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Teach English in Japan: Plus Size Teachers

Teach English in Japan plus size

As of 2020, there were an estimated 20,000 Assistant Langauge Teachers (ALTs)  living in Japan. It’s a popular entry-level job for people who want to experience living in Japan. As an ALT you will be expected to help teach English classes and share interesting facts about your home culture. 

Can you teach English in Japan if you’re plus size?

Yes you can. Lots of people do it every day. If you meet the hiring criteria (from an English-speaking country, 4 year Bachelor's degree, 12 years of education in English, grasp of English grammar), you can teach English in Japan. Most hiring companies don't openly discrimate based on appearances or body weight. However, if you're unable to conform to normal duties (what's expected of an ALT), this can lead to issues once you begin your new job. Just like any other job, there are always factors you may need to take into consideration for your comfort. 

If you have a physical disability or health condition that prevents you from engaging in regular classroom activities daily, make sure the company hiring you is aware. In many cases, accommodations can be made to assist you during the workday.

If you're worried about whether or not being an ALT is a good fit for you as a plus size person, take a look at a few of the common issues that could arise.

Teaching is a physical job

This may be the most important factor to consider: Being an ALT is not a desk job, nor is it an environment that lets you take frequent breaks. You could be on your feet for up to 6 hours a day, or more depending on where you teach and what grade level. You will need to be able to walk around, be animated, and exert energy to bring enthusiasm to your classroom. You will be interacting with students and coworkers from the time you arrive to the time you go home. 

Did you ever have that boring, dreary teacher who sat at the front of the room all class? That won’t be you. You’re there to make English engaging for students so be ready to put energy into it.

Limited classroom space

Depending on the size of your classroom, student's desks can be spaced fairly close together. There may be some cases in which the desks are placed so close together, that even your small students will have to squeeze through to walk down the aisles. The teacher's desk at the front of the room may also be situated close to the blackboard. There usually is enough space to move the teachers desk so you can use the blackboard easily, but in other cases you will have to really squeeze in.

Seating can have a size and weight limit

If you’re lucky enough to be assigned a desk and chair in the teacher's room, you might have difficulties with the chair provided. You’ll be assigned a standard office chair (sometimes with arms, sometimes not) - if you physically can’t use the chair due to your size or weight, bring it up with your school. They likely have something they can let you use (though it may not be as comfortable.

For school assemblies and other events, there may only folded chairs available. Some folded chairs have a 90-110 kg weight limit. If you’re worried about it, you may need to stand for the duration. A lot of teachers stand along back walls, so you won’t be alone.

Expect stairs & walking

Japan is notorious for A LOT of stairs and walking on your commutes. Unless you drive, you will probably need to walk a bit to get to and from public transportation stations. Some schools don’t allow ALTs to drive or use bicycles, so be sure to check the rules before you invest in transportation.

The students may make comments about your body

If you’re teaching younger students you may get a few odd comments. Young kids are known for being blunt, and they will say exactly what’s on their mind. If you’re sensitive to people making jokes or comments about your body/weight, be aware that this is something that a lot of ALTs talk about happening. You likely look quite different from the people your students see every day, and they’ll process it as kids do. Try to have a sense of humor about it, laugh it off, and move on.

Food routines
Japanese school lunch

If you work in a public school you will eat lunch at the same time as everyone else in the school. In some cases you will need to eat in classrooms with students, in other cases you will eat in the teacher's room. You will have about 20-20 minutes to finish your meal. You can choose to opt in for school lunches or bring your own from home. Schools don’t allow students to bring any sort of junk food to school - including fruit juice or packed bentos from the grocery store.

If you do bring food from home, expect teachers and students to be curious about what you're eating, ask questions about it and observe how you eat things. Biting into a whole uncut apple can really turn heads!

There’s a mandatory yearly physical exam

It’s a mandatory physical exam performed at a local hospital that most ALTs (and all other staff) need to undertake. You’ll be weighed, measured, and have various tests done. Depending on your size, you may have to make special arrangements: Some hospitals are not equipped for larger patients and won’t be able to administer the tests. Your company should be able to help find alternative hospitals for you if this is the case.

Difficulties finding plus-size work clothes

If you’re plus size, you won’t be able to shop at most stores in person. This can be a challenge if you suddenly need workwear and don’t know how to order clothes online. Try to pack as many work clothes as you can from your home country when you move to Japan - it’s much harder to find fitted items like blazers and trousers than things like loose-fitted blouses.

Japan gets hot

Japanese summers are no joke - be ready to sweat. You will be at schools during those hot, humid summer days (with no A.C), so be sure to take care of your hygiene, dress lightly, and drink a lot of water.

Winter doesn’t get much better as schools will blast the heat. If you’re from a cooler or less humid climate, you’ll be sweaty year round.

Japanese Highschool Students

Preparing to move abroad is an exciting and stressful process full of lots of research and endless questions. It’s tempting to only focus on the free time you have in Japan, along with just the overall etiquette of the country - but the majority of your time will be spent in school. Spend a bit of time watching videos of ESL teachers, brush up on your penmanship and grammar skills, and consider these next few points to help you prepare for the big move.

Add movement to your day: If you don’t currently engage in much (or any) physical activity throughout your day, try adding some in where you can. Take walks, choose stairs, and get your body used to standing for long periods. Not only is this just healthy in general, it will prepare you for the unavoidable physical demands.

Standard work suit in Japan

Prioritize workwear when packing: You may want to fill your suitcases with cute casual outfits you plan to wear while you tour Japan in your free time, but the reality is that the majority of your time as an ALT will be spent in the classroom.

Workwear should take priority when packing. Most schools and ALT companies request employees have suits to wear so pack some nice, plain, dark-colored suits. You may not end up needing to wear it every day, but you will need to have at least one suit for some occasions at school. 

These are plus size workwear and other clothing items that will be difficult to find once you’re in Japan:

  • Suits (blazers and matching trousers). Black and navy are most common.

  • Dress pants/trousers

  • Skirts and dresses that are at least mid-calf

  • Stockings (pantyhose)

  • Blouses that cover the upper arm and collarbone (not sheer, and conceal your bra lines if possible)

  • Bras (pack A LOT - finding large sizes is hard, even online)

  • Black shoes with proper support.

Thankfully the internet exists and you’ll be able to order most clothes online once you settle in. Casual plus-size clothes (oversized, loose clothing) are much easier to buy online than anything that’s fitted. If you’re willing to pay, there are some Western brands that ship internationally. 

The hardest thing to find once you’re in Japan will be a well-fitting suit and bras.

Deodorant: Specifically anti-persparent (which can be challenging to find/buy in Japanese stores). Circling back to Japan being hot, you’re going to be sweating a lot. Pack as much deodorant as you can, and then some.

Don’t wear perfume to school.

Address Body Image Issues: It can be hard looking so different from the people around you. Japanese beauty standards are tough, and being subliminally exposed to it daily can be rough on your mental health. As a foreigner, you will already look different. Being a plus-size person in a country where the majority of people are petite (by Western standards) can wear on you. If you have any body image issues, try the best you can to address them prior to moving and be aware that they may become worse once you move to Japan.

Visit your doctor: Before anyone moves abroad it’s always a good idea to visit the doctor and get your health needs assessed. You should know of any existing health conditions that could impact you abroad and keep a detailed list of any medications you've been perscribed.

Learn how to cook: If you don't already know how to cook healthy meals on the stovetop, research common ingredients available in Japan and learn a few dishes before you move. It's likely that a lot of the food you eat now won't be available abroad, and you won't have access to an oven (only stovetop and microwave!).

It's exciting to try new foods, and it's easy to fall into bad habits when we move abroad. After work you might be too exhausted to cook a healthy meal, so you'll fall back on the (delicious but unhealthy) meals available at every grocery store. A lot of premade food in Japan is full of trans fat and lacks fruits and veg - it can be easy to gain weight if you're not aware of what you're eating.

Signs that teaching English in Japan as an ALT may not be for you (at this time):
  • You struggle with standing for long periods of time

  • You experience severe knee or hip pain associated with standing and/or physical activity

  • You're extremely sensitive to comments about your body or weight, or sensitive to others making jokes/comments about diet/weight in general

  • You're uncomfortable wearing a suit

  • You're uncomfortable with public speaking/having many people look to you for clear instructions

  • You have unresolved eating disorder and/or body image issues

  • You adamantly are against online shopping

  • You're uncomfortable eating in front of others or having others comment about your food choices/eating habits

In conclusion, if you're planning to teach English in Japan don't let your size stop you, but do take your health and mobility into consideration. There will be some situations that are awkaward, uncomfrotable, or mildy frustrating but as long as you can adapt to your new environment you'll have a great time.


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