Teach English in Japan Interview with Donald Ash – The Japan Guy

Teach English Abroad

Teach English in Japan

How long have you been teaching English in Japan?

I have been teaching English for just under six years. Five years, 9 months, and 2 days at the time of this writing 🙂

Why did you choose Japan?

Great question. Japan was incredibly appealing to me for a number of reasons. The main four were:

  • It was a dream of mine to come here
  • I was a karate teacher in the U.S. for over four years
  • My sister who lived in Japan before me highly recommended it
  • Like so many people, I am a pretty big anime/Japanese culture fan.

For the longest time I had this goal of visiting Japan, just for a short time. I had this paper on my ceiling that I would read every night before I went to sleep and one of my “Big Dreams” on that page was to “Come stay in Japan for at least one month.” After nearly six years here, I look back that goal and chuckle a little bit.

Karate and martial arts have been a large part of my life for as long as I can remember and they definitely had an influence on me. Reading stories of Miyamoto Musashi (the samurai) or karate legends like Mas Oyama or Chojun Miyagi were like fairy tales to me. One goal of mine is to earn a black belt in one of the great Japanese karate styles while I’m here.

Sprinkling a bit of anime dust + a family member’s recommendation on this already growing interest just made coming to the Land of the Rising Sun an inevitability.

The Japan Guy

How did you find your first teaching position?

I was living in the U.S and truthfully I was a little burned out with teaching in my hometown. I was feeling discouraged because when I decided to go into teaching, I wanted to do just that…TEACH! It became a pretty big challenge to wear so many hats in the classroom: a parent, a disciplinarian, a peacekeeper, a referee, and finally a teacher. 

My sister recommended trying to teach overseas through Nova. That was the first company I applied to because my sister worked there. I really wanted to make it to Japan, though, so I didn’t put all my focus on one company. I applied to both Nova and AEON. I wanted to apply to JET as well, but my application timing was a little off. 

I landed interviews with both Nova and AEON. 

However, the Nova interview never happened. The company went bankrupt just as my interview was supposed to happen. I’m kind of glad things worked out that way. Had I applied just a little sooner, I would have been teaching at Nova and been jobless just a few short months after arriving here.

 AEON held an information/interview session in Atlanta (my hometown) and I made sure I was there. I gave AEON the best teaching demo I possibly could. I tried to be so good they couldn’t say no. The first interview session went very well and I was called in for round two. The rest as they say is history.

 What is Aeon like as an employer?

If you check out forums, I know you’ll get mixed reviews, because everyone has a different experience. The bad experiences can often weigh more heavily on people’s minds than the good ones. For me, AEON was an amazing employer. No, I’m not being paid to say this! 

I really enjoyed my time at AEON because they were super professional at all times. If you needed any kind of help, they provided it. It didn’t hurt that they also had (and still have) better pay than many of the English teaching companies in Japan. 

I don’t know how things are now, but one thing I did see as I was on my way out is that the company is trending towards making schedules busier for it’s full-time English teachers for the same pay. That’s one of the downsides, I suppose. But even with that, it’s still a pretty sweet deal.

Are you still working at Aeon?

I do teach freelance, business English classes to corporations through AEON when I have the time, but this is voluntary employment. They let me know about opportunities in my area and I can choose whether or not to take the jobs. 

I’m currently teaching kindergarten full-time for a company called JIEC.

ESL Japan Osaka

What’s Japan like to live in?

Japan is everything you could expect it to be and more. For me, Japan was like paradise for those first two years. Year three was coming into my own and feeling more confident with being here. Years four and five have been huge for picking up the language. Unfortunately, years four and five have been the times where I’ve become the most homesick.

It’s still good now, but that shiny, come-to-Japan luster has faded a bit.

The food? Tasty and healthy. You’ll eat well in Japan, but many people lose weight that first year, once they change to a Japanese diet.

Japan has some of the most beautiful natural settings you’ll ever find. If you’ve been to Hakone or Nikko, Japan before, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. In addition, Japan just has this long, rich history and a fascinating culture. The kimonos, the yukatas, the floats, the festivals. It’s just a great place to be. Even five years after coming here.

The people, for the most part, are extremely kind. I remember being lost on several occasions up in Ibaraki and people would actually stop what they were doing and take 10-20 minutes to help me get where I was going.

One thing I found very interesting was that people don’t steal your stuff. I’m just saying. 

I absent-mindedly left the money I withdrew at the ATM I was using. Hey! I had a long day that day, okay?! Some regular customer in the store, chased me down to let me know that I left my money. Other foreigners have had similar experiences with items they’ve left on trains.

Have average starting salaries dropped much from the old 250,000 yen per month?

No, I think that’s right at about the industry average here. I can’t say it’s increased all that much, unfortunately. I think teaching is like that, though. Teaching salaries, in both America and Japan, haven’t moved all that much in the last 5-6 years. 

While 250,000 is the average, there are several companies out there that pay less and others that pay more.

What is your cost of living there?

Ah, the knitty gritty stuff, ne?
Rent: 70,000 (The equivalent of about $700 USD)
Water: 3000 yen ($30.00)
Gas: 3000-5000 yen ($30.00-$50.00)
Internet: 4500 yen ($45.00)
Electricity: 3000-4000yen ($30.00-$40.00)
Health Insurance: I’m a little fuzzy on this one because it changes. 12,000-15,000 yen per month?
Bus/Train Transportation to and from work: 17,000 yen ($170)
Gym Membership: 12,000/month (About $120. Why in God’s name does a Gold’s Gym membership cost this much per month? I don’t really know.)
Food: About 40,000-50,000 yen per month $400-$450/month (I may need to lay off of the protein supplements for a bit)
Student loans: Please don’t make me say it! More than I care to mention…UGH!
Entertainment: 10,000-15,000/month This is often a lot less because I don’t go out much at all. I also don’t drink (that can be a big expense for people). I don’t even eat out all that much. When I’m not being a homebody, I’m in the gym, when I’m not in the gym, I’m at work.

I also happen to like sunsets and long walks on the beach.

Is it possible to save much money teaching English in Japan?

Yes it is. Well it is, depending on your job. If you’re at 250,000/month or less, it’s going to be harder to save. I remember earning as little as 240,000 yen (about $2400/month) and feeling pretty limited. Truthfully it’s far easier to save money here than it was back home. One of the biggest reasons is that in many parts of Japan it’s not necessary to have a car whatsoever. Public transportation here is amazing which means no car payments, no insurance and no overpriced gasoline expenses. WOO HOO!

What part of Japan are you in?

I currently live in Yokohama, Japan.
 I lived in Tsukuba, Japan (Ibaraki) for the majority of my stay, though.

Has the teaching industry been affected by the Fukishima nuclear disaster?

Here in Yokohama, I don’t think the teaching industry has been effected as much as places northeast of here. When the earthquake happened you did see quite a pretty big drop in the number of teachers in parts of Ibaraki. Understandably so. It was a really scary time.

Honestly, though, it does seem like things are starting to get back to normal though.

Do you recommend Japan for other English teachers?

I 200% recommend it, even if it’s only for a short stay. For many of my peers and I , the Japan experience has been one that’s altered all of our lives for the better. Living in Japan is a wonderful way to experience a fascinating culture.  Working in Japan can also be  a time to find your purpose without having to remain professionally stagnant.

Although I can’t honestly claim that I want to teach forever, for those who do, Japan may be an attractive career option. The level of respect you receive as a sensei here in Japan is unlike any other teaching position I’ve ever had. Something to think about.

As a teacher, I think one big thing to be careful of is that if you have other goals, DON’T FORGET THEM. Sometimes I think because you can be so comfortable as a teacher in Japan, some people teach, get comfortable, get married, have kids, and let their dreams go. Now some people come here with the intention of staying, and that’s beautiful, IF that’s what you want.

 Being here has allowed me to expand my view of the world around me. I get to see and experience, first hand, Japanese perceptions of American culture as well as American perceptions of theirs. Some stereotypes hold true while other are way off the mark. Being in Japan has been a lesson in global education, and I’m still just an eager student.


The Japan Guy Blog (http://thejapanguy.com)

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