Drops in language professional salaries in Japan: Not always good for either side

Richard Miller


Recently there have been several concerns raised at various conferences, as well as emails by readers, on the seemingly falling remuneration rates being offered for new job positions (in both part-time and full time categories). While simple economics dictate that the supply and demand of a market finds equilibrium, it might be easy to extrapolate that some employers will attempt to maximize profit through attaining the lowest wages that are possible. But, as various factors go into decisions people make when agreeing to work, employers should be cautioned that profit comes in many forms, and that they risk the loss of quality and professionalism with attempts to lower the remuneration offered to the lowest that they can get away with. To illustrate, I’ll use two examples of full time and part-time employment offers. 

The first example is a major university paying ¥300,000 per month for 12 classes per week (spread over 6 days). In this instance, the university hiring committee has requested that the teachers work at the university full time and do extra duties including contributing to the university in meetings. In other words, expecting the teachers to act like a professional part of the university. It behooves the university to attempt to treat professionals as professionals and not as employees who get paid the lowest that they can get away with. It is hardly surprising that there is a high turnover rate amongst the teaching staff as they find other positions and quickly leave the institution. One other thing that does happen is that there are potentially other hiring committees who are influenced by the ads that they see and assume that these working conditions are an acceptable industry level. 

The second example is for a part-time position, looking for qualified TESOL (professionals) with an extremely low wage equivalent of ¥1,333 per hour. When taking transportation, preparation, and any other duties into account, the actual hourly rate is much lower. This is because unlike other part-time jobs, such as those with similar hourly wages at fast food restaurants, teaching jobs require work outside of the actual teaching contact time (in duties such as preparation, feedback/grading, and meetings). In addition, the teaching is rarely 8 hours at a time, (and if it is long hours, that in itself can be exhausting). 

After having been both an employee on a poorly paying contract as well as having been on the policy-making side of the contract equation (deciding on what to offer a contract lecturer), I would have suggestions for both sides. Those in charge of hiring should consider that what is posted by others as a contract salary is just an offer for a position and not necessarily the best for their institution. It is one offer for employment by an institution or individual, and not necessarily the industry norm, and by trying to lower the costs, it most likely will end up costing more in the long run. After all, it is often the students who pay the most in loss of teacher quality and professionalism. On the other side, for those unfortunate enough to be in need of work and taking a position that pays inadequately, I always recommend that one act professionally and give enough notice when quitting after finding a better position. But, keep looking and believing that something better will come along, and as you search, keep strengthening your CV.