Teaching English in Japan: Blog Story by Matthew Ruddle

Teaching Location: Fukui Prefecture, Japan
Type of Teaching Job: ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) at elementary & junior high schools on the JET (Japan Exchange Teaching) Program
Student Age Group: Kids (first grade through ninth grade)
Monthly Salary: 300,000 yen (~$2,600 USD)
Monthly Rent: This varies from place to place. I lived in a rural town and my school subsidized my rent so it was pretty cheap.
Living Arrangement: Small one-room apartment (2 years), Large house (final year)
Monthly Savings: Savings varied. I saved more during the 2nd and 3rd year.
Contract Bonuses: Free flights to and from Japan, transportation to job placement location from Tokyo

Teaching English in Japan - Blog Story by Matthew Ruddle

Teaching on the JET Program in Japan

By Matthew Ruddle

What I Loved About Teaching English in Japan

Experiences and Culture

Living in Japan for three years was an amazing experience; it was wonderful to be immersed in a culture that was so alien and so different from my own. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I thoroughly enjoyed traveling all over Japan; I visited Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Sapporo, Hiroshima, and was lucky enough to live in a beautiful coastal town.

Met Friends and My Wife

Teaching English in Japan totally changed my life, in ways that I hadn’t expected. I made some wonderful friends from America, Canada and Australia, as well as from my native UK. I also met my wife, who was an American ALT; we later moved to the US and we have two children.

Friends in Japan
Matthew during his first few months in Japan


I really enjoyed working as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT); team-teaching with Japanese staff was a great way to try teaching and to gain classroom experience. I enjoyed having the chance to design teaching materials, make lesson plans, try different styles of teaching, and getting to know the Japanese education system, as well as having fun with the students. It was incredibly rewarding to become an active and valued member of staff at the schools in which I taught.

The Difficulties of Teaching English in Japan

Language Barrier

There were real challenges, however. You have to be prepared to make the effort to learn Japanese; studying another language was very hard, especially one that is written in a completely different way to English, but it is absolutely necessary if you want to get to know Japanese people and to be able to communicate in your every day life.

The JET Program does provide you with Japanese language study materials, and there are always willing local people to help teach you. However, it remains one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.

Learning Japanese
Matthew learning Japanese

Cultural Differences

The massive cultural differences can be problematic at times; initially the differences seem exotic and exciting, but after a while, frustration sets in when you can’t understand why people behave the way they do, or why things are so different from your own social norms. For example, in Western society we are encouraged to have our own unique thoughts and opinions, to be independent and individual, yet in Japan, people are expected to conform to the group consensus; maintaining group harmony is more highly valued than individualism.

There is a Japanese saying, “The nail that stands up gets hammered down”. I often felt that I had to sacrifice much of myself in order to try to fit in with Japanese people (both at work and socially), and this made it every difficult to make genuine, meaningful friendships with Japanese people.

Teaching Challenges

The job itself also presents challenges; it does get boring and repetitive teaching basic English in elementary and junior high schools. Team-teaching also has its own set of problems; each Japanese teacher works differently, so it takes time to establish working relationships with your colleagues in order to make team-teaching successful.

Some teachers expect you to be a human tape recorder, repeating words so that students can hear the correct pronunciation, for example, while others give you more freedom to create lesson plans and devise your own activities. The Japanese education system is test-based, so the emphasis is on preparing the students to pass exams rather than developing real communication skills in English.

Contact Matthew Ruddle

Twitter: @MatthewRuddle1
Email: [email protected]
Website: https://pastdepartures.wordpress.com

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