6 Best Places to Teach English in Japan

by Published

If you’re hankering for the East and looking for a well-paid, stable job while you’re there, teaching English in Japan might be just the ticket. There’s just something about Japan that you can’t quite put your finger on. Maybe it’s the clean-scrubbed streets, the uber-politeness of the locals, the freshest food you could ever imagine, or it could be the opportunity to make bank doing something you love. In fact, the land of the rising sun is one of five places where you can earn big bucks teaching English abroad.There are lots of opportunities to teach English in Japan for newbies to try their hands in the classroom or for seasoned pros to continue to build a rewarding career in foreign language education.

Sprawling cityscape in Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo is an ESL teacher’s dream with bright lights and high fashion.

Working in Japan teaching English offers a range of work environments, including: public schools, private bilingual/international schools, kindergartens, eikaiwa, or conversation schools for kids, eikaiwa for adults, schools that offer business English to staff in huge corporations, one-on-one teaching sessions, private tutoring, English cafes, and even universities. To qualify for many jobs teaching ESL in Japan, you need to be a native English speaker with at least a bachelor’s degree in any subject. If you have TEFL certification, even better!

Where Should You Teach English in Japan?

Japan is made of four main islands: Hokkaido to the north, Honshu in the middle, and Kyushu and Shikoku in the south. It’s also home to many smaller island chains, like Okinawa and the Ogasawara islands. Of course, everybody’s heard of Tokyo, and yes, it is amazeballs, but there are so many other cool places beyond the Kanto plains. Here are six of the best places to teach English in Japan:

The Big Cities

1. Tokyo

Obvi this tops the list of best places to teach English in Japan, in terms of big cities. Tokyo is by far the top fantasy of almost every Japanophile who craves the brights lights and big city. Tokyo definitely lives up to – and even exceeds – your wildest expectations with its cool architecture and museums, crazy fashion, and surreal landscapes. It’s the epicenter of the English language education industry in Japan too, so you’ll be spoilt for choice of ESL jobs if you end up being based here. There are a range of English teaching jobs in Tokyo, from teaching business English to teaching English at a university to teaching English to pre-schoolers. However, this vareity also means there’s a lot more competition for the best teaching jobs.

Living in such a global city is exciting, with lots of nooks and crannies to explore. The crowds and noise can get intense, especially at rush hour in the heart of popular districts like Shibuya and Shinjuku. Check out Tokyo’s unique neighborhoods like geek-paradise Akihabara, swanky Ginza, or trendy Harajuku. Although living in Tokyo can be expensive, an English teacher in Japan’s salary will be relative to the cost of living, and if you do some research there are many ways to save money in the big city.

Cherry blossoms in Osaka
Teaching ESL in Japan means catching the spring cherry blossoms in Osaka.

2. Osaka

If Tokyo’s too stiff for your tastes, there are plenty of teaching jobs in Japan throughout Kansai’s most vibrant city, Osaka. For instance, if you have a degree in early childhood education, you could sign up to become an elementary homeroom teacher at Abroad International School in Osaka.

Though smaller than Tokyo, Osaka is very modern, and way more affordable. The city is known as the “nation’s kitchen” and locals don’t hold back, tucking into takoyaki (fried octopus balls), Osaka okonomiyaki (a type of savory pancake), and kitsune udon (noodles with deep-fried tofu). Eat and shop your heart out in Dotonbori, Namba, Umeda, and Amerika-mura (American Village). Check out the city’s awesome skyline from Umeda Sky Building and take selfies at Osaka Castle or Hogwarts at Universal Studios Japan.

3. Nagoya

Home to Toyota, Honda, Mitsubishi, and pachinko (a pin-ball type game for gamblers), this city is also the capital of Aichi prefecture. Since Nagoya is centrally located on Honshu, many cities in Japan’s Kansai and Kanto regions are easily accessible. You could teach kids at an international school in Japan’s fourth largest city. On your days off, be sure to check out Nagoya Castle, Atsuta Shrine, Toyota’s Automobile Museum, and the Port of Nagoya Aquarium. If you’re more of a culture vulture, you can catch a traditional noh play at Nagoya Noh Theater or watch big dudes wrestle at Nagoya’s Sumo Tournament in mid-July when you need a break from teaching in Nagoya.

Landscape and cityscape in Nagoya
Take a breather working in Japan teaching English in Nagoya.

The Smaller Cities

4. Kyoto

If big cities aren’t your jam, there are lots of equally fascinating, smaller cities with their own unique vibe to make this list of the best places to teach English in Japan. Why not teach English in Kyoto? You can even tutor for your host family!

If you’re really into Japanese history, then this city is the perfect place for you to teach English in Japan. Kyoto was previously Japan’s imperial city for several centuries, before the capital moved to Edo, now modern-day Tokyo. Therefore, Kyoto is chock-full of enough Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, palaces, gardens, and ancient monuments to make your head spin. It’s pretty all year round, although you may find yourself jostling for elbow room with loads of tourists who descend on the town to ogle sakura (cherry blossom) in spring and koyo (colored leaves) in fall.

When you aren’t busy teaching, be sure to check out Kyoto’s must-see places: Kiyomizudera, Kinkakuji, Arashiyama, Fushimi Inari Shrine, and the Gion district where you can spot maiko girls training to become geisha. If you’re teaching in Japan in July, don’t miss Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri, one of the big three festivals not to miss in Japan.

Kyoto, Japan
It wouldn’t be a list of the best places to teach English in Japan without the postcard perfect Kyoto.

5. Hiroshima

A lot of people who have never been to Japan have only heard of horror stories of Hiroshima. Although an immense disaster did happen here in 1945, Hiroshima rose from the ashes and today, is one of Japan’s most photogenic cities and one of the best places to teach English in Japan.

If you stroll around the city you will see monuments and reminders of its sordid past, but everyone here is so chill that it’s hard not to fall in love with this adorable city. Looking for one of those coveted teaching jobs in Japan? If you’re a native or near-native English speaker, but don’t have any teaching experience, you can teach in Hiroshima as a trainee English conversation instructor for twelve weeks or more.

If you do decide to teach English in Hiroshima, be sure to check out Hiroshima’s must sees: Hiroshima Peace Memorial, the A-Bomb Dome, Itsukushima Shrine, and Hiroshima Castle. Also, you’ll never go hungry with so many okonomiyaki shops around town to tuck into the city’s famous dish straight off the griddle.

Hiroshima, Japan
For a change of pace and a deep dive into history, look for teaching jobs in Hiroshima, Japan.

Rural Cities & Towns

6. Tottori & Shimane Prefectures

Although the big cities get all the hype when it comes to teaching jobs in Japan, there are some solid reasons why you should teach English in a small Japanese town. Don’t discount the inaka, or Japanese countryside, with its backwater villages and towns where the locals will scream if they see a foreign face. On the contrary, teaching in the inaka, especially if you are fluent or nearly fluent in Japanese, is one of the best things you can do to improve your language skills, because there are not a lot of English spoken in these parts.

The kids in inaka schools are usually very friendly, since you’ll likely be one of the few gaijin (foreigners) they encounter. Teachers will go out of their way to show you around, invite you into their homes, and teach you about their local traditions and customs. Even staff at the local supermarket or bakery may practice their English with you!

You can find rural bits in almost any Japanese prefecture, but if you really want to go off the beaten teaching-English-in-Japan track, check out cities and towns in Tottori and Shimane prefectures, two of Japan’s least densely populated prefectures. Matsue, the capital of Shimane prefecture, is known for its well-preserved castle and samurai history. In another town in Shimane, Tsuwano, you can visit a Catholic church where you pray on tatami mats or ride the quaint Yamaguchi-go steam locomotive. In Tottori prefecture, you could teach at schools in Tottori city, home to Japan’s most famous sand dunes or settle in Yonago, where the scenic Mount Daisen looms over the city.

Ready to get your teach on and start working in Japan teaching English? Before you head to the land of the rising sun, remember to do your own independent research, read reviews on GoAbroad, and reach out to each program’s past alumni. You’re sure to have the experience of a lifetime teaching English in Japan.

Find teaching jobs in Japan on GoAbroad today!