Why I love being a kindergarten teacher in Japan

kindergarten teacher tokyo japan

Your job isn’t any more important than mine, asshole.

“When are you going to get a real job?” is something that has been said to me a few times in the past. Last night I was in a bar and I got talking to a guy who was a TEFL university lecturer. When I told him I was a kindergarten teacher he replied “oh well.” This kind of response really pisses me off, especially since he had just spent the last fifteen minutes telling me how much he hated his job. In his eyes though, he has a ‘real job’ – which is all that counts. He can tell people that he is a TEFL university lecturer and he can write it on his shitty little CV.

I had a ‘real job’. I had a ‘career’. I had the stress, the deadlines, the bullshit. I worked in the advertising industry for seven years as a writer, and towards the end hated my job and hated myself. As a creative person, having to put your creativity on the line day-in day-out is exhausting.Β I still freelance now and again but I have to say I don’t miss the full-time agency lifestyle – and I’ve told myself if I go back into the field again it’ll be writing about stuff I care about.

I’ve said many times before that taking a break from the creative industry was the best thing I ever did for my own creativity. I write more, I draw more, I do more of everything. But as well as that, I actually like my job now. I enjoy getting up and going to work. Yes it’s tiring and yes the kids are essentially just 3ft walking germs, but I 100%Β smile more in this job than I have done in any other job in my whole life.

It’s fun!

Holy shit, a job that’s fun. That’s a rarity. Not many of them about these days. The enthusiasm, energy and happiness that you find in a Japanese kindergarten is contagious. Teaching at this level is as fun and rewarding as you want it to be. Put the effort in and the kids and teachers will love having you around and vice versa.


Water battle!

You learn a lot about Japan

Kids start Japanese kindergarten at three years old. They arrive at nine in the morning and stay until two in the afternoon, five days a week. It’s not just playing with toys, in fact there’s very little of that (virtually none at my school apart from on special days). As well as learning English and hiragana, the kids have an opportunity to improve motor skills and creativity through crafts, sport and music. One main other thing they learn about is Japanese culture, and as a kindergarten teacher you get to learn about all these cool things too. In this sense I’m often at the same level as the kids: we are all experiencing these things for the first time together, throwing beans for setsubun, pounding mochi for mochitsuki, or tying a wish to a tree for tanabata.


Field trip to the airport: teaching the kids about travel

You learn a lot about yourself

I’m an only child with no cousins. That’s pretty rare I reckon. Growing up it was just me. I was never surrounded by babies, or brothers of sisters or any of that. I never knew if I wanted kids because I had no basis to form an opinion. It wasn’t until I became a kindergarten teacher that I realised kids aren’t simply screaming bundles of misery. They are actually cool little people.


The unveiling of a new slide takes on almost biblical proportions

Long story short, there’s nothing to be ashamed of at being a kindergarten teacher. In fact it takes a certain type of person to be able to do it well.

If you are thinking of becoming one in Japan I say go for it. Might just be the most rewarding thing you ever do.

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  1. Hello! I came across your blog while doing research on Japanese kindergartens. I really enjoy your writing! Is it okay if you could share on how you managed to land a job in a Japan kindergarten? It will be really helpful as I’m planning to do something similar. Thanks for your help!!

  2. Hi! I’m so sorry for the late reply. Thanks for the kind comments πŸ™‚ I actually got my job from Ireland: I applied online, did a few skype interviews then was offered a position. I flew over and that was that. Saying that, I had taught in Japan before so that helped. One thing is that you need a university degree to teach here. It can be in anything but you do need one…So if you don’t have a degree you’re kinda stumped. The best sites are gaijinpot and ohayo sensei to search for jobs. 70% of them will require you to already be in Japan but the rest will be willing to accept overseas applications. Good luck on your search! I really do love my job but it is tiring and you get sick a lot cos of the germs kids have. Also, you are with the kids non stop, you eat lunch with them and everything so if you need downtime forget it! All the best, any more questions I’m here to help. Justin

  3. kimlisa

    Hy Justin.
    I am a kindergarten teacher from Switzerland and just came across your blog while searching for jobs – in Switzerland actually, so don’t know how I got here. ^^ To be honest, even here in Switzerland people always look down on our job, but as soon as one tells them “what the hell we do the whole day”, they drop their jaws and shut up for once. πŸ™‚
    How many hours do you work in a week? And what does your kindergarten look like?

  4. Beverly

    Hello my name is Beverly, I am aiming to be a kindergarten teacher in Japan :)) Im in college in California studying child development. I want to know more about this like how much is the median salary in a year, and what location is the best for a newbie like me to be at. πŸ˜›

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  6. Kyushu Teacher

    Man, you nailed it exactly. I am also a kindergarten teacher in Japan. I’ve traveled a lot of paths (Air Force, Elementary School Teacher, Administrator, but nothing… nothing comes close to the joy I feel every day when I walk into our school. The energy, innocence and joy of the kids renews me every day.

    As for the self righteous asshole in the bar, like so many others in this world, his life is predicated on how he appears to others and anytime you look to others for approval and acceptance and respect you will be disappointed.

    Beautiful, smiling, joyful children – this is a blessing that allows one to stay young at heart. And of course they teach us that life is beautiful and something to be celebrated and enjoyed.

    Peace and light, brother. Very nice job!

  7. soon-to-be-graduate

    Hello! Loved this piece. I am a US college student (nearing the end of my study abroad in Tokyo) and will be graduating in December of this year. I have been job hunting in Japan, but I realized that I don’t think an office job is for me. I, too, am an only child and absolutely love children. I’ve volunteered in a daycare before, and am seriously considering the path to being a daycare or kindergarten teacher if possible. I will have a Bachelor’s degree, however it is not related to the educational field. Did you need to obtain a license such as a Hoikushi license? What kind of requirements were needed? I’d like to get a head start on obtaining whatever it is I will need to start looking for a job once I graduate. Any help would be appreciated!

  8. I’m sorry, I just noticed your comment! If you graduate in December my best advice is to apply then as that’s the best time: the school term starts in March. As long as you have a degree that’s OK – it doesn’t have to be in Education. Also, you don’t need a license, just a degree for your visa. Check gaijinpot and ohayo sensei for jobs and don’t accept under 250,000. Good luck!

  9. Your article is awesome. It reignited my excited to look for work in Japan. I have a TESLO/TESL certificate from Oxford Seminars to teach English abroad, in addition to a bachelor’s degree. What should I look out for when negotiating the terms of my contract? I’d like to teach in Sapporo, I’ve heard that new teachers get jobs in rural areas (small towns).

  10. hey where are you in japan
    actually i want to work in kindergarten as well
    and i live in kyoto right now
    what do i need
    do i need toefl or ielts ceritificate and what about my japanese skill
    and i read you said any university degree is accepted so even i took bussiness as my major i can work there
    ill be waiting for your answer and you can reply me by sending email to iamkimrena@gmail.com
    have a nice day buddy

  11. Maria

    Hi justin! I really find your blog helpful and informative. I was looking for a kindergarten job in japan and while doing some research I discovered your blog. I’am working in a bank for 4 years now, its a good career though I don’t feel that I enjoy what I do. I believe that teaching kids is my calling. I love children πŸ™‚
    My concern is do i have to be fluent in nihongo in order to land a job as teacher or basic nihongo will do?
    Did you directly pass your application to the school or been through an agency or what ?
    I’ll be waiting for your reply πŸ™‚
    Thank very much!!

  12. Japanese isn’t essential but basic Japanese will certainly help your chances as you need to be able to to talk to teachers a bit and also know when kids are asking important stuff like for a drink or toilet etc. It’s rare that a (big) school will hire you directly: most companies hire teachers then send them out to kindergartens. Dunno if you saw this post but check it out for more info: https://ikimasho.net/2014/06/21/becoming-a-kindergarten-teacher-in-japan/
    Good luck!

  13. Jabeen Muneeb

    hi I will rather come to the point πŸ˜‰ I am also willing to start as kindergarten teacher as my husband is moving to Sendai Japan. I want to ask, is IELTS or any other certification is required to teach in kindergarten, I have a degree of BA. and 2nd thing is their any good kindergarten schools in Sendai Japan.
    waiting for your rply. thanks

  14. As long as you have a BA that’s all you need – you do not need IELTS or any other certification. I have never visited Sendai so I am not sure about any good schools there, sorry! Good luck πŸ™‚

  15. usherer

    I came from a communications/advertising background as well. After 10 yrs, I’m now studying to do be a kindergarten teacher. I come from a small family, am single, don’t plan to have kids but love my nephew to bits, and am a little nervous about dealing with kids. This entry really strikes a chord with me. To be honest, I have been struggling with “is this a ‘real’ job? I’ll just be a babysitter to: the parents, friends who have to deal with numbers (the corporate sort)/politics and local communities (international NGOs) etc–even to myself, as I came from these backgrounds”. Do you think this is something you will do forever (as far as you can see)?

  16. Thanks for your comment! Dont be nervous about dealing with kids, it’s easy! And if you dont plan on having any yourself – and this sounds awful – it’s a great way to get the best of both worlds. You have fun with them during the day then give them back to the parents! Put it like this, it’s a no-stress (at times…) and happy job. An office job is not. So you’ve made the right decision – and sure, if it doesn’t work out you still have your ‘old’ career to fall back on. Good luck πŸ™‚

  17. usherer

    hey, just found this page and your response. 90-min commutes are not nice. I’ve done that before – while working in a B2B content marketing job, so, double hell…Hope your commuting options are better when you get back into teaching.

    I’m Asian (100%! i.e. not from the US or UK etc), and am planning to work in East Asia in future, so, it may be that I’ll be getting a lower pay than you, cos we Asians like our English teachers to be foreigners! Having said that, I think kindy teachers in general are not known for high salaries across the world. I’m guessing you’re in your late 20s? early 30s? And you said you will stick to teaching, does that mean this job does answer pragmatic concerns (e.g. round-the world travels!, saving up for retirement)?

    I’ve just come up with some initial lesson plans for my upcoming placement as part of my studies, and I’m teaching about multiculturalism/awareness of disabilities/environmentalism. It feels so good I’m writing about things I genuinely care about, and not having to churn out copy that the client and the team despise, and will vanish into thin air 3 weeks after being published. And teaching is based on love and seeing the whole in everything, rather than fear and desire that advertising aims to create. I feel like I’m emerging a better person. Sorry for gushing. I think you’re quite a sensitive soul, and I’m so happy to find another former comms (con?)-person in early childhood education!

    [will check ‘keep me posted about new comments” this time]

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  19. Lia

    Been following you through FB. I’m a KG Teacher too in Indonesia. This brings tears for me, ganbatte! Hope someday I can go to Japan and meet you!

  20. I-looooove-kids!

    Waaah! Stumbled upon your entry (https://ikimasho.net/2014/06/21/becoming-a-kindergarten-teacher-in-japan/) and now I’m here (haha!), I’m so jealous! I’m looking for a KG teacher position in Japan and it’s really hard because most companies favor native-born English speakers over a bilingual with English as the second language. I’m from the Philippines by the way. I have a University Degree and a TEFL certificate but no relevant experience just yet. I’m not giving up of course. I love being around kids so much because of their innocence and how they make me smile and feel young at heart and…I don’t know, there’s just something about them. Maybe it’s the baby powder. XD

    Kudos and more power! πŸ™‚

  21. Thanks so much for your email – you sound like you really want it so DON’T GIVE UP!! Unfortunately because you are from ppines it’s a bit harder for you to get a job than people from UK and USA but it’s not impossible! Please let me know if you find a job! Justin

  22. Hi! Kayla here from the Philippines. I just discovered your blog and I’m enjoying it! Came here to read up on Tokyo since I’m visiting in the near future and was pleasantly surprised to find about your KG adventures! I’m a kindergarten teacher myself (I actually started a few months ago) who dropped corporate life ’cause it’s unbearably toxic. Had a good laugh about kids being “3 ft. walking germs” which is undoubtedly true– I often have a runny nose and cough haha! Keep up the awesome job as a teacher and as a creative! You found yourself a loyal follower here. Can’t wait for your next post! πŸ™‚

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