Hi, I’m Adam, and this is my experience of living and teaching English in Tokyo for several years and my advice for teaching English in Japan in general.
I will cover finding a job, requirements for teaching English in Japan, getting somewhere to live, and the daily stuff that you have to deal with as a ‘gaijin’, foreigner.
All you will need to know if you are thinking about teaching in Japan yourself. I guess doing this chronologically would make sense so I’ll start at the beginning.
Applying to Be an English Teacher in Japan
I came to Japan in August 2015 to work as an English teacher. I found my job before I left the UK through tefl.com, an English teaching job portal.
You can also do a TEFL course online before going and that can help in getting an English teaching job in Japan.
The job was with Shane English School, one of the many eikiwas (English conversation schools) in Japan.
Having a job to go to helped me a lot with getting my visa, I have a 5-year visa while a lot of gaijin in Japan only seem to get given a year.
The minimum requirements for getting a work visa in Japan are a bachelors degree in anything.
To get my five year Japan working visa I had to send my original certificates to the company based in Tokyo, which was a little worrying sending them to the other side of the world so that they could check the documents and then sponsor my visa.
Getting the Japan working visa printed in my passport I had to go to the Japanese embassy in person, as in typical Japanese style they don’t accept applications by post, and the two in the UK are in London and Edinburgh.
So, I drove to London from Manchester to get my visa.
Thankfully it was done in a day so I didn’t have to make the trip twice.
Finding an Apartment in Tokyo
I booked my flight and then went about finding somewhere to live in Japan.
Well, I was lazy and I got my accommodation done through my new employer who set new employees up with their own apartment, strong word for the type of housing in Japan.
The apartment was in Tokyo, although not central Tokyo, and not really anywhere near Tokyo… But I was to find all this out on my arrival.
So my departure day came round and it was time for me to say goodbye to friends and family and board the flight east.
When I got to Tokyo I met two of my new colleagues at Narita airport and we were escorted to Tokyo by a member of Shane, the English school I was now going to be employed by, welcoming staff.
Narita is actually miles and miles away from Tokyo so the train ride took about 40 minutes on the Narita express.
When we finally made it to Tokyo I had my first experience of the Tokyo that I had seen in movies and the one that I had imagined.
We got off the train at Ikeburo station and we stepped out too, what seemed to my jet-lagged mind, madness.
Bright lights, people hurrying around, a few passed out salarymen and I thought wow, I have actually made it.
It was a great feeling and one that unfortunately lasted only a couple of weeks until I felt a little crushed and annoyed with everything, but I will talk about that later.
Ikeburo was only a transfer so after a quick look at the place near the station it was time to board the next train to take us to our new homes. We boarded a train towards Hoya in Nishi-Tokyo (west Tokyo) which was nothing like the Tokyo I had seen in the movies.
We were shown our new places of residence, a compact apartment just big enough for me, my backpack and a chair.
The bed was on a shelf and the cooking area was stuffed into the small corridor between the front door and where the room was, almost as if it was put in as an afterthought.
As I have mentioned I was lazy and I got my accommodation through my new employer, which was daft and expensive as the rent was 96,000 yen per month (about $900) to stay in a place that was about 30 minutes away from actual Tokyo.
If I could do it over I would have found a place to stay on my own.
Accommodation in Tokyo generally isn’t cheap but if you are willing to share with others you can get a decent place to live for around 60,000 yen (about $560).
I stayed in the apartment in Hoya for about 3 months and then I moved to actual Tokyo. I did almost no research before my move however and as a result, I ended up taking a room in a large Japanese house which cost me 55,000 per month.
The place was in Setagaya-Ku and it was really easy to get to the big hubs of Tokyo, Shibuya and Shunjuku, from my local station.
My commute from Hoya had been 45 minutes to get to Tokyo, which was now a ten-minute train ride and I was in Shibuya.
I thought I had arrived.
But the room I moved into was awful. There was no heating, the walls were super thin, so thin in fact that I could hear the guy in the next room just breathing, and there was no communal space which made making friends within the house almost impossible.
I stayed in this cold house over the winter for three months and then I moved to a completely opposite shared house. Opposite in every way possible.
My new shared house was in Nakano-Fujimicho, about 8 minutes from Shinjuku on the Marunochi line, and had a nice mix of foreigners and Japanese.
The house was shared with 14 people with some in dorms but most in private rooms. My room cost 65,000 yen per month, but this included all bills.
The common room was massive, with cable TV and a Nintendo Wii. But the best thing about the house was the view of Shinjuku from the roof.
The Shinjuku skyline is beautiful during the day and even better at night. In this house I made some of my best friends in Japan and even when I moved out we still met up for drinks on a regular basis.
My shared house was owned by Wabisabi house, who have a number of shared house properties in the central Tokyo area. You can find them through a Google search or as I did through Tokyo Share House.
My last place in Tokyo was a private house in Nakano. Now, there are plenty of options for private apartments the most popular being Leo Place.
Leo Place provides fully furnished apartments which had a chair, table, fridge, washing machine, kettle, microwave and TV, for around 90,000 yen per month, but you have to pay money upfront and the bills aren’t included in the price.
I am far too poor to pay anything upfront and I don’t want to waste time thinking about paying bills so I got my apartment through Residence Tokyo.
My apartment cost 102,000 yen per month but this included all bills including internet, and the apartment had all the items that Leo Place had plus a bed with bedding!
This, plus the no upfront costs sold it to me as the upfront costs for cheaper, not furnished, apartments can be up to two months rent which is not ideal if you are on an English teachers wage.
So, on to teaching in Tokyo.
What it’s Like Teaching English in Tokyo
Well, this can vary massively depending on if the company you are working for is Japanese or foreign run.
If it’s the former you are likely to be expected to work longer than your contract states, attend pointless meetings, and be treated as if you are sub-human.
The first company I worked for in Japan was Shane English School as I mentioned before.
These are owned by a Japanese company, after starting off as English owned, and as a result, the working hours and expectations are a little crazy.
To start the contract that I was on was a 29 and a half hour contract, anything under 30 hours is considered part-time in Japan and part-time workers do not get company health care or pension.
Although I was scheduled to be in the schools from 12 pm to 9 pm I only had up to six hours of teaching a day.
So, for example, I could have a lesson which started at 1 pm which would mean I would start at 12 pm, and only 30 minutes of this first hour I was paid for.
After my first lesson finished my next lesson could be at 4 pm, 5 pm, or even 8 pm.
This can leave you with a lot of spare time during the day.
One of the other negatives about working for Shane is the campaign days they have to try to attract more customers.
Those days can fall on your day off and if they do you have to work, for no extra pay, or you risk losing your job. On a number of occasions, I had to work a six-day week. This didn’t please me.
Also, Shane didn’t offer any sick days and if you were ill you would lose 12,000 yen of your salary.
Although you do get fairly long holidays with Shane most are already chosen for you as you only have five days that you can choose yourself. My salary with Shane started at 252,000 yen per month and increased by 5,000 yen the following year.
The second job I had in Tokyo was with the British Council.
Those of you who know English teaching should be aware that the BC is well respected in the industry as being a real company that offer their employees actual incentives for staying, and reward staff for actually doing a good job.
The starting salary for teachers with a CELTA at the BC in Tokyo is 262,000 yen a month and the contract is 30 hours a week. A 30-hour contract means that you as a member of staff get private healthcare with Bupa and a pension.
Be warned however that your pension comes out of your monthly payments and at 25,000 yen a month it can be quite a hit if you haven’t prepared for it, something which I didn’t prepare for at all.
Also, the tax can get you so be wary of that.
With my residence tax for the previous year added to the deductions that were already part of my paycheck, I was down 60,000 yen a month before I had even touched my salary.
This was only a problem a few months when there was no overtime at the BC. With overtime, I was making around 85,000 yen a month.
Teaching English in Japan (+Living)
So to sum up.
Finding work in Japan is fairly straight forward but try to get something sorted out before you arrive.
If you are an English Teacher, like me, try to go for an English run company for teaching English in Tokyo, or Japan in general, or work with a company like Shane (there are many of these companies in Japan), and then leave after the first year.
There are plenty of websites that have jobs listings for foreigners in Japan. One is tefl.com, which I mentioned earlier and is only for jobs in ESL.
The other site I know is gaijinpot jobs.
This site has jobs in many industries regardless of your level of Japanese (mine has remained at survival Japanese ever since I got to Japan), and also has information about how to get jobs in industries that are not just ESL.
Going back to the ESL industry, if you want to experience Japan only for a short time Westgate University offers 3-month contracts starting at the beginning of each academic semester.
Overall living and teaching English in Japan is great, although it is something that had an expiry date for me. Mainly because however much I love Japan, its a country I could never really feel at home in.
Maybe this is due to my low level of Japanese, or how difficult it is to make and keep Japanese friends, or maybe the culture is just a little too impenetrable.
Maybe it’s just because the gaijin who do end up staying in Japan is just that little bit odd.
Although not one of the requirements for teaching English in Japan (you only need a university degree, doesn’t matter the subject) a TEFL certificate may help in finding a job.
If you want to get a TEFL certificate for teaching English as a foreign language you can do a TEFL course online here.
All of this is naturally just what I think about living and working in Tokyo, Japan.
This is a guest post from Adam Tonge (pictured in the article), a British citizen who was teaching English in Tokyo for a number of years.
I share a few opinions about Japan with the American woman who wrote this article about living in Japan.
Teaching English abroad really is one of the best jobs to get to live in and know a new country.
And if you plan on moving around Japan a lot to check out some places then take a Japan Rail Pass (get one with that link) to save money on the trains.
If you liked the article about teaching English in Japan share the advice 🙂