“Job prospects” is a new miniseries of articles, where I will have a look at various types of professions that are available to foreigners in Japan, try and look at whether the field is easy to get into or not, and subsequently discuss whether it is feasible to pursue a career in Japan in that given field.
What better way to start this off than with the (in)famous profession of Language Teaching? Many times, if people first arrive in Japan and start looking for work, this will be one of the first jobs that will come up if you start googling available work in Japan. If you look around English job-search websites for Japan, it often feels like about 70% of the available positions are for Language teachers, specifically English teachers. Due to the sheer volume of people in this field, you are also bound to hear many success stories of people starting careers in Japan while working in language teaching. But for most people, once you are in the language teaching niche, it will be difficult to escape from it. Which is fine if you enjoy that kind of work, but it’s best treated as an end and not a means to another, different end.
But why is Language teaching so popular? The most obvious part of it is, that for the most part, Japanese is not required to be a Language teacher. Also, many entry-level positions are available, at least for English teaching, making it easy for you if you just came to Japan and need a job. In some cases, you can even apply from abroad, with companies hosting seminars for prospective ALTs (Assistant Language Teacher). If you sign up with a company, they will most likely also help you secure accommodation in Japan beforehand, and assist you while you are still getting used to life. Sounds relatively promising, right?
Stepping out of the teaching world can be difficult
Well, it depends. If you are looking to only spend a few years at most in Japan, before returning to your home country and pursuing a career there, then Language teaching might be a good fit for you. If you are looking to build a life and a career in Japan itself, I would not recommend it, however. The teaching world is pretty self-contained, with little room for advancement. Once you’ve worked as an ALT or conversation teacher for a few years, you might begin to want a higher salary, more responsibilities, freedom to curate your curriculum and so on. Unfortunately, all of those things are going to be hard to come by. Advancing your career is going to be pretty difficult. Once you are a Language teacher, that is kind of it. Finding employment at a University or opening your own school is going to be your only ways to significantly further your career. The former is going to be difficult to get into, and the latter carries a lot of risks that you might not be willing to take while in a foreign country. The aforementioned lack of Japanese language requirement will also often become a disadvantage if you are looking to change jobs. Many teachers might neglect their Japanese language studies due to this, and once they are looking to change jobs, all they have to their name is experience in an unrelated field and no Japanese skills.
Better be a native speaker (an actual one, not fluent like one)
But I haven’t talked about the biggest caveat, the elephant in the room, yet, which is your mother tongue. If you are from a non-English speaking country, you are going to find it exceedingly difficult to get yourself a visa which allows you to work in Japan long-term. There seems to be this myth that anyone can become an English teacher in Japan. If you come to Japan looking for work, people will be quick to suggest English teaching. But you can only be issued a visa for English teaching if you are from a country where English is the official language (the UK, Australia, Amerika etc.), or you can prove that you went through 12 consecutive years of education in English. No matter how fluent you are in English, this means that it is very hard for non-natives to find employment as an English teacher. As for other languages, if you are a native speaker of German, French, Spanish or any other popular European language, there might be openings for you available but do not count on it. But if your mother tongue is something more obscure, then better don’t count on finding employment as a Language teacher in Japan.
So to sum it up, if you are an English native-speaker (read from a country where English is the official language, not a native-level speaker) then your job prospects as a Language teacher are decent, though you are going to find it difficult to transition into any other field of work. If your native language is anything else, it is going to be much harder to get your feet on the ground, unfortunately. Another thing to consider for the future is that in-person Language training might not be around too much longer, with people transitioning to using YouTube and applications for their Language learning more and more.
I am going to leave it here. Again, if your dream is to teach your native language in Japan, then by all means go for it. But if you are only looking to use it as a stepping stone to get into something different, maybe think twice before committing to a long-term position.