English Teacher Employment Contracts in Japan

Before negotiating a contract with a Japanese school or recruiter, know that verbal promises carry no legal weight whatsoever; written contracts are the bottom line in Japan. Be sure to have any contract that is written in Japanese translated independently before you sign it. If possible, talk with other Westerners already teaching at the school before signing anything. No matter who you speak with, be sure to ask about the basics: housing, salary, and working hours.

  • Housing: Many contracts include a subsidy for housing. In Tokyo, especially, this feature is important because of the high cost of living. If subsidized housing is not provided, good money for an apartment that is about the size of a college dorm room.
  • Salary: Your wages will likely be based on your experience and the number of hours you work each month. Be sure to find out how much and how often are teachers paid, as well as how often raises are given. Pay varies from situation to situation. You will be teaching 25 hours per week (with prep time, your work week can approach 40 hours). Watch your spending and you could save up to US$15,000 per year.
  • Working hours: The contract should guarantee you a minimum number of hours per month, but you will be expected to work more depending on demand. When negotiating your contract, be sure to ask these questions: How many hours per week do most teachers work? What are the normal teaching hours and how many classes per day will you be required to teach? Are any extra duties expected of teachers?

Don’t be shy about negotiating your contract, but don’t be rude or pushy either. Patience and calmness will get you much further than hostility. The following details should help you negotiate a fair contract:

  • When a school tells you they will give you “assistance” with accommodations, health insurance, transportation, visas, or other finances, be sure you understand exactly what they mean. Be clear about your expectations; ask for specifics and get them in writing!
  • Make sure you fully understand all company policies. Ask about moonlighting as a private tutor, overtime pay, and any other relevant topics.
  • When you speak with foreigners who work at the school, ask about whether it was difficult to get the school to act as a visa guarantor.
  • Find out if there are any fringe benefits. These could include free or cheap accommodations, transportation stipends, meals, medical or life insurance, or even plane tickets to obtain your work visa.

A Word of Warning

Most of the established schools have solid reputations, but some schools are less than ethical in their contract negotiations. Be aware that schools have no legal reason to hold on to your passport; avoid any school that requires you to hand it over. Chances are they will use it as ransom at a later date.

You should also be leery of the phrase “We’ll answer all of your questions after you sign the contract.” Signing a contract is the final step in any job negotiation. If the school is being secretive about any information, they probably have something to hide.

Where to Go for Help

All those who work in Japan under a written contract are protected by Japanese labor law – even those who are working illegally. If you have contract disputes or questions contact the Foreign Residents Advisory Center. If you are outside of Tokyo, the following offices may be able to provide you with guidance:

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