Making the Milli-Yen: How to Actually Strike it Rich in Japan as an ALT / Eikaiwa Teacher
Updated: Dec 2, 2022
You've been tricked by the article's name. Congrats, you really thought that you could become rich doing this?
Since the Japanese economic bubble burst in the 1990s, the salary of the average Eikaiwa and ALT teacher has not increased. And in most cases, they have even declined. Either due to inflation, or by unscrupulous ALT Dispatch companies, in an effort to keep business operating costs low, trying to undercut the competition by lowering their prices to their customers (namely Boards of Educations and schools all throughout Japan).
This does not mean that an ALT or an Eikaiwa teacher cannot make a sizable fortune during their time in Japan. Whether a teacher spends time in Japan for a year, a decade, or longer, there are ways for an English teacher to make money teaching English.
You need to understand one important thing before you decide to do this. The age of high wages teaching English in Japan is over. You will not be making those legendary $5,000 to $7,000 a month teaching English teaching less than 25 hours a week, like they (allegedly) did from the 1970s and into the 1990s before the bubble economy popped.
However, if you are willing to put in a little work to make your own empire, it is entirely possible for an ALT, Eikaiwa Teacher, or a Jacka... er, Japanese Exchange Teacher on the Jacka..., um, JET Program to make money.
One caveat before we start. If you are a JET, you will have a harder time pulling this off due to your visa type. If you are an Eikaiwa or other kind of ALT, you may have an easier time doing this due to your visa type.
For all intents and purposes, I am going to assume that you are an American citizen, are aware of your current visa situation, and are aware of your tax situation back home as well. If you are British, Australian, South African, or Canadian, make sure you understand your visa laws between your home country and Japan before you start doing this.
Step 1: Remember to NEVER "Betray" Your Original Employer
It matters not if you are a JET, a private ALT, an Eikaiwa teacher, or whatever. If you have someone sponsoring your visa to live in Japan, be sure to follow their rules about moonlighting (if they have anything).
If they don't have any moonlighting rules, then you are in the clear. BUT, just because they don't doesn't mean that the local Japanese authorities will mind. Remember that your visa type is linked to what kind of jobs you can apply for... however, that doesn't necessarily mean that you cannot engage in "self employment".
However, this does not mean that you should try and poach prospective customers from your original employer... that comes later.
Step 2: Find an Area Close Enough to Where You Live, But Far Away from Your Original Employer to Start
This is probably going to be the most difficult part for people, because you need to be absolutely sure that you can start your empire that is close enough to where you live, but it is out of reach of your Original Employer.
There is a story amongst the ALT / Eikaiwa people about a Canadian teacher in the 1980s. He allegedly had two employers that, and neither employer knew that he was employed to the other, but one employer had a strict rule about outside employment (like some sort of "exclusive rights" crap).
Again, allegedly, this individual would teach mornings at employer #1, and then teach evenings at employer #2. He was rolling in cash like crazy. And to be totally honest, I would have loved to have been in his shoes.
But, he ended up making a huge mistake. One of the employers decided to have him on some corporate media (it was either an advertisement or a marketing ploy of some sort), and his face was plastered all around Tokyo. However, the other employer soon recognized his face, and immediately terminated him for breaking his "exclusive rights" rule. Fortunately, the other employer didn't seem to mind, and the young Canadian teacher ended up finding another employer to fill the lost hours he lost.
The point I am getting across is that if you decide to freelance outside of your original employer, and they have a "no moonlighting" rule, you need to figure out an area where you can either get another teaching job, or perhaps stake out on your own.
Here is an example.
Let's say you live in Chiba (near Tokyo). Chiba would be a great place to be based out of, but you also have Tokyo, East Chiba, parts of Ibaraki, and parts of Tochigi to try your luck in. Of course, it would be more prudent for you to stick to Tokyo, as it is the largest city in the world, and there is a degree of anonymity in the big city.
This would lead to a problem for most JETs, as most JETs are placed out in the countryside to teach. If I tried this shit in Akkeshi, I would have had my ass thrown out of the program for violating my visa.
Or you can...
Step 3: Take it All Online (But Do Offer SOME Face-to-Face Lessons)
Taking your teaching business all online would give you total control over your empire. Not only that, you would not have to restrict yourself to your local region, but globally as well. As long as you have an internet connection, you can do this from anywhere around the world. This makes Simple Gaijin very successful, as I have students in Dallas, North Carolina, and Connecticut. But imagine teaching English, you could also teach not just Japanese, but Vietnamese, Koreans, Chinese, or any other countries around the world that need to improve their English.
Not only that, if you do not have a brick and mortar location (why would you?), you can undercut the competition as well.
However, if a prospective student is within one or two train stops away from you, then consider offering local lessons without any sort of extra cost added to it.
Step 4: Specialize in 1-on-1 (マン・ツ・マン) Classes
While there are benefits to having group lessons (and I recommend that you have at least the ability to offer them as well), for Japanese English learners, they don't like making mistakes in front of other students. They feel as if they need to have perfect English before it comes out of their mouth, and in the beginning, this is not the case.
Even when I worked at Japan Inc. for years, one manager I had, despite his "years" of English experience, continued to make mistakes speaking English. However, he was more comfortable making mistakes rather than his subordinates that knew English, but refused to speak it due to fear that I would look at them like a jackass if they made a mistake.
That said, specialize in "1-on-1" classes with your Japanese students. Most of them will feel more relived that they can mistakes in front of you and you will help them get through their mistakes rather than being looked down upon by their classmates.
More to come soon! Stay tuned!