The One Thing I Can’t Stand About Teaching English In Japan

This is not a post about the vast, complicated English-teaching industry in Japan. This is about Japanese students themselves, and the behavior I’ve witnessed while teaching private lessons in cafes to students. There is one thing I simply can’t stand about teaching English privately.

selective focus photography of woman holding black cased smartphone near assorted clothes

Photo by mentatdgt on

If you teach English privately in Japan, you better be prepared to be ghosted by former students. Most (like 95%) are not going to cleanly end their lessons with you. Usually it goes like this, “I’m sick today. I can’t make the lesson. I’ll contact you later,” and then they never do. It doesn’t matter if this was a student you taught for two years or for only two weeks, it’s generally going to end like this. After that message, they’ll ghost.

The men usually are there for business, but the female students want the lesson to be more friendly. They want it to feel like a friendship, even if they discard and ghost you later like it was nothing at all. It can be hard to reconcile how this mother of three who was so sweet to you, who gave you gifts, who never missed on lesson in two years, can just ice you out without even a goodbye.

This happened to me recently. For those who read my blog and know of what happened in January, I quit my large contracts. I knew there was a risk in doing so, but the pregnancy came first. Without those, I could not longer afford to commute an hour and a half to see most of my students. So when I met them for a final in-person lesson I explained that the only way we could continue as teacher and student was by video chat. I offered a much lower fee. But I was very clear that they were under no obligation to continue. In fact, I pushed for them to just go ahead and cancel now.

Not a single student wanted to quit. They all begged to try the video lesson. I was surprised, and made it clear that they could quit. All I asked was that they let me know if they wanted to discontinue our lessons.


Even a “Well, bye” email would have been nice.

No. After all that insistence that they really, REALLY wanted to continue with my  lessons they still ghosted me. These were students of two years or more. They have paid me a lot of money in that time for English. We have a lot of history. They knew of my miscarriage. They were sympathetic.

And they still ghosted. I sent each an email asking for confirmation of the video chat lesson. What date? Nada. They were always quick to respond before. I waited a couple weeks. Then wrote a follow up. Nothing.

Finally I just messaged that it had been a pleasure teaching them and I wished them the best.


And sadly, that’s how it goes when you teach English privately in Japan. Even if you taught that student for five years, or ten, and you almost considered them a friend, they will just stop communication rather than properly cancel the lessons.

You’ll become invisible. You might have thought you were closer than that, but at the end it’s still just business. They’d rather avoid giving any finality and closure.

I know “ghosting” exists in all cultures. But I have never seen it at the level of prevalence as it exists in Japan. It’s what makes teaching students privately the most difficult for me.

Even more frustrating is how the students themselves will push for the lesson to be like two friends chatting over coffee rather than just business. You are pushed to be like a friend, but you are ghosted out when it’s over. I am down to only three students now. But the video chat works great.

I feel disappointed and a little hurt that the other students could not even bother with a proper good bye. Did they not trust me? I really just wanted them to properly end it if the video chat was not their cup of tea. I feel like they only insisted on trying the video chat lesson so they could ghost.

I asked Mr. Waka his opinion, and he said, “That is just how most do it in Japan. You should not waste emotional energy on them. They do it because of their weakness, not yours.”

But I still feel hurt. I know I shouldn’t. I know I got paid for my lessons, but I still find ghosting by people you kind of trusted to be one of the most hurtful and unfair things a person can do to another.

I understand ghosting when it comes to online dating. I understand ghosting in situations where the other person feels dangerous or in cases of abuse. I have ghosted myself to avoid a person that felt dangerous to my well-being. In matters of safety, I believe ghosting is a good thing to do.

But I mean ghosting in situations where it is unnecessary. A student who has paid you weekly for two years is clearly not afraid of you. A student who treated you as a friend. Joked with you. This is not someone who need to ghost you.

I have experienced ghosting in Japan more than I have in any other society. It feels more prevalent here than elsewhere. Even when I lived in Texas, the Japanese study abroad students loved to ghost. Some even bragged about who they ghosted to me.

One time I asked a Japanese girl at my university, “Why are you ghosting that girl? Isn’t she your friend?” She chuckled and said, “Because it would be too uncomfortable to talk to them.”

I’ve watched many friends crumble at the level of ghosting that goes on in Japan. You will not get resolution whether in friendships, business, or even dating. As I said, it is more understandable in dating, such as first dates or someone you met in a bar. Aka when it’s someone you barely know or feel might be unsafe.  However, I’ve known people who got ghosted by boyfriends of six months. The other person didn’t even have the guts to properly end it! They just left the other hanging and wondering if they were single. That I can’t agree with.

Ghosting makes me reluctant to make friends with other Japanese in Japan. It hurts so much to me, and it’s way too common here. I prefer someone blunt and clear who will say what they mean. I don’t care if they don’t say it in the nicest of ways, as long as they say it. Speak your heart! That I respect.

It’s also why if anything ever happened to Mr. Waka, I’d probably leave. I felt like I won the lottery with him. He was clear and honest right from the start. The other Japanese guys I tried to date always left me in this “Are we friends or are they interested?” state.

It was hell.

In my own experience it seems like many Japanese students want it both ways. They want a casual, friendly relationship, even though they are paying you to teach them. This is especially common when I teach housewives in Japan. They want us to be like friends without being friends. It just leaves thing in a very confusing place.

Once that line is blurred, it blurs in my head. I know we aren’t friends, but emotionally I start to trust them like I might a friend. It’s very hard for me to walk this line without getting attached. I need it to either stay “just business” or to be friendship. No matter how “friend-like” we were, they still just ghost when it’s over.

That is the reality of teaching English privately in Japan. There is no helping it. When you are no longer their teacher, there will almost never be a “I had fun learning with you, but I think I need to change my schedules.” The best you’ll get is, “I don’t feel well. I contact you later”.

And when they don’t you wonder if you should continue to keep that spot open for them. Should you ask if they still want a lesson at that time? And they’ll stop responding.

It’s why I’ve decided I’m done with most private lessons. Well, one of many reasons. I want to change careers.

It is magical when a student once in a blue moon properly ends a lesson. A father of two sent a proper email explaining, “I’ve decided to continue lessons with Aeon. Thank you very much for teaching me.”

So awesome. I thanked him so much and wished him well. It was nice to see proper closure.

The halfway decent ones at least give some confirmation motion. Most just ghost.

But to me the most baffling was after my miscarriage. I did explain the situation and why I could no longer commute to see them. I didn’t care or mind if video chat lessons were not for them, but the ghosting baffles me. I taught them for two years. I gave them the chance for our last in person lesson to properly cancel our lessons for good.

“It’s okay if you don’t want to continue. This can be our last lesson. I’ve enjoyed teaching you,” I told them. And they immediately insisted they would do the lessons.  I wanted them to just cancel.

Nope. They agree to it and then ghost. There is something about ghosting that is prevalent in Japanese culture more than any other culture I have ever been in. They do not like closure. They will not give it to you.

Of the dozens and dozens of housewives I’ve taught, only one ever properly ended things without ghosting. She even did it at the end of the lesson. It was very good of her. I appreciated it. She had been my student for nine months, but her sister was having a baby and she needed to be there for her sister.

Who knows if that was the total truth. The point is she ended things neatly. I loved that.

It feels a lot worse when a student who seemed so kind and caring, who never missed a single lesson, never failed to respond to a single email, just ghosts you without properly informing you.

Maybe that’s just me. But it’s the one thing I find very hard to accept about teaching English privately in Japan.

What are other people’s thoughts on this? I can’t tell if I’m making a big deal out of nothing? Is their way more sensible and I’m just not seeing it?

I can’t tell.

14 thoughts on “The One Thing I Can’t Stand About Teaching English In Japan

  1. This is probably my number one pet peeve about Japanese people in general, their flat out refusal to confront anything that might make them even slightly uncomfortable. You know as Americans we can be “in your face” about things and I much prefer that to this cowardice I’ve been met with time and again. Demande has done this to me, and this is the reason I ended my friendship with Kotono. I can’t say loud enough how much I HATE this bullshit behavior. Also, you’re braver than I telling them about the MC. I’d sooner make up a fake illness than discuss something so personal to someone who would end up treating me the way you were treated.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ^ THIS ^ It is hurtful beyond measure when someone you consider at least somewhat a friend does this. The worst is I think the people who did this think they’re avoiding a bad situation, but they’re making things worse. Communication is so important.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s what I tell Mamoru all the time! Communication is number one. He used to try to run away when we first got married but I convinced him that talking it out fixes things and running away makes things worse.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting post, Mara 🙂

    The thought I had while reading your post was – They’re not “ghosting” you they’re “saving face”. It’s very different.

    “Ghosting” is a predominantly western concept and predominantly negative in meaning and usage.

    “Saving face” is predominantly Asian, and is highly important in Asian culture. To “save face” is considered a positive for you and for others. It’s a must. It’s respectful. It is shameful to not “save face”.

    “Saving face” tends to confuse westerners immensely. We just don’t get it and think it’s lots of other things, mostly not good. It is a very indirect process and westerners prefer directness and view indirectness as deceit. It’s not deceit in Asia, it is being considerate, and being respectful. Being honourable.

    You are right in how you perceive and feel, and that should be respected and acknowledged. However you are also applying western logic to a non-western culture and therefore hurting yourself with it.

    I think they are trying to not hurt you or themselves with their behaviour. But it hurts you because you’re a westerner and in the west that kind of behaviour is hurtful.

    It’s one of those – It’s Complicated – relationship statuses.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Maybe, but I asked my husband who is Japanese and he doesn’t see it that way. Saving face to him is about preserving the harmony on both sides. It is complicated, but in this case the harmony of a small community isn’t being preserved. They might justify it that way, but discarding someone is not preserving the “wa” or the harmony as saving face is intended for. This is about just avoiding things which is not the real purpose of saving face.

      I’m sure many things that once had a clear purpose in society can become twisted into the wrong reasons. Saving face was for preserving “Wa” or harmony in an island community where you had to learn to get along.

      In this case, many aren’t “saving face” for harmony’s sake, but likely because of their own emotional insecurity.

      I think it’s not saving face so much as avoidance, but I’m sure in their minds they would justify it that way.

      As always, I love your daring take. I think it can sometimes be tough to take the opposite opinion on another’s blog especially over a sensitive matter. But that’s why I love what you do. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This, so much this. I’m so sorry that your students did that to you. Ive has private students do the same thing and yes, it’s one of the reasons I’ve almost entirely stopped taking them now. But I teach adults for one company and the students regularly “ghost” my thoroughly Japanese manager. It’s aggravating and it just adds to my workload. Sure, I now know that “s/he is taking a break for X months” means they’ve most likely quit, but I still have to prepare as though they might actually suddenly show up. Why can’t they just say finish it in the first place? How does keeping the whole thing lingering on uncertainly make anyone feel better?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly. Close the situation. It lets people know to tie off the situation in their heart. As long as you might come back, people are always afraid to fully let go. I think many of them do not understand how avoiding finality makes it worse for the other person. They haven’t had to be in that other person’s shoes because they keep avoiding such situations.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s nothing personal. I get why it annoys you. And, it happens, but in those situations, it’s a customer-service issue, not a teaching one. Really, an e-mail; while “polite,” would not change the fact they “quit…”

    There’s little loyalty in situations like that. For as much as I enjoy teaching, I never forget, it’s a business first especially with adults who tend to “get busy” quick, fast, and in a hurry when dissatisfied or simply want to quit.

    I will say you should never leave it up to the student to contact you. I make it a point to write people, and add in something like, “I look forward to your reply soon.” Generally, I get replies when I make it clear I am expecting one…

    But, I am waiting on a reply to such an e-mail…(now going on three years). That’s the way it goes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do that with the “I look forward to hearing from you soon.”

      I understand that it’s a business. It’s just that it can get hard to separate when the students seem to want a friend as much as teacher, but one they can discard. It’s such a hard way at times to think.

      I think I have difficulty sometimes separating myself emotionally from the clients, and that is my fault too. However, I do think the reason business is messed up in a lot of the English teaching industry is the fault of both the students and the administration.

      I appreciate your input. Thank you very much for sharing.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. So true! Trust issues have definitely become a thing since living here. I agree with some people that it’s not quite the same as ghosting in the US or other Western countries, but I also don’t feel like it’s saving face. It seems to be socially acceptable no matter the age or connection even though in the US it would be really unprofessional to end a business arrangement that way.

    It used to affect me a lot, but now it has changed me. I don’t consider most acquaintances “friends” until I’ve heard them say it themselves, even if I like them, I worry they will drop me if I become too inconvenient. I don’t teach anymore but definitely had a number of students stop in this way and it was very hurtful at first. When it’s from a friend it hurts even more and sometimes I can’t help but wonder if they would do this if I was Japanese as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sorry to hear you’ve experienced this as well. When I posted this I wondered if it was just me, but it’s seems pretty universal.

      Yeah, I don’t feel it’s ghosting at all. Saving face is about preserving the harmony or Wa. Which makes sense if you live in a small fishing village or island society and you’re all stuck living together for the rest of your lives.

      But dropping someone like that does not preserve harmony. It increases discord which does the exact opposite of saving face.

      It’s sad that we have to learn to simply accept that this is how it is. I wish there was an easier solution. Ghosting is getting out of control in modern society.


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