“When one of the biggest English conversational schools in Japan went bust in 2007, I suddenly found myself jobless. With no income, I would desperately find former students, go to their house, and do a group lesson for not even so much money. There was even a single mother who asked me to do lessons for her 5-year-old kid. We’d go to a karaoke box and she’d sit there watching while her kid played with me, as I’m speaking in English. I don’t know if they knew, but I didn’t tell them how poor I was. I was trying to just survive from week to week, getting money from students. In my head I was thinking, ‘What am I doing?’ and ‘This is a waste of my time.’ I really wanted to be a writer, but creativity was too much of a luxury then.
“Luckily, I found a job and got assigned to teach English at a university. However, this university was notorious for having only bad students with no future. It was considered the lowest of the low. I was basically in a class full of miscreants—party girls, biker guys, bad boys, and I was so scared at first. They didn’t throw chairs at me but they did with other teachers. It felt like I was babysitting them. But instead of giving up on them, I listened to their stories, their family problems: ‘Oh my girlfriend’s pregnant’ or ‘I have to work at a convenience store. I’ve no time for school.’ I remember using rap, hip hop, and all kinds of music to communicate with them and as a way to teach. They studied English through the lyrics and loved it. Then once they knew that I listened, they started opening up. It seems no one listened to them for the longest time. That was probably one of my proudest moments in life.”