How to Become an ALT in Japan
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.
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.