Teaching English in Japan has long been considered a viable option for many foreigners looking to live and work in the country. However, while such opportunities have their merits, prospective teachers must also be aware of the potential pitfalls and challenges that come with this profession. Here are 14 reasons why teaching English in Japan might not be the ideal choice for everyone.
1. Cultural Differences and Language Barriers
a) Different Teaching Styles
One of the challenges that English teachers in Japan often face is adapting to different teaching styles. This can be especially daunting for those who are not familiar with Japanese culture or have little experience teaching non-native speakers. Western teaching methodologies often emphasize critical thinking and student participation, whereas Japanese pedagogical methods are frequently more hierarchical and teacher-centered.
b) Limited Japanese Language Skills
Language barriers can make day-to-day interactions difficult. Even if you are an excellent English teacher, your limited Japanese language skills may cause misunderstandings with your students or colleagues. Learning some basic Japanese is essential, but it may take time and effort to become proficient enough to ameliorate such communication issues.
2. Financial Challenges
a) Low Pay relative to Cost of Living
When comparing the salaries and cost of living in different countries, teaching English in Japan may not offer the most attractive financial prospects. Depending on the city and region, expenses such as transportation, housing, and utilities can be quite substantial, which makes saving money difficult for teachers earning meager salaries.
Here’s the experience from a reddit post:
So the average starting salary is lower than 250k yen MINUS housing and health insurance, right? For example, 250k – 55k (for housing alone) is 195k yen. That’s $1,717 USD. I’m just making sure because it seems really low to live on as well as for teaching compensation in general. And I understand the salary may be “high” for an ESL job in Japan considering the other factors, so it’s not that I am complaining. I’m genuinely just trying to figure out how much I can make and if it is worth teaching in Japan as an American.
Even if you have extensive teaching experience, the salary upside is still limited. Like this university teaching job only pays just over ¥275,000 ~ ¥300,000 / Month (~$2000).
b) Limited Compensation Packages
Many English teaching positions in Japan offer only simple benefits packages, often lacking health insurance and retirement plans. Such positions commonly entail contract-based or part-time work without providing consistent benefits an employee might expect from a job back home.
3. Limited Job Security and Career Development Opportunities
a) Predominantly Temporary Jobs
A considerable number of English teaching positions in Japan are temporary, often lasting just a year or two. Knowing that your employment may expire in the near future can make it challenging to establish a life or plan for the long term.
b) Restricted Opportunities for Advancement
There may be limited opportunities for career advancement within the realm of English teaching in Japan. Many experienced teachers find themselves stuck in entry-level positions with no clear path for growth and development. This can lead to feelings of stagnation and job dissatisfaction over time.
4. Prejudice and Discrimination
Some non-white and non-blonde English teachers may experience prejudice or discrimination from students, parents, or employers who may have preconceived notions about what an English teacher should look like. Such unjust treatment is not ubiquitous but has been reported by minority teachers working in Japan.
5. Aggressive Competition
The market for English teaching jobs in Japan is competitive, particularly in major cities like Tokyo and Osaka. While having relevant qualifications and experience certainly helps, many applicants may still struggle to secure stable, fulfilling positions due to factors such as personal networks, visa sponsorship requirements, or timing.
6. Inadequate Training and Support
Many English teaching programs in Japan provide only minimal training for their instructors, leaving them ill-prepared for the demands of the job. This lack of proper training can lead to feelings of inadequacy and frustration as teachers struggle to effectively engage their students and adapt to different learning styles. Moreover, limited support from school staff and administration can make navigating these challenges even more difficult, resulting in a less-than-ideal teaching experience.
Some schools may have only a brief orientation period for new English teachers instead of an extensive training program.
7. High-Pressure Work Environment
The pressure to help students achieve high scores on English proficiency exams such as TOEFL or IELTS can create a competitive work environment in many Japanese schools. This pressure not only affects students but also weighs heavily on teachers. Many educators find themselves spending long hours outside of regular classroom time developing lesson plans, grading assignments, and participating in after-school activities or tutoring sessions—all without overtime pay. Teachers might be expected to dedicate time outside of school hours for students’ extracurricular learning, often without proper compensation.
8 Rigid Work Culture
The working culture in Japan includes strict social hierarchies and expectations for behavior, making it difficult for some foreign teachers to adapt. This rigidity can extend into the education system, where conformity is often valued over creativity or innovation. For individuals who have never experienced this kind of environment, adjusting can be a major challenge. Additionally, a lack of flexibility in the curriculum may limit teachers’ ability to tailor their approach to meet the unique needs of their students.
Some schools may enforce a strict dress code for teachers, with little room for personal expression or deviation.
9. Isolation and Loneliness
It’s not uncommon for English teachers in Japan to feel isolated, particularly those who are stationed in rural areas with limited access to other expatriates. Despite efforts to make friends within their local communities or within their schools, many foreign teachers struggle to build meaningful connections due to cultural and language barriers. This sense of isolation can contribute to feelings of loneliness and homesickness, impacting overall job satisfaction. An English teacher might be placed in a remote town where they are the only foreigner and feel disconnected from familiar support networks.
10. Unequal Treatment
Unfortunately, some foreign English teachers in Japan face discrimination or unfair treatment based on factors such as race, ethnicity, nationality, or appearance—particularly those who do not embody the stereotypical “ideal” image of an English educator. This inequity can manifest itself through differences in pay, job opportunities, housing options, and general social interactions. Individuals experiencing this disparity may find their quality of life severely diminished while teaching in Japan.
A non-white or non-native English-speaking teacher might receive fewer job offers or lower pay than their white counterparts despite having equal qualifications.
11. Difficulty Adapting to Students’ Needs
Teaching English in Japan can involve a wide range of students, from young children to adults, with varying levels of proficiency and learning styles. Some teachers may find it challenging to adapt their teaching methods and materials to cater to the diverse needs of their students. This could lead to frustration both for the teacher and their students, as well as ineffective learning outcomes.
12. Geographical Constraints
Japan is an archipelago with numerous cities and towns spread across various islands. Some English teaching positions may be located in remote or rural areas that are difficult to access or have limited resources. This can make living and working in these locations particularly challenging, especially if you are unaccustomed to such environments. On the other hand, big cities like Tokyo or Osaka may be too crowded or expensive for some people’s preferences.
13. Workload Imbalance
While some English teachers in Japan may enjoy comfortable work schedules, others may experience workload imbalances that lead to long hours and limited time off. This could be due to factors such as understaffing at schools or language institutions or an expectation that foreign teachers take on additional responsibilities beyond teaching, such as administrative tasks or extracurricular activities.
14. Alternative Opportunities within Japan
Lastly, potential expatriates should consider other employment opportunities available in Japan before immediately pursuing a career in English teaching. Many industries welcome foreigners with specialized skills and qualifications, such as those related to technology, tourism, and business operations.