This week’s guest blogger is John Bardos, a Canadian who has lived in Japan for over a decade.
He talks about how he ended up in Japan on a whim, teaching English and starting a business. Why he is leaving now after 13 years in the Land of the Rising Sun is something many of you should read. You may see some similarities in his story in your own life.
Read his fascinating story and learn how to contact him at the end of this post.
I have lived in Japan for about 13 years now. For about ten of those years, I have owned and taught in my own English school. I have recently sold the school and my wife and I plan to rent out our house and travel the world indefinitely while working on some Internet businesses.
Japan is a fantastic country on so many levels. It is not without its faults, as with anything in life, but I will always consider Japan my home and plan to return regularly. Coming to Japan was relatively easy. I just decided it was time to go, bought a plane ticket and arrived in Japan a week later. I was always interested in the country, but sometimes people just need to make a decision and do it. That is what I did.
I arrived in Japan with no visa, no job and only about $1000. One advantage I had was an old friend I knew was teaching here and I had his address from a letter he sent me. I didn’t have his phone number so I mailed him a letter to tell him I was coming. Unfortunately, I arrived before the letter so there was no advance notice.
When I arrived in Japan, by shear luck and the kindness of strangers I managed to get to his apartment and I rang the doorbell. Needless to say he was a little shocked to see me at his front door, but he let me stay in his flat for about a week until I found something else.
Finding work was very easy, I applied at a big English school chain and was hired the following week. It took about six weeks to have my work visa processed and I had to leave the country to get it validated, but it was fairly painless.
Until I could legally work, I have several different part-time illegal jobs in Japan. Two were working in bars and one was at a small English school. One of the bars was pretty shady, and they didn’t pay me for several weeks of salary, but the other two jobs I had were decent.
I ended up teaching for other companies for about two years before I finally decided to set up my own English school. I only expected to be in Japan for about six months, so when the two year mark came around I decided to get serious and start a business.
I have seen countless teachers who have come to Japan only for a year or two but end up here forever. There are many teachers here who are in a continual “leaving in another six months” process. The longer you stay the harder it is to leave. The lifestyle is good, with a decent income and the possibility to save some money. With the low tax rates it is likely that your savings will be much more than in your home country.
Japan is fairly bureaucratic so it is a little more hassle to set up businesses but certainly not impossible. Some things I don’t like about Japan are paying gift money to landlords to rent apartments and commercial spaces. In some parts of Japan, you still have to pay 6 months or more rent as a gift to the landlord. Also, most rentals require having a Japanese guarantor. This can make it more difficult to establish a business.
The best thing about having a business in Japan is that there are so many business write-offs. This is still an entertaining culture so spending lots of money on cars, lunches, drinking, and other marketing expenses are very common.
The effective tax rate of teachers and small business owners is likely to be in the 15% to 25% range, including income taxes, health care and city taxes. In Canada, I would guess that rate to be more than 50% for my income level.
Japan is a fantastic country for foreigners to start a business. Everything western is highly valued and Japanese really idolize English speaking foreigners. With the population density and high disposable income it is hard for a good idea to fail here.
The best parts of Japan are the food, culture and safety. There is no country that compares in the quality of food and aesthetic appreciation of Japanese. From fish and produce in supermarkets to high end restaurants, Japanese have an appreciation for quality and seasonal food that western countries don’t understand. The tastes are simple for a western pallet, because it is not coated with rich and fatty sauces, but it gives you a chance to really taste the ingredients.
John with the deer in Nara, Japan
The culture is amazing. The shear quantity of festivals, temples, shrines, artistic appreciation, and tradition really are mind-boggling. For modern societies grown up on a diet of Hollywood, traditional Japan is a welcome change.
Although crime is increasing, it is still the safest country in the world by far. I love feeling free to live and travel in a country without fear. I lived in the worst area of Osaka for a few months and I had zero apprehensions of running through city streets late at night. It is a great feeling trusting that restaurants, taxi drivers and businesses will never cheat you. Modern societies have lost a lot with their growth. I hope Japan doesn’t move too quickly down that path.
My life in Japan has been great. I have built a good stable business, with a good income and lots of vacation time. It would be easy to work another 10 or so years and then retire to a nice quiet community in Japan.
The problem is that my life has become too comfortable. I am no longer challenging myself and I need to find new adventures. The happiest times in my life have been the ones with the greatest uncertainty and risk. I want to worry about the future. I need to strive to create new things. I crave exciting new experiences.
I know from experience that the best way to truly experience life is to give up everything for the unknown. So that is what my wife and I are going to do. We are going to start completely over with a new occupation in new countries. We don’t know where or what we will be doing but we are definitely excited about the future.
Are you feeling bored? Uninspired by your work? Do you see challenge in your life? How are you changing yourself and your world in 2010? Hit us in the comments below!