Teaching English in Japan is what a lot of people here do to pay the bills. There’s a massive rush for full-time positions for April every year, and once you got your gig you put up with anything your school throws at you for your ¥3m a year.
Teaching English is, regardless of what the “give-up gaijin” might say, a valuable skill in so many ways. Not only is it a way to make a living and learn to stand up in front of people and speak, but it is a lifeskill that will help you be a better parent when you have kids of your own. These things must be worth more than a measly ¥250k a month, which boils down to less than ¥1500 an hour when you calculate your hourly wage. Even when I had a job paying me more than ¥4m a year, I knew that if this was the limit, I had to get out.
Does anyone else think that this can’t be all us gaijin are able to get in Japan?
I used to work with a guy who would always say to “just give up” whenever people talked about their problems at their schools. It’s funny; he is right on a micro-level (worrying about everything will make you miserable, and we want to be happy to be in Japan), but on a macro-level he couldn’t be more wrong. If you don’t like your situation, change it!
Why I quit my English teaching job that paid me ¥320k a month plus ¥400k in yearly bonuses!
People say money isn’t everything, but really in Japan money isn’t everything. I didn’t come here to become the richest English teacher in the world (that’s this amazing woman here). I came here to explore Asia, to learn a new language and have an amazing experience. Working 50 hours a week (plus Saturdays and events) was just not worth it for me.
I was exhausted all the time and worried about taking my holiday days in case the working conditions got even worse in retaliation for taking my legally entitled paid vacation!
When I quit they shouted at me in front of all of my colleagues in the office, calling me disloyal and saying “if we had known that you were going to quit in your first year here, we’d have never hired you!”
As if I knew I was going to quit when I started at the school.
But I had a plan. I had realised that working for 40-50 hours a week for that salary, while better than my other jobs in Japan, actually wasn’t that much better of an hourly rate. From working in an eikaiwa in Fukuoka to working at a world famous international kindergarten in Tokyo, my hourly rate had only gone up a few hundred yen!
The part-time jigsaw puzzle
The strategy I’m about to tell you is risky! If you are the kind of person who will put up with awful work conditions to guarantee a certain salary, this is not for you.
This strategy requires you to be resilient, capable and fantastic at interview. Being qualified doesn’t hurt either, but I’ve met people doing the same thing who have no special teaching qualifications. This is really hard to do if you don’t have experience teaching (at least 2 or 3 years) and a great record.
Check the link below for the best bang-for-your-buck qualification for English teachers in Japan.
I had been looking on GaijinPot and JobsinJapan for part-time jobs and noticed that the hourly rate was sometimes double that of my supposedly high-paying job.
I thought: “Why the hell am I putting up with these awful work conditions and long days when I could just get two or three of these jobs, work half the hours and make just as much money?”
So I applied for dozens of them from January to April. I followed up my applications and made sure that I was gearing every application towards the specific position so I would get a lot of callbacks. I wrote cover letters for every single job position.
A great mentor of mine in the UK once told me that when you are looking for a job, you should treat that task as a full-time job. Be organised about it, get an excel spreadsheet with all the jobs you’ve applied to, the people to talk to and latest developments so you don’t lose track. Get out there every day and hustle. So I did!
By May of 2016 I had 3 part-time jobs netting me ¥260k per month (until August), but instead of working 40 hours a week I was doing 18 (plus travel of about 6). I had Wednesdays and weekends completely off! For me this was about as 80/20 as I could have ever hoped for, and it only got better from there!
I landed a job paying me ¥10,000 per class 4 times per week (1 hour and 20 minutes) and a few others getting me ¥4000 and ¥5000 per hour. I had some months (September) where I made ¥420k while still only working 25 hours per week.
Spread betting your work
If you only have one job, do you think that it is secure? Even if they really like you, do you have personal and financial security. The answer always has to be no, right? At any time your boss can just tell you “we don’t need you anymore, you’re fired.” Where is your security then?
And what do you have to do to try and maintain your position when you have that kind of axe looming over you? You have to suck up to the boss, of course. If they tell you that you have to work overtime, then you’ll probably do it just to make sure they don’t replace you. Believe me, foreigners are much more replaceable in Japan than you think! I’ve seen people just joining a company and getting fired while in training! That’s definitely not security!
But if, like me now, you have a few jobs at any given time, then when one of your bosses adds more and more to your workload and won’t give you any more money for the overtime you’re working, or your working conditions at one job are terrible and you hate the work and the people, you can quit!
When you have a few streams of income you can decide what work you want to prioritise and what work you want to drop. There are always part-time jobs going on the jobs boards, through friends or through applying via the direct method we talk about here. Recently these are less common on GaijinPot because their ad prices are too high for part-time positions, but there are lots of better places to find them now (check this link here for some places to find good jobs and part-time work).
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When you go for part-time jobs in Japan, start to think of your salary by year
I’m not going to lie, some months I got some embarrassing paychecks. In July a lot of the schools had summer break so my pay for that month was only ¥180k. But once you do your taxes you’ll see what the difference is – for me it was only working about 15 hours per week on four days, and still beating my previous year’s salary by more than ¥400k! I also got a massive tax refund of ¥285k from overpaying tax through my various different jobs.
At the same time I’ve had enough home-work time to build Live Work Play Japan and start freelancing as a web developer, doing yoga in the mornings, reading books, going on trips to explore Japan and just generally having more time to do the stuff I wanted to do when I came here in the first place.
If you’re at all like me and feel like you’ve had enough making a capped English teacher salary and want to learn new skills, get better at what you do and make more free time for yourself, you might want to try getting some part-time jobs on the side. Who knows, you might like the variety it brings!