David R Munson, Photographer

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It’s Go Time. Launching a creative career in Japan.

I've been an English teacher for more than a decade now, and while I've enjoyed it, it's always been just a job. It's never felt much like who I am.

Identity is a weird and slippery thing, an amalgamation of endless factors, including family, race, social class, values, nationality, education, and culture, and all of it piled atop some sort of core, innate essence.

What we do also describes part of our identity. Our work, our hobbies, our habits. But doing does not necessarily mean identifying with what we do.

I’ve been an English teacher for more than a decade now, and while I’ve enjoyed it, it’s always been just a job. It’s never felt much like who I am.

Who I am is much better described by the things I’ve always done outside of work, the things with which I persist (with love) despite the difficulty, expense, and energy required.

I am a creator. An artist. Specifically, a photographer.

In 1996, I became so completely enamored of photography that it took over my life. It completely derailed my ambitions in natural science and led me to study photography instead. It led me to read every last book on photography at the public library and accumulate hundreds more of my own. It led me down such an enriching, exciting, and creatively challenging path that there was simply nothing else I wanted to do.

Life intervenes, however, and while I have worked as a photographer from time to time, I’ve also been a line cook, a telemarketer, a customer service rep, a salesperson, an English teacher, and even a press operator stamping sheet metal in a factory.

Back in 2015, when I decided to jump ship on an unfulfilling job and a toxic relationship in Shanghai, I moved to Tokyo to start over. Though I would continue to teach English for the time being, the end goal was to finally, actually transition to doing full-time creative work.

You may have noticed that it’s now 2024 and, at the time of writing, I’m still teaching English as my full-time job. This is true, but it’s about to change.

I can explain the intervening years variously, but it really comes down to four key factors:

  1. The Japanese immigration system and the way work permission works here.
  2. A global pandemic that derailed just about everything I had going on.
  3. Depression. Chronic, sometimes severe depression.
  4. My repeated failure to take meaningful action in the interest of progress.

It’s all gone on entirely too long, and I’m sick to death of it.

As of the time of writing, I’m still working in an English-teaching job that pays the current equivalent of $9.531 per hour. Utter crap, especially when you consider the difficulty and stress of the job. Meanwhile, prices are going up on everything in Japan and wages have basically remained the same for three decades.

It’s once again time to jump ship and do what I should have done ages ago. It’s time to use my strongest, most valuable skills as a photographer, writer, and teacher.

In mid-July, I am quitting my current day job and going freelance.

The stakes are high. Yes, I will have to immediately find a way to make enough money to cover my expenses, but that’s only the start. I need to build to a level much higher than simply getting by.

We want to have a child, which means I need to be earning enough to support a child.

It is also important to me to build my businesses to a level where my wife can quit working in the financial industry. She enjoys her current line of work about as much as I enjoy mine, and I want to be able to enable her to get out.

If I were still in my 20s and responsible for nobody but myself, the situation would be different. But, as it is, I’m now 42 and there’s a lot riding on this.

That’s a good thing, though. Experience tells me that responsibility to others is the single most effective motivator for me.

Fundamentally, I know I can do this. I can make it work. It is, after all, what I came to Japan to do.

And I will not do what I’ve done too much in the past, in toiling away silently by myself, trying to do everything solo. Not this time. I’m taking you with me.

I’ll be blogging along the way, and to follow along on my journey, this site is all you need. However, as much as I want everything I make to be accessible to everyone, I also need to balance my efforts with the basic fact that I have to support myself.

As such, all blog posts and videos I make will be available first on my Patreon, where for just a few bucks a month you can help me get where I’m going. I’ll be offering additional perks on Patreon, like regular office hours, downloadable wallpapers for your devices, Q&A events, and patron-exclusive discounts on my products and services.

If you can’t or don’t want to join the Patreon, no problem. All my blog posts and videos will show up here as well, just a week later than for patrons.

In any case, I’m excited to get this going. It’s long overdue and I’m ready to move on to the next stage of my life and career.

Now let’s get going.

  1. The exchange rate is presently JPY ¥157.407 per USD $1. When I first came to Japan, it was around ¥108/$1. ↩︎

David R Munson

David is a photographer, essayist, and educator based in Saitama City, Japan.

See also: About | Now | Prints | More Prints | Medium | Patreon | Linkedin

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