What’s Your Story? (Seven)

By Donald Ash | Articles

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For many people, when things get tough, they turn to God or to the church for answers. Had it been ten years earlier, I would have done the same thing. But I’d be lying if I told you prayer is what kept me sane. Others rely on friends to vent and to get back to some state of normalcy. I have always been one to withdraw and do some self-reflection during the bad times and this time was no different. There wasn’t much my friends could do about this one.

For me, Karate and martial arts became my solace. During the hardest times in my life, karate and martial arts have been a constant that I can return to no matter where I live, no matter where I am. It allots me an opportunity to get re-focused again. Having amazing martial arts teachers like Jim Fuller, like Tony Young, Jess Dillard, Rickey Murray and that whole Georgia Martial Arts Crew provides me with the wonderful mentors and role models even now.

Another great reason I didn’t lose it was because I had some applications in the works for teaching jobs in Japan before everything really got bad. I had applied with Nova and AEON. Nova never did come to do interviews because they went bankrupt before they could make it over. I interviewed with AEON and was impressed by how professional they were. I did teaching demonstration for AEON passed the first round of interviews and was invited for the second round…in Georgia. I found out I got the job and happily accepted. Getting that job was kind of like a beacon in the storm for me. Life was raging out of control on all fronts, but I had something to look forward to. I would be moving to Japan in January of 2011.

When my last check came from Dekalb County School. I was in a bit of a bind, because I needed to raise enough money to get to Japan and have money to survive for two months. I found a small-business, data-entry job, that didn’t pay much, but the couple was SO understanding. They allowed me to work as many hours as I could stomach, and they even let me decide when I wanted to get paid. I would work in their home office, sometimes for 12 hours a day. I almost felt like another family member. They would feed me, we would laugh and joke together, and I just really appreciated them giving me a chance knowing that my employment would only be short term. Jennifer and Chuck…thank you.


As time neared, the pieces of the Japan puzzle started to fit to get together. I wasn’t going to have as much as AEON recommended to survive during the non-salaried period but I was in the ballpark. My sister Erica took care of the plane ticket (whew). Time was approaching and I was having the full gamut of emotions from fear to sadness to happiness to introspection.

In a way I think going to Japan was a good idea because I was making poor choices. I felt like I couldn’t get anything right in America. Bad thing after bad thing kept happening. The same friend that introduced me to that guys that destroyed my credit ended up doing something really shady about a month-and-a-half before I left for Japan. This caused us to have a big falling out (that wp; we don’t talk this very day. My girlfriend at the time had started seeing someone else just prior to leaving, but didn’t tell me about it. I felt like I was about to explode. I just wanted to take some time to reset. I hadn’t been to church many years prior but I remember saying “God if you just land the plane safely, I’ll do whatever I can to fix everything I’ve screwed up.”

For the last three plus years, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. The bankruptcy was filed successfully and I have since restored my credit rating to a higher level than it was prior to the bankruptcy. I didn’t hire some fluke guy to try to do a credit restoration. I did it the right way. I created a strict budget and stuck to it. I have grown to love my life here in Japan. I have had to do a lot of growing up during my three years here.

Living in Japan has forced me to be more responsible about my choices. During my first year in Japan, whenever I would think back on my difficulties in America, I would get so upset just thinking about them…or about people who I But now, over three years later, I realize that there’s nothing to be angry about; the school of hard knocks can be an extremely effective teacher. I don’t need to hold grudges because all it does is absorb my energy and my peace.

I am no longer the slightly cocky kid that I was at the end of high school nor am I the dejected, depressed, exasperated young man that I was at Morehouse. I am a 30-year-old, expat living in Japan, a man full of realistic dreams and realistic methods to achieve them. I am a man that’s been fortunate enough to have a second chance, a new life, here in Japan. I am a product of an array of great lessons and experiences, some tougher than others but all of them valuable. I am a man who is grateful to be sitting here typing to a group of wonderful readers at this very moment, I am man who has learned from some wonderful teachers, students mentors and friends. I am a man who for the first time in a long time, is happy to be where I am.

The future is brighter than ever…


Donald Ash

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About the Author

Donald Ash is an Atlanta, Georgia-born, American expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last eleven years. While in that time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator of thejapanguy.com blog. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.

  • Jess says:

    I finally took the time to read this story! Amazing! I am so happy that you have “made it” and are doing so well! Dang proud of you, Lakan Donald!

    • Donald Ash says:

      I appreciate that Mr. Dillard. I wish I had made it, then maybe money would be easier to come by. But someday that will change, too. Lakan? I wish.

      • Jess says:

        Well, making it isn’t about the money (although it would be sweet if it was!), and you have a great thing going!

  • Aryll says:

    Hello there Donald,

    It was simply one of those sleepless nights you have after a pretty bad day.
    Simply stumbled upon your blog and started reading it.
    Great writing, I really liked your life story and the way you presented it. It’s funny how we meet more than 50 teachers in our lives and can only remember a handful. From the way you sound like, I am pretty sure you’ll be part of this chosen handful for a good number of students. 😉

    I myself have decided to move to Japan. I’ll be teaching english as well. I am french however lol.
    It must be hard for you sometimes being an african american in Japan, I liked your post about the discrimination you felt during some meetings. Hang in there buddy.

    I just thought your life story was touching and I simply wanted to tip my hat to you for your resilience.
    Hope Japan will continue to be a good place to you.
    (And I hope it will be to me too… i am moving there at the end of January… until then I’ll be reading your blog. 😉 )

    All the best, it’s nice to see a teacher who enjoys doing his work. (I was starting to feel alone in that respect…)

    • Donald Ash says:

      Hi Aryll. Thank you so much for visiting my site! Thanks even more for some cool feedback 😉 It’ good to hear from a fellow teacher.

      I think teaching is one of those professions where you can really make a difference. I remember hearing this Will Smith interview where he was talking about if you can’t make a difference doing what you’re doing…then why are you doing it? I really try to hold myself to that. Day by day, I really think I’m finding out where I fit, finding the things I can do to make a difference in people’s lives (in my case young children).

      As far as being African-American goes, it’s not so bad…I do have my moments of frustration/isolation, but all in it’s a good place to be. With the job, I wouldn’t say it was discrimination, the company I was working for was actually really good about being sensitive to other people’s cultures and backgrounds. I won’t lie, I did have my days where I felt really frustrated, as I’m sure will happen with most jobs…at some point or another. But I’ll always look back on that experience as a REALLY good one.

      I’m sure you’re going to love Japan! It’s a cool place. Please stay tuned, because I will have some super useful stuff coming in the next week. I can imagine how you must be feeling right now. If you have questions please give me a shout, okay?

      Take care, Aryll!

  • Aryll says:

    Look at that, professional-grade customer care lol. That was a quick reply. 😉

    I will of course stay tuned (hell, i’ve only read 10 articles or so so far, I’ve got quite a bit to cover!)
    I’m in an odd state of mind at the moment, I’ve always wanted to come live in Japan to at least try it out. Now that it is the case, I am excited of course but a lot more apprehensive than I would like to be. The visa sponsorship thing with my employer seems to be a bit sketchy (asking me to ‘use up’ my working holiday visa first before they even consider sponsoring me)… So basically, it’s a massive leap of faith for me. Succeed or crash… hard. If I don’t obtain a sponsorship by the time my WH visa expires, I’ll be forced to leave Japan…

    So yeah! Scary stuff but I’m sure I’ll look back fondly on that period of my life in a few years haha. (Just like I do whenever I remember the poor student who had to eat the cheapest pasta that could be found at the local supermarket!)

    Will make sure to let you know if I have any questions… although I reckon the good questions will be the ones I NEED to ask after bad stuff’s happened lol.

    As a side note, you scared me with your mouldy tatami post haha. I am already thinking of my “to buy” list as soon as I get a flat. 😉

    All the best and good luck with the students. You’re lucky to have classes, I’ll be stuck with 1 on 1 lessons… It can be very draining on the teacher to keep those going.


  • AccessJ says:

    Seven pages seemed excessive when I clicked the “What’s Your Story?” link, but I have to say that I really enjoyed the ride. Congrats to you and I hope you continued success.

  • Esther says:

    How long did it take you to move to Japan?

  • Jessica Lynn says:

    The journey to your story was an odd one. This morning my 4 month old chocolate lab, Obie Wan, tipped over his water bucket for the 3rd time. I decided to fill up a turtle shaped sandbox with water to discourage him from knocking his bucket over again. While filling up the turtle with one of those green rubber hoses, tiny yellow bee things started buzzing around my head. I screamed and ran in the house. I am terrified of bees. Why were they so small? Were they baby yellow jackets? Baby KILLER BEES? *gasp* the possiblities were endless.

    I got on my phone and started googling images of baby bees. Then, I found your blog post on eating baby bees. It delighted me and upset me at the same time (not out of love for baby bees mind you..just the thought of any bees even dead ones, upset me).

    So I explored your blog. Watched some videos…had a few good laughs and I wondered, why is this guy in Japan? Heh. Found your story and I related to it-mainly to the parts about f’ing up after college and having to start all over (I too became a teacher). Anyways, thanks for this blog of yours. It makes the world seem not so small.

    -Jessica Lynn, 32, in the middle of the Nevada desert

  • TW says:

    Very inspiring,may God continue to bless you…..u didn’t Need that cheating bitch anyway.

  • savvykenya says:

    Don’t remember how I stumbled on your blog, I was probably searching for something related to being black in Japan! I eventually ended up reading a few other artcicles before reading your story, an interesting one, well written and flowing.. I’m in Japan , 2 months now and will be staying for at least 4 years in Kanazawa, Ishikawa. Holla if you do travel these sides!

  • Ivy says:

    Your story is a inspiration. Thank you!

  • Speed Williams says:

    Dope story. I’ve seen all the videos, but I would love to see the Japan tales in writing just to hear your thoughts. I know you were in a couple of different spots in Japan emotionally which is only to be expected being a “cultural” baby in a weird new land. Whether you know it or not you’re a role model for us young black men. You are creating a path for the rest of us to follow man. I can’t give you enough props for the courage you’ve shown in life and the fact that you never compromised who you were.

    • Donnie says:

      Whoa, man! I sincerely appreciate you! I’m so happy that I can be an inspiration to people, even if only a small one. Your words mean more than you know my friend. Tales from Japan in writing, huh? Funny you mention that…already a work in progress. Stay tuned 😀

  • Will Wolf says:

    Cool story bro.
    But seriously, in depth, really good read.
    I suppose we all walk different paths.
    Perhaps I’ll send you a line when I’m next in Japan.
    I hope the world stays colourful brother.

  • Danielle Thomas says:

    I too thought 7 pages was…a bit much. But I read through it all without even noticing where the time went. Thanks for sharing your story! I loved reading it.

  • teacherhans says:

    I stumbled upon your page by surfing the internet after getting home from working all night. Your “about me” story sucked me in. Appreciate your honesty and candor. My dad had a sign in his office when I was growing up that said, “Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment.” Looks like your life experience is moving you towards where you need to go in this world. Good luck.

  • mediab0y says:

    Thanks for sharing this amazing story… How did you arrive at teaching in Japan? In your story you mentioned the business and life issues you faced in America but didn’t say how you arrived at filling out the application at AEON that lead to your life in Japan.

  • Bryan says:

    Incredible Story Man, This really helps keep me motivated to find my way to Japan. Working hard doing Construction/Skilled labour, while studying when I am not working. It’s great to see how I relate to your story! Makes me want to keep going to find my sucess, even if it seems uncertain at times!

  • Jamal Mohamed-Isa says:

    Just read all seven pages and sounds like you have had quite an experience growing up.

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