No, Not Just Anyone Can Do It! (Get Hired in Japan, That Is).

Ominous Warnings…

Okay, first, I gotta say…  I really, really don’t suggest working in Japan. Just my two cents: I have the worst time of my life there. I don’t even remember the month of February from the second year because I was so depressed, and though I tried hard to make it work (again, I stayed for two years), I could never adjust. Is this a reflection on me? You know what- maybe so! But certainly not because of it being a different culture. I do FINE in Taiwan. I actively like it here, much more than the states. There are so many reasons why I feel that way about Japan that I will be making a separate post about them. Of course people do happily teach there, but I literally feel I’d rather die. And unlike some people, I know the meaning of literally.


Okay Rae, Shut Up and Talk About the Thing

That said, let’s move on. When I was in high school and college, everyone’s (read: people over 50 years of age) reply to a lifelong dream of mine was “Oh, anyone could teach English in Japan! You don’t even need a degree for that!” While I certainly think there are countries in Asia where pretty much anyone over the age of 18 can be an English teacher, Japan is definitely not one of them! Japanese companies look for several things while they are hiring, and you can’t even get a visa without a few specific documents. Unlike some places, Japanese are VERY strict about visas. If you are interested in teaching in Japan, you should certainly shoot for having the following items at your fingertips.

Most Companies Are Looking For:

A degree from a four year university. Basically, a Bachelor’s. An Associate’s degree is NOT acceptable. Where your Bachelor’s came from doesn’t matter. You have to prove you have a piece of paper that says you graduated, though.

A TEFL, TOFL, or equivalent teaching abroad degree. BUT don’t work too hard on this. Go to Groupon and grab a coupon for a whole lot off of the next online TEFL degree you see. Trust me they do not care where it came from as long as you have one.

Japanese Language skills or lack thereof. This varies massively; some people want you to pass a Japanese proficiency test at the highest level (very unusual), and some people want no experience at all (though if you have some I’ve never heard of them not hiring you based on this). Some want “conversational Japanese,” and this even varies per employer, with some claiming conversational as actually having a conversation, and others wanting basic niceties likes “osukaresamadeshita” (you must be so tired, sorry for leaving) and “summimasen” (excuse me).

A recent photo. Does this seem strange to you? Japanese society is heavily based on “face,” and in some ways it extends to your actual face! If you don’t have a professional looking photo with a nice background and a smile on your face, there are plenty of companies here that won’t consider you. You don’t have to have it professionally done, but use a decent camera and make sure the background is good. Wear conservative and unrevealing, plain clothing. Smile a little. Make sure you look like you mean business, but not too much business. Many of you will teach young children. They want someone with both character and business sense!


Some Companies Also Want 

A driver’s license. A license is important if you live in the middle of nowhere. I believe there are two ways to get one. You can take the Japanese test, or you can use your license from your country. If you want to use your license, you must prove that you have been driving for, don’t quote me, six months. If your license just expired and you got a new one, you will need to bring documentation from home. So if your job requires one, please ask in your interview how they want you to obtain a driver’s license. Note that the tests for one seater motorbikes, two seater motorbikes, and for cars are all different, so know what you are driving, too.

A visa. You must have a visa before you arrive, and not for tourists! So how will you get one if they already require it? Unfortunately, that means this job is not for you. It’s for the people already living here who have a visa, and are switching jobs. Maybe that company can sponsor in the future, but currently wants to test your passion and teaching style, or they need someone immediately.  However, sometimes they can’t sponsor at all. By the way, I did hear a story once where someone took a sponsored job and then left the company in the dust with their new visa upon arrival to get a job that previously said they couldn’t sponsor them. I think it’s safe to say that this is a low move in any society, not just Japan. Please consider that when a company sponsors you they spend a very large amount of money doing so, and do you a great favor. If things are seriously unsavory, I understand leaving, but if you can tough it out for the remainder of your contract, that is clearly the best move! (Sexual harassment doesn’t count: I ended up doing the same thing after I got my sponsored visa because of this problem, after no one would help me).


During Your Interview:

Play Up Your Passion. For me, this was easy, because I honestly do have a passion for teaching! But for many people, this job will not be what they want to do for the rest of their life. Many employers are perfectly aware that you are here to explore Japan for your own reasons, and your job is a way to finance your adventure. It’s a truth that is both evident and a little inconvenient for them. Naturally, hiring you is very expensive and they would much rather keep you on at least two years, and longer is better!  This means you need to talk about how much you want to teach, love to teach, love children, etc. It’s fine to include you have an interest in the food, culture, or media, and they certainly feel a sense of pride in being Japanese and having the things you are so curious about, but that is not your selling point!

Use proper grammar and be VERY polite. The former goes without saying (so why did I expend the energy to type it?), but the latter is a bit more complex than interviews back in my country. Remember that your employer may have some experience with foreigners or may not! Don’t make eye contract. Instead look at their tie or necklace. On an online interview, look at their picture, not that camera. Looking someone this high up in the eyes is considered offensive to many Japanese, so play it safe. Look up the proper etiquette- Google is your friend, friend!

2. You want to bow during your interview, or if they can see you at all. Just incline the entire chest and head area down slightly, even if you are sitting. Bowing twice quickly before logging off and saying “Osukare sama deshita” should earn you a few brownie points.

3. Sit up very straight and smile constantly. For some reason, this is now in your job description. Many Japanese really do seem to believe foreigners always smile!


If you’re dead set on Japan, I hope you have a great time! Good luck and remember, you’re dead in the water without a sponsorship! Happy job hunting!

Have you ever worked abroad? Did you feel that you needed to meet a lot of qualifications to find your ESL job? 

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