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Jonathan Epstein

Board member
The American School in Japan

Date of birth: Sept. 2, 1966

Hometown: Atlanta

Number of years in Japan (cumulative): 26 (as of May 2019)

Jonathan Epstein
Q1: What was your first encounter with Japan?

My maternal grandparents loved Japanese art, and since my early years, my grandmother talked to me about Japanese art and poetry. After graduating from Princeton, I hadn’t done much traveling besides Europe and I wanted to see a different part of the world, so in 1988 I came on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme and returned a couple of years after. I remember that during my first days in Tokyo, I was in Shinjuku and was so impressed with the amount of people and the neon lights.

Q2: Please state your motto in life and why you have chosen it.

I believe in respecting what I call “the circles” — first to immediate family, then to your extended family, then to your friends, then to your town and finally to the world. We are not disconnected; we have obligations to each circle. It’s important to recognize those circles and be clear about their priorities.
I also believe in the old phrase, “When in a place with no man, do your best to be a man.” Regardless, the external you should always exceed.

Q3 : Over your career, what achievement are you the proudest of?

I started my career teaching English in Japan. Despite a 25-plus year career in business, I still consider myself a teacher, and the greatest thing about being an angel investor is being able to choose your students and watch them grow. I am proud of the relationship I was able to build with Moneytree, but I’m proudest of the times when a student surprises and surpasses me, based on something that I’ve tried to teach. My family, of course is another great achievement.

Q4 : What are your goals during your time in Japan, your current position or in life?

The world as a whole is heading into a hard time; it is important for people to communicate and understand each other’s needs and realities. I would like to be able to help in the understanding process. I love building smart organizations and systems that take on a life of their own. I hope to continue building Moneytree and other companies that I’ve been lucky enough to work with and ideally to repeat the experience with new challenges.

Q5 : What wisdom, advice or tips can you give to people living and working in Japan?

Growing up in the U.S., I learned from a very early age to speak first (and more loudly) than my neighbor in order to make myself heard and get things I want. At Harvard Business School, our grades were largely based on class participation — how eloquently and strongly we could make a point. Living in Japan, however, has been a lesson in listening. Culturally, Japanese tend to listen before speaking. There’s so much that we miss by talking too much, and the power of both silence and nonverbal communication is a treasure that is applicable to many aspects of life. My advice, then, in our noisy age is to practice quiet listening and observation.
We should also pay more attention to our environment and surroundings. Everything is rapidly changing and we need to keep up with what is happening with technology, currency, the environment, global warming, etc. to be able to teach our kids useful things for their future.

Last updated: May 16, 2019