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The Traveling Teacher: Tourism and Career in Japan and Elsewhere

As early as 1978, the Government of Japan began a program of welcoming native English speakers to Japan and have them work as English teachers in schools there. Today, the demand for foreigners who can teach the English language remains high.

One can fly over as a tourist and wander around the temples and busy streets of Tokyo. Be amazed how centuries-old structures blend with the ultra-modern buildings of the bustling city. At the Imperial Palace, stroll through the wide expanse of the gardens as you wonder about landscaping firms that meticulously maintain the well-manicured bonsai plants, trees, and lawns. All around the country, one can find Zen beauty and solace in nature parks and, at the same time, soak in the neon lights, music, and urban activity of Tokyo. After enjoying the sights, foreigners can earn some cash by sharing their knowledge with hundreds of Japanese who are eager to learn the English language.

Megan McCormick, the tv presenter who became famous for the Lonely Planet adventure-travel series (later renamed Global Trekker) taught English in Japan way back in 1996. Her travels in Japan, she says in some of her interviews, helped her prepare for the jet-setting life of a travel show host.

Another famous personality who has taught English in the Land of the Rising Sun is Edward Norton. Famous for his iconic role in the movie Fight Club, and more recently, as Dr. Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk—Norton actually lived for a while in Osaka and taught English part-time.

Not surprisingly, ’90s action star Steven Seagal also worked as an English teacher in Japan while living there to study Aikido and other Japanese martial arts. He used these skill sets artfully as a movie tough guy in his blockbuster movies.

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Travel First…Then Teach to Support Your Stay

How does one travel to Japan to become a teacher?

Some who visit Japan do so for its culture, ancient temples, world-famous cuisine, and natural wonders. While Japan is only slightly smaller to California in land size, it has a lot to offer to foreign tourists. A seven to 10-day itinerary for first-timers is the shortest length that one can enjoy the sights, sounds, and tastes of this remarkable Asian country. Later on, after having a good tour around Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hakone—a tourist can travel farther and deeper by visiting Kyushu Island and Okinawa. To extend their stay, many foreigners look for part-time English teaching or tutorial jobs in cities and suburban centers. Often, they make enough money to live in Japan for several more weeks or months.

Those who stay for longer periods are those who were recruited in job fairs. Japanese companies visit universities and colleges in the US and other English-speaking countries to make job offers to young people typically in their mid-20s to 30s. If they agree, they will be asked to teach students in private schools called eikaiwa. Others will be assigned to international schools that need more teachers for their foreign students, many of who are children of diplomats and expat professionals.

The airfare is shouldered by the recruiting company. The new English teacher will usually have housing allowance or free accomodations. Vacations and other incentives are part of the contract.

The average pay for a foreigner who teaches English is in the range of US$1,800 to 5,500 per month, a sizeable amount for Japanese standard for teacher salaries. Teaching at the university level will pay more and will require lesser number of work hours.

Requirements to Be an English Teacher in Japan

Recruiters typically look for teacher candidates who are citizens of the US, UK, Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and even South Africa. They must be citizens of these countries and possess a baccalaureate degree or a diploma from a university or college that is accredited in Japan.

While a background check is not mandatory, some schools might require it for certain arrangements like being part of the JET Program (Japan Exchange Teaching) which is sponsored by the Japanese government. For this program, an FBI background check is needed.

Needless to say, foreigners who want to teach in Japan must submit proof of their health status and must be free from illegal drugs and other prohibited substance. Japan has very strict laws and punishments for illegal drug use and possession.

Most recruiters will look for teachers who possess a certificate in Teaching of English as a Foreign Language (TEFL).

Foreigners who taught English in Japan say that the Japanese people generally remain conservative and traditional. This makes it quite interesting in terms of contrast to Western beliefs, mores, and world view.

More than the money and tourism, many foreigners who experienced living in Japan found it to be a life-transforming experience.

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