“Workin’ For A Livin” [PART 2]: More On Finding Work In Okinawa


Finding work in Okinawa is always a hot topic among my readers and viewers. Everyone wants to know the key to getting into a solid position and starting a life on this beautiful island in southern Japan. Unfortunately the answers to these questions are not quite as cut and dry as I am sure people would prefer. Often times they change from year to year. . . sometimes even more frequently. In fact the last “Workin’ For A Livin” post that I made was in February of this year (2014) and things have already changed.

So what has changed and what has stayed the same? First and foremost let’s talk about what has stayed the same. For the most part there are still three main options for foreigners seeking employment here in Okinawa. These include being an English teacher, working for the US Government or being a contractor. Of course there are a number of other options for those with specialized skills and fluency in the Japanese language but we’re going to stick to the basics again in this post. What has changed are the technicalities and details that goes along with each option. I’ll go into the specifics in detail throughout this post.

The first thing I want to discuss is being an English teacher here in Okinawa. Working as an English teacher here is in some ways very similar to teaching English in other parts of the country although there are some distinct differences. These differences are centered around supply and demand. Here in Okinawa there is not a very high demand for English teachers because of the size of the island. There is also an endless supply of English speaking foreigners, thanks to the US Military presence, making it easy to fill positions. Companies also benefit from hiring military personnel because they do not require visa sponsorship, benefits and are often will accept what would otherwise be considered an unfair wage. So what has changed with English teaching? Although the number of English teaching jobs here in Okinawa has not increased in the past few months there have been a few changes that those seeking employment in this area might want to take note of. First is education. Although to get a visa teaching English in Japan you’ll need a BA many people have often got by without needing any degree in order to work as an English teacher here in Okinawa. Nowadays however this is stating to change. We are seeing many more English school requiring that people have at least a BA or BS. In a number of cases schools are also requesting that English teachers have specific teaching qualifications (including a degree in Education and/or teaching certifications) as well as experience teaching English as a second language. I’ve also noticed in recent months that some English schools are being much more particular about where their employees live. Some schools are even going so far as to turn down employees based on the fact that they live in an area that, according to the school, is too far away. This is actually something that has happened to me multiple times within the past 6 months. We’re not talking major distances either. Schools about 45 minutes away from my home, which are within what I consider a reasonable commute, have turned me down because I live what they feel is too far from the school.

The next area to discuss is working with the US Government. This used to be a fantastic option for Americans wanting to live in Okinawa because being home to over 30 US Military bases the island had quite a few options available. However, things have changed quite a bit. The US Government has definitely started to tighten their belt when it comes to hiring people who are not currently military spouses or active duty military members. There have also been a huge decrease in the number of jobs which offer visa status. This makes it tremendously difficult for someone who is not military or married to a military member to find a job with the US Government here in Okinawa. Requirements are also changing. More and more entry level jobs which have not required a degree for the past decade are now requiring a BA or certifications. These jobs include such areas as working at the commissary or as a tour guide. Others are requiring that their employees be bilingual in order to be considered. In my opinion this takes working for the US Government of the list as an employment option for those wanting to live in Okinawa because it’s just not feasible. Then again these things change so frequently that I may be singing a different tune here in the next few months.

Finally let’s take a moment to talk about becoming a contractor here in Okinawa. Not much has really changed in this area. It is still a trickily area because contract work can be unsteady and unreliable. However, overall there has been no major changes to how hit or miss getting a contracting job can be. You can read all about finding a job as a contractor in the original “Workin’ for a Livin” post.

LIke anywhere else Okinawa has it’s challenges and advantages when it comes to finding a job. In recent months I would definitely go so far as to say the challenges are outweighing the advantages. As always it takes a great deal of effort to find a job and Okinawa is no exception to that rule. At the end of the day, however, it is worth it to live on the beautiful island of Okinawa. . . . if that’s what you’re looking for.

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11 thoughts on ““Workin’ For A Livin” [PART 2]: More On Finding Work In Okinawa

  1. I can see why Japan’s limiting its English teaching requirements. Japan’s already feeling the depression of artificially weakening their yen (thanks to Abenomics), and in places as poor as Okinawa, it’s hitting everyone hard. Schools are supposed to pay for transportation or commuting costs outside of city limits. We’re talking 1500 yen here, 1800 yen there, per month. That’s about 16,500 yen for 11 months. (Of course, money goes into useless textbooks, end-of-the-year parties, and other unnecessary costs.)

    The best way to get a job in Okinawa is to get your Bachelor’s degree, get a teaching certification with over 60 hours of coursework, and learn Japanese and Japanese customs (how to do a resume, how to dress for the interview, what to say to those conducting the interview including the regular staff) because you’re competing against Japanese natives who have Bachelor’s degrees in teaching English and can speak English fluently.

    • Thanks for your comment Jb! I wish it were as simple as simply doing what you suggest but the environment down here is very different from what it’s “supposed” to be. The main competitor down here is actually not the Japanese but US Military members. Unlike the rest of us they don’t require a visa, benefits and most will work for pay that we would find unreasonable. I’ve actually experienced this first hand having 4 jobs fall through before the interview even started because they found out I wasn’t military. As for transportation cost I could only WISH for that. I’ve only been offered transportation once and it was ¥200 per week. This same job was paying ¥600 per hour and required (because there is nothing but pay parking within about a 4 mile radius) me to pay for parking each day which was ¥700 per hour. I realize how ridiculous that sounds because you would basically be paying to work but it’s true.

      Now I realize that this is not the case for EVERY school on Okinawa. I have had people say that they know someone who works down here for a fair wage and so on. However, these have been the experiences that both I and my husband have been having down here.

      • I understand. I live in Okinawa as an English teacher in 2 Japanese schools and I’ve worked at 7 junior high schools, and some of them provided transportation. It’s probably because I’m a JET Programme ALT, while private ALTs like my husband have a harder time in general. Right now, boards of education are slashing costs like crazy for private ALTs. I would say to join JET so you can get more support (totally possible as some JETs applied while in Japan and were accepted in Okinawa). I honestly don’t see why military folks would need to work in a Japanese workplace. They get more benefits and the pay, especially when transferred, is a lot lower. Plus all the bureaucracy in Japan puts American bureaucracy to shame. But I suppose since I’m in more rural areas, the competition isn’t hard, especially when the people applying are from the bases (too far) and most have no idea about Japanese or Japanese customs. You’re right, though. Every school is going to be different.

    • Ahh! I’ve heard that JETs have a lot easier time but I had no idea that you could apply to be a JET while already in Japan. Then again I am not too familiar with the program. I will have to take a closer look at that. From what I have heard talking to various people they want to get involved with jobs “off base” because of the cultural exchange. That’s why, in my opinion, a lot of schools in my area (south central) can get away with the murder that they do. We’ve been trying to break away from this area and move south, or north, but as I said people won’t even take either of our resumes even when they know we are willing to move. It has definitely made both of us feel like we are at the end of our rope with this island.

      • Most JETs work in senior high schools, so places looking for private ALTs are usually boards of education for elementary schools and junior high schools. Also, the timing is really important in applying. In January, the southern boards of education (Itoman City, Naha City, and Tomigusuku City) take applications for teachers. Up north, the time might be different. I’ll keep an eye out because I have friends who always tell JETs about job openings (for their spouses I suppose). BTW, IAC (an English cram school) is hiring right now. It’s in Tomigusuku right off the expressway (here’s the info: http://www.okinawajob.com/job/1575/native-english-instructors-at-iac/).

    • Thanks for the suggestions I will keep all of that in mind.

  2. Nice your post like it you are great writer.. Are you from Japan

  3. You are use facebook or gmail?

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