There are over 700 universities in Japan, and most, if not all, offer some kind of English language instruction to their students. But how does one go about becoming a university English ‘professor’ in Japan, and what’s it like to teach EFL in Japanese higher education institutions? Read on to find out more.
University teaching through an agency
Perhaps the easiest and most accessible way to start teaching English at Japanese universities, especially for those currently based outside Japan, is to teach through an agency. One of the biggest recruitment agencies for university English teachers in Japan is Westgate Corporation, which regularly advertises for new teachers on websites such as TEFL.com. Westgate offers short-term renewable contracts, with two main intakes per year in the spring (April) and fall (September) semesters.
In order to work for Westgate, you will need to be a native speaker of English with at least a Bachelor’s degree, and have teaching experience either in an EFL classroom, or other educational institution. The compensation tends to be better than the average ‘conversation English’ teaching job in Japan (from ¥275,000/month), although this is not paid in the break between semesters. Westgate will also pay for your flights and provide help obtaining a working visa.
Getting a direct contract
Getting a direct contract with a Japanese university tends to be more difficult, both in terms of qualifications and experience required, and the process of finding and applying for vacant positions. There are three basic kinds of contracts for English teachers at Japanese universities, with each progressively harder to obtain than the last. The three kinds of contract are: part-time renewable, full-time renewable, and tenure.
Part-time renewable contracts
Most Japanese universities rely on part-time lecturers to provide at least some, and sometimes most, of their English lessons. The qualifications and experience applicants require have been rising gradually over the past few decades, and it is now usual practice for universities to request the following:
- Prior English teaching experience at university level, particularly in Japan;
- An MA (in progress or completed) in TEFL, Applied Linguistics, or related field;
- 2 or 3 publications TEFL-related journals, particularly those based in Japan;
- Conversational ability in Japanese
As for any other job, good references and a successful interview are also a must. If you tick all the boxes, and impress the recruiter at interview, you will likely be awarded with a one year renewable contract for teaching a certain number of ‘koma’ (90-minute lessons) per month.
Compensation is usually in the range of ¥20,000 ~ ¥40,000 per koma per month, including the summer months between semesters when there are no lessons scheduled. In other words, you will receive a set monthly salary all year round, despite only teaching for 30 weeks per year (15 in the spring semester and 15 in the autumn semester). Travel expenses will also be provided, although health insurance and pension contributions will not.
Full-time renewable contracts
The qualification and experience requirements for a full-time position tend to be incrementally more demanding than those required for part-time positions, i.e. more teaching experience, more publications, and at least an MA (completed) in TEFL or a related field. It is not unusual for universities to give preference for full-time positions to Ph.D. holders over MA–only applicants.
You will usually be required to teach a certain number of koma per week, in addition to other responsibilities, such as attending faculty meetings, designing course syllabuses, proctoring exams, and attending special events. Although your contract will be ‘full time’, you will normally only be required to work four days a week, with the fifth day designated as a ‘research’ day. In addition to research, for which you will be given a budget, many full-time university teachers choose to take on additional part-time work during their fifth day in order to further supplement their income, which is usually in the range of ¥300,000 ~ ¥600,000 per month. Contracts are usually one or two years in length, renewable two or three times, after which you will have to start your job hunt all over again.
Tenure is widely regarded as the ‘Holy Grail’ of university English teaching in Japan, both in respect of the difficulty of obtaining such a position, and the high demands made on applicants in terms of both qualifications and experience. But if you do manage to secure such a contract, you will be granted eternal life (well, an eternal contract, which is the next best thing really).
Usual minimum requirements for tenured positions include:
- Significant prior English teaching experience at university level in Japan;
- A Ph.D. (completed) in TEFL, Applied Linguistics, or related field;
- A comprehensive number of publications in reputable TEFL-related journals;
- A sufficient command of Japanese to pursue administrative duties.
Salary and other benefits will be equal to or greater than those conferred by full-time positions, including generous research allowances. Of course, you will receive your salary over a much longer period of time (i.e. until you retire). You will also be entitled to pension and health insurance contributions, and the enduring respect of all your non-tenured English teaching peers.
Finding vacant positions
The most common and effective way of finding university English teaching positions in Japan is through the referrals of friends and acquaintances. Indeed, many universities never need to advertise positions, relying instead on a surprisingly close-knit network of their current employees, employees acquaintances, employee’s acquaintances’ friends and… you get the picture. If job searching for university English teaching positions in Japan could be summed up in three words, they would be: network, network, network.
Besides networking, the second best way to find vacant university positions is online, through job postings provided by JALT, JACET and JREC-IN. Because of the staff high-turnover caused by the lack of long-term contracts, there are normally plenty of positions advertised each year around October/November (recruiting for April) and to a lesser extent January/February (recruiting for September). However, for the same reason, there are also plenty of applicants looking for positions.
Teaching English at Japanese universities is a very rewarding profession, and English teaching careers are available to those with the motivation and means to undertake the qualifications required. If you are a passionate educator with an inclination toward academic research, then teaching at Japanese universities will definitely provide you with a wealth of opportunities. But be prepared to change jobs frequently, and network extensively if you want to stay ahead of the game.
For more information about teaching English at Japanese universities, I recommend the following excellent articles:
Getting a university teaching job- Q&A from a reader – by Mike Guest
Foreign university faculty face annual round of ‘musical jobs’ – by James McCrostie and John Spiri
A Teaching Career in Japan: Opportunities at Colleges and Universities – By Aaron Paulson