Working in Japan

8 Tips for starting at a Japanese school

Are you a new ALT in Japan? Learn the best ways to fit in and make a great first impression at your new school.

Becoming an ALT in Japan can be stressful. You have only just worked out how the air conditioner works in your apartment. Now you are starting a new job, in a new country. But with a little preparation you can make a great start and smooth transition. Learn how with our tried and tested tips for starting at a Japanese school.

Practice your Jikoshoukai 自己紹介じこしょうかい(Self-introduction

This is probably the scariest part of starting at a Japanese school. A Jikoshoukai is a little introduction speech. On your first day you will be expected to stand up and perform your Jikoshoukai in front of the teachers in the staff room. Don’t worry if you are not yet confident in your Japanese. Keep it simple with a few steps. Your Jikoshoukai should include:

A greeting Good morning, It’s nice to meet you Ohayo. Hajimemashite おはよう はじめまして
Your name I am ___. Watashi wa ___ desu. 私は ___ です.
Where you are from I am from ___ __ kara kimashita ___から 来ましたき
Your hobbies My hobby is reading books Shumi wa hon o yomu kotodesu しゅみは本を読むことです
Thank you Please be kind to me Yoroshiku onegaishimasu! よろしくおねがいします

Be sure to practice your introduction before you start. A clear, confident delivery will help you make a great first impression!


Have you ever noticed that some people light up a room just by entering it? With a bright cheery expression, they greet everyone with a smile. Everyone wants to be friends with these people. The good news is you can bring that same energy every morning, with a loud ‘Ohayo!’.

Japanese culture rewards this ‘genki’ energy. If you manage to force an enthusiastic ‘Good Morning!’ (even on your worst days) you are showing that you are a team player. Make the effort to say hello to everyone and they will appreciate your keen spirt.

Note: For bonus points, rehearse a hearty ‘Otsukaresama deshita!’ for when you leave at the end of the day.

Make friends with the vice principle

A vice principle is called Kyouto sensei (きょうとうせんせい). This is easily confused with the head principle (Kōchō sensei). You will usually have more interaction with the vice principle. This person will be your best contact in the school. They are the key link between your company and your school. Make an effort to communicate with them and they will look after you. Your Kyouto sensei is the person to talk to if you have any small issues at school. For larger issues, speak directly to your company and they create a direct dialogue with the school to help resolve the problem.

Don’t be afraid to talk (in English)

Starting at a Japanese school can be very isolating if you don’t speak Japanese. The teachers may seem very shy and afraid to talk with you. But remember, most teachers have studied English, at least in high school. Even if they don’t remember a lot, they can hold a basic (if awkward!) conversation. Communication is the only way you can connect with people. So be brave and start talking! Avoid anything too personal, but its ok to ask teachers about their subjects, hobbies and interests.

Try everything at school lunch

Fully embracing school lunch is an excellent way to try new, healthy food in Japan. Some shapes and smells might be new, but trying each and every one is the only way to discover the best part of each meal. Try everything and you might discover your new favorite Japanese food.

Be aware that picky eaters are sometimes considered selfish or inconsiderate in Japan. Although Japanese people understand your tastes will be different, they will appreciate your courage if you attempt a large spoonful of natto or okra!

Chat with students

Your lessons will be a lot smoother if your students find you approachable. But don’t expect them to chat to you. They will probably be scared of this new foreign stranger at first! Try making the first move a few minutes before class. Try asking a few students a couple of easy questions, while the other students are settling down.

Also, take the time to learn their interests. A quick peek at their pencil case or stationary can help you gain some insights. For example, “Oh, I like your Totoro pencil case! What is your favorite Ghibli movie?“. Similarly, keep an eye out for which activities they participate in. Learning if a shy student plays soccer or the piano can help coax responses during lesson time. (“Do you play basbeball? Do you like Shohei Ohtani?”)

Ask for seating plans

If you are new to Japan, many names may be confusing. (“Was that guy’s name ‘Kei’, ‘Keita’ or ‘Keito’?!“ ). If you politely ask your Japanese English teacher, they will help you make a seating plan. You can translate this into romanji, if it helps you. Bring a copy with you to each class and make a mental note of where each student sits.

I also highly recommend asking for a seating plan of the teacher’s room. I have a plan with each teacher’s name and the subject they teach. This will help you chat and learn about the other teachers outside of English lessons.

Don’t forget your ‘indoor shoes’!

This is easy to do when you have first day nerves. In the west we are not accustomed to changing our shoes at our workplace. The type of acceptable indoor shoes will depend on your school. If you are working in a private school, they may expect you to wear a clean pair of formal shoes. But most teachers in Japanese schools wear sandals or sports sneakers. The most important thing is that they have never been worn outside.

The alternative will be wearing the school’s guest slippers. This is not the end of the world, but might damage your street cred on your first day.

We hope these useful tips will help you feel ready to start your new school. Remember to keep positive and you’ll feel settled in no time!

Becoming an ALT is one of the easiest ways for foreigners to get an English speaking job in Japan. If you want to know more about working in Japan, check our other articles with lots of helpful hints.


Article Author: Beth Lawson

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