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What are the Requirements to Teach English in Japan?



Teaching English in Japan can be a deeply rewarding experience, offering a unique blend of cultural immersion and professional fulfillment. For many, the idea of moving to Japan and teaching English sparks excitement and a sense of adventure. However, before packing your bags and booking your flight, it’s essential to understand the specific requirements needed to embark on this journey. Japan offers a structured and respectful educational environment, and as such, there are clear criteria that prospective English teachers must meet to be considered for teaching positions.

Securing a teaching job in Japan is more accessible than many might think. Despite the formalities and prerequisites, the process is straightforward if you’re prepared and committed. Interestingly, teachers in Japan come from a variety of backgrounds. While having a degree in English or education can give you an edge, it is not a strict necessity. Teachers in Japan have diverse professional histories — from marketing and writing to more unexpected fields like engineering, medicine, and even law. This diversity enriches the educational experience for students and teachers alike.

In Japan, teaching English isn't limited only to those who've spent their careers in education; it's a field open to anyone with a strong command of the English language and a genuine interest in teaching and learning. Whether you’re looking for a change of pace, a new challenge, or the chance to explore Japan’s rich culture, teaching English could be your gateway.

Educational Qualifications: The Basic Requirement

One of the fundamental requirements for teaching English in Japan is having a bachelor’s degree. This stipulation is not limited to degrees in education or English, any field of study is acceptable. The requirement for a degree is partly due to visa regulations, as the Japanese government issues specific work visas that necessitate a higher education qualification. Schools and language institutes use this criterion to ensure that all candidates have a foundational level of knowledge and critical thinking skills, which are seen as essential for teaching and adapting to a new cultural environment. Thus, holding a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university is the first major step towards qualifying as an English teacher in Japan.

Native Speaker Preferences and Alternatives

Japan's language schools often prefer to hire native English speakers, primarily from countries like the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, or South Africa. This preference is rooted in the belief that native speakers can offer authentic pronunciation, idiomatic expressions, and cultural insights that enhance the learning experience.

However, being a non-native English speaker does not automatically disqualify you from teaching in Japan. Schools are increasingly recognizing the value of teachers who bring a high level of English proficiency, strong teaching credentials, and relevant experience. Non-native speakers who possess excellent English skills and can demonstrate their teaching abilities through certifications or previous teaching experience are also considered for teaching roles.

Moreover, non-native English speakers often bring additional linguistic skills and multicultural perspectives that can be beneficial in the classroom. They can empathize with the language learning process, having often mastered English as a second language themselves. This can make them particularly effective in addressing the challenges faced by Japanese students learning English.

Certifications that Enhance Your Profile

While not universally mandatory, obtaining a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification can significantly bolster your job prospects in Japan. A TEFL certificate is especially advantageous if your bachelor’s degree is not in education or English. This certification demonstrates your commitment to teaching and equips you with practical teaching methodologies, classroom management strategies, and an understanding of English grammar and language structure.

Additionally, a TEFL certificate can set you apart from other candidates by showcasing your preparedness to handle the unique challenges of teaching English to non-native speakers. It provides theoretical and, often, practical training that is specifically tailored to teaching in foreign settings, making you a more attractive candidate to potential employers.

Other certifications that can enhance your profile include TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults). Each of these certifications focuses on different aspects of English language teaching and learning, catering to various educational settings and student demographics.

Holding any of these certifications may also lead to better salary offers and positions at more prestigious schools or larger language institutes in Japan. Thus, investing in a certification can be a wise decision for those serious about a long-term career in teaching English abroad.

Experience in Teaching: Valuable but Not Mandatory

While prior teaching experience is highly valued by schools in Japan, it is not a strict requirement for securing a position as an English teacher. Beginners and those new to the teaching profession often find opportunities in various educational settings, including public schools, private language institutes, and conversation schools (known as "Eikaiwa"). These institutions frequently offer training programs to new teachers, helping them acclimate to the educational methods and cultural nuances of teaching English in Japan.

For those with teaching experience, whether in English or another subject, the transition can be smoother. Experience can demonstrate your ability to manage a classroom, create engaging lesson plans, and effectively communicate with students of different backgrounds. It can also be a deciding factor in competitive hiring situations, potentially leading to positions with higher responsibility and better compensation.

Furthermore, experienced teachers might find opportunities to work in more specialized teaching environments, such as in universities or business English courses, where the demands are higher and the students more advanced. In these settings, previous experience, particularly in teaching specific skills like business communication or academic writing, is often required.

Health and Legal Prerequisites

Before embarking on a teaching career in Japan, it’s important to meet certain health and legal prerequisites that are commonly required by employers and the Japanese immigration authorities. These requirements ensure that teachers are fit for the demands of the job and maintain the safety and integrity of the educational environment.

Health Check: Most teaching positions in Japan require candidates to pass a basic health examination. This health check typically includes a physical examination, drug test, and sometimes a psychological evaluation to ensure that the candidate is physically and mentally capable of handling the responsibilities of teaching. The purpose is to confirm that you are in good health and free from any conditions that could severely impact your ability to teach.

Criminal Background Check: A clean criminal record is mandatory for anyone looking to teach in Japan. Applicants must typically provide a criminal background check from their home country or any other country where they have lived for a significant period. This is a standard procedure to protect the safety of students and uphold the high standards of the Japanese educational system.

Visa Requirements: Teachers coming from overseas will need a proper work visa to legally teach in Japan. The most common type for English teachers is the Instructor Visa, which is specific to those teaching in public schools, or the Specialist in Humanities/International Services Visa for those employed by private language schools and other educational institutions. Obtaining a visa generally requires sponsorship from the employing school, which will assist with the application process based on the candidate’s qualifications and the job offer.

Adhering to these health and legal prerequisites not only ensures compliance with Japanese laws but also demonstrates your professionalism and readiness to take on the role of an educator in Japan.

Age and Attitude: Key Personal Criteria

In addition to the formal qualifications and legal requirements for teaching English in Japan, personal attributes such as age and attitude play crucial roles in securing and succeeding in a teaching position.

Age Considerations: Generally, there is no strict upper age limit for teaching in Japan, but candidates need to be over 21 years old. This age requirement is partly due to visa regulations and also reflects the maturity and independence needed to handle living and working abroad. Younger teachers are often sought after for their energy and adaptability, which are seen as assets in engaging young learners and adapting to the dynamic environment of a classroom. However, more mature candidates bring valuable life experience and stability, which can be particularly appealing to adult education centers or business English programs.

Positive Attitude and Cultural Openness: Perhaps more important than age is the attitude prospective teachers bring to the role. Enthusiasm for teaching, a genuine interest in helping students learn, and a positive disposition are essential. Equally important is a respect for and an interest in Japanese culture. Teachers who show a willingness to engage with and respect the local customs and traditions often find it easier to connect with their students and colleagues, which can enhance the teaching experience and foster a more productive learning environment.

Embracing the local culture and showing adaptability in the face of the unique challenges of living in Japan are not just beneficial but necessary for a fulfilling tenure as a teacher. Those who come to Japan with an open heart and a readiness to immerse themselves in a new way of life often find that their teaching experience is enriched and their personal and professional lives grow in unexpected and rewarding ways.

Cultural Affinity: Embracing Japanese Traditions

A deep appreciation and respect for Japanese culture significantly enhance the experience of teaching English in Japan. Cultural affinity not only facilitates smoother integration into the community but also enriches your interactions with students and colleagues, creating a more harmonious and effective teaching environment.

Understanding and Respect for Cultural Norms: Japan is known for its rich traditions and a social code that emphasizes respect, politeness, and harmony. Teachers who make an effort to learn about and respect these norms often find it easier to build strong relationships within schools and the wider community. This might involve understanding basic etiquette, such as bowing, removing shoes indoors, and the proper use of polite language, or "Keigo," in Japanese.

Participation in Local Events: Engaging with the community through festivals, holidays, and local events is another way to show respect for and interest in Japanese culture. Participation in these activities not only deepens your cultural understanding but also demonstrates to your students and their families your commitment to being part of the community. This can lead to a more inclusive and supportive educational environment.

Language Learning: While not a requirement, learning the Japanese language can significantly enhance your daily life and professional interactions in Japan. Even basic proficiency allows for better communication with students and colleagues, many of whom may not speak English fluently. It also shows a genuine respect for and interest in the culture that goes beyond the professional obligations of teaching.

Ultimately, embracing Japanese traditions and showing a willingness to integrate into the culture not only make your teaching experience more enjoyable but also open up opportunities for personal growth and deeper connections within the community. Teachers who actively engage with the culture often report a more fulfilling and enriching experience during their tenure in Japan.


Teaching English in Japan offers a unique and enriching opportunity for personal and professional growth. From the bustling streets of Tokyo to the serene landscapes of Kyoto, Japan is a country of diverse cultures and traditions, all of which enhance the experience of living and working there. By meeting the educational, legal, and personal requirements, and by showing a willingness to embrace Japanese cultural norms, aspiring English teachers can embark on a rewarding journey.

The prerequisites to teach English in Japan - ranging from having a bachelor's degree to understanding local customs—ensure that teachers are well - prepared to contribute positively to their schools and communities. Although the journey to becoming an English teacher in Japan may require some preparation and adaptation, the rewards are significant. Teachers often find that their time in Japan not only enhances their teaching skills but also enriches their lives.

For those drawn to the idea of teaching abroad, Japan offers a compelling destination. With its rich cultural tapestry, respectful work environments, and the warm reception teachers often receive, it is a place where professional aspirations and personal adventures intersect beautifully. Whether you are seeking a change of pace, eager to explore a new culture, or looking to make a meaningful impact in the lives of students, teaching English in Japan can be a fulfilling career choice.

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