By Steve (Taught in Osaka, Japan)
After reading the rest of the reviews on working here, I have to agree with them all. However, as Christina said, it’s not what it used to be. After the collapse of the largest private English teaching company in the country in 2007, things have gotten a harder. The biggest changes are in visa sponsorship, pay, and working hours. It used to be if you had a pulse and grew up speaking English you could put on a tie and get paid about 300,000¥/year (about $30,000 US at the time) and not break a sweat doing it. Nowadays, the big companies left and the little ones still in the field have changed their game. If you’d like to teach professional classes to adults, you’ll likely only be able to find part-time work.
Most of my friends still teaching adults have several part-time jobs. They make good money, but they do work six days a week, albeit a pretty quiet six days: 4 hours this day, 5 this, etc. One can always fill in some hours with private lessons which tend to pay about 3,000¥/hour (or about $35US), but they’re not as easy to come by as they once were either. Also, big caveat with the little companies, once you start working a lot of them will try to squeeze extra work out of you at a lower rate than your initial class pay.
The big difficulty in teaching adults (for Americans at least, since our country isn’t on any working holiday exchange programs (write your representatives!)) is finding a company to sponsor your visa. I think most people coming here for the first time, are going to have a really hard time finding work and making ends meet taking this approach without a working holiday visa.
But there is hope. If you’re dead set on coming to Japan, I’d recommend looking into teaching children. The pay isn’t great and it’s a bit more challenging but there is more opportunity, especially if you’re new to the country. There are several international kindergartens in the Kansai area (I’m sure even more in Tokyo) and companies that will hire you to work in public schools (elementary through high school) as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT). With public schools–from what I’ve heard through friends–you get a lot of free time during the day (which can be good or bad since you can’t leave the school), the pays not bad and the hours make it easy to supplement in some private students after work. However, it’s hard being the one foreigner on staff. Often you will feel like an outsider, and if you don’t try to speak Japanese and make an effort to engage with the other teachers, you’ll likely be an outsider. As for teaching at an international kindergarten (what I’m currently doing) it pays well and you get a lot of vacation time (about 2 months of the year off and paid). On the downside, you have to work for it, 8 hour days and real teaching (so expect to stay late some days and maybe even do some work at home). It’s rewarding because the children are fluent speakers and they are you’re students so you will build a bond with them.
In short, getting here is now the battle. Once you’ve established some time here, there are lots of options to choose from. And it’s a great place to live. I’ve been here five years after planning to only come out for a year. Here in Osaka, it’s a big city but affordable. You can go out on the weekends and party till dawn, eat at nice restaurants, have a nice apartment and still have some cash at the end of the month.