eight months now.

Although my initial intentions were to only stay in Japan for a year, this place has really really grown on me. And I have been teaching English in some way shape or form for the entire seven years and eight months.

Another thing you might not know about me, if this is your first time meeting me, is that back in August of 2010 I started a blog called thejapanguy.com.  That blog became my baby for some reason.  I really enjoyed writing to it, making videos, and just sharing content with people.

Initially it was just to catalogue my experiences here in Japan and later it turned into other things.  It was a place to share my thoughts, to rant a little when I felt like it, to meet foreigners I had never met before.  And eventually it became a place where I could help other foreigners who might’ve had the same troubles and struggles that I did.

Even now in 2015, I still make video content for the site and tweak some of the old articles that need updating.

Well that’s the short version of me, if you wanted to find out more, you can check out the what’s your story page over at thejapanguy.com right here.


I would imagine that many of you watching this video are a lot like I was when I was getting ready to come to Japan. Yes, I know what’s it’s like to be that fish out of water. I didn’t come to Japan speaking any Japanese or any of that stuff. I just made choice and came, you know? It can be really daunting and I know that stops a lot of people from coming; because you just do not know what to expect.

While you can find information on the internet, I think sometimes it’s hard to get that true voice of what it’s really like. That’s what I want to be for people. I want to be that voice. I’ve been here for a while and I know what’s it’s like coming here, I know what it’s like not knowing a lick of Japanese, for those of you who don’t speak…

It can be a little scary. You’re on the plane moving to a new country; you’re leaving your family. THAT’S A BIG DEAL!

So, at the very least this video series will help those people who having an interest in teaching and working in Japan. It’ll help them make an informed decision. And for those who’ve already decided that you’re coming here, maybe it’ll put you a little more at ease.


And just a quick change to my screen guys, these are all of the different topics that we’ll be discussing in the Fish Out of Water Video series:

  • 1. Types of Teaching you can do in Japan
  • 2. Teach in Japan Prerequisites
    All of those requirements that you'll have to meet to be able to teacher here successfully - with most companies, anyway.
  • 3. What to Expect From your Teaching Job
    Everything from working conditions, to salaries, to students, and everything in between.
  • 4. How to Land a Teaching Job in Japan
    While I can’t guarantee you a job, I can show you the resources that have really helped me to find work during my time here in Japan.
  • 5. The Pros and Cons of Teaching Abroad


I’m a really big fan of keeping thing simple and this video series is no different.
The way I recommend using it is just starting from the beginning, first section, and going all the way through the fifth section, at your own pace of course.

BUT I know everybody learns in different styles. So maybe your style is to kind of pick and choose, you like finding the topics that are most interesting to you and start from there. And that’s fine, too.
I’ll make sure the videos are labeled well so you can do that very easily.

No matter how you decide to watch the videos, just do it in a way that’s comfortable for you.

The biggest thing, my biggest hope, my biggest wish, is that you just get something from them.
Ladies and gents that’s gonna finish our overview for the Fish Out of Water Video Series. I’ll catch you in the first topic, or whichever topic you decide to start watching first.

Intro To English Teaching Styles


Eikaiwa Teaching Explained


Assistant Language Teaching Explained


(Video Transcript)

Howdy gang! In this video we’re gonna take a closer look at ALT and AET teaching.
Let’s kick this video off with some basic definitions, shall we?

So we have two acronyms: ALT and AET. The first acronym is “ALT” and it doesn’t stand for a sandwich. HAHAHAHAHA HAHAHAHA! Worst…joke…ever 🙁

To explain the details of ALT teaching, instead of just talking about it I think I’m going to show you a picture because I think that’d be more effective for you to get the visual. I’m not an artist, so I apologize in advance. I’m gonna draw you a quick sketch:

And yes, I know I’m not winning any awards for art for this diagram. By the end of it, hopefully all of the lines and boxes will make sense.

This is the basic ALT system. Over here on the right, these gold boxes will represent your schools. I made a small one, a medium-sized one, and a big one to represent what? Elementary, middle and high. See what I did? I was trying to be creative.

No? Okay, we’ll keep going. In the middle, the big building is the B.O.E. (go figure…another acronym). If you’re not familiar with this acronym, get used to it because you will hear it a lot if you start doing ALT teaching:
BOE stands for the Board of Education, say it with me “Board of Education.”

The smaller building on the left is going to represent the dispatch company.

The Board of Education has a close relationship with this dispatch company. I want to say it’s actually a contractual relationship. This dispatch company is the go to company to provide this Board of Education with native-speaking, English teachers.

So around early to mid-December, the dispatch company starts putting out its earliest job postings for new teachers. So if you check job boards and those kinds of things, you’ll start to see salaries being posted and all of that kind of stuff.  So the dispatch company is actively advertising and actively recruiting.

Let’s say you see an offer that you like and you contact the dispatch company.  They look over your resume and they decide they want you to come in for an interview. So you go to the dispatch company, you have an incredible interview, and they decide to hire you. CONGRATULATIONS!  You’re now an ALT. Of course you have to go through training and all of that stuff.

But once you’re trained, the dispatch company informs the BOE that we have trained teachers ready to work, to fill the positions that you let you let us know about at the end of last year.  So the BOE will decide what schools you actually go to.  You’ll end up having a meeting at the board of education and you’ll have a meeting at your school with your principal(s).  

Hopefully all goes well and you end up teaching for the entire year.  Or if you’re happy, the schools are happy, the BOE is happy, and the dispatch is company is happy, you end up working there much longer.  

If the salary is on the up and up, then you end up with a steady job for many many years, and everybody’s smiling & happy.  That’s the bare bones of it.


Have you ever heard of M.E.X.T. before? It’s another acronym (For some reason Japan loves ‘em) That’s the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.  In essence, that’s the body that governs all things education here in Japan.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! “MEXT…Minstry of Education, Culture, Science, Sports and Tech…” “Where’s the X at!” I remember seeing this acronym for the first time and I was like “Where the hell is the X!” But if you think about it in terms of katakana pronunciation, you can kind of see it.  There is no X sound in Japanese. So X is pronounced like 「エックス」

So if you look at the acronym, the Culture, Science, Sports part is like the「クス。。。」that makes up the “X.”

The reason why I bring up MEXT is because they’re in charge of those decisions and initiatives to bring in English teachers to elementary schools, middle schools and high schools to improve English education in Japan as a whole.

I found this English Education Reform Plan on the MEXT website. I thought it might give us a little more insight as to why the ALT exists in Japan. Section One talks about what the English goals are at the different elementary school grade levels. They also talk about lower secondary education and the English objectives get progressively more challenging

So why does the Assistant Language Teacher position exist? Well, in short, it’s to better English education/English skills all over Japan. One teacher can’t do it alone of course. But, if MEXT is placing all of these native-speaking, university-educated teachers all throughout the country, that is going to have a big effect on Japanese youth. It’s going to affect how these students view English education and increase their exposure to it.

If we look a the objectives of MEXT, we can see that it’s a process. Initially, during those earlier years you’re trying to do more exposure. For the levels I was teaching at, kindergarten, elementary, and maybe early junior high, you’re that first exposure to kids for English.

So maybe it’s about getting kids interested, maybe it’s about making English lessons fun and engaging at this point. The goal isn’t necessarily to get them speaking at that point. That’s how it was explained to me. It’s getting them to really enjoy the classes. Now, some of the kids will start to excel very early at speaking because that’s how it is sometimes; some kids pick up things really quickly. But that exposure is important.

While I’ve never taught junior high school or high school, I would imagine at those levels that you get into more of the communication side of English: speeches, debates, and those kinds of things, just like they mention in the MEXT objectives. Getting Japanese students to progressively speak more English appears to be the overarching objective. The ALT plays a key role in making this objective happen.


When you make that decision to do ALT work here in Japan, you can either go public or you can go private. Which one is better?

Honestly I don’t think there’s a big difference.  Your job duties are essentially the same.  You still have to go out there and teach great lessons, you still have to interact with the students.  Yes, you still have to communicate well with your staff, and you still have to get the parents involved.  

The same things that are going to make you a great teacher anyway, you’ll have to do whether your teaching at a private school or public school. So please keep that in mind.

Now I will say there’s a significant difference in pay, at least from what I’ve experienced there is.  But I don’t necessarily think the salary is related to it being a private or public school as much as it is the company that hires you to do the teaching.

Whichever route you decide to go, just keep in mind (at the end of the day) that there are great public schools here in Japan and great private ones.  Unfortunately, there are also some private and public schools that aren’t so good.  Be aware of that, too.  

In any case, go in there and do your best!  You can end up having a great Japanese learning experience, a great teaching experience, at either type.


Let’s talk major players in the Assistant Language Teaching space, or public and private school space.

When I think of public school, the big company that comes to mind is Interac.  I want to say Interac is the largest of the dispatch companies (for public schools) here in Japan.  So that’s a major player. Borderlink is pretty big I guess.

RCS which is Real Communication Solutions.

Heart, I honestly haven’t heart very good things about, unfortunately. I talked to a former teacher who used to worked there a long time ago. I don’t know how they are now, so please do the research first if you’re interested.

There is ALTIA.

There is WING – I don’t know if they do both public and private or not.

There is JIEC – I asked about what the acronym for JIEC was, and the person who interviewed me couldn’t tell me, so I’m not really sure.  But JIEC is a great company I worked for to teach kindergarten.  JIEC is one of the rare cases where it’s a company that’s kind of like dispatch, but not exactly. You do private school teaching mainly.

The JET Programme falls into it’s own category. You can’t really group it with any of the dispatch companies.  It was organized by the Japanese government, so it’s kind of a special case, too.  I know a lot of teachers who work for JET who really seem happy with the whole setup, and I can kind of see why. We’ll get a little more into that when we talk about salaries.

Those are the major players I can think of.


These are the seven core duties you can expect to do as an Assistant Language Teacher here in Japan:

1. Teaching English (using a more flexible system)

Similar to Eikaiwa work, this is what you’ve been hired to do, so teaching English is your core duty.

When teaching English at the public school level, the system is lot more flexible (at least that’s been my experience). You have certain elements that need to be in your lessons.  But as far as the content goes, you have a lot more freedom when it comes to what you want do in class.  

If you're a passionate teacher, that’s the way it should be, right?  What makes lessons fun is when you can put your own mark on them.

With English conversation school teaching, you can put your own personality stamp on lessons.  But there's a very specific system that they want you to follow and teach because it’s a business. As a business, the larger eikaiwas want to create a standardized, quality experienced for their students, right?

2. Planning / Lesson Prep

This is really going to depend on the dispatch company you work for, and the school that you’re at.  Sometimes you’ll have a lot more prep time at a public school than you will at an eikaiwa.  It all depends.

When I was doing private school, I guess I had little less prep time.  If you don’t have that time, MAKE THAT TIME because you want to make sure your lessons are good. And you’ll be teaching a lot more kids at the public school level.  I remember my classes were between three and ten students, when I was doing eikaiwa work.  It was more like 25-35 students in public school classes, though.  With larger classes, lesson plans can sometimes go off the rails and it’s better to be prepared for that.

3. Making English Fun & Engaging

When comparing teaching in Japan to teaching in America, I really enjoyed that I didn’t have a ton of papers to grade.  In Japan, you’re really trying to build an interest in English at the elementary & early junior high school levels.

The kids are going to have plenty of time to do testing, trust me. Once the students hit middle school, they’re going to be testing their butts off!

So this is chance to really build a genuine interest in English. If the students have that, even when all the testing starts to get stressful, they’ll still remember you, remember your class, and remember that they enjoyed their English experience. That’s really important.

4. Interacting with Students

I don’t know if everyone will agree with me, but I think THIS is the most important of your teaching duties as an ALT here in Japan.

Why?  Because this is where the connections are made.  This is when you go to eat lunch with them, when you go outside to play with them, when you reach your kids on a more personal level.

Sure you can make connections in class, but if students see that you’re willing to spend time with them outside of the classroom it can be really meaningful.  Kids can get a sense what kind of person you are, that you’re not some big, scary monster.  They learn that they can actually talk to you.*  If kids see you in that light outside of class they’re apt to be more responsive inside of class.

*Many schools have no problem with you speaking Japanese during these times, so it’s great Japanese practice, too!

5. Attend Staff Meetings

I’m not going to lie to you, this is probably the down side of ALT teaching for me.  Especially the formal meetings where you have to go city hall. Those meetings can get REALLY boring.

I’ve had my eyes glass over and done the slow blink.  Yes, I've even done the semi-polite, inside-of-your-mouth-with-your-lips-closed yawn countless times during these meetings.  UGH!!

You’re just have to grit your teeth and get through it. However, you also have meetings with your coworkers and your peers. These staff gatherings, usually arranged by the dispatch company, are all in English.  Everybody shares and swaps teaching ideas.  That’s a lot more fun 🙂

6. School Cleanup

Expect to do more cleanup at public schools than you would at an eikaiwa because public schools are bigger. Keep in mind that you’ll be doing this with the kids. I think of it as another chance to bond. It’s not backbreaking labor, it’s a little more intensive, but it can be a lot of fun. Don’t worry about it.

7. Teacher Observations/Open Houses

From time to time someone from your dispatch company/company will come to watch your lessons to make sure that the quality is there.  The open houses are for the parents.  A lot of people get nervous over these observations.  But I like think of this as your time to show off!

Show your company what you can do and show the parents what their kids are capable of.  If you think of it as a glass-half-full situation, it’s alot more fun.

Those are the seven core duties for the ALT. If you notice, they’re very similar to the eikaiwa core duties. I think that you’ll find with many types of teaching work in Japan, the duties are quite similar.


As an ALT be prepared to work from about 8:00/8:30am until about 4:30pm.  This will vary from school to school, from board of education to board of education.  This will change if you have meetings if you have meetings or you’re actively participating in any school clubs.  So, sometimes you can end up staying pretty late.  With ALT work I found that it wasn’t busy the entire day, you will have down time to plan, just make sure to use that time wisely.

Your typical day is going to be five to six periods long.  Each class is going to be about 45-minutes.  I say 45-minutes because I taught mainly elementary school (15-30 minutes for kindergarten).  I can’t really speak on junior high school, but a teaching buddy told me his lessons were about 50 minutes, so a small change there.

As far as the school year is concerned, public school starts in late April and goes until the following March but it’s not year-round.  You do have a summer vacation that starts around the third week of July and goes until the end of August.

You also have winter vacation which starts around the third week of December and goes until about the second week of January.  You can also tack onto that the national public holidays and things, which is quite nice.  There is, however, a downside to all that vacation time.  Spending money. We’ll talk more about that when we discuss salaries.

Well gang, that’s going to wrap our discussion on ALT/AET public and private school teaching, and I’ll catch you in the next video.

Business, Corporate and University Teaching Explained


Prerequisites for Teaching in Japan


Can You Teach In Japan Without A Degree?

​Before we get to the actual video transcript, I wanted to address this question because it's an email I get quite often:
Can you teach English in Japan without a bachelor's degree?
Yes and no.

​When we're talking about the standard, most popular teach-in-Japan companies, companies like your AEONs, ECCs, Berlitzes, JETs, etc.,  I'm going to say no.  

When referring to these companies, not having a degree works HEAVILY against you. In some cases, you won't even be granted an interview without one. The reason I know is because I tried to help a friend whose student visa was expiring to get solid employment and a visa.

One of the things your standard teaching company will have you do is to make a copy of your diploma (some will ask for college transcripts, too).  Why? I honestly think it's visa related.  It's one of those requirements the significantly increases your chances of securing a visa, even outside of teaching.


However, there are some companies were there is a loophole to the bachelor's degree requirement. Some require that you've had 12 years of English education, which doesn't necessarily mean a college degree. While these companies may sponsor visas, I'd be very wary on the salary side of things. Unfortunately for those of you without degrees, it feels like companies here that don't require them pay less.  The same companies aren't be as professional as they could be, either.

If you want to teach abroad without a degree, it's not my intent to discourage anyone...​

Keep in mind that teaching in Japan is HUGE. I know I've mentioned that before, but it is. I do several friends without bachelor's degrees who have successfully taught private lessons here. Why does this work? Well, with a lot of the private lesson networks, it's not as much about your degree as it is your popularity. If students love you, feel like they're learning, and rate you well, you'll have students flocking to you.

That doesn't necessarily mean you can get a visa doing that, though. In some of the cases I've seen, the friend(s) has been on a different type of visa (like an one-year entertainer's visa) and used private lessons to make money on the side when gigs were slow. ​


How Much Money Do English Teachers Make in Japan?


Teaching Abroad Expectations



How To Land A Teaching Job in Japan


The Pros and Cons of Teaching in Japan




About the Author

Donald Ash is an Atlanta, Georgia-born, American expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last eleven years. While in that time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator of thejapanguy.com blog. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.

  • Pharaoh_Status says:

    Great stuff, I’m coming to Japan in April to teach and I plan on staying for a long while. It should be a great experience and your post and youtube are really helping me to prepare. Thanks so much brother Donald

  • christinanolanXD says:


  • I wish to study in Japan someday and be a Professor. Wish me luck The Japan Guy! 🙂

  • I wish to study in Japan someday and be a Professor. Wish me luck @thejapanguy:disqus ! 🙂

  • joyce anaman says:

    Hi Donald , I just happen to come across your blog by checking out the blacks in japan.i just want to say your life story .(interesting ) I enjoyed reading all of it and not only that, you are a very handsome man.i am so proud of your accomplishments.ive always wanted to visit japan. and so many other places around the world.i will pray for you.and ask GOD to keep you in his arms of safety and love is sent your way with some (soul) or black love! maybe one day my dream wiil come true. to visit japan.

    • You’re making me blush a little bit, Joyce. Thank you so much for coming by to check out the blog. Thanks even more for the well wishes. I hope you get your chance to visit Japan.

  • Elianna_ says:

    Hi, Donald! I’m interested in Japanese culture and came across your blog. I was just curious what differences you’ve noticed in the expectations/ pressures for kids and students there verses the US. Thanks am looking forward to exploring more!

    • Hi Elianna! Truly interesting question.

      From the outside looking in (from an English-teacher, with no kids here in Japan) I would say there is more pressure here…

      Sure, there’s pressure on students in the US, too but I kinda feel like it more family ingrained/imposed than it is school-imposed (yes, there are exceptions). But here, it feels like mainly because much of the “pressure to perform” is imposed very heavily at home and at school…nationwide.

      Things go from fun and lighthearted in early elementary (K-5) and junior right around sixth grade, to stone cold, serious right around the time students make that transition to middle school. The pressure ensues: kids here ALWAYS seem to be testing, kids are vying to get into the best schools even as early as middle school, cram school on the weekends for loads of students, private vs public school, serious tuition expenses for some families (and we’re not even talking about college yet), and the list goes on…

      But, yep…I’d say there’s more pressure here.

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