Why being an ALT is awesome

By Liam Carrigan

Teaching in Japan is a profession many of us stagger into. Very few people who come here actually plan on being English teachers for the long haul. Indeed, the majority of foreigners who come to Japan to teach English will return home within the first three years or so. However, for some of us, something happens that changes this circumstance.

Maybe you meet the partner of your dreams, maybe you have a family. Or maybe it’s something simpler. Is it just that Japan feels safer, more welcoming and easier to live in than your home country? Do you enjoy the food, the people and the culture?

For whatever reason, a lot of assistant language teachers in Japan are here for the long haul and I’m glad to count myself among them.

Our job has been taking a bit of a pounding in the PR department recently, though. Whether it’s former ALTs who, having moved onto better things, feel compelled to talk down to those who still do it or embittered columnists who view every personal slight they’ve ever received in Japan as some sort of personal, racist attack, detractors of the English teaching industry in Japan seem to be queuing up at the moment to put get their licks in.

Admittedly, a number of dispatch companies do engage in disgraceful — and sometimes illegal — actions to try and “nickel and dime” their employees.

For the record, the last time I worked for an ALT dispatch company was in 2007. Some of them are noticeably better than others, but I believe the entire business model is fundamentally flawed and as such I’ve gone the direct hire route with every ALT job I have taken in the past 10 years.

However, even if you work for one of the suspect companies, there’s still some silver lining in those clouds, so today I’m here to speak up for my job.

Is it rocket science?


Will it ever make me a millionaire?

Of course not.

However, I love my job, and I’m not ashamed to say so. So, here are my own personal top five reasons why I think that being an ALT in Japan is awesome.

Click here to read more.

© GaijinPot

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

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It's unbelievable that in 2018 the Japanese government still wastes billions of yen on this stupid "scheme" that gives long holidays to these kids. The government has no money, get rid of this "scheme" which is way past its sell by date.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

Come on now, being an ALT isn't the most desirable job for foreigners in Japan. There are so many drawbacks to this job that makes it little more than slave labor.

8 hour days, most of the time not knowing what will happen, working with many Japanese school teachers who either resent you for being a foreigner or whose English ability isn't up to par!

And of course let's talk about the pay! Salaries for ALT's vary so much for the same job it is pitiful. And no "Bonus" which many Japanese teachers cherish, but which ALT will never see!

Sorry, if you dream of becoming an ALT in Japan, think again. Of course there are always the few who get the direct hire positions, but the are very, very few indeed.

47 years experience in Japan!

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Working as an ALT in Japan was an internationally desirable career 15-20 years ago, mainly because the salary was still an amount you could live on, which is no longer the case. When I first came to Japan in 2001 salaries for public school ALTs were around ¥250-270,000 p/m paid for the full year (¥3-3.5 million p/a) and private high school ALT was ¥300-350,000 p/m (¥4-4.5 million p/a). Now, nearly twenty years later a public school ALT's salary is less than ¥2 million p/a, which is impossible to live on. The public school ALT system is now (mostly) based on a daily payment system ¥9-12,000 p/d, which includes transport costs with no stipend payments for the nearly three months of school vacations, public holidays, etc. The Tokyo BOE has stopped using agencies and now hire directly and pay ¥5,000 per hour. However, this is only per hour taught, not per class. Classes are 40-50 minutes and most teachers are only doing one or three classes per day. Furthermore, due to the disgustingly low salary, over 90% of the Tokyo public high school ALTs are from non-native English speaking countries. There are still some lucrative ALT positions available in private high schools, but the competition for these jobs is savage and the salaries are just above the poverty line. Working as an ALT in Japan is no longer a career choice. It's just a job for those who can't do anything else. The salary for junior employees at a convenience store is higher than that of a public school ALT.

7 ( +7 / -0 )


Spot on! Especially Disillusioned! You nailed it. But not only there. Even the Eikaiwa jobs in japan are paying peanuts. Lets face it. Japan has had its day.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

The “A” is not for Awesome it’s for “Assistant”.

Being an Assistant Language teacher in Japan isn’t that awesome, especially if you aren’t a 20 year old newbie.

What is pretty awesome in Japan though is owning your own language school and making it worth your while and time. You also aren’t being an assistant to someone who probably doesn’t know how to teach language.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I've even seen ads on online job sites from foreigners offering to be substitute ALT teachers! Offering their services should an ALT call in sick. sp2266, do you know about that?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This was great read for me. Brought back some memories. Some good. Some bad.

INTERAC- The worst of the worst. Kitakyshu-Kokura company- OWLS ever more worse.

Being an ALT was pretty stress less. Compared to what I do now.

Thank you for sharing JT.

As an ALT for years in Kitakyshu. I always wondered how direct hires went about getting directly hired? I landed in Japan in 2002. So how does one go about being directly hired? Should I decide to fire up the old lamination machine and those frequent trips to Daiso for SS centered game creation? be nice to know how directs get hired. Do miss making those cheesy MEXT language targets a bit more interesting. LOL-----

thepersoniamnow- Really nailed it. If you want to make money in Japan teaching? Start a school.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Well while the author believes this to be true.

I respectfully have to disagree with his idea that this position is AWESOME job.

If i read this years ago I would have believed this, if i wanted to come to japan, or I was just off the boat but I just cannot agree with this view.Yes he has some valid point, but it is not a balanced article.

Here are the reasons why.

Most ALTs are not on permanent contracts and can fired at the whim of the company even if you've been doing the job for years and years.Many will fire you at the end of the year to get around employment laws as you will have had a break in employment.(usually during the summer holidays).Furthermore you are working for a company that had to bid for the contract, and again this implies your job is not secure, and the agency can hire and fire you at will.Further more if you are off sick the company can remove you, and hire another foreigner who may be here for that adventure holiday for a year or two.So it is difficult to get loans because you are a) non Japanese and b) not on a permanent contract. To compound the situation you are loosing out on pension contributions by the employer, which are afforded to permanent employees, and again if you push your rights, you may be fired, because of the contract.

I wonder how many were fired last year just as the new 5 year rule came into being?

On top of that, lets also consider the situation of female staff as the author has talked about it from his perspective which is male. Female workers may loose out of maternity pay, maternity leave, and the right to return to work and maybe the need to take time off for their child. Of course for women who have a permanent contract this is no problem, but again as an ALT you can easily be fired as the ALT providers have a contract to provide an ALT.

If you have worked for the company for 10 years or so, and you ask for a permanent position, with all its benefits that come with it, at the same schools you've worked for ( there must be a job if you've worked for them for the school for so long) but I think you may well find yourself without a job.

I have to completely disagree with the article as it doesn't really show the full situation.

Maybe this is ok if you are young single and without responsibilities, but if you're an older person, married, with children, maybe with health problems, and responsibilities, this is not the AWESOME job that is portrayed here. Maybe so if your just of the boat, but not for long termers.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

It's unbelievable that in 2018 the Japanese government still wastes billions of yen on this stupid "scheme" that gives long holidays to these kids. The government has no money, get rid of this "scheme" which is way past its sell by date.

It is not a "scheme" (not sure why use use speech marks), but I think you mean a 'Programme' which it most certainly is.

I always thought the JET Programme was an enormous waste of money, despite benefiting from it myself. They money should have been spent on training Japanese English teachers to learn English properly.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I wonder if Liam has actually done anything else than be an ALT?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I think one of the points of the scheme isn't just to produce an english speakers, although that may help some kids who really enjoy english, but to give kids a different experience.Eg. actually meeting a foreigner. While it may seem rather poor form to countries like the US.Australia, UK,Canada et al, which are more immigrant accepting, it could be a way to stealthily get younger generations to be more open minded to people from other countries that look different.

I think we need to remember, not every kid wants to learn english just as not every American wants to speak Spanish, but hopefully those that are exposed to another language are more tolerant ,and accepting, of others. I'd rather see this a soft approach to immigration, as not just as LETS MAKE THEN SPEAK ENGLISH. Maybe if people in the US,UK et al were forced to study another language, wether you wanted to or not, for 10+ years we might actually get it.

But lets remember this isn't a job, with the same rights back in your home country, as the author wishes to imply how great it is. It's a scheme, and you will be terminated if you upset the natives, rock the boat, and ask for more than the "SCHEME" is designed to give you.Except for your flight back home.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

¥285,000 per month, which after taxes and the rest comes in at about ¥235,000 per month

¥285,000 per month comes out to more like ¥205,000 take home pay after tax + health insurance + pension + residence tax.


I'm sorry, but you've been an ALT for 13 years and you're making less than new grads make in many other industries. The fact that you've not been able to make any career progress in 13 years is a giant red flag.

We have flexibility with our work that few of my colleagues are afforded. We have weekends and evenings free.

There are many many other jobs that have weekends and evenings free, especially with more global companies. I've not worked a minute of overtime since I came to Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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