I get a lot of questions from readers interested in working in Japan, usually as a teacher of English as a Second Language (ESL), and I do my best to guide them to useful information, although I haven't been in the field for years. Teaching ESL is a potentially good option for people wanting to work for a few years in Japan, as long as you have realistic goals and know that it's not the healthiest of industries (there were some major bankruptcies of ESL school chains a few years ago). First of all, you need a four-year degree in order to get a working visa, so if you don't have one yet, that'd be the logical place to start. One popular choice for teaching in Japan is the Japan English Teacher (JET) program, operated by the government to get native English speakers into the country to teach and also facilitate "grass roots Internationalization" of Japan. While getting accepted into the JET system can be a challenge since there are so many applicants, Japan's ruling LDP party recently announced an expansion of the program, which might help your chances. There are two types of JET jobs, Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) who do the actual teaching, and Coordinators for International Relations (CIRs), who help guide the program and who need a minimum amount of Japanese, usually 2-3 years. As a rule, I generally recommend people with a deeper interest in Japan to consider trying for the latter job, which will contribute more to your understanding of the country and could help you build コネ kone, or connections which will help you in the future. There are plenty of alternatives to JET, too: for example, most cities have "sister cities" in Japan, like our city's relationship with Springfield, Missouri, and often there are ALT jobs or exchange study opportunities open through these connections. There are also programs like the Lion's Club International Camp and Youth Exchange Program to look into. If you're interested in researching how to live and work in Japan, we've got some books that might help.
Some advice for those considering teaching ESL someday.