Living in Japan - The Ultimate Financial Education (TRANSCRIPT)

Moving to Japan has been the ultimate financial education for me. It took me until my mid-30s to finally get a relatively stable financial footing.

I am incredibly grateful to be out of all forms of debt, to have some money saved, and some solid money invested. But what in the hell took me so long? Why did it take me until my mid-30s to finally get a solid financial footing? First off, it was just me being really closed minded and incredibly stubborn about my finances. 

It was me thinking that I needed to have this major cash windfall to actually change my finances. And yes, a cash windfall can always be nice. I don't know about you, but for me cash doesn't often just fall out of the sky.

But more so than me just being stubborn it was me having to drastically change my perceptions on money and debt and committing to a solid foundation of financial habits and sticking to 'em. And to be honest, these changes didn't really start to happen until I moved to Japan. 

Living here in Japan has completely changed the way that I think about money, and in part it was because I came here on a one-way ticket, and when you're 6,000+ miles away from your friends and family, you gotta find a way to make it work. If I run into financial problems I can't just be like, oh, hey, mom, dad, can you bail me? 

And yes, it's a lot easier now with some of the transfer services that they have, but I didn't wanna be that kinda man, I didn't wanna be the kinda guy who has to run off to his parents every time he runs into a financial bind. 

Why share this story in the first place? 

Because I think it shows that you can still get to your financial goals even if you follow a path that's a bit more nontraditional, even if it means moving to Japan for like 12 years. 

The Ultimate Financial Education - PRE-JAPAN

Prior to coming to Japan the most I had ever earned in a single calendar year was right at around $34,000 as a middle school math and science teacher.

Before that I was a karate teacher, and yes, I was earning less, but I loved teaching karate. I have a passion for all things martial arts to this very day. But at the advice of my parents I traded in that karate job for something a bit more stable, more traditional, something that had medical and dental benefits and a 401 plan.

Now, I don't know about were you live, but back in Atlanta, Georgia $34,000 did not go very far. 

Once I paid my rent, my car note, car insurance, gas, repairs on a car that would break down whenever the it felt like it, utilities phones, and student loans, I quickly fell into that paycheck-to-paycheck trap. The end result, I was a burned out, broke, and busted teacher who was literally bankrupt within two years of starting his career.

Not only were my finances in shambles, but I was absolutely miserable teaching public school in the US. Not everyone has the stomach for public school, and I didn't have it. And I'll be completely honest with you right now. I didn't have a mild dislike for teaching public school, I hated that sh%t.

But that's a video for another time.


And just as I was reaching those last stages of burnout, I'm talking about that burnout where you just decide one day that you're just not gonna show up anymore, luckily I had a sister who had lived in Japan before I ever did, and she suggested that I give it a try.

Long story short, there's this company named AEON that was hiring native English speakers with college degrees to teach English in Japan. It just so happened that one of the cities that they were doing recruiting sessions in was Atlanta.

I prepped for the AEON interview like I've prepped for no other. I wanted to make sure that I was so good that they couldn't tell me no, and luckily, they didn't. I got the job. I had my interview in August of 2007 and I was on a plane to Japan by January of 2008. So once I committed and signed on the dotted line, it happened crazy fast. 

Moving to Japan, Making Life Adjustments

Being in Japan meant making serious life adjustments.

The first one being living in a much smaller space. Keep in mind that Japan is roughly the size of California with more than triple the number of people. So space is really a commodity here in Japan, especially in Tokyo. And because of that I think minimalism is naturally built-in to Japanese culture.

There's almost a sense of beauty in being minimalistic. There's even this Japanese expression mottainai, which in essence means don't be wasteful. Now, the upside to that minimalism is that Japanese society feels a whole lot less materialistic. The fancy clothes, the fast car, the giant house on the hill just doesn't mean as much here in Japan.

And sure, being wealthy carries weight in any society, but here in Japan it feels like having wealth and money spilling out of one's butthole doesn't feel like it's at the forefront of Japanese society. 

That was a really big difference between American and Japanese culture that was pretty refreshing.

I didn't have to feel like a loser for not having a car here in Japan. It is so common for people to use public transportation. The public transportation here in Japan is amazing. And you'll notice that a lot of people actually ride their bikes and walk. That's also quite common. 

You're not gonna get clowned in Japan for having a simple wardrobe. That's quite common. And if you think about apartments here in Japan, especially in those more densely populated metro areas, you're not gonna have a lot of closet space, so you are gonna be wearing the same things again and again and again.

As long as it's clean, professional, and presentable, you're good. 

Changing My Perceptions

After getting over the initial culture shock of moving to Japan I think the biggest perceptional change that I had was that sense of minimalism. I had this epiphany that not only could I live off of less, but I could thrive off of less. I didn't need a ton of crap to make me happy.

Even now, I don't need a ton of crap to make me happy. I have my handful of things that I really enjoy, and that's okay. And eventually, that minimalist mindset started to spill over into other aspects of my life. 

To stack on top of that minimalism another big adjustment is that Japanese society, as technologically advanced as it is, is very cash-based. If you're ever in Japan just doing some normal shopping or like grocery shopping and you look around, you see that a lot of people use cash.

Now, I do think it is changing gradually, but I know when I got here that was a really big difference that I noticed.

So what did that mean? That meant if I didn't have the cash to pay for something or if it was gonna dig too deeply into my cash reserves to pay for, I just didn't get it. This really helped me to get a better understanding of living within my means. 

Another really big shift for me was that my FICO score and my credit score didn't mean anything here. And for a guy who's fresh off of filing bankruptcy, that's huge. That gave me a chance to lick my financial wounds, put my head down, and really start to mend my financial situation. 

Now, my starting salary as an English teacher here in Japan was about the same as what it was as a teacher in the US. I'd say it was roughly about $2,700 a month, give or take a little depending on the exchange rate. While the pay was similar, you have to consider that Japanese yen are not US dollars, and living in Japan is not living in the US. 

I found that the Japanese yen I was being paid to teach English in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan stretched way further than the dollars I was being paid to teach in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States. Part of the reason that my money stretched further was that post-bankruptcy I got super serious about my finances. 

The other reason was that the way life and work were set up was really conducive to saving. My job placed me in an apartment that was within walking/biking distance to the office. I could walk to work in about 10 minutes, and I could bike there in like five. This meant no commuting costs whatsoever. I didn't even have to pay for the train. I could literally go to work and come home, i.e. make my money, virtually for free. 

And our rent was subsidized, so that meant you only had to pay rent up to a point, and beyond that point the company would cover the rest. 

Habit Shifts

Another change was my eating habits. Japan serves much smaller portions, so I got used to eating a lot less. As I started eating less, the byproduct was me losing weight, and I really started to like how I felt just being lighter. I started liking how I looked in the mirror. I started flirtin' with myself. "Damn, Donnie, you look good as mother f%cker." 

Because I started liking the way I felt, because I started liking the way I looked, I naturally wanted to start taking better of myself. The next thing was I started cooking my own meals everyday. Now, I'm not the best cook, mind you, but the food I was making for myself was a lot healthier for me just by making it from scratch instead of buying convenience store food or buying those pre-prepped meals at a grocery store.

Not to mention it was a lot easier on my pockets. 

And another habit that I didn't realize, but I just kinda brought it over from the US, is I don't drink alcohol.

When I talk to some of my friends that really like to drink and go out they say that can be kind of expensive, so I had that going for me too. Now, I wouldn't necessarily call this a habit, but I'm gonna go ahead and throw this in there too. Japan has national health insurance, and that was automatically deducted from my gross pay, so I never really missed it. It meant that I could go to the doctor and go to the dentist for a low price. 

So when you combine not having to pay for a car, gas, insurance, repairs, having rent that's subsidized, being within walking distance to work, so virtually no commuting costs, having better food habits, and having national health insurance, which makes going to the doctor and dentist very cheap, the end result is what I like to call financial wiggle room. 

So I would have money left at the end of the month. Having that wiggle room happen more often than not helped me to understand what it was like to not live from paycheck to paycheck. Now granted, this didn't happen every single month, and there were months where I had a lot less wiggle room than others, especially once I couldn't defer my student loans anymore, and it didn't happen instantly, so it took me about six to seven months to get into a good habit flow, but way more often than not there was money left over, money that I could save. 

For the first time in my life my bank account wasn't hovering around zero all the time. No overdraft fees, none of that. And because I wasn't having to scrape so hard it was a whole helluva lot easier for me to do what I was supposed to do financially. And since I started living in Japan I haven't been late for a payment on anything in the last 12 years I've been here. 


Now, let me say this too because I don't want to paint this overly-rosy-colored picture of living in Japan. Just because I've developed some relatively solid financial habits doesn't mean that I'm immune to how random life can be. Your financial woes don't just magically disappear because you're in Japan. It's been work. Things come up that cost money. Emergencies happen. Things happen on the job.

I remember there was a job that I was working that I absolutely had to get out of because it really didn't pay well, and the job hunting process that ensued afterwards was really, really hard. I couldn't find a job. It almost got to a point where I was just about to call it and just head back home to the US. But because of some really dear friends I managed to hang on until I could get myself gainfully employed, but that doesn't mean that it was easy. 


Living in Japan has not been financially struggle-free, but me having a set of habits that I consistently stick to has been a game changer for me. Coming to Japan and living here long-term has really been a big move for me. Seeing so many friends come and go I realized that living in Japan isn't necessarily for everybody. And honestly, I can't say if I'll stay in Japan forever.

At the very least, I'll carry these financial lessons and financial habits with me no matter where I go. For me, I had to realize that if I wanted my finances to change I had to change. Make that change. But you don't necessarily have to move to Japan to do that. HOV did that so hopefully you won't have to go through that. 

That's it for today's video, guys. Thank you so much for watching. If you enjoyed today's video, please don't forget to click that like button. 


Before you leave, a couple a quick side notes. First side note, I did end up finding higher paying jobs here in Japan, but I thought that it was really important to highlight where it all started, where the foundations began. I built my habits on the lower paying salary and stuck to those habits as I came into more money. Second side note, Mind Over Finance is still a pretty new channel.

I've had it for awhile, but I haven't really started getting serious about making content until very recently. So these initial videos are kinda like a testing phase for me. 

So before diving in and making tons of videos, doing tons of editing, and all of that stuff, I want to determine early on beyond a shadow of a doubt whether or not this can be a viable, successful platform for me to talk about something that I'm very much interested in in finance, personal finance, business, investing, wealth building, et cetera. 

But outside of what I want, I'm very much interested in hearing what your pressing, burning financial issues are. Let me know about those things in the comment section because I'll definitely look into it and see what I can do. Thanks for watching, and I'll catch you in the next video. Peace.

About the Author Dash

Donald Ash ("Dash" for short) is a Tokyo resident who has a voracious appetite for all things finance. Whether it's a personal story, learning to earn side hustle income, invest, or just share some cool information he learns, HE LOVES THIS STUFF! Check back often to see more of his content!

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