The Language Teacher
Considerations for Securing an English Teaching Position at a Japanese University (Part 1)
University of Tokushima
Securing employment at a Japanese university can seem an impossible proposition. It is not unusual to hear assertions that such jobs can only be had through personal connections, that only PhD's need apply, that you need publications, that you must be a new graduate, and so on. As in any field of employment in any country, there is a degree of truth to many such assertions; however, securing a job at a Japanese university is little different from securing any job anywhere: Research the job you want, acquire the requisite credentials and experience, meet the requirements, and apply.
Clarification of Terminology
A clarification of relevant Japanese terminology should benefit readers both inside and outside Japan, although it must be said that some of the following terms' meanings are changeable. Terms for teaching positions' names, in English, were compared and taken from Japanese colleagues, the Monbukagakusho (Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture, see below) and Japan Information Network (1999; hereafter, JIN) sites and Aldwinkle (1999).
Monbusho, now properly known as Monbukagakusho: the Japanese Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture, on the web in English at www.mext.go.jp/english/.
- daigaku: a university or college
- tanki daigaku, often abbreviated as tandai: a junior college
- kyouju: professor
- joukyouju: assistant professor
- koushi: lecturer
- joushu: assistant
- gaikokujin kyoushi: literally a "foreigner teacher" but often translated as a "visiting lecturer," a full-time position for a foreign national who is not treated as a Japanese national
- gaikokujin kyouin: a full-time position held by a foreigner who is treated as a Japanese national, which means Japanese ability is usually required and position will likely be tied to age
- university: a four-year college
- junior college: a two- or three-year college
As can be seen from the list above, there are many types of positions at Japanese universities, as at universities elsewhere. For those seeking positions, the Japanese position title is more important in terms of expected job conditions than the English title. This article will focus on gaikokujin kyoushi positions, since these are positions created specifically for foreigners and are probably far more common than gaikokujin kyouin positions; these two terms for positions may be used differently at private institutions. Those seeking gaikokujin kyouin positions in particular might be interested in reading, in Japanese, Daigaku Kyouju ni naru Houhou (Washida, 1991) and Shin Daigaku Kyouju ni naru Houhou (Washida, 2001), the latter a collection of the author's serial articles on the topic of securing university employment that were published in the October 1998 to June 2001 issues of the Japanese magazine Executive. Both books deal specifically with securing positions at Japanese universities, for Japanese, although they both contain information applicable to foreigners as well. It should be noted here that "[g]enerally speaking, as a native English speaker, you need an MA to teach in universities..." (Kitao & Kitao, 1996). Anecdotal evidence suggests that those seeking English teaching positions should have degrees in linguistics, applied linguistics, or TESOL.
Japanese Universities, Present and Future
There are 1,221 universities and junior colleges in Japan: 119 national, 127 other public, and 975 private (Monbukagakusho, 2001h, 2001d). In 2000, there were 5,038 foreigners teaching in some capacity at universities and 496 at junior colleges (Monbukagakusho, 2001c, 2001b). Out of the total 137,568 part-time teachers at universities, foreigners numbered 8,780; out of 33,852 part-timers at junior colleges, 1,754 (Monbukagakusho, 2001c & 2001b). According to Monbukagakusho (2001f), the number of incoming university students actually increased fairly steadily from 132,296 in 1955 to 599,655 in 2000. The total number of university students has also increased (Monbukagakusho, 2001g; Japan Information Network, 2001c), a pattern which applies to the number of university teachers as well (Japan Information Network, 2001b). For junior colleges from 1981 to 2001, the numbers are grim, with enrollment peaking at 530,924 in 1993 and declining steadily to 289,199 in 2001 (Monbukagakusho, 2001e, 2001g), a pattern reflected in the number of teachers (Japan Information Network, 2001a). It seems likely that the continued growth in university enrollment is coming at the expense of junior colleges.
Expected declining enrollments and shrinking government budgets will hit junior colleges and, I expect, new universities with unproven track records the hardest. Another concern is the eventual privatization of national universities, which "will become self-governing entities in fiscal 2004" ("Colleges," 2002); privatization and its possible resulting closures, mergers, and downsizing may well spread to public universities and junior colleges as well. Januzzi and Mulvey (2002) claim that "[a]ccording to the OECD, Japan's high school population of 2 million is predicted to drop to 1.2 million by the year 2010," which highlights the universities' future difficulties. To illustrate their current financial difficulties, consider the following from the magazine J@pan, Inc.:
The percentage of Japan's high school graduates who will enter a 4-year or 2-year junior college reached 48.6 percent, according to data from the Ministry of Education, Science, Sports, and Technology. That's up by about 10 percentage points from a decade ago. Unfortunately, last year about 30 percent of Japan's private universities and half of its junior colleges failed to attract a full enrollment, which means they'll admit almost [anyone] who can pay the tuition. Some parents have begun shopping for bargains. ("Blowfish," 2002, p. 56)
In short, a person applying to a Japanese university is advised to research the institution carefully, a point discussed more fully below, because the university in question might already be living on borrowed time. While this author would not presume to predict which specific institutions, or even fields of study, are the safest, some thought to this should be given. With the gradual withdrawal of Monbukagakusho, changes in employment policies for both Japanese and foreigners are possible. Certainly the possibility exists that foreigners in contract positions may find themselves out of work if the funding that Monbukagakusho currently provides subsequently disappears.
What a University or Junior College Position Can Offer
University and junior college teaching positions can vary widely by conditions of employment. However, most offer salaries comparable to those offered in universities in other developed countries as well as bonuses, limited teaching hours, long vacations between semesters, research leave options, and private office space. Though exact benefits may vary by institution, below is a list of some benefits taken from the author's and his colleagues' job contracts, and from Aldwinkle (1999): A weekly maximum of 14 teaching hours, which means seven 90-minute classes a week; bonuses in the summer and winter, totaling about five months' salary; a domestic research allowance (kenkyuuhi) to cover the costs of transportation and housing related to research expenditures; an equipment budget, which may or may not be shared among colleagues; free housing, subsidized housing, or a subsidy payment for privately arranged housing; access to the institution's facilities, particularly its library and printing facilities; reimbursements for moving expenses to and from and within Japan; free round-trip tickets to your home country point of origin once every couple of years; and an office that typically includes Internet access. Some institutions will also provide unemployment and health insurance, shitsugyou houken and kenkou houken, respectively. Attendance at faculty meetings may be required. The main vacation periods tend to be mid-February to the end of March, late July to the end of September, and two weeks roughly centered on the new year. Some universities will require you to be present during these periods; others may require that your absence be explained, such as being away on officially documented foreign research leave. Yet others will ask only that you return by the end of the vacation period. For gaikokujin kyoushi positions, you will likely be required to sign a one-year contract; if the hiring institution's advertisement states a fixed period, such as "renewable up to three years," your chances of being asked to leave before reaching the limit are quite low, so do not worry about whether your contract will be renewed once you have been hired; however, your chances of staying beyond the stated limit are likely zero.
Finding Open Positions
Contrary to conventional wisdom, most Japanese universities do advertise some or all of their positions. In 2000, 96 of 99 national universities, 67 of 72 public universities, and 249 of 480 private universities publicly announced teaching positions (Monbukagakusho, 2001a). Though every issue of The Language Teacher provides a list of Internet job resources, as well as jobs, under the section title "Web Corner" (see, for example, "Web Corner," 2002), I would like to provide a supplementary list, with comments as to the selection of jobs listed. Perhaps the best source for locating a Japanese university position is the Japan Research Career Information Network (hereafter, JRECIN; jrecin.jst.go.jp). Some other online resources that occasionally carry Japanese university positions include Dave's ESL Cafe (www.eslcafe.com), TESOL's freely accessible job site (tesol.jobcontrolcenter.com), the Chronicle of Higher Education's Career Network (chronicle.com/jobs), the Linguist List's "Jobs in Linguistics" (www.linguistlist.org/jobsindex.html) the American Association for Applied Linguistics (aaaljobs.lang.uiuc.edu/current.asp), and DaiJob.com (www.daijob.com), which lists positions in Japan for numerous career fields. Job postings also occasionally appear in language-related email lists, many of which can be joined freely; information on such email lists can be found at the Linguist List website (www.linguistlist.org/lists.html) and (www.ling.lancs.ac.uk/staff/visitors/kenji/lis-ling.htm). For job openings in print, some departments collect job advertisements, which may or may not be displayed openly; at the first Japanese institution where I worked, such lists were posted in front of the departmental library; you should enquire about such advertisements at the institution nearest you. Various periodicals offer university and junior college job advertisements, for example, in English, The Language Teacher and, rarely, The Japan Times; in Japanese, the Eigo Seinen (www.kenkyusha.co.jp/guide/mag/sei-hen.html) and Shin Eigo Kyouiku (www.shin-eiken.com), both of which are published monthly.
According to Washida (2001, p. 157-162), the five key points for securing a Japanese university job are sending out résumés, applying for advertised jobs, asking your professor (if you are still a student) for leads, asking relevant organizations' committee heads, and lastly asking family and friends. Neither I nor any of my colleagues has used the so-called "cold calling" technique of sending unsolicited résumés to various universities, departments, or individual professors. Akin to junk mail, such résumés or requests are apparently discarded without further consideration, even when forwarded to faculty members in charge of hiring. However, positions requiring immediate filling, which can limit competition to whoever has documents on hand, can and do open abruptly; an unsolicited résumé can thus become serendipitous for both applicant and institution. That said, people considering this approach would do well to apply at or near the end of the spring or fall semesters, mid-February to late March (in preparation for the Japanese fiscal year starting April 1st) and September, respectively, when most staff turnover problems occur.
Although others might disagree, I feel you should not overlook limited term positions, especially if you're just beginning an academic career in Japan, since they are a good way to get your foot in the door; moreover, such jobs expand your range of opportunities (Washida, 2001, p. 133). Of course, once you get a job, you should work hard so you can become eligible to step up to better positions, if possible, in the same or a different university (Washida, 2001, p. 135). Part-time university work can also help you in your applications to full-time positions; however, for those who lose their university positions, taking part-time jobs to bide time in the hope of securing another full-time position during a later hiring season can unfairly mark you with the stigma of failure.
In the second part of this article, I will provide information useful for researching and applying to Japanese institutions. Some of the topics to be presented include the importance of publications, publication strategies, resumes, Japanese ability, and interview questions.
Aldwinkle, D. (1999). 10+ questions for your next university employer. The Language Teacher, 23(7): 14-17.
Blowfish. (2002). J@pan, Inc., 30: 56.
Colleges get free reign in FY 2004. (2002). The Asahi Shimbun. Retrieved June 14, 2002, from www.asahi.com/english/national/K2002032800411.html.
Jannuzi, C. & Mulvey, B. (2002). Japan's post-secondary education system: A vast job market for ESL teachers? Retrieved June 14, 2002, from www.eltnews.com/columns/japanteachingguide/universities2.shtml.
Japan Information Network. (1999). Education. Retrieved June 14, 2002, from jin.jcic.or.jp/today/society/society5.html.
Japan Information Network. (2001a). Number of junior college teachers (F.Y. 1984-2001). Retrieved June 14, 2002, from jin.jcic.or.jp/stat/stats/16EDU48.html.
Japan Information Network. (2001b). Number of university professors and instructors (F.Y. 1984-2001). Retrieved June 14, 2002, from jin.jcic.or.jp/stat/stats/16EDU49.html.
Japan Information Network. (2001c). Number of university students (F.Y. 1984-2001). Retrieved June 14, 2002, from http://jin.jcic.or.jp/stat/stats/16EDU59.html.
Kitao, K., & Kitao, S. K. (1996). English language education in Japan: An overview. Retrieved June 14, 2002, from www.ling.lancs.ac.uk/staff/visitors/kenji/kitao/int-teij.htm.
Monbukagakusho. (2001a). Daigaku kyouin no ninkiseido no dounyuu joutai [Introductory condition of limited contracts for university professors]. Retrieved June 14, 2002, from www.mext.go.jp/b_menu/houdou/13/12/011224f.htm.
Monbukagakusho. (2001b). Full time teachers by type of position (junior colleges). Retrieved June 14, 2002, from www.mext.go.jp/english/statist/gif/91.gif.
Monbukagakusho. (2001c). Full time teachers by type of position (universities). Retrieved June 14, 2002, from www.mext.go.jp/english/statist/gif/90.gif.
Monbukagakusho. (2001d). Junior colleges. Retrieved June 14, 2002, from www.mext.go.jp/english/statist/gif/81b.gif.
Monbukagakusho. (2001e). New entrants (junior colleges). Retrieved June 14, 2002, from www.mext.go.jp/english/statist/gif/94-95b.gif.
Monbukagakusho. (2001f). New entrants (universities). Retrieved June 14, 2002, from www.mext.go.jp/english/statist/gif/94-95a.gif.
Monbukagakusho. (2001g). Students, 1948-2000. Retrieved June 14, 2002, from www.mext.go.jp/english/statist/gif/24-27.gif.
Monbukagakusho. (2001h). Universities. Retrieved June 14, 2002, from www.mext.go.jp/english/statist/gif/81a.gif.
Washida, K. (1991). Daigaku kyouju ni naru houhou [Methods for becoming a university professor]. Tokyo: Seikyusha.
Washida, K. (2001). Shin daigaku kyouju ni naru houhou [New methods for becoming a university professor]. Tokyo: Diamondosha.
Web corner. (2002). The Language Teacher, 26(5): 36-37.
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