Teaching Abroad in Japan: Guest Post from Kaylee

Hello and konnichiwa everyone!

I’m Kaylee from Canada and I moved abroad straight after university and started teaching a little over a year ago. Unlike many other teachers abroad, I don’t live in the countryside or a small town, I live in one of the largest cities in the world: Tokyo, Japan!

Even for someone like me who’s lived in big cities my whole life (New York, Shanghai, Taipei, Vancouver), the sheer size and of Tokyo was overwhelming to me! It can take up to 3 hours on the trains there to travel from one side of the city to the other.  I teach at an all girls school located about 40 minutes west of downtown Tokyo in an area called Higashimurayama (meaning ‘village east of the mountain’). 

When most people think of Tokyo, they think of places like the Shibuya crossing (the world’s busiest intersection) or Harajuku. My area is what I like the call ’the inaka of the city.' Inaka is the Japanese word for countryside, so in the countryside, there aren’t really any high rises in my area.

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And instead of an overcrowded train with sweaty businessmen and the never-ending slur of announcements over the intercom system, this is my morning commute: 

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In Japan, there are usually 3 different types of high schools:
  1. public- where most of the students go, high level; 
  2. private- where certain students go if their grades are high enough and they can afford the tuition;
  3. low level private- where students pay to go because they couldn’t get into any of the public schools. 
Guess which one I teach in?

My school is ranked as one of the lowest level high schools in Tokyo. Only about 30% of the students go to university, others go to a vocational school or start working straight out of high school, and of course there are a select few that get married and start popping out kids within 2 years of graduating! Most of my students come to the school because it’s one of the only ones in the city that allows high schoolers to have part time jobs. Many of them are from low-income families, single parents households, and some are orphans who live in a group home in the area so they need to be able to work during the school year. 

Although it is one of the worst ranked schools in Tokyo, we’re really famous for our sports teams! Our school softball team is ranked in the top 5 in Tokyo, and one of my former students is a professional snowboarder working her way towards the Olympic snowboarding team! This is a photo from the annual Sports Festival at my school this past May.

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At school, I teach conversational English to the students in 10th and 12th grade. Because I don’t speak Japanese, there is always a Japanese English teacher in the classroom with me to help translate when needed and to keep the students in line (they can get very rowdy sometimes since there’s around 40 of them in each class!). 

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Since I came to Japan on the JET Programme (Japanese Exchange and Teaching Programme run by the government), a large part of my job is also cultural exchange. I teach a lot of lessons about Canada and also conversational lessons for students who are planning to do a semester long exchange in Victoria. 

Unlike the schools back at home, in Japan the teachers all work in the teacher’s office, and instead of the students running around the different classrooms, the teachers go to each room to teach their lessons. 

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In Japan, the students and teachers are responsible for keeping the school clean, so instead of having a janitor, there’s a schedule which rotates between each class and grade, and the classes take turns coming into school earlier to clean before classes begin. Once a week, there’s also a school-wide cleaning session. Instead of having lessons on the last period, all of the teachers and students will get together and scrub down the school. 

Outside of school, I usually spend my weeknights out with friends for dinner or at my Japanese lessons before heading home to my 23 square metre apartment (considered big compared to the homes of other English teachers!).

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On the weekends I do a lot of day trips with my friends to different areas around Tokyo. On the longer holidays I try to take trips to further places in Japan; most recently Okinawa! I’m lucky that I have a big group of friends who are also English teachers in Tokyo so I always have someone to do these things with.

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One thing that’s constantly amazed me about Japan is how different each place is even though the country isn’t really that small. There’s so much local culture to explore that even after a year of living here, I still haven’t made it to all places that I wanted to go. In fact, I think my list has gotten longer with all the suggestions from the local teachers!

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If you’re curious about Japanese school culture, I highly suggest watching any Japanese drama about high school life! Before I moved here I would have never said that! Japanese television is known for over-exaggerating characters and the cartoon-like acting, but after working here for a year, I can definitely see the resemblance! From teachers screaming down the hall to the graduation ceremonies complete with a marching band and cheerleaders to the teacher enkais (work parties) where teachers don the school uniform and rainbow wigs and dance around to the worst hits of the 80s. 

Living and working here is definitely an experience that I’d recommend to any teacher working abroad! I’m so happy to share my stories with everyone, so thank you Lindsay for including me in this. I’m so excited to read about the experiences of other teachers around the world!

Kaylee is a Canadian trained teacher currently teaching in Japan.Displaying IMG_3715.JPGDisplaying IMG_3715.JPG 

You can follow her teaching and travel adventures on Instagram!

Thank you for checking in on this week's #WorldWideWednesday post! Come back next week when we move from Tokyo to Okinawa, Japan! Next weeks post will be a little different, and from the perspective of a Music teacher, so be sure to check in!

** I apologize for not posting the guest post from China last week. The author was ill and was unable to complete the post.**


  1. This is super interesting! I had no idea how schooling worked in Japan. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I didn't either, I thought it was interesting too! Don't you think we should adopt the idea of the students being responsible to clean the schools?? :)

  2. This sounds fascinating! How long is the exchange for?

    1. It's a year long contract, but renewable for up to five years!

  3. i can't see any pictures - it just says 'in line image here'