• In Oman it’s also Customary to Remove Shoes in the Home

    [From April Issue 2015]

    After sustaining damage in the Great East Japan Earthquake and going through the disaster of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, in March 2011 a manufacturer in Fukushima Prefecture received an order worth 2.6 billion yen for water purifiers. The order came with a message: “You can use the water purifiers in areas affected by the disaster before delivery.” “It was the least support our country could offer to our friends in Japan,” says Abeer A. AISHA, wife of the Ambassador of Oman, modestly.
    Mrs. Aisha arrived in Japan in January 2008. “My husband visited Japan in 1994 and had a homestay experience with a Japanese family. He was treated very well by his host family, almost like a real son. I’d also heard from my acquaintances that Japanese people were very kind. Our daughter got very ill during the flight to Japan, so she went straight to a hospital upon arrival. She was very well taken care of, so well that it made me understand just how good Japanese people are.”
    Japan is the first country she’d been posted to as an ambassador’s wife. “I like casual socializing; formal situations aren’t my cup of tea. So I was very nervous when we paid a visit to the Imperial Palace,” she says. “When the Empress spoke to us, she was quite friendly even though the meeting was rather formal. I was anxious, but she made me relax.”
    Mrs. Aisha attends official ceremonies and is required to socialize and take part in activities not only with Japanese, but also with diplomats and ambassadors’ wives from other countries. “At first, I felt under pressure when people paid attention to me, my dress and my speech,” says Mrs. Aisha. “I got homesick because back home I always spend a lot of time with my parents and sisters.”

    City of Nizwa

    “It was thanks to my work experience for a bank in Oman that I got over my homesickness,” says Mrs. Aisha. “I dealt with so many types of people, including fishermen, merchants and businessmen, that I became open as a person. We have many foreigners that work in our country, so the culture is international. That’s why I’ve learned to deal with people from different countries in a friendly and polite manner, I think. My husband and children and the friends I made in Japan cured my homesickness, and I ended up becoming a stronger person, as I kept saying to myself that it was all for my family and country.”
    “My first concern about living in Japan was our children,” says Mrs. Aisha. “Before coming to Japan, we were posted in the UK for six months. Our children were 15, 13 and eight years old. We moved twice in such a short time that it must have been hard for them to get used to their new schools and make new friends. I was relieved they were fortunately transferred to good schools here in Japan and they adapted quite well.”
    She had a hard time with the language and with food. As a Muslim, she consumes neither pork nor alcohol. “There were few expatriates in the area where we first lived. So supermarkets there had very few products with English labels. I didn’t know which ones to buy from those that didn’t have English on. My daughter and I once gave up and went home without buying anything,” she says.
    “My daughter loved potato chips sold at the convenience stores, but once she learned enough Japanese at school to read the ingredients, she was disappointed to find out that some pork-derived ingredients were used. That said, Islam is a flexible religion, so it’s not a problem if you ate something without knowing,” says Mrs. Aisha. “We have no more problems now as our chef cooks for us at home and we have a few international stores with English labels near to the embassy. I myself have learned some Japanese phrases such as ‘I can’t eat pork,’” she laughs.


    Bahla Citadel

    The punctuality of the Japanese and the fact that things are planned several months in advance were pleasant surprises for her. “Whenever we go home to Oman during summer holidays, our relatives suggest we stay longer. Everyone’s surprised when I tell them we have to return because we already have plans for September. I suppose Japanese punctuality comes from the fact that they were raised to respect and value the importance of time. The Japanese way of doing things is good for living comfortably,” she says.
    Located in the southeastern part of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman is a country that has prospered from maritime trade since ancient times. A member of Oman’s royal family has Japanese blood and the country is well known for its friendliness towards Japanese. Historical buildings such as the Bahla and Nizwa Forts, the Royal Palace, and mosques are popular with tourists. Although the Middle East is a region unfamiliar to most Japanese, its resorts are well-known in Europe. Oman’s beaches are teeming with foreign tourists enjoying their vacations.
    “Most Japanese must think Oman is a desert country,” says Mrs. Aisha. “Of course, our desert is enormous, but we also have beautiful beaches and oases. The climate in the mountains is good throughout the year and marvelous resorts are everywhere. It’s a stable and safe country security-wise, so please do come for sightseeing. Cherry trees presented by Japan blossom every February in Oman’s Jabal Akhdar. We also have Japanese gardens.”
    “You can enjoy wonderful cuisine in Oman. As many traditional dishes use rice and fish, Japanese people will feel at home, I think. Besides, Oman is a country with lots of international influences. From Lebanese food, to Indian, to Southeast Asian, to Western, and to fast food, we have all kinds of restaurants where you can taste delicacies from both the sea and the land.”



    “Oman produces a fragrant resin called frankincense. The quality of Oman’s frankincense is the highest in the world and its trade has a very long history. Omanis not only burn it, but also chew it like chewing gum, drink it in liquid form and use it for skin care. Nowadays perfumes, body creams, and lotions are made from frankincense. Oman’s dates are also of very high quality.”
    “The Omanis and the Japanese have a lot in common: our hospitality, respect for elders, and the way we take off our shoes before entering the home and sit on the floor. What’s more, Japanese wash their hands at the entrance when they go to a Shinto shrine, don’t they? That’s like us, too; we Muslims also wash our hands before praying,” says Mrs. Aisha. “Oman is a wonderful country. I’m sure tourists would return to visit again.”
    Oman Embassy
    Text: SAZAKI Ryo
    Photos courtesy by KOSUGI Yurika[2015年4月号掲載記事]





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  • Art Brings Out People’s Real Feelings

    [From April Issue 2015]

    CHO Hikaru / ZHAO Ye
    “I think the phrase ‘it’s beautiful’ is a phrase people formulate in their minds when they’ve seen something that has made an impression on them. So, when I receive such a compliment, I’m not happy because I don’t know if my artwork has really touched that person’s heart,” artist CHO Hikaru says. “If someone who sees my painting frowns involuntarily and says, ‘Yuck,’ it makes me happy because I feel like I’ve heard their true opinion.”
    Cho mainly paints. Although she is still in her junior year in the Visual Communication Design department of Musashino Art University, she’s already known for working in a variety of fields, including painting, producing videos, and designing characters. Having entered into a contract with an apparel manufacturer, she also designs clothes and tights.
    Cho became famous for her body painting, by painting realistic-looking art onto people’s skin. “When I was preparing for my entrance exams for art school, I had to paint still lifes every day. Then, I got fed up and wanted to make pictures of humans, so I tried painting an eye. I did it on the back of my hand because the art supplies I was using back then were expensive and only available at an inconveniently located store, which made it troublesome to go buy them,” she says with a laugh.
    She loved the eye she had painted on her hand so much that she posted a picture of it on Twitter. Then, it was retweeted more than a thousand times. Cho says: “In those days, ‘Parasyte,’ a manga series about creatures living inside human bodies, was becoming popular; people thought my eye painting resembled one of these parasites and found it funny. I suppose they were also drawn to the fact that this weird painting had been done by a young woman.”
    Knowing that trends quickly come and go in the world of the Internet, Cho thought her post would soon be forgotten. But even after six months, it was still getting retweeted. But the positive feedback didn’t stop there and before long she was being asked to perform on TV programs. When she exhibited her work requests came in from people who wanted to collaborate with her.
    “I became famous before I had completed my artistic training, so I was criticized by some people who said that any artist could easily paint that kind of picture,” Cho says. “When I come across remarks badmouthing me or my works on the web, I take screenshots of them to reread later. I find them both instructive and funny. I’m the kind of person who can put things in perspective,” she says with a wry smile.
    “I think the reason I turned out this way is partly because I was born in Japan to Chinese parents,” says Cho. “I’m treated as a Chinese person in Japan, and have to have my fingerprints and picture recorded when I enter the country, as if I were a potential criminal. In China, I’m viewed as more of a Japanese person because of my poor Chinese.”
    “But because of this upbringing, I learned to look objectively at the way countries tend to strengthen unity by looking down on other countries,” says Cho. “It’s not what it seems” is a picture of a banana painted to look like a cucumber and is Cho’s favorite of her works to date. “I wanted to ask, ‘What can you tell about who someone is on the inside, just by looking at their skin color, nationality and other external aspects?’”
    CHO Hikaru
    Text: SAZAKI Ryo[2015年4月号掲載記事]

    趙 燁 さん
    「でもこの生まれ育ちのおかげで、他国をおとしめて自分たちの団結を強めようとする動きを、距離を置いて見ることができるようになりました」と趙さん。趙さんはお気に入りとして、バナナに色を塗ってキュウリに見せかけた作品「It’s not what it seems」を挙げます。「人間の肌の色や国籍といった外側だけを見て、その人の内面の何がわかるの?と言いたかったのです」。
    趙 燁 さん

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  • Utilizing Japanese Language Proficiency to Secure a Dream Job

    [From April Issue 2015]

    “The other day when I went to a business networking event for various companies and made a presentation in Japanese, so many people rushed up to me to exchange business cards that I ran out,” says Nate SHURILLA in fluent Japanese. “Also, when I was job hunting, a broader range of options opened up to me because I could speak Japanese; this resulted in a job offer from one of Japan’s main mega banks. The ability to speak the native language gives you a huge advantage when it comes to securing a job in a foreign country.”
    Shurilla hails from the state of Wisconsin in America. “Before he got married, my father lived in Japan doing volunteer work for his church, and used to discuss his memories of this experience with me and taught me simple Japanese. Through this, I became interested in Japan, too, and elected to learn the Japanese language in my middle and high school years.” When it came time for him to enter secondary education, Shurilla applied to do volunteer work for his church and went to Japan, just like his father.
    At first, Shurilla was shocked because it was so difficult for him to understand spoken Japanese. “My first placement was in Yamagata Prefecture where I couldn’t understand a word the old people spoke. Later I understood that they had a unique dialect. However, the experience had a huge impact on me at the time and it made me think I had to study more Japanese. At the same time, though, I understood that the conversation would continue even when I did not understand the words, if I just smiled and said, ‘I see, I see,’” he jokes.
    Shurilla decided to study ten new words, two new grammar rules, and five new kanji every day. “I used store-bought flashcards and also read books. The first book I read had about 200 pages. It began to make sense at around page 150,” he says.
    When his two years of volunteer work came to a close Shurilla returned home and went to college. There he chose to take classes in Japanese where he studied grammar and the cultural background of Japanese expressions. “Thanks to the grammar lessons, I could systemize knowledge I acquired during my stay in Japan. Also, understanding Japanese culture is very important. For instance, I think the greeting ‘otsukaresama desu’ (thank you for your work) is uniquely Japanese. Bearing in mind that it comes from appreciating other people’s hard work and being considerate of their fatigue, you would know in which situations to use the expression.”
    When he was a college senior, Shurilla sat for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) N1 and passed. He then applied for the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme and returned to Japan. “I returned to Japan because the earnestness and diligence of the Japanese people had made a big impact on me during my previous stay and I had begun to love Japan,” he says. “While working in Japan, there was a period when I was bothered by the interference of my direct supervisor, but I overcame that by talking to another boss at a higher level.”
    Now, Shurilla is working for a marketing company in Tokyo. “If you speak your native language and Japanese and have some kind of skill, like programming, you can find many job opportunities in Tokyo,” he says. “I am now involved in ‘Around Akiba,’ a project to promote the appeal of Akihabara to the world. I feel it’s an advantage to be able to speak Japanese, particularly when doing interviews.”

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo[2015年4月号掲載記事]

    今、シュリラさんは東京のマーケティング会社で働いています。「自国語と日本語、そして何かのスキル、例えばプログラミングができるなどの技能があれば、今の東京には仕事を得る機会がたくさんありますよ」と言います。「私は今、秋葉原の魅力を海外へ発信するプロジェクト『Around Akiba』に携わっています。特に取材のとき、日本語ができてよかったと感じますね」。


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  • The Power of Song to Bring Peace to the World


    指揮者 加藤洋朗さん
    Choral conductor KATO Hiroaki works with a faith in the “power of song to bring peace to the world.” The NHK Tokyo Children Chorus was founded in 1952 and between 2003 and 2012 Kato was active as its principal conductor. In 2009, they were given the opportunity to perform for the pope (Benedict XVI). Today, Kato coaches youth choirs all over Japan while lecturing at the music department of Toho Gakuen College.
    As a choral coach, he wanted the children to mainly focus their best efforts on trying to create good music. “If you’re seriously engaged in music, there are times when you express yourself in a way you could never do with words, and that gives you a strong sense of achievement. In those moments, you’re happy to be alive. Once you discover this joy, the idea of starting a fight to kill people becomes unthinkable,” says Kato.
    Kato himself had in intense experience of surpassing his own abilities as a junior high school student. Because of this experience, he set out to become a conductor and then a singer. However, as he began his advanced studies, he sensed the students around him were far more talented. He also had doubts about his ability to express himself as a male singer the way he wanted. “In my 20s, I lost all hope for a future in music,” he recalls.
    During the time he was worried about his future career, he met TANAKA Nobuaki, one of Japan’s trailblazing choral conductors. While singing for three years in a choir conducted by Tanaka, he observed Tanaka’s conducting technique as much as possible. “From him I learned what music and even life itself is. My choral conducting today is based on what I learned from him.”
    Since last October, Kato has been coaching a choir of ambassadors’ wives who “want to make an appeal for peace through song.” Having only practiced for one month and a half, they gave their first concert for an audience of some 60 people from 30 embassies. They sang Christmas songs and “Hana wa Saku (The Flower Will Bloom),” a charity song for the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake. “They sang ‘Hana wa Saku’ in Japanese because they all wanted to, but it was a struggle for them.”
    The concert was a great success. After the performance, Kato discovered that the wives had been very nervous. When he shook hands with them their hands were very cold. The wife of the Finnish ambassador, who made the final speech, rounded up proceedings with tears in her eyes, saying, “I never thought I, of all people, would be able to make an appeal for peace through music.”
    “Regardless of your technical skill, if you have a strong desire to express yourself, your message will reach your listeners,” says Kato who’s rediscovering the power of music. In the future, with the goal of world peace and integration in mind he wants to create good quality music with more young people.
    Photos by WATANABE Tsutomu
    Text: ICHIMURA Masayo[2015年3月号掲載記事]

    指揮者 加藤洋朗さん
    写真:渡辺 力

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  • A Similar Sense of Hospitality

    [From February Issue 2015]

    Ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan
    in Japan
    “Before I came to Japan, I imagined that since it’s a developed country, all the windows would open and shut electronically. But conditions in the rooms of the lodging house I rented as an international student were surprisingly different from what I had imagined: they were very small, the toilet was shared, and we had to go to the public bath to take a bath,” says Ambassador Gursel ISMAYILZADA in perfect Japanese.
    The Ambassador started working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1993, but went to Japan in October of 1996, as a graduate student. “After graduating from Baku University in my home country, I received a scholarship from Japan and studied Japanese at Tsukuba University for six months. After that I went on to receive a master’s degree and doctorate at Sophia University. In January of 2005 I returned home, but wanting to give something back to the country that had facilitated my studies, I returned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in September of that year I started working as a diplomat at the newly-established Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan in Japan.
    Located on the west coast of the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. “My country opened an embassy in Japan in 2005. After getting involved with the establishment of the embassy, I first worked as counsellor and then became an ambassador. The fact I could speak Japanese was a huge advantage in my career as a diplomat.”
    When the ambassador was a student, there was no Japanese program at Baku University. “After I decided to study abroad in Japan I found some textbooks – which were mostly in Russian and English – and spent a few months studying Japanese on my own. The Azerbaijani language has more vowels than Japanese, and the word order is similar, so learning to speak Japanese wasn’t too difficult. But learning to read and write hiragana and katakana along with the many kanji, was quite a struggle,” he recalls.
    He quickly became accustomed to the food and customs of Japan. “Japanese food is healthy and simple. Kaiseki (a traditional multi-course meal) is exquisite. My favorite dishes are yakitori and shabushabu,” he says with a smile. “I also quickly got accustomed how to use the Japanese public bath. I am the type of person who wants to experience everything and was able to adapt,” he adds.
    “Before coming to Japan, I thought the Japanese were very serious and diligent, living like monks in a monastery. But once I got there, I saw all the comedy and rakugo (traditional comic storytelling) on TV. Although students took their studies very seriously on campus, at night they would go out drinking, even with the professors. Then they were right back in class the following day with the same serious faces again, which was amazing,” he laughs.
    “By living in Japan, I’ve deepened my knowledge of Japanese culture,” he says. “For instance, I learned the difference between giri (obligation) and gimu (duty) from reading Ruth BENEDICT’s ‘The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.’ But after coming here and interacting with Japanese people, there came a point at which I realized what ‘obligation’ truly meant. I gained a deeper understanding of what was going on in ‘Black Rain’ – a movie set in Japan – when I watched it again after returning to Japan.”
    “The best quality of the Japanese is the way they work together. I want to learn more about this from them,” says the ambassador. “When the Tohoku disaster occurred, I heard the news in my home country and it greatly saddened me, but at the same time I knew that Japan would quickly get back on its feet again. In fact, at Sendai Airport, which had been damaged by the tsunami, partial service was restored within just one month after the disaster. The teamwork of Japanese people is truly astonishing.”
    “On top of that, Japanese people are gourmets. I think that in Tokyo, you can eat better Italian food than in Italy and better French cuisine than in France. Tokyo has more Michelin stars than anywhere else. Japan’s other attractions include its unique cultural traditions such as kabuki,” the ambassador says.
    “The people of Japan and Azerbaijan are alike in both friendliness and hospitality. My country is just about the size of Hokkaido. You can get around the whole country in a short amount of time, so please come visit it. I recommend trying dolma, which is mutton wrapped in grape leaves with yogurt dressing. The cheese and kebabs are also delicious, and each locality has its own unique pilaf.”
    Azerbaijan is a country rich in high grade petroleum and natural gas. “Because the petroleum is close to the surface, there are places where fires burn continuously. I think that’s probably why the fire-worshipping Zoroaster religion originated here, and it’s said that even the name of the country derives from fire. My country is at the crossroads of the East and the West. Boasting numerous historical buildings, part of the capital, Baku, has been designated a World Heritage site.
    “My country gained its independence in 1918 for two years, becoming the first democratic republic in the Islamic world. During that time, women were given the right to vote. Then, Azerbaijan became a part of the Soviet Union in 1920, and religion was prohibited. The majority of citizens are Muslim, but Azerbaijan is a secular country,” the ambassador states.
    “The people of Azerbaijan are very pro-Japanese,” says the ambassador. “During the Soviet Era, ISHIKAWA Takuboku’s haiku about the suffering caused by poverty were often read for propaganda purposes. This fostered pro-Japanese sentiment amongst the people. In today’s market economy, they admire Japan as a country that has achieved high economic growth, and Japanese-made cosmetics are a huge hit with women. Anime is popular among the youth,” says the ambassador.
    “Japanese martial arts are very popular. There are many people practicing judo and karate, and in the Beijing Olympics an Azerbaijani won a gold medal in judo. The Sumo Federation has a presence in Azerbaijan, with wrestlers competing in international sumo tournaments. Eventually there will be Azerbaijani sumo wrestlers in Japanese professional sumo. If that happens, I would love to give them their sumo names,” the Ambassador says expectantly.
    “Lastly, I’d like tell non-Japanese readers studying Japanese that you made the right decision. Japanese is a language worth learning,” says the ambassador. “Interacting with Japanese people is the best way to improve your Japanese. It’s difficult to learn the difference between ageru (give) and morau (receive/be given) from a textbook, but you can grasp it through actual conversation with Japanese people. Please do come to Japan and converse with Japanese people as much as you can,” says the ambassador.

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo[2015年2月号掲載記事]






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  • In Japan it is Important to Read Between the Lines

    [From February Issue 2015]

    RIO Tina
    “When I wanted to learn a second foreign language, I decided to choose Japanese,” RIO Tina from China says. “Japan was one of the countries I found appealing. I found it interesting that Japan, while being a developed country, properly preserved its old traditions. In addition, Japanese and Chinese businesses are tightly bound together.”
    After graduating from Shanghai University, Rio came to Japan in March 2008 and studied Japanese at Aichi International Academy in Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture for two years. “It was a very productive two years. Not only was I able to study Japanese, but I was very satisfied with the level of support I received in my everyday life, which made my stay in Japan very secure,” says Rio.
    By continuing to work a variety of part time jobs while going to school, Rio’s Japanese ability improved greatly. Wanting to further her Japanese studies, Rio enrolled in the junior year of Nanzan University Business Administration Department in 2010 and majored in management environment theory. “The joy of studying a language is that you can easily gauge how much you have advanced,” says Rio.
    “I was glad when I was able to give directions around town to a Japanese person. In addition, I became able to properly articulate my thoughts in a sentence. When my composition won Takushoku University’s International Collaboration and International Understanding Award, I was very happy,” says Rio. “I think katakana is very difficult. Even when the word derives from English, I had a hard time as the pronunciation can be completely different. In addition, many names for people and places are read differently, which was puzzling.”
    Rio says she loves everything about Japanese food. “I especially like white flesh fish, oyster, and sushi. I often go to the standing sushi restaurants. Also, I always admire Japan’s clean environment and the courtesy of its people.”
    Rio now does sales work for a specialist food wholesaler in Tokyo. She is in charge of alcoholic beverages and corresponds with the major Japanese supermarket buyers. She uses Japanese at work and also English when dealing with imports. She says it is pleasant to suggest a product or sales space, while taking buyers’ interests into account.
    “I don’t deal well with the crowds in Tokyo. Rush hour here reminds me of my hometown, Shanghai,” Rio says with a smile. To recharge her batteries after a stressful work week and to get away from the crowds, on her days off she drives to the beach or plays golf with friends and colleagues.
    “There are many differences between China and Japan. In China it’s important to assert yourself strongly; you’ll lose out if you do not state your intentions in front of others. In contrast, in Japan it’s normal to state your opinion after assessing the situation. As they say in Japan, I feel it’s important to ‘read between the lines.’ At times people can be excessively sensitive to the moods of others, but it’s also a virtue,” Rio says.
    Aichi International Academy[2015年2月号掲載記事]

    呂 天吟さん

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  • A Shared Passion for Baseball

    [From January Issue 2015]

    Hector DOMINGUEZ
    Ambassador for the Dominican Republic
    When I was in the Dominican Republic, I had the impression that Japan was a great country with both political and economic power. In 2013, I’d received an offer from our President to be posted as ambassador to a different country, but I personally told him I wanted to go to Japan. If I had gone to a country in South America, my connections and language skills would have made things easier, but sensing that there was a potential for trade with Japan to grow, I took up the challenge.
    Since I arrived, my impression of Japan has improved even more. The buildings and railways are good, but above all else, I thought that the people were wonderful; everyone is modest and very polite. I highly value that.
    I like all Japanese food. It’s healthy. I would probably be slimmer if I only ate Japanese cuisine. My wife and I often go out to Japanese restaurants and whenever we have guests from our country, we take them to eat out. They all appreciate the variety and delicious taste of Japanese cuisine.
    I’ve visited many parts of Japan in my first year here. I liked them all. I discovered two positive aspects of Japan while traveling to those places. Firstly, marvelous historical landmarks, such as castles and old houses, have been preserved. Secondly, wherever you go in the country, there’s always a modern infrastructure.
    The place I’m now interested in visiting is Hokkaido. I want to go and see the snow, which we don’t have in our country. I also want to see more of Tokyo. I want to go to places like Asakusa, to get in touch with its artistic and cultural side.
    I think Japanese people are passionate about maintaining the cleanliness of their cities. That’s great. Nothing is particularly problematic for me in Japan. The lifestyle is very convenient. My only regret is I came here with my wife. Joking aside, I think Japanese women are graceful and very attractive.
    I believe that Japan and the Dominican Republic have two things in common. The first thing is the people. The people of both countries do their best each day to fulfill their ambitions. The second thing is baseball. Japan and the Dominican Republic are the only countries that have been world champions in the World Baseball Classic tournament. The Dominican Republic is the current champion.
    I believe our two countries will in the future become closer, not only through trade, but also through scientific, cultural, and political exchanges. Prime Minister ABE has made statements to the effect that he is paying particular attention to Latin America. We’re hoping to strengthen ties with Japan. There are many Dominican companies that want to do business with Japan.
    The year 2014 is the 80th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and the Dominican Republic. To commemorate this we have organized all kinds of events. The year 2015 will mark the 80th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and the five countries of Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica). We Dominicans intend to play our part as a member of the Central American Integration System.
    The most attractive feature of the Dominican Republic is its people. We are all open-minded and hospitable to foreigners. Our country receives the greatest number of tourists in the Central American and Caribbean area. Our population is about ten million and we receive about five million tourists a year. So that we’ll have more tourists from Japan, I’m working hard to develop ties with companies in Japan’s tourism industry.
    The Dominican Republic occupies the largest portion of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. The climate is pleasant all year round. Superb beaches and beach resorts are dotted along the whole coastline. It’s so beautiful that it’s been likened to “a piece of blue sky.” Legend has it that when he arrived in Hispaniola in 1492, COLUMBUS remarked, “I bet no one has ever seen such natural beauty.”
    Our country is rich in natural resources such as nickel and bauxite. Our GDP comes from tourism, agriculture and mining, and 4% of this is invested in education. Education is the key to a country’s development. We learned that from Japan.
    I once appeared in a TV commercial that was shown in Daiei – a Japanese supermarket. It was advertising mangos from the Dominican Republic. On the subject of food, I should say that our tropical fruits – mango and bananas and so forth – are very delicious and so are our avocados, honey and casabe crackers.
    Please everyone go and visit the Dominican Republic, the most beautiful country in the world. Once you go there, you’ll certainly be captivated. We’ll be waiting for you.

    Interview: KONO Yu[2015年1月号掲載記事]






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  • Promoting the Charm of Plants to the Masses

    [From January Issue 2015]

    NISHIHATA Seijun, Plant hunter
    There is a plant hunter who collects plants not only from within Japan, but also from all over the world. NISHIHATA Seijun grows plants from the thousands of seeds he has collected. Based in Tokyo, he is attracting attention in the media – TV, radio, magazines, and so forth – for the numerous projects he began in 2012.
    Seijun says he hasn’t always been interested in plants. When he was studying abroad aged 21, an incident occurred that changed his mind. “When I climbed the 4,000 meter high Mt. Kinabalu in Borneo, I happened to see Nepenthes rajah, the world’s largest carnivorous plant on the summit. That plant made a huge impression on me.”
    Hanau Co. Ltd. in Hyogo Prefecture is a wholesaler of flowers and potted plants, founded 150 years ago. The business has been in Seijun’s family for five generations. After returning to Japan, he spent his days learning the family business as an employee. “I think my skills were refined through encounters with masters of flower arrangement, and others.” Meanwhile, some simple doubts began to emerge in his mind. “I noticed that neither the Japanese technique of adjusting the flowering period, nor rare foreign plant species, were widely known to the general public.”
    “I began giving seminars to explain how and from where we get hold of materials for flower arrangement.” The number of invitations to give seminars increased and he started getting project proposals from both inside and outside Japan. Today he deals with more than 2,000 requests a year from companies, organizations and individuals. “The number of known plant species exceeds 260,000. It’s a wide field.”
    “I once collected an olive tree that was hundreds of years old. After it was transported, we discovered it was infected and lost a large amount of money sending it back. Climbing cliffs to collect plants and communicating with local staff via English and body language is work that involves both risk and effort. Despite the risks, I want to satisfy those who need the trees.”
    At Tokyo Designers Weeks 2014, an international creators’ event, 30 people chosen by lottery planted an Argentine palo borracho tree together with Seijun. The aim was for the participants to get a sense of the heft of the four-ton tree by pulling it on a cart. “Through contact with plants, I’d like people to experience a variety of things, in addition to their beauty and healing influence.”
    At Yoyogi Village where his office is located, plants from different countries of the world are grown. To acknowledge the contribution this green tract of land has made to society and the environment, Yoyogi Village was designated an “Urban Oasis” in 2014. “In the future, I’d like to create fun botanical gardens in which I can collaborate with artists and musicians.”
    Photos courtesy of Sora Botanical Garden
    Text: KAWARATANI Tokiko[2015年1月号掲載記事]

    プラントハンター 西畠清順さん

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  • Improving Japanese Ability by Being the Only Non-Japanese in the Workplace

    [From January Issue 2015]

    Lewis Winglam PONG
    “I started studying Japanese when I came to Japan in September, 2013. I took the N3 (Japanese Language Proficiency) examination in December and passed. I took N2 in July, this year, and passed again. This month I took N1,” says Lewis Winglam PONG, from Hong Kong. In 2013 he began working at the Japanese head office of Sojitz Cooperation. Now he is working as an investment advisor in the structured finance division.
    Pong majored in risk management and finance at Hong Kong University. Then, he went to study finance and management at a graduate school in the U.K., staying on to do an internship for two months. Before long, he got anxious about his parents and returned to Hong Kong, where he started job hunting. Then, he bumped into a friend who was employed by Sojitz who told him about working conditions there.
    “What impressed me was that the company was hiring people who were not able to speak Japanese at all and giving them six months intensive Japanese instruction,” recalls Pong. Pong did some research into Sojitz. Learning that the company was a general trading company of a type unique to Japan, and that it was doing businesses in various fields around the world, he was intrigued.
    “I became curious about Japan, too. Japan is poor in natural resources and suffers from many natural disasters, such as earthquakes. Despite suffering heavy damage in World War II, Japan regenerated itself in only a few decades to become the second biggest economy in the world,” says Pong.
    Pong applied for a job at Sojitz and was hired. There, he received intensive Japanese instruction. “During the first three months, I received lessons to prepare for the N3 test in the morning at Waseda University and studied in a group of two to three people with one Japanese language teacher in the afternoon. Over the next three months, I studied with a Japanese language teacher in the morning and did on-the-job training, in other words learning Japanese from my colleagues while we worked.”
    “Since I’m surrounded by Japanese people at work and the majority of business is in done in Japanese, it’s quite a challenge. For instance, at meetings, everybody speaks quietly and it’s sometime hard for me to catch what they’re saying. There were occasions when I could finally understand what the meeting was about after reading the minutes afterwards. In Hong Kong and the U.K., people try to show how confident they are by expressing their opinions in a loud voice, but in Japan it is a virtue to speak modestly. Also, when you have an objection, rather than say ‘I object,’ it’s customary in Japan to mention the reasons against it,” says Pong, smiling wryly.
    He also had trouble with honorific expressions. “It is much more complicated than in Cantonese. In Japan you have to adjust your level of respect depending on whether you are talking to your manager or to a senior colleague. With people outside your company, you have to use another set of expressions. Honorific expressions used for communicating with them change according to which side is asking for a favour. Now, however, I naturally produce honorifics whenever I feel a sense of respect,” he says.
    “I am hooked on snowboarding, which I started doing last year. I’m also enjoying golf,” says Pong, discussing his private life. “I used to think that if I’d gotten a job in Hong Kong, I wouldn’t have had such language difficulties. But now I feel that through studying Japanese I have widened my job opportunities. If I improve my Japanese, I’ll be given greater responsibility at work.”
    Sojitz Cooperation
    Text: SAZAKI Ryo[2015年1月号掲載記事]


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  • 不屈の精神を持つ日本人とポーランド人

    [From Decemberber Issue 2014]

    Wife of the Republic of Poland Ambassador to Japan
    “Poland has been through hard times in history; the territory was carved up by other countries and we suffered tremendous damage in WWII,” says Iwona KOZACZEWSKA. “We’ve nevertheless managed to rebuild and develop. The Poles are a nation that unites in adversity and can cooperate and strive for reconstruction. I believe we share this national character trait with Japanese. Our two peoples also have a similar sensitivity to music. The Polish musician Fryderyk CHOPIN is popular in both countries.”
    Kozaczewska came to Japan in August 2012. “I was surprised by the heat and humidity of Japan’s summer. In Poland, the temperature in summer can rise close to 30°C, but it’s dry and pleasant,” she says. “I also had a hard time in Japanese cities because few streets have names. The subway at the beginning was very complicated, too.”
    “When I get lost and open a map, however, a Japanese person immediately speaks to me to help me out,” Kozaczewska says with a smile. “Just the other day, I got lost while trying to walk on my own to the nearest station from our embassy. Almost immediately, a young Japanese lady offered me her assistance in getting to the station,” says Kozaczewska. “That kind of hospitability, too, reminds me of Poland.”
    She has no difficulty as far as Japanese food is concerned. “Japanese food is great. I love soy sauce, okonomiyaki and miso soup. My husband always laughs because I get hungry and want to eat something as soon as we go out,” says Kozaczewska. “I often go to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Shibuya with my two daughters and I really enjoy the choice of ingredients. I was warned by many friends to be careful with nattou as its taste and smell are too much for non-Japanese to handle, but I thought it was interesting to taste it.”



    She has no difficulty with raising her children in Japan, either. “In whatever country we are in, what we should teach and what we should tell them are the same,” says Kozaczewska. “It is also wonderful that they are having this opportunity to actually experience such an exciting country as Japan.”
    Kozaczewska often travels around Japan with her family. “When we went to Hokkaido, one of our daughters was delighted. She said it was as if we were in Poland. The climate and landscape did indeed resemble our country,” says Kozaczewska.
    “Last year, our family traveled to Hiroshima and Nagasaki to attend the A-bomb commemoration ceremonies. We learned about the tragedies caused by the atomic bombs and while traveling, we saw aspects of Japan – like the Japanese way of life – that you wouldn’t find in guide books. We decided to go there by car so that we could explore as many places in Japan as possible. The trip was long, but very meaningful,” she says. “Our daughters were happy that we stopped by Iga, the ninja town. Our elder daughter was particularly interested because she is called Iga herself.”
    Japan has a lot of wonderful things that I’d like to take home to Poland: Japanese discipline and politeness; the attachment to tradition; beautiful kimono… Bonsai look spectacular. I’m also attracted to the beauty of pine trees. I found the ones at the Imperial Palace particularly fantastic. If I took home everything I liked in Japan, I’d be stopped at customs because there’s just too much,” she says smiling.


    Tatra Mountains

    “On the other hand, what I’d like to bring to Japan from Poland is food,” says Kozaczewska with a smile. “We presented Polish donuts, soup and smoked goat cheese at the recent Polish Festival at Roppongi Hills. They sold out right away. They are hard to find in Japan, so you should definitely eat them if you travel to Poland,” she says.
    “I’m sure Japanese nature lovers will like Poland,” says Kozaczewska. “Poland still has primeval forest where European bison and storks live. The forests are full of mushrooms, so you can enjoy gathering them. In the Lake District, you can take boat cruises from lake to lake, as well as go fishing.”
    “You can enjoy yachting and cruising on the northern Baltic coast, which is also known for its beautiful white beaches. The sand is so fine that even patterns created by the wind are beautiful. A lot of amber nuggets wash ashore on its beaches. As a child, I used to pick them up to present to my grandmother,” she says nostalgically.
    “Poland also has lots of things of cultural interest,” says Kozaczewska. “Lazienkowski Park in the capital of Warsaw has the Palace on the Water as well as a famous statue of Chopin. Concerts are often held there. Many historical wooden churches are preserved in Małopolska and the Carpathians as they are listed as World Heritage Sites.”


    Palace on the Water in Lazienki Park

    “In the old capital of Krakow, there’s a museum of Japanese art and technology called ‘Manggha.’ Japanese comics are very popular with young people in Poland, too, but the Manggha of that museum has a different meaning,” says Kozaczewska, laughing. “Feliks JASIENSKI collected Japanese art, including ukyoe. He liked to be called by the nickname Manggha. The museum came to be called Manggha because it contains his collection. The film director Andrzej WAJDA, who’s known to be a Japanophile, was heavily involved with the construction of that museum.”
    “Additionally, Wroclaw in southwestern Poland has a Japanese-style garden. As you can see, Poland has a lot of attractions and things related to Japan, so please come and visit. Our economic development in recent years has been remarkable and the streets are full of life,” says Kozaczewska.
    “I would advise those foreigners studying the Japanese language to spend as much time as possible in Japan,” says Kozaczewska. “Japan has so many sides to it that it’s impossible to see everything in a short time. They should not only see the skyscrapers, Shibuya and tourist spots that are often shown on TV, they should also explore the back streets on foot. They’ll see that exotic Japanese scenes really exist, scenes that Europeans have seen only in children’s books.”
    Photos courtesy of the Polish Embassy’s Tourism Office
    Text: SAZAKI Ryo[2014年12月号掲載記事]





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