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Teaching in Japan: Differences Between Regular Schools and Conversation Schools


Poppy is the author of "A Bard's Lament." She lives in Enoshima and likes to read novels and play video games, especially open-world RPGs.

Most native or near-native English speakers who wish to live and work in Japan seek teaching as a career because it is an easy way to get a work visa. Teaching jobs are available in almost all towns and cities, can be found quickly, and usually only require the applicant to have a bachelor's degree. This makes teaching a desirable career for expats to this great country.


When you are browsing teaching jobs, you may find that some are for public schools, some are for private schools, some are for international schools, and some are for conversation schools. Public and private schools are similar to other parts of the world - elementary, junior high, and high schools offering standardised education for children and teenagers. International schools teach all their lessons in English so that the students are fully immersed in the language from a young age.

But what are the differences between regular (public and private) schools and conversation schools? Will you have different experiences depending on which one you choose? This article will highlight the main differences between them, helping you figure out which one would be better for you.

1. Working Hours

Working Times
At a regular school, standard school hours are Monday to Friday, starting at around 8:30am and running until around 3:30 or 4:00pm. Some teachers may also be asked to work the odd Saturday for events and other jobs.

Conversation schools, or Eikaiwa in Japanese, generally start later, from around midday until late evening. If you hate getting up early, an Eikaiwa might be a better option for you! Days off can also vary. Some conversation schools require workers to work at weekends. Shane English School in Tokyo, for example, gives different teachers different days off throughout the week.

Class Times
At a regular school, class times are standardised to around five or six periods a day at the same time daily, often with around ten minutes between each class. A conversation school is different; they may have a lot of classes on Mondays but only a few spread out on a Thursday.

Some conversation schools will have one class starting and then another one beginning right after, to try and fit in as many classes as possible in one day. This is good if you like being busy. After all, a three-hour break can make the day drag along.


2. Holidays and Vacation Time

There are a lot of national holidays in Japan as well as Golden Week at the end of April and New Year, where all large businesses and schools have time off. Regular schools also have time off for winter vacation, summer vacation, and spring vacation. Working in a regular school grants you these days off, making it a good career choice.

Conversation schools generally have Golden Week and Obon Week in August off, too, but have much less time off during summer and New Year. The logic is that people have less time at work and more time to study English at this time.

3. Your Students

Regular schools have standard grades from elementary school all the way up to high school. Conversation schools are open to all ages of students, often with personalised classes to fit their levels. If you work at a conversation school, you might be teaching toddlers, children, teenagers, businessmen, housewives, and even the elderly. It's a completely different kind of challenge.


4. Class Sizes

Regular schools in Japan can have quite large classes. It is not unusual for one class to have over forty students! Such large classes make it different to learn all of your students' names and to check that everyone is all right and understands what they have to do.

Conversation schools usually have much smaller classes, sometimes no bigger than eight students. It is a lot easier to maintain control and keep the students' attention like this, as well as learn their names. You will also often have private students.

5. Lesson Plans and Testing

Teaching at a regular school means following a curriculum and sometimes being responsible for creating and marking exams. Homework is also up to you (usually) and you have to mark it outside of class time.

Conversation schools focus more on fun (because they're optional and parents are paying for them) and homework is different. At A to Z school in Nagano Prefecture, homework consists of listening to English CDs and answering short verbal tests in class. Teachers aren't expected to mark homework. Exams and tests are almost always unheard of as well.


6. Who Pays You and the Schools' Goals

For regular schools, you are either paid by a third-party company that hired you or the school itself. Teaching and getting good results from exams is the primary goal.

Conversation schools are almost always a company whose main aim is to make as much money as possible. One Eikaiwa I worked for just cared about getting as many students as they could, often putting them in the wrong level class to meet quotas.

Some of these companies, such as Interac, also don't pay you when school is out, which means you have no income during the summer holidays. However, other companies do pay it. When in doubt, carefully check your contract.

Other Differences

Some regular schools have a native Japanese teacher in the classroom to help you out. This can be for a few reasons:

  • If the students don't understand what they have to do, the native teacher will tell them in Japanese.
  • To help dish out discipline and keep order with larger class sizes.
  • To go around the classroom and check on their progress. It halves the time it would take if there was only one teacher present.
  • So students can ask them questions. Japanese kids in particular are quite shy, and might not have the confidence or ability to ask a question in English.

Schools may also ask teachers to participate in certain events at a regular school such as graduation day or sports day. Conversation schools may do this as well, however; A to Z in Nagano sometimes have events on Saturdays which teachers are expected to attend.

For a general idea on what would be expected of you if you decided to work in a public school, check out the great video below!

Whether you decide to be an Assistant Language Teacher at a public school, teach English at an international school, or opt for an Eikaiwa, you will get to meet lots of enthusiastic people who are eager to learn English (and sometimes children who are not so eager!). Teaching is a rewarding experience and an easy way for those proficient in the language to get a work visa in Japan. Good luck!

© 2018 Poppy


Poppy (author) from Enoshima, Japan on June 19, 2018:

Thanks, Alexis!

Alexis on June 19, 2018:

Great information. When I graduated college I considered teaching in Japan, but instead opted to teach Special Education in the United States. It's always interesting to read the differences in education in Japan!

Poppy (author) from Enoshima, Japan on June 14, 2018:

Hey, Flourish. You get a work visa sponsored by the company when you start a job here. The visa can last from one to five years and the company renews it when it's close to expiring. One good thing is that you don't lose the visa if you leave the job, unlike other countries such as China.

FlourishAnyway from USA on June 13, 2018:

Do you do this currently? How long can one stay on a work visa?

Seth Tomko from Macon, GA on June 13, 2018:

Thank you for this informative run-down on these different systems.

Liz Westwood from UK on June 13, 2018:

This gives an interesting insight into the Japanese education system.

Poppy (author) from Enoshima, Japan on June 13, 2018:

Thanks very much for commenting, Larry! :)

Larry Slawson from North Carolina on June 13, 2018:

Never knew all this. Very interesting! Thanks for sharing.

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