Our friend TJ recently did a really great job showing us the differences between teaching English in Taiwan and teaching English in Korea. I wanted to follow up his effort with my own personal experience about the difference between teaching in Taiwan and Japan.
To keep things uniform, I am going to take and answer the exact same questions that TJ did.
Why I decided to teach abroad
I briefly went over how I ended up here on our about section, but there is a little more to the story than that. When I started my secondary education I aimed my studies at business. I quickly became bored and realized that if I didn’t find something that I found more interesting at the time I would never graduate, so I transferred schools and switched my major to Philosophy.
So what happened? Short term, it was great. I liked my time at college and graduated with a B.A. Then upon entering the working world I found out two things. A Philosophy B.A. does not open lots of doors, and many jobs made me feel like I was back studying for a business degree.
After some time in the office lifestyle I decided I didn’t study Philosophy to end up selling insurance. One night while scanning the Internet for other options I stumbled across an ad for an English teaching job in Korea. Up until this time I had no idea that you could make money by teaching English in Taiwan, Korea, Japan, or other countries. I started researching my options, and I eventually settled on Taiwan as I felt it to be the path of least resistance for a beginner.
I started my TEFL lifestyle in Taiwan, but after one year I moved to Tokyo, Japan. To keep this Q&A similar to the format that TJ used, that’s where I am going to start. And for the record, I returned to Taiwan after that one year of teaching in Japan.
Life in Japan
After spending a year in Taiwan I decided to check out Japan. My girlfriend at the time was moving there to study Japanese. My contract in Taiwan was ending, so I thought the idea of living in Tokyo sounded fun and the timing was perfect.
Since we were moving without a lot of guarantees in regards to accommodation, schooling or work, we planned as much as possible before jumping on a plane, but mostly we were just winging it. We found a company called Leo Palace that had some nice newer apartment buildings that were in semi-decent locations.
They were also extremely easy to work with compared to many of the other renters in Japan. The place was small but clean. We moved in our bags and got started setting up the next year of our lives right away.
I entered Japan on a tourist (visitor’s) visa. I had 90 days to hopefully find a job or I was either headed back to Taiwan or back to America. The first thing I discovered was that in Japan there are very few jobs willing to sponsor work visas. If you already have a Japanese work visa your chances of landing a job jump exponentially, but sadly, I didn’t have one.
It took a few weeks but I luckily managed to get an offer from a small language school that was fairly centralized in Tokyo. Like most jobs in Japan it was a 6-day work week. The hours were rough as I often started teaching at 9 a.m. and would finish work at about 8 p.m. Some days were packed with classes while others were full of gaps.
One nice aspect though was that classes were small, and I was paid regardless of whether students showed up or not. And because of the small class sizes, you got to know each student very well. The money was decent, and the school owner was as good of a boss as you could hope for, so like most jobs, it was a mix of good and bad.
Moving (back) to Taiwan
About a year into our Japanese adventure we decided to head back to Taiwan for a variety of reasons. Since this would be my second stint in Taiwan, I already knew what to expect. It was hard to leave such a world class city like Tokyo, but I was really looking forward to being back in a more relaxed atmosphere. Not much had changed in Taiwan, so this back and forth between the two countries really let me compare both places while they were fresh in my mind.
Differences between Taiwan and Japan
When moving to both Taiwan and Japan I didn’t speak one word of Mandarin or Japanese. The tones in Mandarin are tough, and the complexity of Japanese is really rough. Of the two, I personally feel that grabbing some basic Mandarin (as far as speaking and listening) was much easier. Japanese was just way too complex and spoken so quickly that even after a year I had picked up almost nothing naturally.
At that time the salaries in both countries was very relative to their respective costs of living. It was easier to find work in Taiwan though as the visa system offers employers more protection (i.e. it’s more difficult for an employee to run off to another job after acquiring a work visa in Taiwan than Japan). Most jobs in Japan pushed for a 6-day work week, but can easily be avoided in Taiwan if you spend some time on your job hunt.
The difference between my teaching experience and Taiwan and Japan could not be larger. There is so much more micromanagement in Taiwan in many of the larger schools compared to what I experience in Japan.
Japan was extremely relaxed, almost to a fault. While there was much less stress in the classroom in Japan, there was also a lot less accomplished and not much outside support.
Taiwan has given me more to work with as far as classroom material and most schools have a somewhat organized curriculum.
I wish I could give a better comparison here but amazingly I did not once get sick enough to need to visit a doctor while living in the most crowded city in the world. I do want to mention though that one very big reason why I am still in Taiwan versus trying to make a move back to America is due to the Taiwanese healthcare system.
Travel in and around Taiwan is considerably cheaper than Japan. I really wish I saw more of Japan while living there but even traveling between cities was outrageous.
Food and Drinks
This is where Japan wins hands down. I like a lot about Taiwan, but even in Taiwan, Japanese food is better. Tokyo also had more access to high quality western food, but Taiwan has made tremendous strides over the last few years. I still miss real Japanese ramen though.
I have enjoyed my time in both Taiwan and Japan. While I often miss Japan I know a lot of that is nostalgia. It was a great place to live and work, but I feel that the reason why I first came to Taiwan still holds true today, and that is that it’s an easier and more accommodating place for foreigners long-term.