Why Teach English in Japan?

Why Should I Teach English in Japan?

Stressful That’s how I’d describe those last months prior to making my big move to Japan. I can vividly remember that last-ditch, Herculean effort to see all the people I cared about most. I knew it would be a while before I’d make it home again. I remember calling one friend in particular and being so excited to tell her that I was moving to Japan. My enthusiasm fell a bit flat when I realized that she didn’t share my enthusiasm, and it wasn’t for the reasons I thought.

I was thinking maybe it was because she didn’t want me to go because she was going to miss me. Nope. That wasn’t it. She told me that me going to teach in Japan is only making it easier for other people to come to America and take all the good jobs. My jaw just dropped open.

Her thoughts in no way made me feel like I was doing the wrong thing, because I had already made up my mind. Admittedly I was a little sad and semi-shocked to hear how she felt. I didn’t really respond to it, or even argue. Her opinion was her opinion and I just left it at that. It wasn’t like I was going to stop being friends with her because I didn’t agree with her. Although I “left it at that” her words were emblazoned into my memory along with memorable gems from other close friends: “You sure you wanna do that?” or “I couldn’t do it.” I even had a friend do the stereotypical borderline racist “Chingy chong chang” sounds to make light of it. Those encounters made me do the really think harder about my reasons for doing what I was doing.

Why fly 6786 miles away just to teach English?

Every teacher is going to give you a different answer. But I had several reasons, some bigger than others. Let’s start with one of the biggest ones first.


You’d never be able to tell, now that I’ve had nearly eight years of keeping my financial nose clean but a low point my mid-20′s was a huge financial blunder that I left me not choice but to file bankruptcy (I talk about it in my “What’s Your Story?” page). I was actually dealing with that up until the day I got on the plane to come here. Actually it even spilled over into me handling things remotely for few months from here in Japan, too. Yes, it sucked, but I was at such a low that leaving my home country for a steady, less stressful job in a country where I didn’t need to worry about my credit history for a while sounded like the perfect opportunity for me.

Let me stress the word “CAN.” Life in Japan CAN be easier on the pockets if you work it right.

Even if your salary, on paper, looks like you may be earning less, you undergo a mindset shift after being here a while. You find that out that you don’t need a ton of space to live comfortably, nor to you have to go crazy spending to be content (at least that’s how it’s been for me. BUT PLEASE NOTE: I don’t drink either, so I’m sure I save a bit of money there). Public Transportation that gets reimbursed by your job can also make a major difference. No gas? No car insurance? No car payment? That makes a difference. At my first job, it literally took me 4-5 minutes to bike to work!

How well you come out financially each month will depend on the job you take (you get a crap job, then you may wanna disregard all that I’ve just mentioned in this first reason :O ), where you live, and the lifestyle you lead of course.


On a deeper personal level, coming to Japan was a chance to stop being so damn myopic. I was tired of grinding to try to achieve what everybody thinks success is supposed to be: Are you making six figures a year? Do you have a nice car? A hot wife? A dog? Good-looking kids? Why I just mentioned the dog before the kids, I’m not really sure. But I wanted to define my own dream.

One of the best ways for me to do that was to remove myself from the environment I was in, and start anew. Yes, being in Japan can get lonely at times, but those quiet times are a wonderful opportunity for reflection and introspection. Even if you don’t stay forever, I think most people how come for a year or longer go back to their home countries with a very different mindset, a clearer idea of where they want to go. That’s definitely what’s happened for me.

Why can I hear Diana Ross’s voice singing “Home” from the Wiz in my head?
“Maybe there’s a chance for me to go back now that I have some direction…”


On a professional level, I wanted to see if I could make more of a difference in the students I was teaching*. Not to say that you can’t make a difference teaching in America, because you ABSOLUTELY can.

I’ll be 100% honest with you, teaching public school back home didn’t make me feel like I was making a difference whatsoever. On so many occasions I felt like I was have to choose between disciplining kids and teaching them. It shouldn’t have to be a tradeoff between the two!

I was more drained at the end of each day than any job I’ve ever done in my entire life. I was starting to burnout and I was only two years in. That was a huge red flag for me. Some teacher under the sound of these words has taught public school in the U.S. and knows EXACTLY what I’m talking about. Some teacher under the sound of my voice is about to call in sick, not because you’re physically ill, but you just don’t feel like it tomorrow. I’ve been there and I don’t blame you, not even a little.

Ever gone into a class with the best intentions to teach and teach well, only to have all your planning and hard work rendered useless by a group of disinterested, misbehaving kids? It was happening far too often in my school. I would think to myself
“This can’t be it.”
“This can’t be how the rest of my career goes.”
“I’m not teaching like this until I retire.”
“I’ll just go somewhere where the kids give sh#t about what I have to say.”

There’s no doubt in my mind that I could have easily just found a better school in the U.S. to teach for. But after truly assessing my personal and professional goals, I felt Japan would be the better fit.

*Teaching in the private sector as a karate teacher in Georgia, that was a TOTALLY different experience. I LOVED that freakin’ job (sensei Fuller, I hope you’re reading this). I KNOW I was making a difference there, but you have to keep in mind that students were paying monthly tuition to be there.”


I’d have to say a resounding YES. In many respects I’ve been able to get back on track financially, personally, and professionally.

Truthfully, I’m not going to become a rich man by just doing ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) work, or working at an eikaiwa (英会話 (English language school)). But the students have been a far cry more receptive here.

It encourages me to put WAY more into my job. Because the vast majority of the students do care (I’m not going to say every single person does), I’m going to give them everything I have, and really make sure that they learn something from me.

Is teaching always rosy here in Japan? No it isn’t. But I can say that I feel like I have made a much bigger impact here than I ever did in the public school system back home. Before the jading process, I think most teachers set out to in some way, shape or form…make a difference.

I intended to only stay a year, but that was “two…three…” almost eight years ago.

Teaching English in Japan has been one of the biggest and most rewarding choices of my adult life. I have been able to make some meaningful relationships with some awesome teachers, adult students, and some amazing eikaiwa & public school kids here in Japan.

This post is dedicated to all those teachers in the trenches. I know you’re out there. The ones dealing with the so many discipline problems every single day, that you’re about two outbursts away from ending up in a straitjacket (please take a deep breath). I know what you’re going through and I have nothing but respect for you.


For those of you who are teaching in Japan.

Why did you come here to teach?

If you’re thinking of coming to Japan,
What are your reasons for wanting to come to Japan?

You can be as honest you like.

The following two tabs change content below.
Donald Ash is an ATLien expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last six years. While in aforesaid time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator, writer, designer, editor, programmer, and occasional bad artist of thejapanguy.com blog (that's just way too many hats, dude). Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
  • Koji Kuzuhara

    This is really encouraging. I am not a foreign teacher, but this gave me a good motivation. Thanks, Don!

    • Donald Ash

      Aw, thanks Koji. I glad you liked it, buddy.

  • Jess

    I think it’s great that you are over there teaching…and teaching one of the hardest languages to learn! Props to you, Don! Don’t ever think that you are not making a difference in the world, because you do every time you start a class!

    • Donald Ash

      I appreciate that, Mr. Dillard. I do think teachers can make a difference. I remember you teaching me how to fight, by dragging me back onto the mat after I tried to crawl away, lol. YOU’RE AN AWESOME MARTIAL ARTS TEACHER in my humble opinion.

      • Jess

        Awww…thanks, I think, HA HA! Draggin you back on the mat…whatever! HAHA!

        • Donald Ash

          Man, seriously, you’re like a martial arts beast. Aren’t you fighting in the UFC next month?

  • Yolande

    Encouraging article! Keep up the good work!

    • I had no idea some of these comments were coming through. Thank you so much Yolande! I’ll keep ‘em coming!

  • Nanami

    I’m still on the fence about going to Japan. I’m debating if I want to go on to get my PHD already because of the really interesting things I’m finding out in my sociolinguistics courses (like why the Japanese pronounce English loan words the way they do, which is really cool and is applied to any accent really). However, even if I would go onto my PHD I think I’d like to take some time to get some practical experience before immersing myself in that whole world. Japan has been a goal of mine for years. Not just because of the culture, literature and history but because personally, it is something that would take me out of my element and let me start over.. that might sound a little familiar. XD

    I’ve always done the best when I was jumping headfirst into something new. I really haven’t taken the risk to do that in a long time. I hope I get to. My Japanese teacher is already suggesting I take a full year as a student there. I think I’d rather do it while teaching. I wonder if that could be worked out somehow? Do you have any ideas Donald-san?

    • I’m sure that there have to be teachers that pursue degrees while teaching. Not super common, but it has to happen! I would say really weight the pros and cons, see if it’s something could manage, see whether or not it’s something you’d actually want to manage (be honest with yourself), and go from there.

  • James

    Thanks Don!
    This article was really inspiring. I am a 23 year old American living in Michigan. In December I will receive my BA in English, and then I’m off on a Japanese adventure in March(ish). I will have a few months to prepare and am hoping to land a job before I come over. I want to teach English and make a difference too! your blog is really helping me see all the steps I need to take before I’m ready.

    • I never ever saw this comment! Thank you so much, James. Did you ever end up making it over here? If so, how’d it all turn out?

  • Usagi

    Hey Ash!

    I like your articles! I have a question for you though. Do you have anything to say about ALT jobs in Japan? I am considering quitting my present teaching career at home and taking on an ALT position in Japan. However, the unpaid vacations and terrible reviews I have been running into is making me seriously reconsider my decision. I really do want to go to Japan and start afresh. However, I don’t want to land myself in trouble and lose my peace mind. I could use your advice!

    • Usagi

      I just realized I left out the crucial part. Do you have anything to say about ALT jobs***with smaller dispatch companies in Japan?

      • Donald Ash

        Yes, I do actually. “Please be careful.” The dispatch companies that have been around for a while have been around for a reason. Sometimes smaller companies my not have or be able to maintain the number of school contracts they anticipate. This ends up severely hurting their teachers on pay. If things go sour, teachers could end up not getting paid at all (a la Nova).

      • YES! I most certainly do! I can’t claim to have worked with all of them, but I know some smaller ones who don’t treat their workers fairly when it comes to pay. I know teaching isn’t billed as the highest-paying job in the world, but c’mon!

    • Donald Ash

      Hey Usagi :D

      Thank you the for the compliment. I appreciate that!
      Hmm…ALT jobs? Well, I’ll say not all companies are created equal…wait a minute, you know what? I REALLY like this question. Would it be okay to address it in video form? I’m sure a lot of people wonder the same exact thing. I know I did.


    • Thanks Usagi! (sorry the a response that’s soooooooooo late) For a while I just wasn’t seeing comments come through. Vacations weren’t unpaid, but you did get a fraction of your salary. I won’t lie to you…it was tough. That’s the best way I can say it. But, I did have an amazing experience at the school I worked for. I wan’t able to do it forever because of the pay. But there are ways around dispatch companies

  • Great post about the Japanese scene for English teachers and good to hear that your impression and experience has, overall, been positive.

  • Miles Kelly

    Hey Ash,

    Found your site while thinking about following through on an old dream of living abroad teaching English in Japan and traveling throughout the island nation. Great writing, great intentions, it’s great to read your words and thoughts.

    • It’s an honor and a pleasure, Miles. thank you!

  • PrimaVana

    Does your friend not know that this kind of life doesn’t only happen in America? I’m assuming she hasn’t live outside of the U.S. and if so, maybe living abroad wasn’t for her. However, her statement, “try to achieve what everybody thinks success is supposed to be: Are you making six figures a year? Do you have a nice car? A hot wife? Good-looking kids? A dog?” has been on my mind for the longest.

    • I may have miswritten something. My friend just mentioned that teaching was giving some of the Japanese workers a chance to come to American and take the good jobs. As far as the six figures thing, etc. I wrote that because at the time that’s what so many people seemed focused on around me. I hope that makes sense. Thanks for sharing your thoughts PrimaVana!

  • I also taught in the States and not in Japan, but in Korea, Taiwan and China. I can say that generally the kids are better behaved and there are more rules supporting the teacher. In the States you have to be so “careful” about what you say or do cause you might get sued.

    In Asia teachers are respected more. That doesn’t mean kids there are perfect, but you can work on that.

    • David Joiny

      Nice to meet you guys. Interesting conversation and article. I’ve been teaching in Japan for about 10 years. The best site for English materials etc is definitely


      The shoutbox there is really good as well for getting help and tips. I would say that in Junior High School in Japan you don’t need to really concern yourself with behavior. It’s more of the Japanese teacher’s role, which is a nice relief. Makes your job a LOT easier.

      Actually, more can go wrong when you DO try to discipline.

      • Spot on, David! It takes so much off of you to not have to deal with that, right?

    • Can I say “Amen!” to this comment? Because you’re speaking the truth! I think it’s the reason why I don’t ever think I could go back to teaching in the capacity that was before. University maybe, private school maybe. But I don’t think i could do public school for that very reason. Seems like so much is stacked against the teacher’s success in the classroom. The ones who are able to pull it off amaze me!

  • Jessica M

    Hi Donnie!

    I enjoy reading your posts. As a teacher in Atlanta, Georgia, I’m definitely experiencing the burnout you mentioned. You’re right in asserting that most, if not all teachers probably join the profession with altruistic desires. The same is true for me. I have the strong desire to “make a difference”, but I’m lucky if I can just make it through the day. Thanks for all of your blog posts. It was my desire to teach in Japan that ultimately led me to stumble across your posts in the first place. Thanks again!

    • Thank you so much Jessica! Whaaaat?!? ATL buddies!!!
      I totally feel your pain. Can I ask how long you’ve been teaching? I know several buddies that went into teaching (like 2-3) years and hopped right back out, went back to school for something else and changed course. After being in there, it’s easy to see why there are so many pockets of Georgia that are starved for good teacher.

      Thank you so much for reading. (Donnie salutes Jessica…so much respect for you)

  • Nanami

    ^ ^ Always helps with my motivation to read stuff like this. Korea was a drop in the bucket but such a great way to get me ready for coming to Japan eventually. Either way, I totally agree with all of the points you made from my own experiences! Coming home has actually been a bit restrictive in comparison to the freedom I felt–not just financially but as an individual as well, while I stayed in South Korea.Though, I am happy to spend time with my family and I’m working on getting my “nose clean” financially before I come to Japan ^^a that’s why I haven’t gotten to come bug you yet!

    • Hahaha! You can come out to bug me anytime, my friend. I agree with you, too, Nanami-chan.
      You do get a sense of freedom being out here, being able to take care of things, having your own place to stay that you can actually afford, not really hurting for a whole lot. And in some ways that trumps the money for people. It’s part of what makes it so hard to leave once you get into a good rhythm here.

  • Ambi Bambi

    Great Article Japan Guy,
    I think it’s great that you started off as a teacher. It would be interesting to see old class pictures of you with your students!
    To answer your question, I came to Japan for similar reasons, to make a difference and to experience Japanese life. I wanted to try the food, start a healthier lifestyle and take an exciting risk.

    I love your site, it’s such a great resource for people interested in Japan.

    • Yeah, so many people started out teaching right? Not everyone ends up finding that right fit or even ends up wanting to teach forever, but I think I’m always going to do it in some way, shape or form. Teacher at heart I think. It’s cool that you started out that way, too.

      P.S.-Japanese food rocks by the way. I’m a big shabu shabu fan.
      P.P.S.- Thank you so much for checking it out. Just trying to make it good as I possibly can!

  • Kyle

    I loved your article Donald,
    I’m a new reader and I really enjoy your posts. I’m an Education major in college and I am thinking about coming to Japan to teach English because I want to make a difference in the lives of who ever I am able to teach and I’ve been interested in the country ever since middle school. Is there any places you would recommend applying too when looking for jobs there?
    I can’t wait to read more of your posts and articles, I love your website.
    Thank you much.

  • Sara

    Hey TJG

    Thanks for writing this – it’s incredibly inspiring, motivating and so insightful.

    Hi five from a teacher to the Japanese community in Malaysia,