How to Become an ALT in Japan

Basic Requirements

1. A university bachelors degree
-Any degree is ok, Latin American Studies, German, Linguistics, Astro-Physics, Sociology, doesn’t matter as long as it’s at least a bachelors 

 2. A clean criminal background check
-Have you been convicted of a murder? Are you a pedo? Do you have outstanding warrants in 3 states? Did you go to jail for a hit and run? Japan doesn’t want you. 

 3. Appropriately healthy and able bodied
-If you have a something that will prevent you from doing your job well, you will most likely not be hired. For example; you can’t use stairs, you can’t stand for 45 minutes at a time, you have a severe speech impediment (I know people here with lisps), things like this prevent you from teaching at full capacity and most places don’t have the time or resources to make special accommodations for you. 

What other skills might recruiters be looking for?

1. Japanese language ability
-NOT required for most positions, but helpful for communication both in and out of the workplace. Unless you live in a metropolitan area, the average Japanese person’s English is VERY limited. I know many people who came here with zero Japanese, but nowadays there are many with at least rudimentary Japanese. People rarely come here fluent, but many people study Japanese while living here to take the JLPT and their level improves by leaps and bounds. I am not one of those people, so don’t ask me for more details lol

 2. TESL/TEFL certification
-NOT required for most positions, but some private companies are starting to lean more towards certified individuals. And honestly, those give you a lot of skills you will absolutely need when teaching English. 

3. Teaching degree
 -NOPE, not required in 99.9% of the cases. I know a few people with them who are ALTs, I’ve heard mixed opinions on how well it helps them as an ALT. Some find it demeaning to work subordinate and be given limited control/responsibilities, other find it freeing because they can spend more time teaching and less time with test related paper pushing and discipline management.

4. Good attitude, flexibility, people skills
-You need to be able to present yourself as someone trustworthy and amiable to recruiters. The environments ALTs work in are often high-paced, prone to sudden last second changes, and being able to make friends in the office and keep a happy face with students is incredibly important. 

5. Prior experience
-Have you worked in a daycare before? Have you volunteered in tutoring centers? Have you led discussion groups as a major requirement?  Have you ever studied abroad? Have you ever volunteered in foreign classrooms? Have you taken charge of a club and organized events? Did you dorm with international students in university? Have you worked for an international program before? Have you given private language lessons before? These are the kinds of things that show you have experience in things that ALTs frequently encounter.

Can I mention my love of [INSERT JAPANESE CULTURE HERE]?

Yes, but keep is professional, relevant, and brief. 

“I became interested in Japan after watching Spirited Away, the cultural aspects of the movie fascinated me and made me want to learn more about Japan.” OK
“I have a collection of anime pillow cases, my favorite is Miku Hatsune in this pose.” NO 

“I started listening to Japanese music in high school. I eventually started learning Japanese to better understand the lyrics.” OK
 "When Pierrot broke up, I was shattered that the fanfic community would move on to other ships.“ NO 

“My school offered a short course on Japanese tea ceremony, and I thought the way that it formed historically was extremely interesting.” OK
“I want to learn the way of the samurai.” NO 

“I’m very interested in Japanese video game production companies. I went to college and majored in game design and I want to further study it by living in Japan and experiencing the community in person.” OK
“I want to play Resident Evil on fiber optic LAN with Japanese players so I can pwn more n00bs when I get back to America.” NO

What kind of ALT positions are available?

First and foremost: READ AND RESEARCH

If you do not do your own intensive research, you can get taken advantage of. You hear horror stories from people here all the time, and those mostly come from people didn’t research what they were getting themselves into. I cannot make a comprehensive guide to the THOUSANDS OF KINDS OF ALT positions across the country, this is only an overview. Look at that link, and always do extensive research of the companies/programs you’re interested in working for.

1. Government
 AKA JET Program
-The JET Program is the only government ALT program. It makes the Japanese government the middleman in your arrangements, which takes less money from your paycheck and gives you a more trustworthy means of income. It’s very competitive and the application process takes about 6 months. They only hire once a year. It’s arguably the best program, as it pays well, you have a lot of guaranteed vacation time, and they pay for your flights to and from the country. On the downside, you don’t really have a lot of say in where you are placed. Also, you cannot get a transfer unless VERY specific requirements are met. Also some prefectures/localities are nicer to their ALTs than others, but if they try to fuck you over you know you have the Japanese government backing you and they will keep you from being taken advantage of.

 2. Private Dispatch
examples: Interac, AEON, Borderlink, JIEC and MANY others
 -These are private companies that workplaces hire to provide them with ALTs. Workplaces do this because some of the intricacies in hiring an ALT and getting them a VISA and housing are really complicated, and they’d rather pay a middleman than deal with it. Upsides, you get a little more wiggle-room with being transferred. Downside by far is the pay. It depends on the company, but that middleman definitely takes a big chunk of your pay. If you work for a place like this, you need to VERY carefully read your contract. Research dispatch companies carefully, check their ratings online, see what former employees have to say about them. 

 3. Private Hire
 AKA working directly under the local government office, a private company, or even one-on-one’s in wealthy households
-These are places that will directly hire you without a middleman. Obviously, you need to look carefully at the details of your contract before working privately. Most local government places won’t hire you without prior ALT experience in Japan. Private English Conversation Schools (Eikaiwa) have non-9 to 5 working hours to provide for business workers and students. They sometimes require you to already have a VISA prior to being hired. Private Hire really is outside of my experience, but from what I understand they can pay as well as JET, but don’t usually have as many perks.

Where do I look for open positions?

GaijinPot is the website I’ve heard of the most. Check there and research research research. There are scammers, be careful. 

JET hires once a year starting around September or October. It’s available online on their official webpage.

There are a bajillion different dispatch companies. I couldn’t possibly name them all, I don’t really have a lot of experience with them, and don’t know which are particularly good or not. Check Google-sensei for their applications, websites, and reputations.

Other than that, please be wary of Craigslist. Although legit job openings do show up, there are scammers. If it’s someone looking for a “private female in-home English tutor from ages 19~25” or something like that, don’t be dumb. Many will require you to have a VISA with a minimum of 1 year on it already. Many will require you to already live in the area of the position. Research everything carefully.

Words of warning

If you think mental health issues are stigmatized in your home country, oh honey you ain’t seen nothin` yet.

If you have mental health issues, Japan may not be the place for you. You may think going to Japan, being surrounded by your hobbies and interests, and just “getting away” will make things better… IT WON’T.

Please be aware that you most likely will not be able to get your meds over the counter in Japan. And it’s not uncommon for your meds to be banned entirely even with a prescription. Bi-polar, anxiety, OCD, depression? Your meds might not be available here. Oh and having people send them over from home by mail can get you detained and deported if you’re caught.

You’ll also be leaving the support of friends and family by coming to Japan. The ALT community is pretty cool, but people come and go so quickly, it’s hard to find groups of people that will stick together through really tough spots.

Supervisors and coworkers aren’t much help either. In Japan, people don’t talk about mental health issues at all. If you take meds for anything other than a physical illness, you do it in private where people can’t see you. If you see a psychiatrist, you do it in a different prefecture, where no one can see you. It’s not uncommon for Japanese people to be asked to leave their jobs because their boss or coworkers have suspicions.

If you self medicate with something like marijuana, be aware that recreational drug use here is VERY VERY VERY illegal. Marijuana use is treated with the same seriousness as crack cocaine. You WILL be caught, you WILL be detained, you WILL be tried without a lawyer present, you WILL be held in solitary, you WILL be convicted of drug possession, and you WILL be deported.

Some ALTs will replace their marijuana use with alcohol. That goes about as well as it sounds :|

For LGBT, if you’re used to a very supportive queer community, it’s not the same here. Japanese people are extremely closeted and unless you live near a large metropolitan area, getting into the gay scene is nearly impossible. I’m fine because I was never in the gay scene back home, but for some people it’s very hard.

If you’re trans and want to come here to transition, please reconsider. I would suggest not coming to Japan as an ALT if you intend to transition in the immediate future. If your gender dysphoria is pretty bad, you’re gonna have a bad time. Gender segregation and enforcement of gender roles will probably seriously affect your mental health. The paperwork for transitioning is even harder from overseas and lot of things need to be done in person so you’ll have to fly back and forth from your home country a lot (which is damn expensive and needs vacation leave). Even if you do get everything done, there’s no telling how your work will respond. They won’t outright say they’re firing you for your gender identity, that’s illegal, they’ll come up with some other reason.

People who come here with a goal like paying off college loans or wanting to experience another culture usually have a better time that people who come here because OMG I JUST LOVE JAPAN. Please keep that in mind.


What does an ALT do?

Every day - or, I guess, daily life? Kind of daily. 

I wanted to document my average day, but it ended up exhausting me just drawing it, haha. I’m glad it’s the end of the week.

Just some explanations - my base school is a Junior High School, but I go to Elementary Schools most days of the week in the morning. 

Sorry for my weird japanese


Taboo! card set

It’s a slow day at work so I redid my Taboo cards and uploaded them to Google docs to share. I don’t want to put my name out there on tumblr so message me if you’d like a link to the gdoc. This set has about 100 cards. The last page in the document is a hint sheet for asking/answering questions.

  • Taboo is a game where, without seeing it, the players must select a card and hold it to their forehead. They must ask questions while their partner gives hints without using the name on the card until they guess their card correctly.
  • They’re supposed to take turns asking questions/giving hints but you’ll find that students will skip around and ask/give a bunch of questions/answers in a row if you let them run wild.
  • You can play the game so the winner gets to keep their cards for points until they run out (end game) or have them return the cards after each guess and have a rotating free for all.
  • You can play this several ways. You can play it in a large group or a small one. You can have everyone run around freely or you can have an individual stand in front of a group and let them exchange questions/answers.
  • The most important thing here is to just get them talking in English so don’t stress being too strict!!
  • Most of the cards have English and Japanese because this game was designed to accommodate my first years who are just starting English classes. Also, some of the characters have different names in English/Japanese so it helps some of my higher students too.
  • That said, this game is easy enough for my lower students to enjoy and I have enough cards (and variety) that I can change the rules a bit to make it more competitive/enjoyable for my higher students too. It’s a good, easy fallback game to have in your pocket if your kids like it!!

honestly my first year kids last year were feral little so and sos, like, they were BAD and any stereotype you had about Japanese kids being nice was destroyed by these kids

and i havent seen them in a month? two?

and i walked in to class today to shouting and cheers and applause which was nice

then some of the girls started using english (’hi how are you? IM FINE nice to meet YOU’ girls chill lol)

and then it started

i didnt know what they were talking about so it was ages of me going ????? what???


once i said idk and foreigners don’t really care about it (best tell them that before they find someone else to ask lmao) another girl started miming

more confusion

i thought she was talking about dicks

she was just doing a really vulgar exaggerated mime of a girl with a massively heavy period

i was in hysterics

thankfully the teacher walked in then, but the girls kept looking at me in the pop test and giggling. needless to say, they all flunked that test


I made a version of Cards Against Humanity for my English club! 

I inherited a set from one of the predecessors at my school but it was outdated so I decided to revamp it. This was a huge blast with my higher level students in JHS and with the students in the SHS. 

If anyone would like the google doc with the card PDFs, message me!

The document includes:

  • Over 150 cards in the set (about 75 black cards and 100 white cards)
  • PDFs of the actual cards you can print out and use
  • A list of of the black/white card texts so you can customize and edit your own set
  • The link to the site I used so you can build your own set
  • Some tips on how to print

I’ll say that I’ve been given a lot to reflect on by working in special needs schools this past year. Special Needs in Japan is better than perhaps a decade ago, but I hope will become better in this decade. 

Unfortunately, thhere’s a lot of patronizing and infantilization of students who are more than capable of doing age appropriate work, who understand their own language -I was told that they need simple, easy Japanese when students speak at a typical, L1 comfort and ask me deep questions when we talk- and a deep underestimation of what students can do. It’s very difficult to witness because I can see the boredom that isn’t a dislike of English, per say, but a dislike of English lessons meant for students in Elementary Schooll being given to a student in High School. Sometimes, it’s really hard to see, but I think as an ALT, the most powerful thing we can do is bear witness and see that we can make students lives better through giving them a genuine chance to use their English skills and engage with language and be an active language learner.

(And not with a song about colors for 16-17 year old students who all can speak English comfortably and want to do so much more.)

I’ll admit that this didn’t become personal until I worked directly in the schools I have. I’m not afriad to admit that I had blinders on and probably did a few patronizing and infantalizing things i towards people with special needs. I’ll admit that I haven’t always been an Ally: I’ve been neautral bcause American society would rather you be in the middle than pick a side because you’re less effective and don’t that change. It’s a toxic position to be in, but I don’t necessaily think it’s bad that until it became personal: I just wish this change had come sooner. I don’t think I was challenged to think about it: fear is often encouraged when it comes to Othering. Now though, since it is personal and more so, now that I see that there’s a problem with my past actions and that being uncomfortable is something I have to fight against and constnatly change,means that I can’t turn back to hateful and prejudiced thoughts.

Now that I know better, I must do better. I have to hold myself to a higher standard.

Whie I can’t revolutionize a system -and let’s be honest, that’snot my place: a system changes when the people who build and are directly affected by it create that change. It’s not my place as a foreign resident to tell Japan how I feel about Special Needs Education because it’s still intrinsically from an American cultural model, which is okay, but it is my place to be educated and be an Ally where I can- I can support these students and be bother Teacher and caretaker. 

I think that is a powerful thing in and of itself.

Elementary school kids sure are something. Today I heard a student that was outside playing very sadly say ‘I don’t have a penis…’ loud enough for the whole office to hear. Then when I was with the fourth grade class there was a girl literally praying to get bingo. Between every number she would sit with hands clasped and just keep saying 'Please, God!’ When the boy sitting next to her got a bingo he started praying for her as well

terrific news!

I am extraordinarily happy to announce my acceptance into the 2017 Jet Program! I’ve been short-listed, so I’ll be leaving for Japan on July 25th!!

This also means that my blog may change to become on more focused on Japan and its culture and language, though undoubtedly it’ll still be peppered with hobbits and dragons, feminism and starlight.

okay so anyone teaching in japan or korea do you have any advice for someone who is about to graduate in two months about applying for programs? and how you go through with lesson plans/dealing with kids? also if you’re black how do you handle living in such an environment? im still trying to figure out what to do once i graduate and ive heard so much talk about JET and Fulbright in Korea but im also extremely stressed about having to teach since it’s not my major and ive never done anything like it before

My lessons this year are going so much better! Even my classes where nothing seems to go right produces some good stuff. I’m more comfortable in class and with my students. It’s good.

Your first year as an ALT is spent experimenting and learning what works. I didn’t come here with any teaching experience and there was such a huge learning curve, but it all works out in the end!

Opened my mail, post-marking, to see a really kind message from the supervisor at Industry High, my all boys school south of the city.

She was really excited about my idea to install three English boards for the first year students: one for each of the departments, all about technical terms and cool things about their jobs. Naturally, using English.

(She also was worried I’d been overworked this week at my visit school and asked me to please get lots of rest. She’s a very, very kind woman.)

She also wants me to make a lesson about American High Schools, which I’m genuinely excited about. I might try to find a high school picture of me and talk about my life. I’ll definitely hit on block scheduling, how many electives we can take, and lunch in American high schools. Hopefully, they’ll find it really interesting, and if I have time, I’ll make some nice, big A3 posters and the like to help them visualize American schools.

I’ll also be doing a game, though that’s undecided still. I’m just honestly so excited to be doing a lot at this school. I’m really starting to wonder, though, why my pred didn’t like it: the students are a bit rowdy, but they’re such good kids. They really want to learn, and genuinely pay attention when I ask it. Maybe we just approach teaching differently. That’s okay.

Ultimately, I guess truly, Every Situation is Different.