Scams in Japan: Employers scamming teachers

You have decided it’s time to pull the trigger and make your move to Japan. You have always wanted to come to Japan and teaching is your “Golden Ticket.” Teaching will get you your working visa and set up in Japan. Most of the time things work out well, but occasionally employers take advantage of new employees.

From time to time, employers will try to save a buck or two by preying on the ignorance of those new to Japan.

In my years in Japan, I heard of many scams from different expats I met. I also had the unfortunate situation of being in the middle of one myself.

Here are a few of the scams some schools may try to pull un unsuspecting teachers:

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Sorry, foreigners don’t qualify for Japanese health insurance and pension…

 This is not true at all. Some employers will tell new employees that Japanese health insurance is for Japanese citizens only. Japanese health insurance is what you really NEED if staying in Japan. Why do some schools say this? They say it because they are, by law, supposed to give it to you and by law, pay for 50% of it. They pay half and you pay half. The fees vary depending on your salary and if you have any dependents. The company would be obligated to pay several hundred dollars a month and some simply don’t want to do that. They may tell you that foreigners only qualify for an inferior private health insurance policy.

All people working in Japan and paying taxes, qualify for Japanese health insurance. Even expats!


Japanese “Shakai Hoken” insurance card. Shakai Hoken is health insurance, employment insurance and retirement pension all in one.



Sorry, we are awesome enough to give you health insurance, but we will have to adjust your pay!

Some companies will say, “Sure, we can give you Japanese health insurance, but you know that original salary in your contract? We are going to have to adjust that. Since we are being very “kind to you” and allowing you to have Japanese insurance, we will have to reduce your monthly wage by about 30,000 yen.”

This is what happened to me personally. This happened to me at the start of a new job. My son was 2 years old and my wife was just about to give birth to our second child when the news was broken to me by a school principal who suffered from “Morals Deficiency Syndrome” – MDS!

I was told that I would be given Japanese health insurance, but they would have to reduce the agreed salary in my contract by 30,000 yen. This is of course in complete violation of Japanese labour law. The school didn’t want to pay 50% of my insurance so by reducing my pay, I was essentially paying for 100% of it. The money they deducted from my contacted salary went towards their 50%.

I ended up quitting that job and walking out 3 months later. That school clearly showed that they did not care about me or my family’s well-being so they weren’t worth my time and dedication.




Sorry, you’ve been a good employee here for 5 years, but we cannot renew your contract.

Most people who come to Japan to teach are initially hired on 1-3 year contracts. As far as I know, according to Japanese labour law, if you have worked for a company/school for 5 years or more on a limited employment contract, they have to give you an unlimited one after that. Basically, you become a permanent company employee and get the same benefits as Japanese employees (retirement pension and other benefits).

It has been swirling around in the news that several large private schools have been doing their best to avoid having to keep foreign teaching staff on these unlimited contracts. As the teacher comes close to 5 years employment, the school chooses not to renew their contract again, therefore avoiding having to hire them on an unlimited contract!

This one reminds me of some of the common scams schools used to pull on teachers back when I was working in Korea. After completing a one-year contract in Korea, schools are obligated to give teachers a one-month bonus par. Many would avoid having to do this by firing the teachers at the beginning of their 12th month. Normally they would give a reason like, “The children say they are scared of you.” “You don’t have a kind face and that’s not good for our school’s image.”



Of course, over the years in Japan, there have been many companies who scammed not only teachers but clients as well. You should check out more about the collapse of the English conversation chain NOVA. I worked with many folks in Japan that had been NOVA teachers when the school imploded. Scary stories!


2007-08 were ugly times for the thousands of NOVA teachers in Japan.



There are many other employer scams that you may face in Japan. My suggestion is to go to the General Union web page and read some of their posts on the topic. They are an organization created to help teachers in these situations. If you need any assistance or feel you are being treated unfairly by your employer in Japan, reach out to the General Union. They may be able to help you.





The writer:

Kevin O’Shea is the host of the Just Japan Podcast. He is also the guy behind Kevin is a Canadian educator who lives in Beijing, China with his family. Kevin called Kobe, Japan home for 10 years. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jlandkev

Instagram: @jlandkev





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