How to move to Japan – A Non-Boring Overview of The Best Options

Some the friendly locals you meet in Japan


So you want to live in Japan, where the Sushi-fish rides the train more comfortably than the sardine salaryman on the Tokyo subway? Where the sakura blooms for 364 days a year and the rivers run with Calpis Soda. Where the onsen bubble out of brooks between smooth stones on every rural street corner.

Well, you should! Japan is awesome. If you need any proof, check out the many beautiful photos of Japan that my friend John has at the Japan Australia blog.

Cliches and kusai stuff aside, I’ve had the preasure and privilege (to quote Tom Waits with a bit of Japanese-esque r and l swapping), to live there twice, once on a working-holiday, which is possibly the greatest compound word created in the last 40 years of the English language, and once as a university student, for around four years all up. 

I find myself drawn back there every year, like the ball of a kendama that always bounces home on it’s string. The food’s great, the people are great, and it’s an intriguing culture that is deep enough that you can go on learning more about it indefinitely. 

So, how do you move to Japan? How can we make this happen? It can be overwhelming trying to crack that nut. 

Where to start? The two major options on offer, as with life more generally, are work or study.

Here’s an info graphic I put together that simply spells out my favourite ideas:

Now, let’s put some of these options under the Japanoscope.


Me during student days with my head in the clouds of sakura

Get Paid To Study!

Psst, let me share with you a secret. There is a system where the Japanese government will actually PAY YOU to live in Japan and study. No, this isn’t some magical, mystical eldorado-like myth. Pinch yourself, this is the real deal. If you are a Japan-fan like me, and are under 35, it’s a no brainer. A no-miso brainer, no less. Is that a scholarship in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me? Let me introduce to you the…

Monbukagakusho Scholarship

Don’t be intimidated by the gratuitous jumble of syllables long enough to take up a whole line of you’re latest literary Haiku, Monbukagakusho actually translates as “you’d be insane not to pack your quill, parchment and i-device, and jump on the plane, you crazy gaijin”. At least that’s how it comes up in my personal dictionary. It may also translate into the equally snappy “Ministry of Education, CuIture, Sports, Science and Technology”. But call them MEXT. They love that. Why no one in the department has taken up the opportunity to throw a “MEXT TEX-MEX Potluck party” is the subject of a whole other blog post.

Nomenclature aside, the salient facts are that  they pay for your travel expenses to get to the country, they give you a living allowance, and you don’t even need to speak any Japanese or nothin’. 

I lucked out in my early 20s to spend three years in Kyoto studying. For further information, just look up “life-changing experience” in your English-Japanese e-jisho

Categories and eligibility for Monbukagakusho Scholarship

Peter Joseph Head and students at Kyoto City University of the Arts
Me hanging with some dubious characters at Kyoto City Univesity of the Arts

Now before you get all hot under the collar, there are some age restrictions (which range from 25 to 35 depending on category), so it’s no good for you silver foxes.

They have several categories for Undergraduate, Research, Teacher Training, Japanese Studies, College of Technology and Specialised Training. I’ve pitched them an idea to instate another category for Sushi-train/human-train comparative epicurean anthropology, but haven’t heard back as yet. 

If you want the full technical details there’s no shortage of info on the interwebs but I would go straight to the horse’s mouth at the Japanese Government Website Here.

In terms of the actual education you may get, my experience was that you go for the experience.  The stuff outside the classroom was the greater of the educations. Japan’s Universities are fairly well renowned for having a lot of students that tend to be coasting their way through. And who can blame them? Having spent years and years of climbing the arduous junior/middle/high school ladder, and with years and years of unpaid zangyo-overtime and 3 day foreign holidays ahead of them, they deserve a window of leisure. It certainly wasn’t uncommon for me to see my fellow scholars having a little nap in class from time to time. I think they justified it as practice for the trains when they are salaryman-OLing it.

Pay Your Own Way

Now this is obviously the less attractive way to do the study thing. But maybe you’re not eligible for the Monbukagakusho gravy train. Or maybe you just can’t get your mouth around that many syllables in one piece of vocab. 

Whatever the case, there are a bunch of Universities that offer courses aimed at people from abroad. Including courses in English language. Hows about the 78 on this list? The Japanese government has a whole site here that is encouraging you to take the plunge. They want you to come. They want you to come and pay them to come. But please see the option above about getting them to pay you to come first. Ahem.

Deeply contemplating the changing of the Momiji leaf colours for autumn as a student in Kyoto.
Or perhaps just lost

How much will you pay for tuition?

Now if you do choose to do things their way, and at this point you may want to look up the word aho in your book of kansai slang, you would pay around $2-3000USD for a semester, which isn’t too bad. But can be much more depending on the course. Here’s a sample of some prices from Gooverseas.com

Tuition for a Semester Through Direct Enrollment (Excluding Housing):

That Kansai Gaidai one really hurts. I once lived with a guy going to Kansai Gaidai who could do capoeira and who loved the band Spitz. I didn’t know how much he was getting himself up to the eyeballs in debt though.

And if you really want to shell out a few squid:

Tuition for a Semester Through a Third-Party Provider (Including Housing):

Work in Japan

“Working Holiday” To Japan

Working holiday Visas are the bomb. My native Australia and Japan invented them in the 1980s. It started by the two countries having a conversation over the back fence when someone kicked the ball too hard. I believe the “working” part was contributed by Japan and the “holiday” part by Australia. Whatever the story, and whether the negotiation team really did consist of Paul Hogan, Mario and Luigi, it really was a fine innovation.

I spent a year making the most of the diplomatic relationship at the tender age of eighteen and it was fabulous and formative. You can find the nitty gritty on the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs site. But if you are too lazy to read that, I know you, as long as you are:

  • Young and beautiful (well, technically, under 30 years of age)
  • come from one of the bitchin’ countries below
  • have a few bucks (read few thousand) stored under your futon,
  • and are not sick, criminal or criminally sick

then you should be good to go. You can work as many hours as you want. But remember, each hour spent working is an hour spent away from the cold Jockey-long glass of the Izakaya.

When I went, I didn’t have any job beforehand.  I didn’t find it hard to seek out gainful employment. But you may not have my rugged good looks and inherent personal charm. 

As an Australian, I was proud to represent the American people as a purveyor of their language

I did a few months fumbling my way teaching English at a Conversation school in a rural town outside Kofu, a few weeks as a general shit-kicker in a “Pension” (similar to a Bed and Breakfast) and another few months as a waiter in a cafe in a Hotel in downtown Hanzomon area Tokyo. Finding a few yen to rub together weren’t no big thing, is what I’m saying.

What Countries Can Do A Working Holiday to Japan?

Here’s the cool-kids list of countries that have a Working Holiday Visa relationship with Japan, and links to where to find out more information. Note the absence of one rather large Northern Hemispherian English speaking nation beginning with the letters U and S. The main diplomatic stumbling block here seems to be the fact that Naomi Osaka speaks American English better than she does Standard-Japanese at her grand-slam press conferences. 

Don’t blame me.


Where to find a job on a working holiday in Japan?

Well you could start by looking for a job at the Japan Association For Working Holiday Makers in Tokyo. That’s how I did it when I went, and I found a job the 2nd day I arrived in Japan.

There are no shortage of companies that can help you find you some left-of-centre jobs to do on a Working Holiday also. World Unite offers a way to get way off the beaten path at the island of Sado, the “sixth biggest island of Japan”. Nice one World Unite. The good people of Sado have pooled their ten-yen pieces to create a promo video about the island here. The narrator script slips intriguingly through a range of pronouns and storytelling perspectives in the piece, which adds to the overall effect.

This is one of the things I did in the “Holiday” part of my working-holiday. Matsuri da!

Teach English In Japan

Don’t look like this when you teach English or you’ll scare people. Also, don’t use that textbook.

Now here’s one you may not have thought of. Why don’t you teach your language that you have been speaking since you were knee high to a semi across the seas in the land of the rising vending machine. You didn’t think of that did you? That’s why you’re still sitting around on the couch in your pyjamas watching reruns of Monkey Magic via a possibly legal, possibly not legal, streaming service instead of adventuring and slotting 100 yen coins into well designed beverage devices on the distant archipelago of your dreams. 

Okay, so this one’s the biggy. Most of the time, when you run into a westerner (don’t you love that term?) in Japan and ask them what they are doing there, they’ll say they are teaching English. Really, convention should be to ask if you are doing something other than teaching. 

If you don’t believe me, here’s a screenshot showing the number of jobs in each industry on Gaijin Pot.

How much money do you earn teaching English in Japan?

Gaijin Pot also provide a nice overview of what you might earn in all the sectors:

Hiring OrganizationAverage monthly earnings pre-tax
JET Programme¥280,000 (first year) to ¥330,000 (fourth and fifth years)
Dispatch Companies¥210,000 – ¥250,000 (or more)
Direct Hire¥280,000
Eikaiwa¥250,000 (varies significantly by school)
Business English Schools¥3,800 an hour (¥270,000 if full time)
Universities¥270,000 for short-term, indirect hires, and around ¥523,800 a month as faculty staff

Let’s start from the top of the table with JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) 

JET Program

Elementary school kids in Japan, ducking down to have their picture taken by a professional photographer of slight stature

Well, let’s get a little utilitarian about this. We’ll start with the JET program because that’s at the top of the list with a pay of 280,000 per month. It’s also one of the best ways to get really embedded in the culture by being attached to a school within the government school system. It has the full weight of several levels of the Japanese government behind it, so you’re not flailing out in the wind on your own. 

This piece of PR puffery is actually a very nice introduction to the whole deal:

Most people go over as Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) and help teaching in the classroom. But if your Japanese is pretty smick, or you’ve got some sports skillz, then you can go as a Coordinator of International Relations (CIR), which is a pretty sweet job title, or a Sports Exchange Advisor (SEA), which has quite the elemental ring to it. 

Tired little girl at mall, Yokohama, Japan 2.JPG
Kids work hard in Japan.

Image: Cory Doctorow

I once applied to the JET Program and was accepted as a Coordinator of International Relations, but wasn’t able to take up the offer because of eternal churnings of the maelstrom of life. The application process wasn’t too arduous though, the hardest part is perhaps just having to get references to write you a written statement to submit. The interview wasn’t too hard, and the Japanese part wasn’t no big thing.

There’s no pesky age restriction to apply for JET too. Check out the older dude teaching rugby at the end of the video above. He’s no spring sea-chicken. Good on him. What did Henry Ford say? “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.”

Official JET Program site is here.

Private English Conversation Schools

I never wore a tie when I taught English but things sure look happy when you do

What do you earn as an English Conversation Teacher in Japan?

Expect to earn somewhere in the region of 250-280,000 yen per month, about $2,500 USD. 

English is big business in Japan, so there’s plenty of demand for people that know how to pronounce the word election without causing embarrassment. I taught English for a few months on my working holiday tour-of-duty when I was eighteen. The day after I arrived, I went to a Japan Working Holiday Centre, got a job after a cursory interview, and was on the bus to a rural town to promulgate the Anglophone tongue. Qualifications? Where we’re going, we don’t need qualifications. Not to teach at any of the vast array of English Conversation Schools Eikaiwa 英会話(えいかいわ)around the place anyway. I was literally a couple of months out of high school when I did it. Which is not to say that anyone can do it well. Quite to the contrariously.

There’s a fair crop of large chain as well as small independent schools that you can teach at around the country. 

List of schools that teach

Some of the big ones include 






Shane English School

Glassdoor created this list of a bunch of schools and what they pay per month.:

CompanyAverage Base Salaries in (JPY) from high to low
1ABC English277,000
2AEON Corporation of Japan275,000
4Vantage Japan274,000
5ECC Japan259,000
7NOVA (Japan)259,000
8Shane English School257,000
9American Language School255,000
10Riso Kyoiku255,000
11Model Language Studio254,000
12Seiha English Academy253,000
15Ittti Japan244,000
16Gaba Corporation230,000
17California Language Institute (Japan)227,000
18Coco Juku225,000
19One Coin English School225,000
20British Culture Academy214,000

They all have slightly different conditions, so there’s more to it than just a monthly wage. Most of these you can apply to from inside or outside Japan. Some do recruitment drives in your home country. Some will pay for your flights over. Which makes sense, these companies need the teachers.

Some want you to have a degree or teaching certificate before they will sponsor your visa.

Some, such as Berlitz, give you the opportunity to do extra teaching on top of a full time load. So if you’re keen to bring in the bucks, you can set the alarm early and start chatting for cash before most people even arrive at the office.

Teaching at Universities

If you want to earn the big bucks, you might want to angle for a sweet position at a Japanese temple of higher learning. To get the best gigs, you’ll need to have tossed more than one mortarboard into the sky to get some serious post-graduate education and teaching experience. It doesn’t hurt to know a few brainy people too, so doing some shoulder rubbing with the Japan Association of Language Teaching also helps. 

There’s a possible entree into the world via the Westgate agency that can get you some experience in a Japanese university relatively painlessly. Transitions Abroad have a bit more about that little backdoor entree here.There’s some more first hand experience on the Jobs In Japan site here.

Do It Yourself Private English Teaching

If you’re the “don’t fence me in”, “I’m a free soul and I don’t want to tuck in my shirt” type, there are also sites that let you register your services as a teacher. That means you could choose to meet your students at a cafe or a library or, say, an urban golf driving range, uchipanashi meets eikaiwa style (the possibilities are endless). It also means you can earn a lot more per student. 

Hello Sensei is a language marketplace and let’s you charge what you want, ala the share economy. Did someone say premium, advanced linguistic acceleration hourly rates?

Eigo Pass is a more tailored language matchmaking service with a set rate of 3,000 yen per hour. By comparison, if you signed up with one of the big boy private English schools like Berlitz, they’ll give more like 2000 yen per hour. Eigo Pass website looks like it hasn’t been updated since 2008 though – let’s call it retro.

Jobs other than teaching and where to look for work in Japan

I’m all for flogging your lingo, but there’s more opportunities to take you to Japan than you may think. The category with the second largest amount of job advertisements for foreigners is often in IT. Oh and remember those Nintendo and Playstation consoles, and those Capcom, Namco Bandai games you played as a kid?

Well. there’s still plenty of people tinkering away across the ditch, so there’s quite a few opportunities in game production.

Here’s a probably too long list of sites where you can look for jobs in Japan from Yaioa. Some of them, such as Craigslist, have some pretty kooky stuff on there, so buyer beware…

One good job site in Japan is w-xpats.com. Otherwise try these: