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Global Japan
SEP 8, 2020

After Searching the Globe, Star Educator Finds Purpose at Home

By Misato Nagakawa

This article was developed as a part of the Young Rising Stars Series, promoted to highlight high-performing Japanese entrepreneurs and businesspeople.

Early in our career, we often find ourselves doing jobs we never envisioned in places we never imagined. We learn that passion is a poor substitute for a self-built purpose. We look back and realize that our younger selves would barely recognize our current selves.

Sometimes this can be scary. But often, it is a good thing.

The man running Saturday Kids Japan, a regionally recognized coding school for kids, knows this well. Tsuyoshi Domoto was chosen to spread the Saturday Kids mission of inspiring kids to become curious, self-directed learners. His purpose today is to create a world where all children have access to a quality education.

But he wasn’t always so sure of his purpose.

One Grandmother’s Regret

Domoto’s high school days spanned Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea. Even from an early stage in life, he recognized he had a privileged upbringing. How could he forget, with his grandmother’s story ringing in his ears? She was born in the Taisho era, during which women were not expected to complete their schooling. She was pressured to leave school after the sixth grade. It was her only regret in life.

Domoto had no interest in regret. After graduating from university, Domoto worked for two years as an analyst at JP Morgan. It wasn’t a good fit, though: what he was learning didn’t align with his long-term goal of starting a microfinance organization. So after two years working in finance, Domoto moved to Honduras to join his friend’s NPO, Aldea Development. His finance and operations experience made him a great fit to lead Aldea’s market access  program for coffee. 

A professional portrait of Domoto Tsuyoshi
Photo courtesy of Domoto Tsuyoshi.

Finding New Purpose

While leading Aldea’s market access coffee program, he lived with a local couple and their young daughter so he could speed up the development of his spoken Spanish. Domoto noticed that his host sister kept re-reading the same book. Thinking it was her favorite, he asked her about it—and discovered she only owned four books.

Shocked, he decided he had to do something and got to work gathering books for the library. By the time he was finished, he had raised more than $5,000 USD and the town had its first ever community library. This accomplishment, as much as it changed lives in Honduras, changed something in him, too.

He now deeply understood the importance of education. The memory of his grandmother, his Honduran host family, and his own privileged education showed him as much. He asked himself, “How can I keep reminding myself of my own privilege and make sure that I pass this baton to the next generation?”

The answer was a competitive master’s program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He specialized in technology, innovation and education.

After graduation, he taught English in a small Brazilian coastal community where he learned first-hand the challenges of being a teacher. After that, he spent several months at an ed-tech start up in Sao Paulo as an education technology specialist. While it was a positive experience, he decided it was time to return to Japan.

The Traveler Returns

“I realized there was still something I could offer to the world. I could put my international experience and perspectives to use in bettering my own country.”

Tsuyoshi Domoto

Back in Japan, Domoto ran into a huge wall: no one would hire him. He’d traveled overseas, gained lots of work experience, and achieved impressive education credentials—what had he done wrong?

“I felt like I checked all the boxes to get a good job, so why couldn’t anyone see my value?” Domto recalls.

Without a job and with no money, he went on a solo bicycle trip from Tokyo to Osaka in the middle of winter. He felt he needed to reflect on his life and reignite his passion. Finally, reflecting on the cold, wet trek southward, he says, “I realized there was still something I could offer to the world. I could put my international experience and perspectives to use in bettering my own country.”

Passion renewed, it wasn’t long until Domoto learned about Saturday Kids, a digital literacy school from Singapore. They were looking for someone to lead the expansion of Saturday Kids in Japan. After a dinner meeting with the founder and the head of the international division, Domoto became the country manager of Saturday Kids Japan. Finally, he had found his ikigai–his reason for being.

The Challenges of Saturday Kids Japan

As country manager, Domoto’s main responsibilities are business development and team management, rather than teaching kids. That said, the children and their educational opportunities are still his primary focus.

Saturday Kids Japan provides opportunities for kids to learn coding. COVID-19 took away the physical opportunity for the kids to attend class, but Domoto says, “even though COVID-19 presented us with a big challenge, it’s been a huge opportunity for us, too. We switched many of our courses to all-online, and now we can reach a much wider audience in Japan.” He hopes this will provide greater opportunities for kids in rural areas to learn coding and English–two essential skills for the 21st century.

“At the end of the day, when I think about what challenges me now, it’s myself. I need to grow as a leader in order to make a greater impact on my teammates. In turn, they will impact the kids we work with.”

Fours kids build pyramids with straws as adults help them.
Engaging activities at Saturday Kids. Photo courtesy of Domoto Tsuyoshi.

Building Purpose on Purpose

With an established role at home in Japan, Domoto has begun taking his purpose worldwide. He currently serves as a coordinating ambassador at One Young World, the largest and most impactful global youth leadership summit. He is excited for the next generation of leaders, who he believes have their minds and hearts in the right place.

“I believe in a society where everyone can access a high quality, fun learning experience regardless of race, nationality, or background. I want to instill a love of learning because it will serve them forever.” He’s passionate about gender equality as well, and believes that education will play a huge role in bringing gender equality to Japan.

“I don’t want another person to leave school at a young age because of her gender or socio-economic situation, like my grandmother. I’m dedicating my life to education so there won’t be another child like that in this world.”

And his advice for young professionals still trying to build their purpose?

“Start with an interest—the important thing is to just start somewhere. Don’t be scared of venturing into the unknown. It didn’t make sense at the time, but in hindsight all of my experiences beautifully connected to one another.”

He hopes that more young students and professionals decide to take the road less traveled. He can promise it’ll be one heck of a ride!