So you want to be a direct-hire ALT?

This was originally written as a guest post for my good friend James at ALT Insider and is re-posted here with his permission.

As James has so eloquently described on ALT Insider before, there are basically three types of ALT:


2) Dispatch company ALTs

3) Direct hire ALTs.

1) Getting a place on the JET program requires that you complete eight book-length essays, twelve interviews, and twenty-five workshops over the course of three years, before being made to swim across an alligator-infested swamp in the pitch dark, stark naked and with only a toothpick to defend yourself (at least that’s what I’ve been led to believe, anyway). Once you’re in, however, the pay and conditions are great.

2) The only pre-requisites for getting a job as a hakengaisha (派遣会社 / dispatch company) ALT are:

a) Being able to speak English

b) Having a passport

c) Having a pulse

In actual fact, two of the three will usually suffice and once you’re in, the pay and conditions are, well, so-so.

3) In theory, at least, getting a job as a ALT who’s hired direct by a kyōikui’inkai (教育委員会 / board of education, aka. BOE) gives you all the benefits of JET (i.e. no alligator-infested swamps and / or a really sharp toothpick) with none of the drawbacks of a dispatch company (i.e. enough cash to buy as many anime figurines as you can lay your hands on).

So how exactly does one go about becoming a direct hire ALT? Well, the short answer is: marry a Japanese person. OK, so I’m half joking, but marrying a Japanese person definitely helps. If you can’t fool one of the natives into believing you’d make a great life partner, though, second on the list would be: use Facebook. You think I’m joking again, right? Not at all. I’m currently on my second direct hire job, and I got both of them through Facebook.

By way of explanation, allow me to give you a quick rundown of my (ahem) illustrious career in Japan so far:

My first job was with a certain eikaiwa (英会話 / English conversation) school in Tokyo, who sponsored my visa, found my accommodation, opened my bank account, and so on, but treated me like a cross between a galley slave, a Guantanamo Bay terror suspect, and a piece of gum stuck to the bottom of their shoe. So I quit them, quit Tokyo, and got a job as a dispatch company ALT instead.

The money was laughable (180,000 yen a month, to be precise), but the hours were short (8.30am to 2.30pm, weekdays only) and the holidays were long — so long, in fact, that I disappeared for a full six weeks during the summer to (shameless plug for own website alert!) tour Japan by bicycle. After a year or so I had to go back to the UK, but by the time I did, I had become Facebook friends with a whole bunch of my colleagues and acquaintances, both Japanese and foreign. When the time was right to have another crack at living in Japan, I put the word out and bingo, a Japanese English teacher I hadn’t even met face-to-face for about five years sent me a message:

‘Hi Muzuhashi,’ it went. ‘I heard you’re moving back to Japan. Do you want to come and work with me in ○○○ junior high school? We need an ALT because the last one went back to China.’ (Or words to that effect, anyway. Obviously she didn’t call me Muzuhashi because that’s not my real name. My real name is Baron Von William ‘Bill’ Buzz Lightyear III of the House of Usher.)

Towards the end of that first year as a direct-hire ALT, out of the blue I got a Facebook email from another colleague from my dispatch company days. This time it was an ALT and while I hadn’t seen him for about five years, either, the mail went something like this: ‘Hi Muzuhashi. I heard you’re back in Japan. Do you want my job with ○○○ BOE? They need an ALT because I’m moving back to Australia.’

Because the money was better than what I was already getting, I accepted his offer and eight years later I’m still here. Not only that, but the more time I spend in Japan, the more direct-hire ALT jobs I come across. Recently, for example, I got an email from a Japanese acquaintance (not on Facebook this time, just someone I work with now and again and have exchanged contact details with) about a job vacancy that was soon to open up at a state-run juken (受験 / entry-by-exam) junior high school. My application crashed and burned, but had I succeeded, I would now be working semi-part-time for a cool 4 million yen a year, in a school where – shock, horror! – some of the kids can actually speak English beyond the standard level of, ‘Almost Japanese like to shopping and buy grape. It is very enjoy.’

As well as the aforementioned positions, off the top of my head I can think of three more BOEs within a 30-minute drive of where I live that hire at least some of their ALTs direct, and that’s just for positions at elementary and junior high schools — that number is almost certainly greater if you include high schools.

So if you’re looking for a direct hire job, it’s best to go by the old adage, ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’ In other words, make friends with as many people as you can, and keep in touch with as many of them as you can. (Obviously it goes without saying that the longer you’re in Japan, the greater the likelihood that one of those contacts will pay dividends.)

But once you’ve been told by one of your network of contacts that a direct hire job is up for grabs, what do you need to do to impress the BOE in question that you’re the right person to hire? If you’ve been personally recommended to the BOE by someone who already works there, then quite possibly nothing at all, but if you think you might be up against some competition, what most BOEs are looking for is someone who is low maintenance. Ideally, this means you:

1) Have a visa

2) Can speak Japanese

3) Have experience of working as an ALT

1) Having a visa — be it a haigūsha (配偶者 / spouse) visa, a work visa from a previous job that’s valid for at least another year, or eijūken (永住権 / permanent residency) — makes you low maintenance because it saves the BOE both time and effort. One key fact I omitted from the story above is that in the years between my two stints in Japan, I married my Japanese girlfriend and got a spouse visa, thereby making me low maintenance. While the accepted wisdom is that BOEs won’t sponsor foreigners for work visas because it’s too much hassle, however, the reality is that sometimes they do.

2) Being able to speak Japanese makes you low maintenance because you can handle the day-to-day stuff that goes on at a typical Japanese school without someone from a dispatch company having to intervene on your behalf — for example, those times when the vice-principal or the school secretary comes over to you and says, ‘Tomorrow is a national holiday so you don’t have to come to work,’ or, ‘Tomorrow is the culture festival so you have to come to work even though it’s Saturday,’ or, ‘Is it true that every man, woman, child, and sheep in New Zealand carries a high-calibre automatic rifle with them at all times?’

Being able to read Japanese, incidentally, is less important, so long as you have a wife / husband / roommate / drinking buddy who can help decipher your tax documents, school lunch payment invoices, and so on.

3) Having experience as an ALT makes you low maintenance because when your new English teaching colleague turns to you ten minutes before the end of your first lesson together and says completely without warning, ‘So, do you have a game we can do now?’ you won’t reply by saying, ‘Game? You what? Er, yes. I mean, no. I mean…Oh, is that the time? I’m sorry. I have to go back to the staff room for my insulin injection or I might lose consciousness.’ Instead, thanks to ALT Insider, you’ll say, ‘Of course. Leave it to me. OK kids, it’s time to play ○○○!’

‘So, Muzuhashi,’ I can hear you ask. ‘Once I’ve landed a direct hire job, what’s in it for me?’ Well, in descending order of importance:

1) More money

2) More money

3) More money

Sorry, joking again, although the main advantage is of course:

1) More money

Because there’s no middleman (i.e. dispatch company) creaming off a third or more of what the BOE pays for its ALTs, that means more real cash in your pocket and more virtual yen in your bank account. Practically speaking, you should get somewhere in the region of 300,000 yen a month, although it might be more (as in the case of the aforementioned juken school job) and it might be less. A case in point was my first direct-hire job, which paid 250,000 yen a month, and hardly any money at all during August (about 60,000 – enough to cover health insurance, pension payments and so on), which made me not a lot better off than my friends who were working for Interac in the next town.

2) Less hassle

Almost as important as money is the fact that as a direct hire ALT, you’ll get a lot less interference from the Powers That Be than if you were with a dispatch company, and possibly even than if you were a JET. Like I said, the BOE is looking for someone low maintenance, which means that so long as they don’t get a call from your vice-principal saying you’ve dyed your hair day-glo pink, got a tongue piercing, and had the words ‘Thug Life’ tattooed in gothic script on your forehead, they’ll basically just let you get on with doing whatever you’re doing. This in turn gives you the chance to develop a better relationship with your colleagues, to the point where they won’t mind — and more importantly, won’t call the BOE — if you turn up late or go home early.

(Having said that, some BOEs and the vice-principals at their schools can be just as nitpicking as a dispatch company, and a friend of mine who’s a direct-hire ALT has to deduct time from his allocation of paid holiday if he leaves even an hour earlier than the scheduled time.)

3) Added extras

Another perk of the job is that you may get some on-the-side work passed on to you by your predecessor. For example, when my friend went back to Australia, he didn’t just recommend me to the BOE for his ALT job, he also allowed me first dibs on his conversation classes at the local community center, one of which pays 10,000 yen — tax-free, cash-in-hand — for just an hour and a half of ‘English teaching’ (i.e. chatting to some local OAPs) every fortnight.

Last but not least, let’s have a look at the downsides of being direct hire:

1) Fewer holidays

Probably the biggest downside to being direct hire ALT is the fact that your paid and/or unpaid holiday entitlement will be shorter than that of a typical dispatch company ALT, and you may even be obliged to ‘work’ at the BOE during spring, summer, and winter vacations, which I can assure you from personal experience is mind-bogglingly tedious.

The first time I did this, I was stuck in a stuffy town hall office with a bunch of desk jockeys from 8.30am to 5.15pm every weekday for about five weeks with absolutely nothing to do whatsoever. I didn’t have internet access — in fact, I didn’t even have a computer — and to top it all off, the chair they had found for me was so low that I had to sit on a ream of printer paper just to stop my chin from hitting the desk. Being direct hire, though, I started working on my relationship with my teaching colleagues and nowadays I ‘work’ at school during vacations instead, meaning I can turn up late, leave early, and wear shorts and a t-shirt while I’m there.

2) Instability

While your responsibilities will probably differ very little from those of a dispatch company ALT, by the same token, your job security will also be no better, in the sense that as a keiyakuin (契約員 / contract employee), you will only ever be on a one-year contract, meaning the BOE could fail to renew that contract come the end of the school year. So if your school merges with another school due to a lack of students (because of the low birth rate in Japan this is a common occurrence these days, particularly in the countryside), or if your BOE is charmed and / or bribed into thinking they should hand over their ALT contract to a dispatch company, you could be joining the queue at your local branch of Hello Work, or at least renewing your subscription to Ohayo Sensei.

So there you have it, everything you ever wanted to know about being a direct hire ALT but were afraid to ask. I say, ‘everything’, but of course this is a highly personal viewpoint based on my own fairly limited experiences in Japan, so if you have any useful information to add and / or think that I’m talking complete and utter rubbish, please leave a comment


Since I wrote this post, new rules have been introduced — or rather, old rules have begun to be enforced — covering contract workers such as ALTs. The effect of this depends on where you are and how you are employed. For example, as a direct-hire ALT, from this academic year (April 2020-March 2021) I will get bonuses, more paid holiday, and other improvements to my working conditions. For others, though, either nothing has changed or in some cases, boards of education are downgrading their ALTs to part-time, moving from direct-hire to dispatch companies, and instigating other money-saving strategies.

A few more things that I neglected to mention in the original post:

If there is not already one in place, try to organise a regular meeting with the other direct-hire ALTs in your area, as this is a good way of letting off steam and allowing you to feel that while you may be isolated at your school, there are others nearby experiencing the same things as you.

Very occasionally, JET ALTs quit part-way through their contract and the JET organisation has no one to replace them. If you keep your ears open and happen to be in the right place (i.e. Japan) at the right time, you may, therefore, be able to bypass the JET application process — not direct hire, but the pay and conditions are pretty much the same.

Finally — and while this is not something I would recommend — if you love working in Japanese schools and your language skills are good enough, it is possible for a foreigner to obtain a licence as a fully fledged high school English teacher. The application process includes writing an essay and sitting an interview in Japanese, although the real crunch is that once you are qualified, your work hours are likely to be as long as those of your Japanese colleagues. Like I say, this is for those who want full cultural immersion and do not mind giving up their weekends (evenings, early mornings, holidays, souls…) for the sake of their students.

13 thoughts on “So you want to be a direct-hire ALT?”

  1. This is so fun to read and really helpful. Thank you for this Mr. Baron Von William ‘Bill’ Buzz Lightyear III of the House of Usher. Lol

  2. If one was to get a license to be a fully fledged high school teacher, what are the working hours like daily? Do japanese students go to school on the weekends? What about the holidays, are they not allowed to take paid holidays off when there are no students? Do you still get vacation days? Sorry for all the questions and thanks on advance.

    1. Hello there and thank you very much for taking the time to read and to leave a comment.

      I have to admit I don’t know about becoming a high school teacher in that much detail, but in answer to your questions:

      – A friend of mine who does the job works long hours and often (usually, in fact) on weekends, too. I’m not sure if the students have classes on weekends, but they do have clubs, events, and so on, and most of the teachers have paperwork, preparation, and other things to be getting on with – on Saturday and sometimes Sunday, too.

      – High school teachers are entitled to paid holiday, although I suspect that like junior high and elementary school teachers, a lot of them don’t take advantage of their full entitlement for the year. Particularly recently, though, the school principals that I work with have been encouraging their teachers to do less overtime and take more paid holiday during the spring, summer, and winter vacations, and if need be (e.g. if they have small children that need looking after or have sports days, graduation ceremonies, etc.) during term time, too.

      Overall and from my friends’ descriptions, it sounds like a much tougher gig than being an ALT, but more fulfilling, with a greater sense of responsibility, and potentially with better money and benefits, too.

      Thanks again and the best of luck if you try to become a high school teacher yourself!

  3. hey i hope you don’t mind i make a post, even though this threat is probably several years old.
    i want to start by saying, thanks for the information it was interesting, personally i am planning to get out of ALT soon, once i finish my masters in education and will get into a private, int school or university (i have one or two contacts on this, i hope ><).
    But regarding ALT i have a really obnoxious coworker, he is direct hire BOE teacher, the guy is a total clown. I mean to be an ALT, one doesnt need to be.. the sharpest tool in the shed, but this guy, wow.
    He goes on about the fact he is BOE and throws around his sense of superiority, for such near endlessly. Though he is infact, not a good teacher and probably only got the job because he married a Japanese women.. the poor girl.. and he is decent in Anime Japanese xD.
    Furthermore, he may be removed from this school next year after 5 years being here due to rule breaking, and i saw him touch a highschool girls hair from behind (it was not consensual) with a Japanese coworker, to which my vice principal was shocked and asked for his removal.
    So there is that. As they say, pride comes before the fall.
    But i wonder, what was the difference between your work as a Direct Hire ALT and a Dispatch Hire ALT, because of this guy, it got me curious. But granted i think there is no differences in the work, am i correct? thanks

    1. Hello there and thank you very much for taking the time to visit this blog and leave a comment.

      The story about your direct-hire colleague is intriguing. I’ve come across one or two weirdos and undesirables during my time as an ALT and as a conversation school teacher, so it doesn’t surprise me. Also, as the only direct-hire ALT in the city where I work, I, too, have probably been guilty of patronising my dispatch company colleagues. Like you say, though, it sounds like he’s got a taste of his own medicine and is going to have to look around for a new job – unless he’s very lucky, quite possibly with a dispatch company!

      In answer to your question, I can only speak for the situation regarding myself and the BOE that employs me, but essentially, the work that I do is the same as that of my dispatch company colleagues. The only differences are that I work slightly longer hours; I have to work during summer, winter and spring vacations unless I use some of my paid leave; because my Japanese is at a reasonably high level, I am occasionally called upon to act as interpreter (for example, when exchange students are visiting from the States) or translator; and for three months during the summer term, I teach an evening class at the local community centre (which also earns me a little bit of extra cash).

      Anyway, take care of yourself and I hope your next direct-hire colleague is a nicer person to work with!

  4. Great source of information buddy. I am from UK , Brighton. I am in Takamatsu Kagawa. married to a Japanese . I am working as an ALT with dispatch company, looking for direct hire . If you know anything please let me know.

    kind regards,


    1. Great to hear from you, Ganesh, and thanks for taking the time to read and leave a comment.

      As it happens, you’re not the first person to ask that question (!), but yes, if I hear of any direct-hire positions that are free, I’ll let you know.

      I hope you’re enjoying life in Japan and that the whole Corona fiasco isn’t making things too inconvenient for you and your family.

      Take care and all the best,
      Tom (aka Muzuhashi)

  5. Hello Muzuhashi

    Very supersaiyanishgenkiitadaki article! Thinking of… did you mispronounced “musukashi” and that event cause you to use it as your pen name :3

    I am also planning to get out from my agency and take a path of being a direct hire… reason is my dispatch company placed me to a hidden village with a 90 minute curvy-uphill-curvy-uphill schools (of 6 10km apart) :3 My 22 year-old kei car radiator gave up on me twice… that prompt me that I can’t have my local car shop suffer for always meeting my impossible request of getting replacement of cheap 2nd hand parts with 5 years warranty like my new washing machine from the surplus shop.

    I think I can checked all the 3 boxes that you aforementioned…

    1. I don’t need a VISA (I’m a certified Nihonjin :3)
    2. I can speak and joke using Japanese.
    3. I was able to secure the ALT contract for 2 years now even though I look like them…

    My only concern is… I am not a native speaker… I heard success stories of non native speakers landing a direct hire job but also lately I’m hearing that the competition was kinda fierce…

    Can you give me some piece of, chunk, tekitou na… advice that can give me the courage to face all challenges plus the numb heart to talk to my area manager about leaving her even though she’s having trouble looking for other replacements to vacant positions :3

    1. Hello and thank you very much for your comment! Also, sorry for taking such a long time to reply – I’ve been very busy with my new non-ALT job and neglecting the blog recently…

      In answer to your questions:

      1) Yes, the name Muzuhashi does basically come from the word “muzukashii” (actually in combination with “hashi”, which as I’m sure you know is the word for chopsticks).

      2) Regarding getting out of your dispatch company and into a direct-hire ALT job, my advice would be: don’t quit until you already have something better lined up! You certainly don’t need to be a native speaker, but it does help if you can communicate reasonably well in Japanese and read/fill in whatever paperwork is required. Basically, just keep studying, keep looking, and eventually an opportunity will present itself.

      (Also, I know what you mean about old kei cars – the dispatch company I used to work for hired me a kei and during the time I was driving it, it broke down once and had a flat tyre on another occasion!)

      Good luck and do come back and let me know how you get on!

      All the best from Muzuka…er, I mean Muzuhashi.

  6. Hello Tom,

    I found this article while searching for how to get hired by the board of education in Japan right after searching for what degree one needs to teach in Japanese schools as a licensed teacher. Your articles answered both of them or at least, I got an idea about being able to get licensed without going to University for 4 years. I supposed that works if one already holds a degree. Thank you for the article.

    1. Hello and thank you very much for leaving a comment. (Also, sorry for taking such a long time to reply.) I’m glad you found this post useful – it’s probably the most popular one on the whole blog in terms of the number of hits. Also, I hope you manage to find a direct-hire ALT job yourself and that you are enjoying (or will enjoy when you come here?) your life in Japan.

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