If you have traveled to Japan you are probably amongst the many who would love the opportunity to work in this beautiful country. And what is there not to love: Japanese food is amazingly delicious as well as healthy; people in Japan are the most polite in the world; the natural beauty and variety of this island country is awe-inspiring.
When I decided to move to Japan in 2015 I heard from a multitude of people teaching abroad (who had never even entered the country) that it would be borderline impossible to snatch a job here. Shockingly, they were wrong.
Essential requirements to get hired in Japan
A native English speaker or not, everything goes as long as you have a high level of English. But what you do need to work in Japan is a Bachelor’s Degree and a couple of years of any work experience. Pay in mind that you do not necessarily need teaching experience: if you have worked at McDonald’s for a year or two and have a Bachelor’s Degree you will most likely not have problems finding a job.
Also bear in mind that you do not need to get a job before entering Japan. It is not illegal to arrive in Japan with a tourist visa and search for work.In my opinion it was an incredible perk to already be in Japan when applying for jobs. It shows future employers that you really want to be in this country and also that you are available to start work immediately.
What to expect when hunting for a job in Japan
Before coming to Japan I had worked as an English teacher in China for a year and had a couple of months worth of part-time volunteer work experience. Along with the CELTA I had acquired this was a fruitful combination in my opinion. So as I landed in Japan with a mere tourist visa I did not really have big fears of not finding a job.
That soon changed as I realized how difficult it was to do anything in Japan without a work visa. I wanted to call potential employees but could not get a local phone number without a work visa. My phone broke and I found out that I could not buy a phone from a store without a work visa.
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I could not transfer funds from overseas as I could not open a bank account without a work visa. I was not able to rent an apartment without a work visa. And to be fair, even if I could have, none of the real-estate agencies spoke any English. Some big real-estate agencies offered to hire a translator and as a gesture of goodwill would have charged me an arm and a leg for it.
Hence a couple of weeks in I started to feel a bit of stress accumulating as I had literally no options in Japan until I found a job to provide me a work visa. Time was ticking on my 90-day tourist visa. Expect to struggle a bit at first as you are finding your bearings in Japan. It is not easy but it is doable.
So how to go about finding a teaching job in Japan?
I was very pleased to find that Japan’s reputation as an organized country is not overly exaggerated. There is a system and once you figure it out you know what to do to get you from A to B. From other foreigners whom I met in Japan I found out that here in the land of the rising sun you do not simply walk to a company, introduce yourself or drop off your CV. Companies do not look kindly to this kind of behaviour as it is seen unprofessional. Instead you want to approach companies via email.
I found out that as a non-Japanese speaking person there was simply one and only worthwhile website to use and seek for employment. Gaijinpot. It is a wonderfully versatile website with jobs, apartments, articles about life in Japan written by other foreigners – basically all the tools you need to make it in this fascinating country.
Do I have to teach children if I want to work in Japan?
Short answer: yes, most likely. If you are not comfortable teaching children, you might want to have a change of heart instantly. Most teaching jobs here in Japan are mainly teaching children. If you are lucky you will teach a mixture of both adults and children. If you do not mind teaching kids, rejoice: the majority of teaching opportunities here are with children.
Patience is a virtue when job hunting in Japan
I created a profile online on Gaijinpot along with a resume, a professional photo of myself and off I went applying for anything that had the keywords “English” and “teacher” in it. I do not possess a passport from a “native English speaking country” but as I know my skills are up to par I confidently applied for jobs which advertised “non-native English speakers need not apply”. In a few days I had several emails from potential employees.
Sometimes the wheels of bureaucracy move painfully slowly in Japan: it could take days to hear back from companies. Have patience, you have not been forgotten. Japan has a strangely old-fashioned, stiff working culture and to a newbie everything seems almost comically business-like as well as rule-infused.
It all boils down to money. How much can I make vs. what will I have to spend?
I Skype interviewed with some of the most promising companies and found that there were many opportunities indeed: I could work in big cities or rural areas and the salary was around the same ballpark, 200 000 to 260 000 JPY per month. That’s roughly 2000 USD to 2600 USD.
What I took in account was the fact that big cities are much more expensive to live in than smaller cities or rural areas. For example in Tokyo you could rent a shoebox where you barely have enough room to sleep in and pay half your monthly wages whereas in Hiroshima I pay a very affordable amount for a spacious apartment with two rooms. Also in big cities other expenses will be bigger: think local tax, eating and drinking out, shopping, transport. Many people dream about living in Tokyo but the problem is that millions of people already do. That means that your dream might end up costing you most of your monthly salary, resulting in you having no savings.
Rent in Tokyo is on average anything from 80 000 JPY to 110 000 JPY per month. Approximately 800 USD to 1100 USD. Utility bills like electricity will set you back around 4000 JPY to 8000 JPY, 40 USD to 80 USD, depending how cool you like your apartment during the boiling summer months vs. how important is it heating your apartment during winter rather than slowly freezing to a state of hibernation. How comfortable you want to be will determine your utility costs. Japan gets very hot during summer and extremely cold in winter months.
Will I be able to save money if Japan is so expensive?
Yes. I work part-time, live a five-minute walk from the main street of Hiroshima and yet I save most of my monthly paycheck. There are always cheap options no matter if it comes to accommodation, restaurants, shopping, internet or phone providers. You will find out after a while that Japan’s reputation as a ridiculously expensive country is harshly exaggerated and there are ways to live here affordably.
Is living and working in Japan worth it?
Absolutely. Once you jump through all the hoops and have your work visa in hand you can sigh with relief and enjoy all the sushi, ramen, mountain hiking, karaoke or whatever brought you to this amazing country in the first place.