A whole new world.
Japan is a chain of islands in Eastern Asia. Famous for its unique culture, fastidious and hardworking people, and fascinating history, it’s not a country that needs much of an introduction. Anyone interested in working or traveling the country will already have some appreciation for the beauty, variety and splendour that is Japan.
Japan is full of wonderful surprises and amazing contrasts. It is a modern society, but has carefully preserved ancient traditions. Take a photo of a reproduction Eiffel Tower, surf an indoor wave, muse in a Zen temple, spend a night in a capsule, get lost in vast underground shopping plazas or make friends with the homeless in the underground system. There is no country quite like this!
Japan’s climate varies from tropical in the south to cool temperate in the north. The terrain is mostly rugged and mountainous.
Japan ’s market is mature and the heady growth years are over for the most part. Teaching positions are well-paid and competition can be high, but on the whole, demand for English teachers is consistent and a sincere job hunt will bear fruit. Also, Bear in mind, Japan is an expensive country by Asian standards so planning your job hunt or even your holiday there is worth the effort.
From the early seventeenth century, the Tokugawa shogunate isolated Japan from foreign influence in order to secure its power. For over 250 years, Japan enjoyed stability and a flowering of its indigenous culture. Following the Treaty of Kanagawa with the United States in 1854, Japan opened its ports and began a process of modernization.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Japan was a formidable foe, defeating both China and Russia, occupying Korea, Formosa ( Taiwan), and southern Sakhalin Island. In 1933, Japan occupied Manchuria and later a full invasion of China was launched. Japan attacked US forces in 1941 - triggering America's entry into World War II - and soon occupied much of East and Southeast Asia.
After its defeat in World War II, Japan recovered to become an economic power and a staunch ally of the US. While the emperor retains his throne as a symbol of national unity, actual power rests in networks of powerful politicians, bureaucrats, and business executives.
- Population: 127 million
- Capital City: Tokyo
- People: Japanese (including indigenous Ainu & Okinawans), Korean
- Language: Japanese
- Religion: Shintō, Buddhism, Christianity.
- Major Industries: High-tech electronic products, motor vehicles, office machinery, chemicals, steel, textiles, processed foods
US passport holders, most EU residents and visitors from Australia and New Zealand do not require a visa if staying in Japan less than 90 days. Visas cost around Y3000 and require a 2 to 5 days for processing.
Most job-seekers enter Japan on a 90-day tourist visa and then begin the job hunt. The key to obtaining a work visa is to have a sponsoring full-time employer in Japan. If you are hired by a school or company able to offer a full timetable, your employer must take your documents to the Immigration Office for processing within six weeks. The government of Japan will not give work permits to anyone without a university degree. Another option is a “cultural visa.” To qualify, you must be able to prove that you are studying something Japanese like flower arranging, Shiatsu massage, martial arts, or the Japanese language.
- Time Zone: GMT/UTC +9
- Dialling Code: 81
- Electricity: 100V, 50Hz
- Weights & measures: Metric
The currency of Japan is the Yen. (Currency code: JPY)
Coins are minted in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500 yen.
Bank notes are printed higher denominations of 1,000, 2,000 and 10,000 yen.
- Budget: ฅ550-880
- Mid-range: ฅ880-2700
- High: ฅ2700-5000
- Deluxe: ฅ5000+
- Budget: ฅ2800-3850
- Mid-range: ฅ3850-7700
- High: ฅ7700-20000
- Deluxe: ฅ20000+
Housing prices in cities across Japan are not cheap. New arrivals are best off heading towards the now well-established long-stay guesthouses that have served the needs of foreigners over the years. These “gaijin houses” (foreigner house) are easy to find in guidebooks and on the internet, and very often full of resources useful for finding work. They don’t require a guarantor (as renting an apartment does) and are so useful that many foreigners stay there for their entire contract period in Japan.
These guesthouses are not the newest and most modern available; apartments are usually equipped with basic kitchen utensils, a futon, a pay phone, and possibly a television.
Naturally, private apartments are more expensive than rooms in shared apartments, where kitchen and bathroom are typically shared. Depending on the room and location, the monthly rent for a shared apartment in Tokyo is typically between Y 40,000 and 100,000 per month and person, while a private apartment usually costs at least Y 100,000 per month. Contracts are usually rented for a minimum of two years.
Demand for teachers is usually very high in Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, Kobe and Kyoto.
The main types of teaching are:
- Younger Learners: Conversational English, General English
- 'Conversation Lounges': Conversational English
- Vocational Schools: Conversational English, General English, ESP
- In-company': Conversational English, General English
- ”Crammer Schools”: Conversational English, General English
Contracts run for 1 year. Work permits are arranged by the employer. Teachers must be native English speaker and university degree holders.
The busiest period is September to June. Salaries are typically ฅ220,000 - ฅ320,000 per month, with ฅ250,000 being the average. Tax of 6-9% is deducted.
Japanese people of all ages eagerly sign up for lessons, especially evening classes, held in schools, town halls, and offices. “Conversation lounges” or “voice rooms” are popular among young adults who simply want to converse or socialize with a native speaker. These can have a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere, though they do not pay well and are probably unsatisfactory for serious English teachers.
If you want to arrange a teaching job in advance, the best bet is the government’s JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program. Each year, more than 6,000 foreign language assistants from 40 countries receive 1-year renewable contracts to work in private and state junior and senior high schools. Anyone with a university degree who is under 40 is eligible to apply. The program is fairly competitive, partly because of the generous salary of ฅ3,600,000 (about $29,000) in addition to a free return air ticket on completing a contract.
A number of large private organizations recruit abroad. Most pay at least ฅ250,000 ($2,000 per month). A few of the major chains to look out for are GEOS, Nova, and ECC.
Things to do and see
Expect a total sell-out for travel and lodging during Japan's biggest holidays, New Year (December 29 to January 3) and Golden Week (the lumping together of Green Day, Constitution Day and Children's Day, from April 27 to May 6). Other festivals include Coming-of-Age Day (second Monday in January), when ceremonies are held for boys and girls who have reached the age of 20. The Japanese celebrate the end of winter on February 3 or 4 by indulging in Setsubun (bean throwing) while chanting 'in with good fortune, out with the devils'. Hanami (Blossom Viewing) usually runs from February to April; the romantic Tanabata Matsuri (Star Festival) is on July 7; and O Bon (Festival of the Dead), when lanterns are floated on rivers, lakes or the sea to signify the return of the departed to the underworld, takes place from July 13-16 and mid-August.
Kyoto 's Gion Matsuri (July 17) is perhaps the most renowned of all Japanese festivals. The climax is a parade of massive man-dragged floats decked out in incredible finery, harking back to a 9th-century request to the gods to end a plague sweeping the city. In the cute and kooky department, Niramekko Obisha (January 20; Chiba) combines a staring contest with consumption of sake - the one with the straightest face wins. The Yah-Yah Matsuri (first Sunday to the following Saturday of February; Owase) is an argument contest: competitors scream Samurai chants and try to look fearsome. Afterwards, they take off all their clothes and jump in the ocean. White Day (March 14) is a bizarre follow up to Valentine's Day where men are supposed to reciprocate to their valentine with a gift of chocolate or marshmallow.
January 1: New Year's Day ( Ganjitsu)
January 2 and 3: Bank Holidays
January 10: Coming of Age Day ( Seijin-no-hi)
February 11: Foundation Day ( Kenkoku Kinem-bi)
March 21: Vernal Equinox ( Shumbun-no-hi)
April 29: Greenery Day ( Midori-no-hi)
May 3: Constitution Day ( Kempō Kinem-bi)
May 4: People's Day ( Kokumin-no-Saijitsu)
May 5: Children's Day ( Kodomo-no-hi)
July 18: Marine Day ( Umi-no-hi)
September 19: Respect for the Aged Day ( Keirō-no-hi)
September 23: Autumnal Equinox ( Shūbun-no-hi)
October 10: Fitness Day ( Taiiku-no-hi)
November 3: Culture Day ( Bunka-no-hi)
November 23: Labour Thanksgiving Day ( Kinrō Kansha-no-hi)
December 23: Emperor's Birthday ( Tennō Tanjōbi)
December 31 Bank Holiday
Tokyo is Japan’s busy capital. It is a vast city that can both depress and amaze you. Not much of the old Japan is left here, except in Asakusa, once the 'pleasure district'. The business districts lies to the west of the central Ginza shopping precinct, and the residential neighbourhoods to the east.
Shinjuku is present-day Tokyo's entertainment district. Shibuya is the place for love hotels. These are often themed buildings with fantasy rooms you can rent for a few hours or for the night. Lack of space and privacy in Japanese homes means they're often used by married couples to get away from it all. Visit Rapongi for a night of dancing and fun. Or wander around the famous Senso-ji Temple for some tranquility.
As well as the usual museums explaining Japanese life and history, Tokyo has the Button Museum, going dating back to 4000 BC, a Kite Museum, a Cigarette Lighter Museum and a Drum Museum where you can try out drums from around the world.
Kyoto was once Japan's capital and is still one of Japan’s loveliest cities. Its Buddhist temples, exquisite imperial palaces, wooden houses, traditional Japanese inns and restaurants make it a fascinating place to explore.
Japan has 28 national parks which preserve a variety of landscapes from industrialisation. Those within easy reach of Tokyo include Fuji-Hakone-Izu which is home to the famous Mount Fuji. The Park has numerous hot springs, lakes and historic attractions. The Japan Alps National Park was the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics and is good for hiking as well as skiing. Nikko is centred around the Toshogu Shrine and famous for its lakes waterfalls and cedar forests. These are particularly spectacular in the autumn. There's cross country skiing here in the winter.
Hokkaido is Japan's second largest island. It is sparsely populated and has five national parks. Daisetsuzan, the largest and one of the most beautiful, is famous for its volcanoes, fir and birch forests and the Sounkyo Gorge, it has superb hiking, cycling and skiing. Neighbouring Shikotsu-Toya is a place of hot-spring resorts such as Toyako Spa.
Kyushu is the third largest island. Its main city is Fukuoka, famed for its vibrant nightlife. Another tourist attractions on the island is Nagasaki, with it’s A Bomb museum. The volcano Mount Aso and Kirishima National Parkhas great hiking and wonderful hot springs to relax in.
Shikoku is the smallest and least visited of the main islands. It is a relaxed and tranquil place with lovely scenery, splendid castles, beautiful gardens and hot springs. It's one of the best places to see traditional Japanese life.
In addition to the amazing cycling through dramatic Japanese scenery, especially through Hokkaido, splendid hiking through well marked trails, skiing in the now famous Nagano area and other wonderful pastimes that keep those in Japan busy, there are plenty of more esoteric pastimes to effectively pass the time.
Spend a night in a ryokan, a traditional inn, and get a glimpse of old Japan: futons, tatami floors, sliding paper doors and views of perfect Japanese gardens. Or study martial arts at one of the many traditional dojo which admit visitors. If you think you have the meat, have a round of Sumo and see how handy all those hamburgers you weren’t supposed to eat can be!
How about some kabuki, a form of Japanese theatre with spectacular costumes. For the more talented, try Japanese calligraphy or a touch of ikebana. There list hasn’t even started yet!