By Sonya Dubinina

Holy balls! You wanna live here? The answer is yes. And here's how!

Holy balls! You wanna live here? The answer is yes. And here’s how!

Job search. What a drag, right? My mind went into a tizzy for a couple of months upon the thought of a job search procrastinating on the whole thing altogether. I got a lot of cleaning and furniture rearranging done though.

But don’t you fret, young English teacher abroad! The search for a job as a Native English Speaker has been the easiest job search of my life. You’re valued apriori if you have a passport from an English speaking country. Generally you need a 4-year-degree. Check your destination’s visa requirements. Japan definitely needs it, so does South Korea. From what I know, South Korea wants a Federal Background Check too. Japan doesn’t. Don’t be afraid if you see a Masters in TESOL as a requirement in a job ad for a job in Japan; a lot of the time it’s wishful thinking. Also, you’re probably not going to use what you know even if you have one. More on that later. TEFL certificate is good to have but not a must in a lot of places. One of my co-workers has a math degree and had no teaching experience prior to starting. You get the picture. If there’s anything I learned from my job search experience – apply, apply, apply. The worst that can happen is they won’t respond.

Now, do you know what I did last summer? And how I did it?

I was desperate to get out of Prague last summer, as freelancers don’t make money when everyone’s on vacation. I went to the source – every TEFL-ite knows or should know www.eslcafe.com

Dave’s ESL Café job board is a great source! It refreshes rather frequently and the offers are interesting and sometimes unusual (had I chosen to, I could be working in the Maldives right now). So that’s your major ESL source. However, when it comes to listings in Japan, it’s not the best. Practically speaking, you want to check out these:

  1. http://www.gaijinpot.com
  2. http://www.ohayosensei.com
  3. http://www.jobsinjapan.com

Also, Japan is well known for its Assistant Language Teacher situation – this is when you’re the token native speaker in a place and you come in once every so often to a regular class in a regular Jr High or High School and teach English to 30+ kids. I heard good things about these guys from a few people. And I cannot say anything about the JET program, but this guy can.


A few things I know by virtue of living here for a year that I think you should think about prior to moving here:

1) Japanese people study and work A LOT. As the result, extracurricular activities are often conducted on the weekend. Don’t be surprised if you end up working on the weekend. In fact, you’re very likely to.

2) Even in Tokyo English is not widely spoken (coming from Europe, this surprised me a bit). Even though they’ve been studying it for ages, even though native speakers have been teaching here for at least 40 years. Be prepared. Learn Japanese beforehand if you can; have a Japanese-speaking acquaintance ready to help with mundane stuff.

3) It’s quite sexist over here. I haven’t gotten harassed (lucky!) but many ladies do. I hear that in smaller places outside Tokyo it’s not uncommon to have your own personal stalker. Speaking of harassment, do check this article out. Be prepared to get the worse end of the deal as a lady. Perhaps you may get groped on the train. I haven’t but it’s not uncommon.


As to teaching in a small school, my experience has been with a small English Conversation school, an eikaiwa. I found via on Dave’s ESL Café’s job board and we both happened to be desperate at the same time. They needed a teacher pronto and I needed to be out of Prague and in Asia ASAP. This was meant to happen. The hiring process moved very swiftly since I had everything they needed and they had the motivation to hire me at the end of the month. Stars aligned, I left Prague as quickly as I entered it and started my new life in Tokyo.


Things I like about the small school:

  • Personal approach – they provided an apartment (I still pay for it but I had to only pay a non-refundable cleaning fee and the place was mine for a year)
  • Help with visa and other paperwork, help with getting a phone, internet, doctor’s appointments.
  • Guaranteed hours – big companies, such as Gaba, for instance, do not guarantee hours. Also, my week is 27 teaching hours (+8 hours of various prep time); at Gaba you have to teach 45 lessons a week to make what I make.

Things I dislike about this place:

  • No schedule flexibility – you don’t get sick days (this is JAPAN!), you don’t get to request a day off, you don’t get to request a change of schedule ever even when you’re re-signing your contract for another year – this could be just my school.
  • No weekends. Out of 4 full time Native teachers at my school only one gets Sunday off and I’m pretty sure he made a deal with the Devil. There’s no way for me to get out of working Sundays and no way for me to get my days off in a row (right now it’s Mondays and Wednesdays), which is very frustrating.
  • No flexibility in teaching. This could be a whole article in itself – Japanese people are convinced they know how to teach English even though they invite Native speakers and pay us okay money to “teach.” We don’t get to say: “What you’re doing is ineffective, have you seen a single TEFL book?” We are supposed to use “their method” or get out of the kitchen. This frustrates and demotivates me as a teacher. I heard from other teachers that things aren’t any different in big companies or universities. There’s also a strange aversion to materials already written by professionals (Cambridge/Oxford text books or what not), they love to reinvent the bicycle and write their own textbooks here. It’s counter-productive in my opinion.

This is not a comprehensive guide to finding a teaching job in Japan at all, they’re just my observations and helpful tips. Overall, I say it’s not that difficult. It’s a tad more competitive than, say Vietnam or Thailand, but it’s very achievable. Give it the old college try, grasshopper! Ganbatte!

They're not actually sleeping. They're trying to catch popcorn in their mouths.

They’re not actually sleeping. They’re trying to catch popcorn in their mouths.


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