Teaching English in Japan

By Donald Ash | Articles

Teaching Trainees at Shinjuku Station

When I was in elementary school, I remember having this long-term substitute teacher who I thought was simply amazing. When one of my regular teachers had to take a longer-than-normal leave of absence, Mrs. V filled in for her. As a fifth-grade, 11-year-old boy, part of the appeal was that I thought Mrs. V was beautiful. This was incentive enough for me to be model student: 200% well-behaved in her class and be as helpful to her as I could possibly be. Even then, I was a sucker for a pretty face.

When she left, as all substitutes do, I was a bit sad, because you rarely ever see substitute teachers a second time. Fortunately, not only did I have this teacher as a sub later in high school, but she would be a part of my life for years to come. No, we didn’t have an inappropriate, hot teacher/younger student, romantic relationship and run away together. As a matter of fact my initial admiration has grown into true respect as the years have gone by.

I ended meeting the same teacher, years later, at my mother’s church; I was around twenty years old at the time. I remembered her instantly (she looked exactly the same) and she remembered me, too. It’s so amazing when a teacher-student relationship is a good one. It’s teachers like Ms. Vincent that made me even consider teaching in the first place. She has been a member of the same church for years, and she talks to my mother on a regular basis.

I know what you’re thinking…what in the world does this have to do with teaching English in Japan? Well the other day I got a Facebook message from Ms. V’s son because he is about to graduate from college and is pondering traveling abroad. He actually emailed me some questions that he had about teaching English in Japan, and I want to share them with you. It may give you some insight into what it takes/what it’s like to teach in Japan:


Thanks for your response. As you know, my Mother is Mrs. Vinson from Greenforest. She has always spoken very highly of you. I’ve been talking to her over the past few months about my interest in traveling abroad after I graduate in May 2011. Given your current work in Japan, she thought that you might be a good person for me to talk to.

My understanding is that you work for Teach for Japan. I have tons of questions…..
– Why Japan and not some other country?
– How long have you been there?
– What certification was needed in order for you to obtain the job?
– Could you speak any Japanese before your arrival there?
– Any particular safety tips for American travelers in Japan?
– How has your Teach for Japan experience benefitted you?

I’m sure that I’ll think of other questions later.”

Kyle V.

Why Japan and not some other country?

I could probably go on forever with this question. I chose to live in Japan for several major reasons. Number one, my older sister actually lived here before I did and highly recommended coming. My sister was an English teacher for a short time and later became a fashion model in Tokyo. She suggested that modeling was highly lucrative and that I should try it. I’m not as pretty as my sister, so I don’t know if I can do what she did, but it is fun.

Two, I grew up taking martial arts, and karate was the art that I received my black belt in. I wanted to come to Japan more than any other country. Actually, I often put a list of goals on my ceiling and read them every morning before getting out of bed. In America, one of those goals was to be able to visit Japan for at least two weeks, and here I am…over two years later.

How long have you been there?

I have been in Japan since January 10th, 2008. So, at the time of this writing, that’s 2 years, 9 months, 7 days, and about 13 hours. Okay…maybe that’s a bit too much detail.

What certification was needed in order for you to obtain the job?

I am currently working for an Eikawa (a private sector, English language school) and to get this job, having a college degree was all that was necessary. I can’t remember that grade point average that they recommended, but I don’t think it matters all that much. One of the teachers only had a two-year community college degree, and it was just fine. With Eikawas, that have their own, specific style of teaching, and they will train you on how they want lessons taught. If you have a college degree, good diction, are trainable, and have the money for the flight (or in my case, I had to nickel and dime it to get here)…you can teach English in Japan.

Could you speak any Japanese before your arrival there?

Honestly, I couldn’t speak much Japanese before I came. The only reason I don’t say that I didn’t know any Japanese at all is because when I found out I was coming here, I bought the beginner’s set of the Pimsleur Language Program…so I did know some choice phrases. But I wouldn’t have even considered myself to be a beginner when I came here. No hiragana, no katakana, no kanji, and no understanding of Japanese grammar. But don’t let that bother you too much, Japan uses more English than you might think.

Any particular safety tips for American travelers in Japan?

Umm…not really. I didn’t even consider safety issues when coming to Japan. Just make sure you don’t have anything out of the ordinary when going traveling to new places, because airline customs could be a nightmare. I definitely think the US customs department is FAR more strict than Japan’s, amount of time it takes to get through Japanese customs takes literally a fourth of the time. If you were going to another country I might have better tips, but by and large Japan is a safer country than America is.

How has your Teach for Japan experience benefitted you?

Teaching in Japan has been amazing so far. One benefit for me is knowing that I can survive in place that’s completely foreign to me. Another benefit is that I’ve been able to save more money than I could in the United States. I have become better at reading maps (the Japanese train system). I have made some lasting friendships with some wonderful people. I have seen castles, buildings, festivals, and so much more that I just couldn’t experience living in America. The biggest benefit of all for me, is having the opportunity to learn about another culture, from the food to the language to the people. Being in Japan is just downright amazing!

I want to thank Kyle for some great questions. For those thinking of coming to Japan, saying I recommend it is an understatement. If I had a regret about coming to Japan, it would be that I didn’t come sooner. If anyone has additional questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments section, and I will do my best to answer them.

Good luck


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.

  • Joshua Kramer says:

    Donald, I am currently a student at York tech college in Rock Hill, South Carolina. I am Interested in teaching English in Japan. I do not know whether I will need to be attending a 4 year university or not. I hope to come to japan as soon as possible.

    I am required to do a research paper interviewing someone who is living under the conditions of my major. I will not need to do this for a couple weeks. If you are able to do this please email me and let me know. I also have my own questions so if you have time please email me. ([email protected]) thanks, Josh

    • Donald Ash says:

      Hi Josh,

      Sorry for the late reply. I would be happy to help. If you could just send me an email of the questions we’ll be covering in advance and any other details, that would be great.

  • Joshua Kramer says:

    What should I major in in order to teach in japan? Do I only need a bachelor’s degree? What about TESOL/TESL/TEFL Certification? If you could help I would greatly appreciate it.

    • Donald Ash says:

      Honestly, I don’t think the major matters so much. I have met teachers that majored in Physics, Drama, History, Business, and English. As long as you have a strong command of the English language, you should be just fine. As far as certifications go, I had a middle grades math teaching certificate prior to coming to Japan (but none of the other teachers that I’ve taught with had teaching certificates). I am not TESOL/TESL/TEFL Certified, but if you have that certification, it only increases your chances of landing a teaching position in Japan.

  • CY-V says:


    I can’t believe that I’m just seeing this! I’ve read several of your postings in the past and I can’t believe that I didn’t see this one earlier.

    Thanks so much for the very kind words. It’s nice to know that I had an impact on someone other than my kids….smile…

    Thanks to you, my son is still very interested in teaching in Japan. I think that it’ll be such a positive experience for him. I’m sure that he’ll keep you posted.

    Mrs. V!

    • Donald Ash says:

      Mrs. Vinson!?!!

      It’s so good to hear from you. I’m glad you had a chance to read some of my posts, that one in particular. I wrote it, never expecting that you’d read it, but it must be a good sign. Thank you for being an inspiration for me.

      I’m glad to hear that your son is still interested in Japan. If he decides to come, there will be challenges, but I think he’d get so much out living here. I hope it all works out in the end.

      Always a pleasure,


  • juliet says:

    i used to be an english teacher for Koren nationals in my country, the Philippines for almost 4 years. i came to japan hoping to earn much more than i used to. now, i work for a car manufacturing company in hiroshima. when i read this page, the urge for me to teach again was reborne. i really wanted to teach for it is my passion. i dont know how i can get started with this passion here in japan..pls send me a copy of your reply to my mail, thanks a million donald!

    • Donald Ash says:

      Hey Juliet. A fellow teacher, huh? NICE! Well as far as teaching here in Japan goes, you can go the ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) route, like I’m about to do, or the Eikaiwa route (the job I just finished). I don’t know a lot about being an ALT just yet, because it’ll be my new job. Both have pros and cons, but both are ways to pursue that passion of your’s. Check out Gaijinpot.com. They always have lots of teaching position ads. Good luck. Let me know how it goes!!

  • Robert Solomon says:

    Honestly, I Doubt you will get this, but you see me being the black sheep of my school and being well the “oddity” of my class in which I will be graduating from in a few years I have always wanted to become an English teacher believe it or not. Kind of weird really, some kids when they are little say “I want to be a veterinarian when I grow up”, I on the other hand was the weird kid reading Shakespeare while the rest of the students in my class were texting. I mean for some reason I have always loved teaching others and well helping others to succeed. Now mind you I am not a person who is a bleeding heart (I hope am using this in the correct context) but as I was reading online to see whether or not this field would be plausible for me or not. I see while English teachers in America are being cut left and right with other teachers as well due to the economy and while the market for this language is shrinking in America its growing in countries like Japan so I figure that being an English teacher in Japan would be a rather good idea. While in Japan there is a rich culture there is also some what of a belief in modernizing technology, way ahead of America in this aspect also in the aspect of national honor I mean after the Japan earthquake NO LOOTING occurred none, nada, zilch, zero looting occurred I mean in New Orleans before Katrina there was looting BEFORE The Hurricane!!!! And Japan a country in which its people usually remain in the country has huge population densities in some places, and in cities affected by the earthquake larger than New Orleans and no looting this amazing. Also a friend who was visiting Japan told me oddly enough that if you are to drop your wallet that the person who typically finds will go to some lengths of returning it to you. What place this? I am truly in awe! So having heard this, it confirmed my shaky disbeliefs in the fact I was probably choosing to make one of the most bold decisions I have made in a long time…to become an English teacher in Japan. While I had already started teaching myself Japanese (through audio lessons, books, others who speak it, and you guessed though software) I doubled up my hours on working on this goal… I have my work made out for me!!! So far if I had an infinite amount of money and literally lived in a restaurant could survive. I know the basics OF THE basics as well as the kanji learned in the first grade in Japan. This is proof of how much more I will need to learn. Well looks like the gaijin has to get back to work if you could respond that would be wonderful, I need help in making this dream become a reality if you could give my any tips that would be wonderful…
    Thank you for your time…

    • Donald Ash says:

      Robert, I am really sorry it’s taken me this long to reply to your email, but I commend you on knowing what you want to do. My advice is if you really want to make teaching in Japan a reality…YOU CAN DO IT! I mean it…YOU CAN DO IT! There are so many types of teachers here, so many different styles of teaching, and there are several ways to go about it. At a time when Japan is hurting for foreign teachers (a bunch packed up and went home), you may have an easier time landing a job. But I placement can sometimes be an issue. AEON and ECC are, in my humble opinion, the best of the Eikaiwa route. Interac is really big for ALT work in Japan. But for some reason I think JET may be the prize. I’m going to write an article very soon as to why I think so. Many people (some you don’t even expect) will tell you what you’re doing is a bad idea (I head that even before there was any earthquake trouble at all), but sometimes blocking out the hater voices can really open up some doors.

      I wish you nothing but the best of luck.

      Thanks for coming and really sharing what was on your heart. I respect that.

  • Tia says:

    Hi Donald,

    First of all let me say Thank you for this amazing Q and A blog. I am a recent grad from North Carolina with a BA in Political Science and Asian Studies. I have wanted to go to teach English in Japan–as well as beef up my Japanese–since I was a junior in college. I am interested in working with an Eikaiwa or even as an ALT.

    The problem is that I wish to start in October. However, a lot of the job postings on Gaijinpot.com are for more immediate positions. Ideally, I would like to secure a position for October so that I can have a work visa sponsor before I leave for Japan. With these immediate job offerings it makes it a little difficult.

    Also, I’ll be traveling across Japan from August to September either without or with a tourist visa. If I’m already in Japan as a non-resident will this help my chances of getting a position somewhere anyway?

    All in all, I have a good itinerary for how I would like to play this out the only issues is that I am not TEFL certified nor am I a current resident of Japan, yet.

    Do you have any suggestions?

    • Donald Ash says:

      No, no…thank you for reading, Tia!! Wow, it looks like your major puts you at an advantage, that’s a great start already (with the Asian Studies). Let’s see, as far as being in Japan and being a non-resident improving your chances, I would say…not necessarily. There are several companies that would rather you apply from the U.S. (Aeon was like that, and I’m sure ECC and JET are the same). I know some ALT companies that would like you to be in Japan, but I think there are just as many (maybe more) that do interviews in the U.S. as well. It makes it easier for companies to control the visa situation I would imagine.

      Now if you’re interviewing directly with a board of education (BOE) you might have to be in Japan, but these situations are not as common. It’s very hard to time an October start with ALT jobs, because things have to coincide with the school year. More often than not, February and March is hiring/training time for ALTs in order to start on April 1st. There is also a smaller hiring period later in the year (August I believe) when some teachers decide the job isn’t for them (sorry, just being honest).

      I’m not TEFL certified either, don’t let that stop you. A good teacher is a good teacher. The main thing is having college degree and you have it. And judging from your writing skills, your diction is probably very good, too.

      I hope this helped you out a bit.

      GOOD LUCK!

  • J says:

    Hi Donald,

    I just found your blog and find it very insightful. I’m interested in working with Aeon, but I’ve been exposed to some pretty scathing reviews online – actually, virtually every eikakaiwa company has.

    You, however, seem to have fully enjoyed the experience. Why do you think this is (i.e. why, in your opinion, are there so many reviews blasting it as an employer? What didn’t work for them that worked for you?)

    Honestly, the bad reviews have kind of soured me on the whole idea of working there, though I’ve also noticed that people who hate things tend to take the time to review them more. For example, some of the worst rated professors at my university were my favorite. Hope to get some insight from you, signing a contract (if offered one) would be a big commitment.

    – J

    • Donald Ash says:

      Hey Jesse,

      Thank you for your feedback. So you’re thinking about AEON? COOL! Okay, I’m pretty sure many of the AEON teachers past and present will second me on this, but, it really all boils down to where you get placed. There are some schools that have an awesome atmosphere. I was fortunate enough to end up at one of those schools where the majority of the teachers I met stayed beyond the one year…I stayed for three! I think any company you research is going to have some type of terrible review, and like you said people with those negative experiences tend to be more vocal about them. Unfortunately the bad reviews often carry a lot more weight than the good ones.

      I think, by and large, AEON a pretty good company to work for, and as a teacher it’s hard to find a starting salary like AEON’s, the benefits and things are also pretty good. I used to worry as to whether or not AEON was going to tank like some of it’s major competitors, but they still seem to be going strong.

      JET seems to be the crown jewel. It has combines the salary of an Eikaiwa (a good Eikaiwa)…maybe even a little more, and the hours of ALT work. But from what I’ve heard it’s a littler harder to get into. But I wouldn’t change the way things worked out for me, because I’ve met some great people taking the route I did.

      Seriously, Jesse, if you have any other questions…let me know, either via email or here in the comments section?

      • J says:

        Hey Donald,

        Thanks for getting back to me. I probably will send you an email at some point – thanks for the offer.

  • JP Sinyou says:

    To all those thinking of Teaching English in Japan.
    Do your homework before you come here.
    There are good and bad Eikaiwa`s in japan.
    Be very careful of all the small private schools.
    They lie and use you. They only think of the bottom line. Money!
    Do not trust the foreign owners. They bad mouth the Japanese owned schools.
    Their websites are not 100 pct true. Example: listing ex teachers with good comments about heir school.
    Many are just a cover. Don`t sign a contract until you get it checked out by the labor board.
    To name a few; Ballon kids, Larry King, NFA, there are many more.
    Check out Gaijin Pot for Job Postings.
    Stay with the bigger established English schools. They pay more.
    I am still with them and love being in Japan for the past 20 years and counting.
    Good luck all.
    Best Regards,

    • Donald Ash says:

      JP Sinyou. GREEEAAAAATT comment! I 200% agree with you. Had I tried to come to Japan any sooner I mean any sooner, I would have been a part of one of the last NOVA training groups prior to it’s big bankruptcy. I’m glad things worked out the way they did, because that would have left me in quite a bind. Thanks AEON.

  • Connor 'Leroy' Grant says:

    I am doing a three-year degree in Acting here in the UK. After I graduate I was thinking of visitng Japan and who knows? Maybe teach english for a year. I could write books on how much I want to go, but for now I’ll just say these words: You sir are an inspiration, don’t take this the wrong way but I was drawn to your blog mainly by the fact you are african-american. I am mixed-race caribbean/british and a lot of people have told me Japan looks down on black races, I knew this to be incorrect just from common sense, but your blog has kicked their spiteful theories to the sun! Keep up the good work!!!!! -Kona

  • TT says:

    Hi Donald, thank you so very much for sharing your thoughts on teaching English in Japan. I too am planning on the big move, and I too have the karate bug at the moment (majorly). My question for you is, how difficult is it to manage serious karate training with teaching English in Japan? Should it determine the difference between teaching as an ALT or at a conversation school (Aeon, ECC, etc)?

    Your assistance would be greatly appreciated, and I thank you very very much in advance.

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