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Do I need degree to teach english??


8 Jun 2003
I have almost everything figured out about rules and regulations thanks to a few people here that were able to lead me in the right direction. But here I am, lost, once again.....
I am trying to find a job teaching english in Japan, but I have no univercity degree, which a lot of language and conversation schools are asking for. During my search for this information, I have had many contradicting answers, basically it depends on which web site I visit. :p :p :p
There is a guide to Japanese Visas which I think was made by the Japanese Government. I have copied the part which explains the criteria for an Instructor's Visa and pasted it below incase you want to read it. I find it unclear if I need to meet the requirements in "A" & "B" or just "B" if I want to teach english. I have looked at sites from many language schools, and they some say a degree is required by law, and others just say that a successful candidate must have one.

Does anybody know the truth on this matter??

Also, if it is not required by law, does anybody know of any schools that hire people without a univercity degree?

Thanks soooo much for any help

Oh-> If anybody has had experience teaching english in Japan, any advice on where and how to look for teaching jobs in Japan is very welcome.

1. In cases where the applicant is to engage in instruction at a vocational school ("Kakushugakko") or an educational institution equivalent to it in facilities and curriculum or in cases where the applicant is to engage in instruction at other school with a capacity other than a "teacher", the following conditions are to be fulfilled.
However (a) is to be fulfilled in cases where the applicant is to engage in instruction at a vocational school or an educational institution equivalent to it in facilities and curriculum which is established to give the children with the status of residence "Diplomat" or "Official" mentioned in Annexed Table 1 (1) or "Dependent" mentioned in Annexed Table 1 (4) education of primary, junior and senior high school in foreign language.
a. The applicant must have graduated from or completed a college or acquired equivalent education, or must hold a license to teach the subject that he or she intends to teach in Japan.
b. When the applicant is planning on teaching a foreign language, he or she must have acquired education in that language for at least 12 years. When the applicant is going to teach other subjects, he or she must have at least 5 years' teaching experience in that subject.
2. The applicant should receive no less salary than a Japanese national would receive for comparable work
While I am far from sure about the legal meanders involved, I can tell you with some assurance that most "big" English conversation schools have been getting more and more stringent in their selection of candidates. In other words, more and more people wanting to teach in Japan without a proper teaching degree get turned down.

While smaller conversation schools are less rigid about their teachers having teaching degrees, I believe that to be able to get a working visa as an instructor (the denomination may have changed since I got my visa), holding a diploma (any diploma) from what the Japanese call a 3-year college/university allows you to get a Certificate of Eligibility, without which you are almost certain not to get a visa.

In these difficult times, Japanese authorities may or may not exercise more scrutiny to whether you have the proper diploma, the fact remains that you need a diploma.

Also, in 1998 when I came to Japan to teach English it was already near impossible to obtain a working visa without a Certificate of Eligibility, and even more impossible to obtain a visa once in Japan. I don't even want to think about the state of things now.

While I say this with only


to back me and only my own experience through the wheels of the system to act as my confidence, I would suggest that before you plan to come to Japan you should secure yourself a job first, and then work with your potential employer to get your visa. From my own experience and what I've heard from others, it's definitely the easiest way to go about it...
Ok, thanks a lot for the info. It is good to talk with somebody who actually tought english. What do you know about smaller schools in less populated areas of Japan, like in the smaller cities?? Do you think it is easier there?
I am having thoughts about taking a course at the Vancouver English Center to get a TEFL Certificate. Does anybody know how helpful this is? Do you think the situation where I have no degree will be improved??

TEFL Programs in Guadalajara Jalisco Mexico
I don't know about that. All I do know is that your prospective employer will ask you for some sort of diploma. I seem to recall my first employer here saying it HAD to be a college/university degree, but I wouldn't bet money on her word. The reason why they ask for degrees is the Japanese system's way to ensure that they don't let in unskilled workers. They have enough of those already without importing more. In other words, it's their way of saying if your not qualified in some way, we don't want you here. Getting a TEFL certificate, in my opinion, should help a lot, but as I said, no guarantees. One thing's for certain, holding that sort of certificate will make you a hell of a lot more qualifed to teach than me and a whole army of bozos teaching in Japan (I got out of the teaching biz, for my and my students' sake).

As for small schools, we could talk a long, long time about that. It really depends on you. If you are intending to come to Japan with a genuine need to TEACH, don't go for conversation schools, big or small. Try to find yourself a job in the Japanese education system. You'll end up in a classroom environment and be called upon to teach in the more classical sense of the term. What the students end up remembering is another matter entirely.

If your main intent in coming to Japan is to put bread on the table by teaching so that you can pursue other things, then English conversation schools are perfect. In my experience, most students attending conversation school do so as a hobby and do not spend any real time studying or actually trying to improve. Therefore, your role as an English conversation instructor is more to be an entertainer. By this I mean you have to be interesting, varied, actually try to teach them SOME things, but not too hard as most students don't want to exert their brains too much. They expect to have fun and learn something in the process.

As for finding jobs, there are tons of resources on the Web, but the authority still remains


in my opinion. By browsing the ads in this newsletter, you'll find that the majority of openings are regional because the pool of foreigners is often limited, whereas in big centers schools can often find replacements on the spot from the resident foreign population, saving them the hassle of having to recruit abroad. Again in my opinion, if you want to discover the "real" Japan, you're better off getting a job in a small city at first and then move to bigger and better things, if that's what you feel like. However, by doing so you'll have to do without a lot of the commodities bigger cities have to offer, such as shopping malls, cinemas, etc. But the people are usually warmer and eager to please. Yet, I find that most teachers do their one year "tour" and then go home.

Hope this helps in clarifying any interrogations you may still have...
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Hey, I just want to say thanks so much for the advice. It is very valuble to have somebody's knowledge and opinions in cases like this. You've been an awsome help.
My pleasure. Glad to be of assistance. You're really planning to go through with this? Out of curiosity, where are you from in Can? I'm Canadian too, so...
Yes, I am really going to do it. I have been considering it for months, and finally, I have made up my mind. I don't know really why. I really like it in Japan. It is exciting too, I mean,
I really am pumped about moving to a different country.
I'm pretty sure I will find a way. Even if I go on a working holiday visa, it will give me one year, and that should be enough time to find a good company to get me a better visa. I just don't want to start that way, I would rather go there knowing I have the next few years taken care of as far as visas are concerned. But hey.. thats life right...

So your Canadian eh? Cool
I'm from Nanaimo, BC Its on Vancouver Island
Where in Canada are you from?
Tasuki's advice is pretty sound all around but i'll weigh in with my thoughts on the subject (speaking from personal experience). I was fortunate enough to land a job in March of '97 with Nanporo Junior High School through an English conversation school that consisted of myself and my visa sponsor. He was the man responsible for arranging a contract with the local school board in Nanporo (about twenty minutes from Sapporo) and bringing me in to work as an ALT. He is an American like myself but had been living in Japan for some odd seventeen years and needless to say had established himself quite nicely (along with his wife who is Japanese and their four children).

Here's the catch... I did NOT have my four-year degree yet at that time. In fact, I had only my Associate's (two years) from a junior college. Nevertheless, the school board still accepted me to work within the school system and gave their approval to greenlight my work visa. I suspect a great deal of this had to do with my sponsor's long established reputation in said town and their faith in him hat he would choose the right person for the job for the next two-and-a-half years. I have since then returned to the U.S. and gone on to finish my formal education (will earn my Master's this December) at which point I am considering work in either Japan or China.

Because of my duties to both the school I was assigned to work as an ALT (same duties as your average JET, although I was if anything--more involved) as well as my sponsor's private conversation school, I was very busy every day. Eventually, as my Japanese improved I was also assigned other duties by my sponsor, some of these included:

--Working as an interpreter/translator/reporter for VIP celebrities at the Yubari International Fantastic Adventure Film Festival.

--Working as an English Instructor for a branch of Yamaha Music School.

--Providing private English lessons for a wheelchair bound Japanese attorney and his wife at their home several times a month.

--Aiding and assisting with the planning/organization/chaperoning/etc. of large groups of Japanese travelling to the U.S. for homestays/sightseeing tours/homestays.

And too many more to list...

On my own (individual of my sponsor who did not discourage such activities), I also initiated the following:

--Private English/Japanese lessons for a small group (eleven to be exact) of foreign adults (non-Japanese) whose spouses or family members were residing in Sapporo for work-related reasons (grants for instance). Their nationalities included several Nigerian, Vietnamese, and Saudi Arabian just to name a few.

--Translating/Proof-Reading/Editing of various publications for Amino UP ( a pharmaceutical company).

--English conversation lessons for my own set of students (approximately sixty) who ranged in ages from ten to sixty-nine.

The point of all of this is that you do not necessarily need to have the proper credentials (four-year teaching degree, etc.) in order to get a foothold in Japan. As you can see from my aforementioned examples, once you establish yourself--the sky is really the limit to what you can do, given time and financial restraints. Once in Japan, you'll find it much easier to gain employment from various outside sources if you look in the right places. The trick is landing that first job and I wish you the best of luck in your endeavours. Focus all of your efforts into networking and getting into contact with any potential employers you may come across. Be sure to make a good impression and make them realize how passionate you are about by trying to learn as much Japanese as you can beforehand. Just remember, if a goomba like me with a two-year degree can do it, so can you!
Thank you for the praise Iron Chef, I appreciate it. Your intervention is also quite appropriate. I also came to Japan on "questionable" credentials... I'm an engineer...

Oh and Matt, I can understand your drive in wanting to come to Japan, I felt the same way when I screwed myself up to come. I actually passed up a sweet promotion from my then employer, feeling that if I didn't go through my plans, I would regret it for the rest of my life. And here I am, five years down the road, holding a decent job, married to a Japanese woman and expecting our first child in October... I don't know if things would have turned out so well if I'd stayed behind.

While I'm saying this to encourage you and to associate with your current feelings, you should still remember that mine was not a fairy tale of Japan (although my experience here has been overall good), and yours may or may not turn out to be. As Iron Chef said, it all depends on what you're prepared to do and where you look. In my five years here, I've run across quite a few people who cracked after a few months and went home. But credentials aside, if I have one last piece of advice to give you, it would be this: learn the language. It will enhance your experience ten if not a hundred fold.

Before I forget, I'm an easterner... I'm from Quebec...
Well, you hardly sound like a goomba to me. It seems you have been quite successful in Japan. Thanks for the advice! I will keep it in mind for sure, actually I am saving every bit of it for future reference too. Since you are way more experienced than I, can you please let me know any tips you may have on impressing employers while on an interview, I mean anything other than common sence, or that would be different in Japan than here?
Is it mostly Japanese people who are in charge of hiring teachers? or are there mostly foreigners running the schools?
Thanks again.
Yeah, I'm learning Nihongo right now. Actually, that is one thing that I really want to do is to learn the language. It doesn't seem too hard to learn either. In late December of last year, I went to Japan for a month. I hardly knew any Japanese. I picked up a self study book and using that, and people I talked with, by the time I left, my vocabulary was much higher and I could hold a very basic conversation with people that I met. Although, I have had no practice since then, and my skills have faded over time. Since I have started to study again, it is coming back quickly.
I haven't tackled the reading part at all though...
So tasuki, you are from Quebec eh? I have some friends from Quebec. I have never been there though.
If you don't mind me asking, in the start, what made you want to go to Japan?
If I may answer multiple questions at once, although I don't know what Iron Chef will have to say about this, I'd have to say from my own limited experience that hiring teachers depends on the school. My first employer was a one-manager, two-teacher business, thus the manager, who was Japanese, handled all the hiring.

My second employer, on the other hand, was a bigger outfit and had a Canadian manager. The manager was in charge of hiring, but all the details in terms of visas and such had to be overlooked and signed by the school director who was a very nice Japanese chap. Thus, it's highly variable, but I think you can expect the details to be handled by Japanese nationals most of the time, while hiring just depends on the setup of the school.

As for impressing potential employers... Even if it's not the case, emphasise your desire to teach. Also put some emphasis on your flexibility (some schools require you to work 6 days a week, others that you travel to outside locations). Impress on your potential employer that you LOVE children, as children classes are abundant. Maybe Iron Chef has other pointers. I can't really think of anything else. But remember that in the end, your future boss is looking at his/her school from a business perspective, while you're looking at it from a teaching perspective. Sometimes, these two views can clash... He/she is in it for the money, you're in it for the experience. So a little appeal to the business aspect of teaching might also work over nice. But it's really up to your guts. Japanese interviewing traditions are really different from North American practices, so you may be surprised by some of the questions you're asked...

As for learning the language, good for you. You're right, with a little effort, it's not that difficult to pick up. I began studying in earnest only when I finally got to Japan and five years later I'm working in a 100% Japanese environment writing up English and French documents from base Japanese documentation. I'm planning on taking the Japanese proficiency test level 2 (of 4; 1 being the highest level) this December. A little piece of advice regarding learning Japanese, though. When you go through the interview process, find out what your prospective employer's policies are towards you learning Japanese and its use in the school's classrooms. Some employers go as far as discourage their teachers from learning Japanese and using it in the classroom. Others do the opposite. My first employer was of the first kind (so it made ripples), my second employer was of the second kind (which was really nice for me). Finding out ahead of time may just be a way to sniff out potential disasters.

Thinking over my experiences as a teacher here, another thing you may want to ask of your prospective employer is pictures of the school. There are really dumpy schools... The one I worked in Hokkaido was a real dump. Had I seen pictures of it beforehand, I'm not sure I would have signed on...

Phew... God am I ever long winded... Sorry. As for wanting to come to Japan, to make a long story short, I was really into anime at the time (a relapse, really as I grew up on the stuff) and having amassed a rather sizable collection, I got interested in the people, the country, and the language. I started corresponding with my wife to be (although I didn't know it then) a little while later. All this coupled with a powerful need for change in my life at that time just lead me to the conclusion that Japan was as good a destination as any. So I came and I'm still here.
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"Japanese interviewing traditions are really different from North American practices, so you may be surprised by some of the questions you're asked..."

He's absolutely right. Allow me to relate to you one instance that comes to mind. I remember one particular interview with an organization (shall remain nameless but they were responsible for providing interpreters for the Nagano Olympic Games among other things) that had been arranged for me through a mutual friend (again, that networking once you get to Japan really helps and can pay dividends when you least expect it). It was in Hakodate, a city I had visited on occasion during my stay in Japan but I was nowhere near as familiar with it as Sapporo so I had a platonic femal friend from Hakodate, who also happened to be quite attractive, accompany me (mistake #1).

During the course of my interview, my friend waited in the lobby while I was screened by a panel of three (one Japanese administrator, one Japanese instructor, and one New Zealander). The interview went smoothly enough but I should have suspected something was amiss when the first words out of their mouth were that I would have to shave my goatee and grow my hair out in order to fit the "company image" so to speak. I agreed without protest immediately, although inwardly I could not help but think what such trivial matters had to do with my language and teaching abilities (mistake #2).

During this whole process, the interview was being taped and at one point the Japanese instructor excused himself for a period of about ten minutes using the excuse that the batteries were running low and he needed to get a replacement. The interview continued to progress and I was asked quite a large number of questions that really didn't pertain at all to who I was or what I was all about.

Sometime later I found out after leaving their offices that the man who had excused himself earlier during my interview had actually went out to question my friend who was waiting in the lobby. He was so bold as to ask what was the nature of our relationship, how did we meet, what did she know about me, etc. While probing her for answers he never offered up why he had so many questions re: me or gave an explanation whatsoever. I never mentioned anything about her or even acknowledged her presence once the interview began and I assumed that her being in the lobby was of no consequence as she patiently waited for me (mistake #3).

Needless to say, I turned down the position even though they did come back and offer me the position. Something about the whole structure and rigid formality of the personnel, organization, and interview process itself just felt to rigid and didn't feel right for me. You'll learn how to be able to judge these things for yourself after you've spent some time in Japan getting to know how the Japanese act and think I suspect. Tasuki is correct again in stating that your greatest asset is not necessarily your credentials but your desire and passion re: children/teaching/culture/etc. that you bring to the table that makes the best impression.

Show them that you are flexible, a fast learner, willing to try anything (at least once), will work whatever hours/days you are assigned (and not complain), and most importantly... be willing to learn (and continue to learn) as much Japanese as possible as well as take an interest in the school/organization outside your work duties. This may mean schmoozing occasionally at social events you'd rather not attend in all honesty to show as a sign of support (reinforce that group harmony thing). Local references from previous employers can help a great deal and should not be underestimated. One or two choice referrals from friends in positions of authority can do wonders for those areas that may be lacking on your resume'. I'm sure there are other things as well but i'm starting to lose my train of thought, lol, so I will stop for now.
Wow... that is strange eh?
Well, I guess you shouldn't go to another country and expect everything to be the same....
But, I don't think I would be too comfortable working there either, if they were questioning my friend.
Oh, by the way... Tasuki, a big congratulations for your expected baby!!! I have a friend, who lives in Alberta, and she is also expecting to have her baby in October.
Thank you. Congrats to your friend as well.

I have some stories too, although not as extreme as that of Iron Chef and not stricly with having to find a job...

I consider myself a gentleman and as such, I open doors, close them, pay attention to the well being of those around me, etc. Well, bcause of this, the first year I taught in Kushiro, in eastern Hokkaido, these actions were miscontrued by, let me see, 3 women as being signs that I was interested in them. As a result 2 of them went as far as declare their love for me... Needless to say I was flabbergasted, especially since everyone knew full well that I had a girlfriend...

Coming back to Iron Chef's story, I think that in many circles, the meaning of privacy still hasn't quite taken root. It has to do with the group mentality (paper walls and such). Several female teachers I worked with were constantly being asked if they were married when they we accompanied by males, for example.

My actions while in Kushiro, being one of a small pocket of foreigners was noticed more than others. If I came home at the crack of dawn after a bender, for example, my boss was sure to hear of it.

Everything you do, everything you are is subject to scrutiny because you're a foreigner and foreigners are still not considered to be as trustworthy as Japanese because they don't have the same customs, don't speak the language, etc. As such, I learned from my mistakes that it pays a lot to stay in line and not do as too many foreigners coming to Japan do, which is go wild, so to speak. In other words, you do your thing, keeping in mind that you must remain without reproach.

All this about coming to Japan and thinking back on my own experience here is really good. Helps to put things in focus. Thanks for the kick in the arse.
"Everything you do, everything you are is subject to scrutiny because you're a foreigner and foreigners are still not considered to be as trustworthy as Japanese because they don't have the same customs, don't speak the language, etc."

Truer words were never said imho. Grats on being an expectant father as well.
I'm more than shocked you can still set ground in Japan with only an Associates Degree. Would it be fair to say you were lucky Iron Chef? I was told you need a Bachelor's or greater or don't even think about staying there for a long period of time. Thanks.
"Would it be fair to say you were lucky Iron Chef?"

Absolutely. I was fortunate enough to have been in the right place at the right time I suppose to get my foot in the door. The fact that I had very good references vouching for me probably didn't hurt either.
With similar credentials, i'd say you have the same chances as I did. It really depends on who you have working "the other side of the fence" so to speak vouching for your desire to both learn (Japanese) and teach (English). Those kinds of connections are hard to come by but not impossible. Needless to say, one of the single most important criterion many potential employers will look at is what is your desire or motivation for coming to Japan? If you're just interested in a possible teaching position because you want to make some quick cash, be treated like American " pseudo-royalty" because of your position, etc. then those are all the wrong reasons. Best advice I can give you is to be yourself in the application/interview process and to expressly communicate how passionate you are about going to Japan to any potential employer whose ear you may have at the moment. That kind of communication can go a long ways with the right people if you try hard enough. Don't be discouraged either should you fail to land a position straight away. Your persistence and patience will eventually pay off once you meet the right employer willing to sponsor/employ you.
I am by no means passionate about teaching. Not to say I wouldn't enjoy teaching because that would be a lie but it isn't my goal in life. I enjoy the language, culture, food, people and most everything else about Japan. Right now I study the Japanese language and I really enjoy it. Lack of interest in the country isn't a problem for me. I suppose my motivation for going to Japan is to open up new doors for myself. I know what life is like where I am and now I want to try something new. For the past couple years I've really studied a lot about Japanese culture and decided moving to Japan might be a good choice for me. By no means would I ever base my choice on moving to a new country on any kind of royalties or big cash. Living decently in a place I enjoy living is all I want. Simple I guess. I suppose what I'm trying to get at is, I have no thoughts of anything the typical gaijin would go to Japan for. I mean, the stereotypes. Oh, I guess the shocker for you might be the fact that I'm only 17 years old. Thanks once again for the help. It's greatly appreciated.
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