By: Jasmine Anderson
Here’s another installment of Wanderlust Talks. If you haven’t read the first installment of our blog series Wander Talks where we discussed How to Find Your Community Abroad you can read it here. We have an interview with a lovely friend I’ve made since living in Japan. His story starts like a lot of ours: English teachers looking to find a place in the world. After living and working in Japan for over a decade he’s found more than his place, he’s built a business and he’s found his home. Take a gander and learn about Ben has made his way through the world.
So, where are you from?
I’m originally from San Francisco, California.
And what do you do in Japan?
I’m a business owner, which is one of the cooler things I can say about myself, I also teach at universities. And I advise companies on how to be more internationally-minded.
Like a consultancy?
Yeah, like a Consulting Company and an Eikaiwa, which means English school.
And how long have you been in Japan?
I have been here for eleven years. But I planned on one.
So at the end of that first year what were your thoughts?
Ya know, I wasn’t really ready to leave Japan. I found it way more intriguing than I thought I would. And at the time I thought, just one more year. I was saving some money. So I decided just two years and I’ll go back to corporate America.
Ah, so what were you doing before you came here?
It was just an office job, and I did not like it. So I said to myself, let’s go travel. Let’s go see somewhere else for a year, and that’s all I really thought.
When you first got here what were you doing? What was your life like? What was your job?
When I first got here I was teaching English, but what was I doing? I was trying to re-create San Francisco while living in the countryside of Japan. I was looking for the party. I was always about looking at what’s going on downtown. I was drinking more than I even wanted to. Just trying to live a life I thought I was supposed to be living, instead of actually looking at what’s going on around me, which is a much slower pace of life. I did that for almost a year.
Just to backtrack a bit, why did you choose Japan?
There’s a lot of stories, a variety….do you want the long answer or the short answer?
The long answer!
I lived in Korea for a year. And to all the readers, Korea’s a great country, but it wasn’t for me.
I found them too American. They were just straight, direct, loud. They were into everything that reminded me of California. Nothing was different, nothing was exotic.
Were you in Seoul?
No, I was in a very very rural place. And I just didn’t like it. There was no art, no music, there was no counter culture. San Francisco is the land of counter culture. And there was none. I needed to come to Japan to renew a visa, so I decided to spend one night in Osaka, in the city. Then two nights in Shikoku in the nature. I got out of the main station in Osaka, and my mind was just blown. There were ‘freaks’….I remember a woman with a big smile on her face walking down the street wearing a wedding dress. Two girls in school uniforms handcuffed…
To each other?
To each other. Happily walking. I saw a guy with green blue hair and these alien claws. And I’m not into any of this stuff…
But you found the ‘freaks’ as you put it.
I found the people who were expressing themselves. I was like wow. This is amazing. Went to visit nature out in Shikoku, in the Ehime area; and it was just beautiful. It was very dynamic, there were mountains going into the sea. And I thought to myself: One day I’m going to come back and live here. A lot of people have other reasons for example they like manga, ya know, they all have reasons to come to Japan. And I really I didn’t, I really didn’t know much about it. I just thought it was cool.
Can you take me through the evolution of your job history? How long were just an English teacher, at what point did you decide you need to be doing something more? More than an English teacher, more than recreating San Francisco.
Well recreating San Francisco kind of ended after a year. A good friend of mine, another foreigner I met here, he went home. So there was no one to recreate it with. So I got a little depressed, and I realized that I needed to start doing something. I started walking, as lame as it sounds, I started walking and watching TV dramas. I never watched TV before. I was against it, I was against exercise. I just started doing things. Not drinking. Not recreating my life [in San Francisco]. And after two years, it really hit me: I like teaching. I really like it. I actually like Japan. I don’t really get it, but I like it.
I was 29 at the time, and I knew looking around there was a ceiling on being an English school teacher. And that ceiling was not enough for my professional goals. So I decided I wanted to become a university professor in Japan. Which you can do if you have the right connections and a Masters.
So I went back to school, distance learning, [and got a degree from] California State University, Domingus Hills. And while I was doing that, I kept working hard. And that was a huge change for me. Where I was brought up …working hard wasn’t really applauded. But here in Japan, it was. And it was a lesson I really needed. That’s from about years 2 to 7…then I started getting pissed off that my English school owner was getting all the profits.
Yeah. Considering what they charge for classes, we don’t see most of that money.
At all. I was working company classes that requested me. For six months I was working an extra 10-20 hours a month. And I did the math: she’s making 10 grand, and I’m making zero extra.
So I thought, you know what….
That’s some bullshit?
Yep. I thought that’s some bullshit. So I took a risk, and I became self employed. I was able to get part-time work at a national university. It wasn’t much. I only had a couple of clients. And it was pretty hard…as anyone who starts a business knows: the beginning it isn’t easy. So I was only making a little money, and I had lots of free time.
That was okay. But about a year and a half ago, I met a woman. She had a MA in Finance from a very prestigious university in Japan. And we decided to start a company together. She handled the the business and numbers side. And I took care of the image and the education. And it was the best decision I’ve ever made. It really works. The Japanese [clients] like that she’s there at the meetings…
The business is spreading around, people know who we are. So what’s my progression? I went from a drunk San Francisco boy, to an English school teacher who was trying, to a broke as fuck self-employed person, to a businessman. That’s kind of how I see myself now.
So when did you start thriving here?
Maybe two or three years in. That first year I was definitely not thriving. That was the year of kind of getting rid of old things and old habits. The second year and third year I started accepting what I was seeing around me. For instance, it’s cold in December, so there is no party! Don’t go downtown and waste all this money, cause there just isn’t a party.
Ok, last question: What does home mean to you?
Any expat who lives anywhere for a year or more will come to think of this question. I think for me, home is where I feel comfortable. Where I know what’s going on. [In Japan] I understand where everything is and how it works. Home makes sense to me. When I go back to the States, because I’ve been gone for so long, I don’t really know what’s going on there. I love my family, and I love San Francisco; but it’s not really home anymore. And that’s a trippy weird feeling. Home is a routine. It’s what you do everyday.
What a fella, amiright? Seeing someone thrive in this way is inspirational on so many levels! Take a page out of his book, get up, and live your life abroad in the best way possible.
Rise International is an English language school and consultancy business in the Yamaguchi prefecture of Japan. Check it out at: Rise Facebook Page