Teaching English in Japan in 2021: An Early Look

Teaching English in Japan

Happy New Year! As 2021 rolls in Japan, along with the rest of the world, finds the turmoil of this past year appearing to be in no hurry to disappear. With travel difficult and the political, social, and economic pressure building, what’s the outlook for foreign teachers looking to come to Japan to teach English? And what’s the situation like for teachers already here? Let’s take a tentative look at what the year is shaping up for.

Finding Work in Japans

The eikaiwa industry, being highly reliant on person-to-person contact, has been hard hit by the economic repercussions of the covid-19 situation. Schools across the country have shuttered or been drastically downsizing as demand from would-be students evaporates. The impact has, predictably, been strongest in the large cities and especially Tokyo; all the most important eikaiwa markets and base of most recruiting work.

Even worse, the downsizing of schools and closing of branches left many teachers in the industry jobless. Certainly, many left the country as soon as possible, but those who remained must compete for the increasingly scarce job openings.

Demand for Lessons is Down

So, where did the students go? And, why don’t they just switch to online lessons until the outbreak blows over?

There are many factors at play here. Fear of the virus is continually “topped off” by constant news coverage, with the obvious effect on face-to-face lesson eikaiwa. January finds a new – if voluntary – curfew in place, eating into the language school’s important after work demographic. And that assumes students even go to the office: many work from home and no long go into the city where their schools and English teachers are. While online lessons may have seemed like a panacea to the industry, this sets traditional eikaiwa and cram school English teachers in competition against cheap and plentiful overseas-based online teaching models. Whether your teacher is in Tokyo or Manila no longer matters when it’s all on screen.

Finally, motivation to actually study English is scarce. Many students in Japan are strongly motivated by overseas dreams and goals, from taking their dream vacation, to moving abroad, working for a foreign company, or greeting the coming Olympics visitors. Depressed by the lockdowns and isolation, locked out of travel, and with the Olympics an unsure thing it’s no surprise many Japanese are finding it hard to summon the willpower for New Year’s resolutions this time.

It’s Not All Doom & Gloom…

For applicants hoping to come to Japan from abroad for an English teaching position, it’s obviously hard to recommend this as the time to “pull the trigger” – assuming you could even find a flight. That doesn’t mean you should give up though, because there’s always a light of hope on the horizon.

A would-be applicant would be wise to use this time to prepare your resume and create concrete plans for your applications and eventual move. It may even be a good time to get some online lessons, even free ones, under your belt. When the pendulum swings back there’s a good chance it will do so quickly, propelled by the repressed travel and escape wishes of everyone in Japan. (Assuming the best case here; if things develop differently look for my follow-up article, “Teaching English in a Global Dystopia”) And although the English schools in Japan themselves will be slow and cautious in their recovery, the outlook for significant increase in demand for teachers in the future is likely.

We have posted many articles on this site with tips for interviews and job hunting for teachers in Japan. Why not familiarize yourself so you’re ready to go the moment the boarding gates reopen?

Surviving the Dry Times

For English teachers or English teaching job seekers already in Japan, most have been tightening belts and hoping for things to turn around sooner rather than later. There are a few options for governmental support money, including for rent, out there and the earlier one applies, the better.

One way teachers are looking to improve things in their English teaching, is by improving their lessons and their classroom presence. For the precious few students who brave the “virus infested” world outside to see you in-person, it’s crucial to show them why it’s worth it: amazing lessons! If students continue to lose motivation and become depressed at the situation, an encouraging and optimistic teacher can shine like a beacon in the dark.

Whatever the year may bring, we hope it’s a good and prosperous one for all you language teachers and hopefuls out there!