How to Transition from English Teaching to Copywriting in Japan

Here’s my 9-step guide that breaks down how to transition from English teaching to Copywriting in Japan.


So, you came to Japan on a stint to teach English because you were eager to learn about a new country, and it was the most surefire way to secure medium to long-term residence. However, now that the novelty or challenge of that is wearing off, what now?

While many people will tell you that it’s difficult to transition out of teaching and into another field, especially in a foreign country, there are many steps you can take to make this journey smoother. If you’re looking for a change, here’s my guide on how to transition from English teaching to copywriting in Japan!

I taught high school English in Saitama, Japan for 5 years as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT). Now I work as a copywriter and translator for a major technology company in Tokyo. Teaching in Japan trained me to be a copywriter and adapt messages across cultures. A copywriter uses content to sell. A teacher “sells” content. Trust me, if you can’t tell a good story, your class will fall asleep.

If you are still teaching English in Japan and ready for a change but afraid to make the leap, don’t sell yourself short. Start with this quick and simple guide on how to transition from English teaching to copywriting in Japan to pull off the career change you’ve been hoping for!

1. Summarize the Main Point of Your Articles With a Catchy Header

Newspaper headline that reads "Pro-Trump Mobs Storm US Capitol"

Good teachers start every lesson with an objective. It introduces students to the content they will learn during the lesson. Good copywriters start every piece of copy with a headline. The headline tells the reader what content they will learn from it and why they should be interested.

2. Provide Examples To Explain Difficult Concepts Simply

Good teachers use examples to deliver effective instruction. As an ALT, you don’t just stand in front of a class and describe your culture as an abstract idea. You provide examples of things that people say and do for certain holidays, events, and in certain settings.

Good copywriters provide examples of how a product can be used and why it’s unique and worth the money. In other words, they tell a story describing how using a product changed a customer’s life. For example, think of how Apple always convinces you that their newest model will change your life.

3. Consider the Cultural Context

Good teachers are sensitive to diverse cultures, as are good copywriters. For example, if you’ve ever watched an English movie with Japanese subtitles in Japan, maybe you’ve noticed that Japanese and foreign audiences hardly ever laugh at the same part of the story.

Why? Because pure translations of the same content are not as relatable or funny in another language. Writing must be adapted to convey the same message and connotations in another culture.

A simple example is adapting a Christmas advertisement in the United States to a New Year’s advertisement in Japan since both are family-oriented holidays around the same time of year. 

4. Learn About Your Audience

Good teachers learn about their audience. Teaching first-year high school students with a low English level is very different than teaching third-year high school students in a specialized foreign language department. If you don’t adapt your message to their education level, they will either not understand a word you say or will be bored.

Good copywriters learn about their audience. Marketing a product to C-suite executives familiar with your industry is much different than marketing to the general public. Not understanding the motivations and education level of your audience results in confusing, boring, or even offending them.

5. Appeal to the Senses

Good teachers provide opportunities for students to engage with the lesson by engaging their senses to process information. Good copywriters use words to evoke thoughts of touching, seeing, tasting, or hearing the product. An article that engages the senses will stay in the reader’s memory.

6. Give Specific Calls-to-Action

Good teachers give specific instructions. “Complete this worksheet in 10 minutes!” Without clear instructions,  students will be confused, unproductive, and unable to set a goal and pace themselves. Good copywriters give specific instructions referred to as calls-to-action. Examples include “Read here,”  “Tell a friend,” and “Contact us. Copy without a clear call-to-action leaves the reader frustrated and unable to engage with the company. 

7. Study Japanese

As a foreigner in Japan, I can relate to getting tired of hearing people tell me to “study Japanese.” Since we live in Japan, most of us already have a basic Japanese level. Also, it can be difficult to find the time to study at the advanced level when you are speaking English all day at your full-time teaching job.

However, having at least a high reading skill in Japanese will help you secure more copywriting jobs in Japan because many roles involve translating and adapting articles from Japanese into English.

In addition, even if you don’t do much translation as part of your copywriting job, you may have to do at least part of a job interview in Japanese, so it’s better to start practicing now rather than trying to give yourself a crash course once you get an interview offer.

8. Do Some Freelance Writing

One of the benefits of being an ALT in Japan is that it’s a pretty stable position that pays enough for you to at least get by somewhat comfortably while working standard hours. While I don’t recommend stretching yourself too thin, I definitely advise using a little bit of your free time to challenge yourself to put your skills to the test with some freelance writing.

Even volunteer gigs provide valuable experience. You could apply to write for Creative Tokyo, or there are some other blogs like Time Out TokyoSavvyTokyo, and newspapers like The Japan Times, which are a great way to get some initial work and get your name out there.

9. Make a Website to Showcase Your Work

Example of a webpage from my personal website. Reads "Jessica Craven Bilingual Marketing/Communication Graduate" and the top of the portfolio page reads "My Work."

Finally, make a website to showcase your writing portfolio once you have completed some freelancing gigs. With the free or cheap website builders out there, anyone can make a simple website that showcases their writing.

I hope my tips on how to transition from English teaching to copywriting in Japan have given you more confidence in your ability to make the career change you’ve been hoping for! If you are looking to make the leap now, be sure to check out the opportunities available on Creative Tokyo’s job board!