Just Japan Podcast: Starting Your Own Language School

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In this episode of the Just Japan Podcast host Kevin O’Shea speaks with Ryan Sprague, a business owner in Osaka, Japan. Each year many people from around the world come to Japan in order to travel and experience the culture. Others come to work in the English education industry as teachers.

Several years ago, Ryan Sprague came to Japan from the United States to work as a teacher. After working in a variety of private and public educational institutions, Ryan carefully watched how various companies ran their operations. Coming from an entrepreneurial background, he quickly understood what worked and what may not have been so effective in English education business models in Japan.

In recent years Ryan found a very good job working as a direct hire ALT for a major board of education in Japan. The job offered a good salary, health benefits and a great deal of stability. He basically found the job that many teachers who are working in Japan would be extremely envious to have.

In early 2015, Ryan went with his instincts and with the support of his wife who is also his business partner started his own school. With the encouragement of friends, family and his Church community, Ryan left the comfort of a good job and “took the plunge.”

For those planning to come to Japan with aspirations of opening a business and becoming their own boss, Ryan’s story will definitely motivate you.

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Podcaster, YouTuber, man about Kobe.
  • Interesting stuff – maybe it might be worth moving your ads and self promotion to midway or at the back of the podcast. I think it was more than 5 minutes before you mentioned the meat. Otherwise, keep it up!

  • Rock on. You’ll work harder but it’s more satisfying.

    • Ryan Sprague says:

      Yes and yes. Much more satisfying, but a lot more work. On the other hand I set my own work hours so I am ok with that.

  • basspig says:

    well this is certainly of interest to me because I am thinking about coming to Japan in the next 3 to 4 years and moving my already established vintage amplifier repair business to Japan. I know the market for vintage vacuum tube audio stuff is the largest in the world in Japan. But what questions I have pertain to the legalities and a cultural acceptance of a foreigner starting a business in Japan. This is my biggest concern as to whether I will be able to acquire a client base.

    • Ryan Sprague says:

      If you search for “How to start a business in Japan” on Google you will find a number of results that can help you wade through the legalities of it. Basically if it is a sole proprietorship it is not difficult, and it is very cheap (like 1 yen). Cultural acceptance of foreigners in larger cities like Osaka, Tokyo, Sapporo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Yokohama, Hiroshima, etc. is not something that I would let hold you back.
      There are more than a few foreigners running their own businesses in Japan. Your business isn’t one that requires a lot of trust on the part of the customer assuming you provide some kind of return policy in the event that your products don’t meet expectations, and that you honor that policy and build a good reputation.
      There are other ways to start businesses in Japan that require investment into a partnership with an already established corporation, but my guess is that you probably won’t need to do this.

      You will need the help of someone fluent in Japanese to write copy for your marketing materials – website, flyers, business cards, social media profiles, etc. Learn to market yourself well and you will be ahead of the competition. Most people refuse to spend time and energy on this, which is a mistake because it will set you apart.

      To your success!

      • basspig says:

        I currently have a high quality reputation in the US, but I am not know outside the US. I service and upgrade vintage amplifiers (high end audiophile stuff). I don’t sell any products-just services.
        Due to the cost of cities, and the fact that I myself am an audiophile who likes loud music, I would avoid cities and move to the rural areas. I really like Morioka in Iwate Prefecture, and it has a lot of hilltop property that’s isolated so my music won’t bother neighbors. It reminds me of my present home in Connecticut, in the woods on a mountaintop.
        I will google starting a business in Japan and see what I find. Only 1 yen to file? Amazing! It costs hundreds of dollars here in the US. Thanks for that input!

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