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I recommend that you read all 14 of the questions and answers that are posted here as they may cover items that you have not thought about yet when thinking of living and working in northern Japan.

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Somewhat Frequently Asked Questions

It is my hope that the qestions and answers provided below will be of help to you, and thereby save me time in having to answer these questions individually via email.

* Is it worth spending 5,000 yen for a subscription to your service?

This question hasn't really been asked directly, but I know it runs through the minds of many people who visit my website. Some people might even think I'm getting rich off this service. If that were true, I know that I wouldn't be teaching so many hours each week. Of course I think the fee is actually quite reasonable for the service provided, even for those who don't gain employment from the information I provide. I suppose the real value is demonstrated by those who renew their annual subscription every year, because they are hoping to find more work or a better position. They obviously know that the value far exceeds the cost.

For those living outside Japan perhaps it will help if I give you a better idea of what value 5,000 yen has here in Japan. How far does your money go over here? Well, in the States, I hear on CNN that people are really complaining about the high price of gasoline. Basically it costs me about 5,000 yen for heating oil which lasts about two weeks and to fill up the gas tank in my car, one time. Naturally I am happy that doing this service can help pay for my transportation and heating costs. I put a lot of time into helping others and truly feel that you will never regret the relatively small investment you will make for the service I provide.

1. Is it necessary to be in Japan to find a job?

I would have to answer both yes and no. There are programs and schools such as the JET program that hire teachers from abroad with no Japanese language skills. They are looking for young people to basically assist Japanese teachers in junior and senior high schools. There has also been a move toward using more JET teachers in the elementary school system. The primary focus of this program is interculturalization, and many of the JET applicants have never taught before. The big language school chains hire from abroad (NOVA, GEOS, etc.) because they want fresh young faces on a regular basis, as it provides a good image for their school advertisements and they can pay low starting salaries and provide training into their systems.

Having said this I believe it is better to actually be here for most jobs advertised through this service, as most schools don't want to gamble on hiring a teacher solely based upon what is written in a resume or CV. This is certainly true for part-time positions and emergency replacements. If you are readily available that will be to your advantage. If you are in Sapporo, or whatever city where you desire work, visiting the schools one by one for possible interviews is advantageous. You can also meet other teachers at local meetings and other functions which shows that you are serious about teaching. In Japan, many hires are made by native speaker teachers who have been in the schools (especially universities) for a long time and they prefer to bring in people they already know. The Japanese system has been built on recommending others, so making as many contacts in person as possible is important.

2. Do schools discriminate on gender, age, country of origin?

My own opinion is that females have an advantage over men in obtaining work simply because there are very few of them in the job market. Many schools would love to find competent, qualified women to bring in so as to provide more balance to gender specific views and cultural perspectives. As for countries, there has always been a feeling that blond and blue-eyed individuals have a better chance of being hired, but I believe that sterotype is disappearing, with more emphasis being placed on education, background and ability. In addition, more schools are hiring native speakers of other languages to teach both English and other languages. With regard to age there is no doubt that the language schools prefer younger teachers for their younger clientele, and full-time university ads often indicate an age limit. However, for part-time work there doesn't seem to be that much of a difference and the experience of the older teachers can give them a distinct advantage over someone with little or no real experience teaching over here.

3. Is it easy to get sponsored for a visa?

In general, no it is not easy, but language schools that hire teachers from abroad do provide visa sponsorship for the contract period. Those who sign such contracts are expected to complete their commitment, even if they find they are not happy with the situation at the school. For those who are independent and wish to come over to Japan looking for work, it is much easier if you are a young Canadian, Australian, Brit, South African or Kiwi. These countries have a one-year working holiday visa program established with Japan, unlike America. Also, the best situation is to be married to a Japanese person and enter the country with a spousal visa. That allows you to work pretty much where you want, which means it is easy to take on a variety of part-time work along wit your own private lessons.

4. Does one need to be a certified teacher?

Of course, many universities prefer degrees in TESOL, TEFL and certificates such as CELTA, with a minimum of a Master's degree (sometimes even for part-tiime employment). However, virtually any type of four-year degree will be accepted to meet the visa requirement, as long as official documentation can be provided. Even language schools pretty much insist on the four-year degree requirement as that is the legal requirement for obtaining a work visa. It certainly would not hurt to be a certified teacher in your home country, but 99% of all foreign teachers in Japan are probably not officially certified to teach English or anything else for that matter.

5. Is it true that young people study English for six years in junior/senior high school and still can't speak the language?

Yes, I would say that this is a pretty accurate assessment, especially for public schools, because the focus is not on oral production in most schools. The emphasis is on grammar and translation for the purpose of passing examinations leading to college. Recently those exams contain a listening segment so the schools are pushing for more listening comprehension. The communication gap is huge and this is where the native speaker teacher comes into play. I must admit that there has been much improvement in this area due to an increase in foreigners living here and kids learning English from a younger age.

6. Are there any inexpensive places to stay, if I come over to look for a job?

One of the subscribers to this list wrote to me with the recommendation of an inexpensive place to stay in Sapporo. I have also added some links of other reasonably priced places and info that might help you find a place to stay.

"I found a room at a place called "DK House" near downtown. It's more of a hostel type place, but they also have single rooms with a kitchen/washroom etc. I don't know if people ask you often, but if anyone does ask in the future, here's the link to the website. It's a nice place and the common room is full of very friendly people and free hard-wired internet available."

In addition, I placed a link to all of my Hokkaido bookmarks [Ken's Hokkaido Links] which is organized by sub-categories, including Accommodations. That link is near the top righthand side of this page. If you learn about other reasonably priced accommodations in Hokkaido, please let me know so I can add it to the list of bookmarks. This link will always show the current bookmarks I have on my computer. If you find a link that is no longer valid, please let me know.

7. Is it really cold in Hokkaido?

When I first came here I thought it was really cold, perhaps because I came straight from San Diego, CA. Of course when a bad winter storm blows through it can get downright bitter. However, the typical winter day in Sapporo is actually sunny with a high temperature hovering around zero Celcius (32F). In northern or eastern Hokkaido it will typically be ten degrees colder. The good news is that they know how to build homes that are well insulated, and I find it to be a very comfortable place to live. In this day and age of down coats and other high tech fabrics there is nothing much to worry about.

8. What do you do during the long winter months?

If you don't like winter sports, then I suggest that you learn to like them, otherwise you will be going to the mall and the movie theater complexes for entertainment. This place is paradise as far as the condition of the snow goes (pure powder) and there are ski slopes located nearby reachable by bus from downtown Sapporo. Young people tend to prefer snowboarding, but I will stick with downhill skiing. Of course there are other winter sports such as ice skating and for the adventuresome ski jumping and bobsledding. You probably won't believe it but people also practice golfing at the driving ranges all winter. They have heaters blowing next to those lined up to hit the balls and the balls land in the snow for the golf fanatics in this country.

9. Do people celebrate Christmas in Japan?

I personally celebrate Christmas as it has always been a part of my life and something I enjoy to the fullest. Japanese people in general accept it as a commercial holiday and many of them purchase special Christmas cakes to eat at home on Christmas Eve. The problem for me is that schools are open on Christmas Day and it is highly probably that one will have to work. I've never liked working on my birthday or Christmas. By the way, you won't see many live Christmas trees being sold, probably because they would dry out instantly in the overly heated homes in winter and the government does not allow for the cutting down of healthy trees.

10. Do you know any good links for teachers?

Ken's Educaional Bookmarks [PDF file full of links]

11. Can you buy American goods in Sapporo?

Of course, there are many American goods now sold in Japan, and one of the more popular stores is COSTCO. This store is packed on the weekends and those who can shop on weekdays are lucky.

12. If I work in Japan must I pay into the Pension System?


Yes, all workers in Japan between 20 and 59 years of age must contribute to the system, and after being vested in the system they will be able to receive a pension. If you leave before being fully vested you will be able to get back a good portion of your contributions. Here is a summary Word document of the Japanese Penson System as it relates to non-Japanese residents. You can download and save the Word file or view the PDF file in your browser.


Update: On December 22, 2015 The Japan Times (English version) posted an article in answer to questions about the pension system which is worthwhile reading. Click here: Reader's Pension Questions


Update2: On April 24, 2016 another article was published regarding a lawsuit and future changes to the health insurance and pension benefits for those who are employed in Japan. It is well worthwhile reading this information as it affects the employer portion of premium payments for part-time employees. It also covers the future change for having to work only 10 years in order to become vested in the pension system.

Shakai-hoken changes


Please visit the link in #13 below for other key links on Pensions.


13. What about Health Care and Insurance in Japan?


Japan has a socialized medical system which every resident must join through one of three plans, depending upon your type of work or dependency. Please visit a new website (2016) developed for an organization in Sapporo that is focused on understanding all aspects of living in Hokkaido of interest to expats. The organization is focused primarily on helping expat senior citizens, but the information pertains to all ages. Click on the "hmsc" image below and visit the "Archives" and "Links" pages for full details.


Health Bookmarks [view more in the Hokkaido Bookmarks Link]


Hokkaido Support Community


14. What about about renting or buying a home in Japan?


Renting an apartment for short or long term can be done fairy easily if your are able to communicate in Japanese.  There are many couples who are international with one beingJapanese so this makes it much eaiser as there is a requirement for a guarantor, since foreigners are perceived to be able to leave the country on short notice.  This is why rentals require what is known as "key money" of at least two months rent to protect a landlord from a renter who takes off suddently.

Buying property is another story, but for those with some capital to invest I feel it is a smart move as long-term rentals will add up quickly. There are bargain prices for apartments and even homes compared with what you would have to pay back home. The language barrier is much more severe, but for those interested in exploring such a purchase we can put you in touch with someone highly recommended, who is bilingual and an independent realtor. Simply contact us by email for assistance.