A Chance to Change

By Donald Ash | Articles

It all started with a letter…

Dear Donald

Thank you for attending our Group Meeting and Interview today.

We would like to invite you back for a personal interview. Your interview will be held:

Day/Date Monday, October 1st

Time: 4:30 pm

Place: Hilton Suites Atlanta Perimeter, Room #117

Since this is the only time available for your interview, we appreciate you flexibility in meeting our schedule. As our schedule is very tight, please be certain to arrive on time.

There is nothing special for you to prepare for the interview.

We look forward to seeing you again.

Osaka Jo Castle

This was the letter I got after the my initial interview to teach for a privately-owned English school here in Japan. I remember being so nervously excited for the second round of interviews that I accidentally grabbed the wrong suit coat on the way out the door. I didn’t notice until I was walking into the hotel. I greeted my interviewer wearing a blue jacket and black pants (nice move, Donnie). After initial greetings, I was given ten minutes to produce and teach a lesson from one of the company’s text books. To be honest, I felt like I botched it completely. Nevertheless, I was shown how the company wanted the lesson taught and I was given a second try. My lesson was much smoother the second time. Now, all that was left to do was wait.

Pure, unadulterated, elation! That’s what I felt the moment I got the phone call saying that I had been selected from a pool of applicants to attend job training in Omiya, Japan. I told everybody I could possibly think of: my sister, my mother, my friends, my family…anyone who would listen. As I talked to more and more of the people who I considered “closest” to me, my elation turned to doubt. There were so many naysayers…I couldn’t believe it actually. I remember telling one of my friends and she told me she didn’t think it was good idea to teach English in Japan. She is a researcher, and her reasoning was that teaching Japanese people English just gives them a chance to come to America and “take our jobs.” Huh? Really? I had family members asking incredulously “Are you sure you want to do that?” Friends saying “I wouldn’t do that.” There were so many more negative responses than positive ones. Having a sister that did this before me, really made things easier because she put my mind at ease. Just hearing from her that everything was going to be okay, was so helpful.

Naysayers aside, I really wanted to go to Japan, but really started to question if it was going to be possible financially. Would I have enough to get to Japan and cover my expenses for the first month? Before could even begin to answer this question, I had some VERY pressing issues in my personal life to deal with first…

Truth be told, I had a mountain of financial problems to deal with before I came to Japan. I had gotten caught up in two business scams earlier that year…yes, two. One was real estate the other was with cars. One company rented housing to tenants and marketed itself as a way for the average Joe to make money in real estate…idiotic choice number one. The second company did a very similar thing but with luxury cars…idiotic move number two. I joined these companies at the advice of a close friend (business and friends don’t always mix). I saw that he was making money, and wanted to do the same. I learned that he was using his personal credit to assist companies in securing housing and cars; this was in exchange for financial reimbursement. It seemed simple enough. I had never been taught (and never bothered to learn) how important my personal credit was. But, I was about to take Ruined Credit 101, a crash course from Donald Ash’s College of Life.

I used my personal credit to be a guarantor for a house and three different cars…idiotic moves number three, four, five and six. Initially things were great. Everyone was happy, everyone was making pretty good money. But a couple of months later, these companies stopped making payments the way they claimed they would. What saying can apply here? “Everything that glitters isn’t gold?” “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is?” “OH SH#T?” All of them apply quite frankly. For 20 points: “When the company stopped making payments, who was left holding the bag?” If you guessed me, you get 20 points. I was the guarantor, so it became my problem. The company owners were shielded by the protection warranted by a corporation (no personal liability).

Everything I made with these people wasn’t even close to enough to handle the ensuing collections costs, harassing phone calls, late-night repo-man visits, and heartache I experienced. Because I trusted my friend, I didn’t think things through as much as I should have. As much as I hate to say it, the company owners were great salesmen, too. They say there’s a sucker born every minute; this time I was one of them. The resulting credit failure was enough to make a grown man cry (I know I did…many nights). I felt like Atlas with a world of financial burden on my shoulders.

When everything went bad, I was in between jobs (a nice way of saying unemployed) and, now, several hundred thousand dollars in the hole. Strangely enough, the company that did the real estate deal, ended up selling the the home that they were defaulting on, so it was a sigh of relief for me. The biggest burden was lifted. On my credit report, the house showed up as being paid off. But I wasn’t in the clear yet. I had three luxury vehicles on my credit that I had never even driven, and I there was no way I could afford to pay…I WAS JOBLESS!! After quite a bit of struggle, I was able to get the cars repossessed. Can you believe the company owner didn’t even want to release the cars? SHEESH! So, the cars were in the repo company’s possession…good. But my debts were still there. What was I to do? Because I had no hope of paying my creditors, I had only one option…to commit financial seppuku…to file bankruptcy. I had to quite a bit of searching, because there were several lawyers who wouldn’t even take my case. I was referred by one lawyer to a Mr. Courtney, who took my case. He was gracious enough to let me pay the filing fee in installments. My mother helped me to pay for the bankruptcy. My time eventually came, when I had to sit in a court room in front of the Attorney General, and get approval. The Attorney General marked my case as “Under Review”. So, it was out of my hands at that point. They were either going to to say yes, or say no. In the mean time…time was winding down. I had just under three months to get ready for the adventure of a lifetime.

But how in God’s name was I going to get enough money to pay for my passport? pay the initial deposit? cover the flight? and have enough money to tide me over until I got my first check? I didn’t have a clue. I job hunted like my life depended on it.

I was lucky enough to find a job with a couple running a small business out of their home. I remember calling about a data-entry job in my local newspaper. I almost got turned down because I was living with my father in Conyers, Georgia and the job was in Tucker, Georgia about a forty-minute drive away. The company was looking for someone local. Sometimes you can’t stop a man on a mission, though. I was persistent and told the owner, Jennifer, that I really needed work. She was somewhat hesitant at first, but she gave me the precious opportunity I needed. This company was called Promomomma (short for promotions momma I think) and they specialized in running contests for department stores and doing travel promotions.

I can’t remember what the job paid exactly (seven dollars? eight, maybe?). It wasn’t a high paying job, but I didn’t care, I needed money…AND FAST!! I told this couple my situation and they did something that I never could’ve imagined. They welcomed me into their home, and allowed me to work as many hours as I wanted. Knowing that I didn’t have much time, I would do up to ten-hour days (sometimes eleven or twelve near the end) to get it all together. These were the sweetest people…they fed me, they took care of me, and I’ll never forget them. They even let me work on Christmas Day!! They didn’t treat me like an employee, they treated me like a family member.

“I don’t know if you’ll ever read this, but thank you so much Jennifer and Chuck. At a time when I didn’t believe in anything and couldn’t trust anyone, you showed me that there are honest businesses and truly good people out there. THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART”

With this job, I was able to make a pretty sizable dent in the money required to tie up loose ends.

Early December 2007: So everything was almost set. I had taken care of my deposit, gotten my passport, and had a little money set aside for living expenses & food (still not enough, though). My sister had called my company and found out all of the necessary details and actually purchased my plane ticket. This month I found out from my best friend (from the very same friend I got into the financial trouble with) that he had been contacting my ex-girlfriend for months, went to her apartment, and did something inappropriate. Sigh…why me? Why now? I was so hurt because I had known my friend since the 5th grade, and I felt extremely betrayed, especially after the financial mess. The year before I came to Japan was (without a doubt) one of the hardest of my entire life. Despite my troubles, I just had this feeling that if I could just get on that plane and land safely in Tokyo…I could fix things…change my life.

January 2008: I had purchased the clothes, supplies, and everything I was going need to stay in Japan for a while. I still didn’t have enough money, but I had scrounged up enough to get by. I still hadn’t heard from the Attorney General either. My flight left on January 10, 2010. Full of apprehension and bitterness (from some tough situations) I made the twelve-hour journey to Japan, and received a warm welcome at Narita Airport.

I was so happy to be here, but honestly didn’t have much money…so I struggled. I couldn’t go out with training friends because I truly didn’t have enough to do it (even simple dinners). I remember having those “canned-food nights” from time to time, but I was determined to work hard and fix what was wrong in my life.


It is now October 28th, 2010. I have been in Japan for nearly three years now, and I am not the same person anymore, physically of mentally. I’ve lost about 20 pounds and I enjoy lifting weights on a regular basis. I cut contact with my “friend” and made some cool new ones. The Attorney General approved my bankruptcy, and I have made every payment on time for the last 2 years and 10 months. I was able to secure a small credit card to start responsibly rebuilding my credit. And I am happy to report that my credit is now better than it’s been in my entire life (I was able to pay my mother back all of the money she lent me to file the bankruptcy, too). I am learning Japanese and I’m currently about to change jobs. I will find a position with the public school system in Japan. I’m the happiest I’ve been in a very long time.

With the end of my very first job in Japan looming in the near future, I have been so pensive, wondering what to do next. I’m sad to leave a wonderful company and staff that have picked up an angry, penniless, bankrupt, discouraged and confused 28-year-old, dusted him off, and helped him to find his way again.

Donald Ash

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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.
  • Oh wow, I’ve been reading your blog, and it’s like I’m you in female form I swear. I’m a black girl from Canada, I’m about to leave for Japan to work for an Eikaiwa. My flight even leaves on January 10 2011, weird eh? I got here through searching for apartment hunting info. I think my company might set me up in a guest house, so I’m gonna try to get out of there into a nice, comfortable private apartment ASAP.

    Anyway hi, and thanks for the info. Anything new I stumble across before the big move helps me out a lot.

    • Donald Ash

      I apologize for the late reply. THAT’S AWESOME, AMANDA!! You’re even leaving on the same day, huh? If you don’t mind my asking, which Eikaiwa will you be working for? I know you must be excited. If you’re my female form, then you’re really going to love this place. I’m sure you’ll be able to find the apartment you’re looking for, too. I don’t know if you’d be interested or not, but I’ve been wanting to interview someone who is coming to Japan to work for the first time. If you have some free time (I’m sure things are pretty hectic for you right now) could I do a short, 25-30 minute interview with you?

      • Hey!

        Now I have to apologize for a late reply. Sorry I couldn’t remember what the name of the post was I commented on! Anyway I’ll be working for ECC. Yeah sure you can interview me. Send me an email 🙂

        • Donald Ash

          No worries, Amanda. Oh, okay, so you’ll be working for ECC. That’s great, I hear it’s a good company to work for. Thanks for getting back to me. I’ll be coming up with some questions this week, and I’ll email them to you, then we can just schedule a time that works for you. Talk to you soon.

  • Aaron

    Hey, loved this post! Glad that everything worked out for you in the end. “Friends” like that are the worst. As a man it’s not uncommon for these types of friends to pop up, but someone you’ve known for that long makes it even worse.

    I have a question, my girlfriend and I are thinking of taking the leap and working in Japan for a year or more…do you know if its much harder for 2 people to situate themselves the way you did? I mean, I’m sure the placement in jobs is much harder for 2.

  • Angel

    Parts of this are EXACTLY my story also. I’m so glad to hear your doing well. I have my first interview for private tutoring on Thursday. Any other hints or resources you recommend? and any samurai arts dojo’s that you’ve found by any chance?? Haha I live in Saitama

  • Angel

    And I too am a black girl from Canada Amanda! Lol are you still in Japan? Or anyone on this thread? I’ve been here for 3 months and I work with an Eikiawa also

  • Donald; I think it’s good you talk about your struggles here. Sometimes its easy to become too self-centered, and get depressed. Your story is motivating, and has encouraged me to perk up! You made it out of a very difficult situation, with the grace and kindness of others. Thanks for writing this. : 3

    • Donald Ash

      Venting through words has helped me through many a tough time, both here and in the U.S.
      Therapeutic stuff I must say. I’m glad my words could encourage you a bit. Thank you for reading.

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