[Tiếng Việt ở dưới]
“It’s always been my biggest fear to not be heard. I’m from Vietnam and when I was 10, we moved to Hanoi. I felt ignored by people from the big city because I was a ‘village girl’ who came from the countryside. I didn’t have that ‘city vibe’. Years later, I came to Japan to study at a university and once again, I felt I wasn’t being heard. Granted I couldn’t express my thoughts clearly in Japanese. Many Japanese people acknowledge that they understood what you said, but you know they really didn’t and they’re just being polite about it. So I felt like my thoughts and ideas remained inside of me. That’s when I really worked hard to learn Japanese. Just like how I adapted to Hanoi lifestyle, I tried to see where Japanese people are coming from and listen to their stories as well. It’s challenging to adapt to a new culture. But it’s possible if you really want to do so.

“Now I am working on my undergraduate thesis. I’m trying to give Vietnamese trainees here in Japan the chance to be heard. They come from various backgrounds with different stories. They are stereotyped to be low-skilled workers who have no choice but to endure their employers’ exploitation. Although I wonder if all their experiences have been that terrible. Through a research project, I hope to empower them and give them a voice so their stories, their struggles will be heard. I hope my findings will help them get to know new ways to enjoy their lives Japan.”

Em luôn sợ cảm giác không được lắng nghe, không có tiếng nói trong xã hội. Năm 10 tuổi, em chuyển lên Hà Nội sinh sống cùng gia đình. Đó là lần đầu tiên em bị phân biệt đối xử vì là “gái quê” và mang giọng nói ngọng đặc trưng của đất than Quảng Ninh. Khi ấy, em có nói gì cũng không được người khác để tâm tới. Thời điểm đặt chân đến du học trong chương trình đại học bằng tiếng Anh tại Nhật, em chỉ biết tiếng Anh và không thể giao tiếp được gì bằng tiếng Nhật. Một lần nữa, em lại cảm thấy mình mất đi tiếng nói. Tuy người Nhật, bởi bản tính thân thiện, thường cố nói họ hiểu em nói gì, nhưng từ những cái lắc đầu, những lời thầm thì sau lưng, em hiểu họ không biết em muốn diễn đạt điều gì cho trọn vẹn. Nhiều điều em muốn sẻ chia, đều bị giấu kín trong lòng vì không thể bày tỏ cho đúng. Nhưng giống như em đã cố gắng để hoà nhập với cuộc sống Hà Nội khi em còn nhỏ, em cố gắng học tiếng Nhật để thực sự khiến bản thân được lắng nghe. Và từ đó, không chỉ bản thân em có tiếng nói, mà em còn hiểu được rõ hơn những câu chuyện, những vất vả mà người Nhật họ trải qua. Thực sự rất khó để hoà nhập hay hiểu một nền văn hoá nào đó, nhưng mọi thứ đều có thể khi bạn muốn thực hiện nó.

Giờ em đang cố gắng lắng nghe tiếng nói của các anh chị thực tập sinh người Việt tại Nhật thông qua khoá luận tốt nghiệp của mình. Em đi thật nhiều để được nghe nhiều câu chuyện của các anh chị thực tập sinh. Các anh chị đôi khi bị nhìn bằng con mắt không được tích cực, nhưng đến từ nhiều vùng miền khác nhau, với nhiều trải nghiệm đa dạng, câu chuyện của các anh chị đều rất đáng quý, rất đáng được lắng nghe. Mỗi lần được lắng nghe anh chị kể chuyện, em lại thấy hạnh phúc và hiểu thêm rất nhiều điều mà không báo đài nào kể được. Mong rằng những phát hiện của em trong nghiên cứu này sẽ phần nào giúp đưa ra những cách thức tốt nhất để trải nghiệm của các anh chị thực tập sinh được tốt và tích cực hơn nữa trong tương lai.”

“I’m from a place in Japan that’s called ‘Ninja City’. I was a high school teacher for 10 years. While teaching social studies to Japanese students, I noticed how strong their stereotypes about other countries were. But they didn’t engage in deeper discussion and had the same opinion (or no opinion) as their peers. I wanted to change that so I became a researcher. Now I’m trying to collect opinions of people from all over the world. I want to show Japanese students different opinions from various people to deepen cultural understanding. Because I think conflict can be caused by stereotypes and surface-level understanding. We should try putting ourselves in other people’s shoes after acknowledging the fact that we have divergent views because we come from different places. Then we should understand the reasons why people think the way they do before making conclusions about them. I’m trying to achieve my goal of equipping our young generation with better tools through a visualization project. It’s like opinion-mapping with people’s thoughts and opinions connected to their cultural background. This digital Earth will be decentralized, too, so not one country will be in main focus. Hopefully this will encourage Japanese students to have meaningful discussions about diversity as the world becomes more integrated.”

at the University of Tokyo campus

“My mom passed away when I was 10. She was diagnosed with breast cancer right before we all moved to Australia because of dad’s business. We were supposed to stay there only for four years, but she wanted to come back to Japan for treatment before that. Me and my siblings remained and I begged her to stay. Her treatment didn’t go well and she died two years later. That was very difficult. We barely saw our father during that period. He was always away on business. Social workers would knock on our door to check if we were under proper supervision. I think our school told them no one was looking after us. So we got one of dad’s business partners to watch over us from time to time and even had our grandma in Japan to testify that she’s taking care of us. Otherwise it was either put us under foster care or bring us back to Japan. Good thing my brother got old enough to be our guardian. That’s how I ended up living in Australia for 15 years. I even went to university there. Now I’m back in Japan to see if I can fit in the work culture here.

“I’m also involved in some charity work. I guess since I received a lot of help and support from the community while I was growing up in Australia, I want to give back. I did a lot of volunteer work during university, like teaching English to refugees from Africa. Right now I’m trying to raise funds to help support the livelihood of people in Tanzania. As someone with experience in HR, my goal is to assist young people develop their careers or find work. There’s a lot of young women and single mothers who need training so they can work and earn a living.”

“I’m Japanese but my mom got remarried to an Australian, so my last name changed to Smith. I also have a younger brother who’s half Japanese, half Australian. We all moved to Australia, where I spent the next 4-5 years. That was an important part of my life. It shaped me to who I am today. Living abroad, I met a lot of people from different backgrounds. Everyone learns how to get along with each other and build a community, which really stuck with me. I never thought that I was that different in Australia because everyone’s different. But when I moved back to Japan, people were much more aware of the fact that I look Japanese but my name is Smith, and that I didn’t speak Japanese. Suddenly, I was being asked who I am and why I am the way I am. Since I didn’t have answers in the beginning (and I didn’t want people to question whether or not I was Australian because of my blood), I started telling everyone I was half Japanese half Aussie, which I wasn’t. It was hurting me because I knew it wasn’t true. And I wanted to be me but I also felt like if I had admitted it then people would see me differently. So I kept that up for a long time until university.

“Then I went to Toronto to study for a year and I was back in an environment where people were from everywhere and everyone’s interested where you’re from or your views on things but didn’t necessarily define who you were. I felt free to be whoever I wanted to be. So when I came back to Japan I kept that mentality and started telling everyone the truth—that I wasn’t born a Smith, but I’ve grown into one. Now if someone doesn’t understand then that’s fine. Not everyone goes through the same thing. Now I’m very comfortable with my background. And I’m really thankful that my parents met (actually they met through me because my dad was also my English teacher when I was a kid) and moved me to Australia then moved me back to Japan because I feel like I got exposed to different cultures.”

Her: “We met on a dating app. When my friends got tired of me complaining about the dating scene, one of them helped me sign up to this Japanese dating app, which was different than Tinder. After a few messages, we went out for lunch on a Sunday. We only planned to have lunch but we ended up staying out all day, just walking around, getting coffee, and talking. He lied about his height, rounding it up. I initially didn’t want to go out with a guy who’s shorter than me because I was always really self-conscious about my height, being taller than average in Canada. And coming to Japan made it even worse, because I’m super tall here. Looking back, it’s kind of funny now. At first, dating someone shorter really bothered me. But I was able to get over my height insecurities and now I don’t care at all. We even got married this year. He asked me to marry him when we went home to visit my family at Christmas in Canada. The only thing I’m worried about is how his parents will react when they find out I have tattoos.”

Him: “I was a little nervous when we first met. But we hit it off right away and I knew she was the one for me. We’re just meant to be. We can talk all day and really connect. I feel like we get each other. So proposing to her came so natural to me. She just lights up my life.”

Somewhere in Azabujuban
  • This lovely couple explores different homes in and around the Tokyo area. Follow their adventures HERE

“I’m a 3D artist from Mexico. A week after our wedding, my wife and I moved here. So I’ve only experienced married life in Japan. Everything changed once we boarded that flight to Tokyo. All of a sudden, I can’t be just preoccupied with my hobbies anymore. I’m not just dating my girlfriend or living with my parents any longer. Now I have to be a mature person with adult priorities, like providing for my family. I have to think about our future. But although there are more work opportunities abroad, the language barrier can hold you back. I work for a gaming company (I used to work in the movie industry but Japan’s video gaming industry is much bigger) and my boss asked me at the last evaluation if I wanted to be a supervisor. I wasn’t confident enough with my Japanese level so I turned down the offer. It got me thinking, should I spend more time studying the language instead of working? At my first company, there were seven Mexicans including myself. But months later everyone started leaving. Maybe they found it difficult to adjust. To be honest though, I’ve always liked Japan so I find it easy here. I just pretty much work every day while thinking about our future. Are we going to stay here, move to another country, or buy a house in Mexico? Can we even rely on Japan’s pension system? Also, is this a good place for us long-term? People here don’t seem to have much clue about Mexicans apart from American movie references like Sicario, which is about the US-Mexico border, drug trafficking, all that stuff.”

“As a working mother in Japan, I’ve been juggling work and family for a couple of years now. I’m a Japanese make-up artist. I work with professional models for fashion magazines, TV, etc. It sounds so cool with all the glitz and glamour, but it’s an industry notorious for a grueling work schedule. That’s why most women doing this job either never find a partner to get married to or quit once they start a family. Most of the time you have to be onsite at different locations early in the morning until late at night. Luckily, I found a way to form my own small cosmetics company. Although it wasn’t easy. After four years of college, trying to become a Japanese language teacher to foreigners, I realized my passion was in the beauty industry. So I worked for a major Japanese cosmetics company, then took it a step further by studying abroad in America. After all, it was my childhood dream to do stage makeup for musicals.

“My boyfriend then (now my husband) was waiting in Japan, so I came back home after graduating. But when I applied for a job, I was told I had to start from the bottom by becoming someone’s assistant first. It didn’t matter that I had years of actual work experience (I was a make-up instructor at my first job) and got certified in LA with a cosmetology license. I still had to start as an assistant. It’s weird since I would be assisting someone close to my age with almost the same skills, and I’d have to address them using honorifics or very polite language. What if a slip of the tongue caused me to disagree with them or, worse, say something casually that could be seen as disrespectful? That’s unthinkable in our culture.

“So good thing my application got rejected. I was hurt but I’m thankful for what they said during the interview: ‘You shouldn’t be an assistant’. In hindsight, I think they meant I was overqualified. That really motivated me and I started building clientele from contacts and connections. Producers, models, people that I’ve worked with in the past heard I was freelancing, and so asked me to do small jobs until I had a customer base. Now I even have my own office and I also help young, aspiring up-comers who want to follow my example. So I offer internships, too. I believe in creating an environment where women can thrive and have work-life-balance, so your family and friends don’t have to be sacrificed.”

Hanaco Ishii’s makeup studio Decorus Beauty

働くママとして奮闘し、数年経ちました。ファッション雑誌や広告など、プロのモデルやアーティストのメイクアップをしている メイクアップアーティストです。とても華やかでカッコいい世界と思われがちですが、過酷なスケジュールも多くて有名な業界です。(実際華やかな面も多いですが。)そのせいか、このヘアメイク業界で働く20代・30代の多くは結婚をしたいと思っても両立が難しく結婚を選ばなかったり、結婚してもこの仕事を続けている人がとても少ないのが現状です。子供が居るメイクアップアーティストはとても日本では少ないんですよ。なかなか理解してくれるパートナーを見つけるのも難しいと思います。土日平日、早朝や深夜など関係なく仕事がある世界ですからね。幸いにも私は理解あるパートナーと家族が居て、自分自身でメイクアップアーティストとしても独立しメイク道具を取り扱う会社を起業出来たので、結婚出産をしキャリアを良いバランスで継続出来ています。

ここまでの経緯は、少し一般的なルートとは違いました。東京女子大学 文学部での4年間の後、副専攻していた日本語教員にも憧れましたが、いつか化粧品を作りたいという思いがあり化粧品メーカーに正社員として入社しました。そこで、メイク技術をはじめ、皮膚学やエステなどの基礎を学び美容インストラクターとして働きました。しかし、もっと違う世界でメイクアップをしたいと考えるようになり、会社を退職し特殊メイクを学びに単身ハリウッドへメイク留学へ。子供の頃からミュージカルが大好きでステージメイクや映画のメイクをやりたいという夢がそうさせたのです。そして卒業後は当時の恋人(現在の夫)が日本で待っていてくれたので、帰国し結婚しました。(その後、2017年に出産をし母となりました。)





“I’ve always wanted to live here from a really young age. Pretty much my whole life. So every decision I’ve made has been to get to where I am now. But now that I’m here, I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about what’s next. And being so separated from my support network in New Zealand, from everyone, is tough. I also left my partner behind for him to sort his life out. We’ve been together for nine years and now it’s been six months since I came to Japan. This is the longest we’ve been apart ever.

“He had a lot of issues with his health through university. He had ulcerative colitis, which basically affects the lining of your large intestines. I was taking care of him a lot. I’ve even put some things off for a while, which is probably for the best. But then I needed to go, to see what life’s like here. Thankfully, he was very encouraging. Right now he’s figuring out what his life is like without me because he’s been dependent on me. He’s figuring out how to work 40 hours a week while dealing with sickness and keeping an income.”

“Living in Japan, I’ve had so many good opportunities. The people I’ve met are amazing. It’s just the little things that make it harder. Back home, if something goes wrong or something just sucks, I can always go home, chill, be with my partner, or play some games. But here, I go home and I’m alone. It’s hard knowing you’re so isolated from everything. Before I was doing videos on YouTube. But I took a break from it because I think it’s just really hard juggling everything and I don’t really know what to show. It’s hard to be like, ‘My life’s amazing!’ when your life is not so amazing.”

“We’re trainees from Cebu, Philippines, under the Technical Intern Training Program. We do plumbing for Japan’s waterworks bureau, who secures water resources and provides a stable supply of clean water for the public. Life is good. But grocery prices and living costs are so high when converted back to pesos. I’ve been here for a year and a half now. I try to help my folks back home by sending some of my income. I’m still single so I don’t have a family to worry about except mom and dad. Before coming here, we had to study Japanese for six months. And then when we got here, there was an intensive one-month study to help us integrate and understand the culture. I must admit, it was difficult adjusting in the beginning. But once you get the hang of it, it’s smooth sailing. I just hope the company likes me so they’ll renew my contract and hire me full-time. Maybe I might even settle down in Japan. Who knows? The possibilities are endless.”

They’re resting their arms on a traditional ice cream cart that serves Sorbetes and is peddled by street hawkers in the Philippines.

“She’s nine months old. I had the easiest pregnancy with her. But now I’m having the hardest time with her. Maybe it’s like reverse karma or something. I want her grow up to be assertive because I notice people here talk to you in this roundabout way. Makes me want to say, ‘Just get to the point’. Thankfully, she’s already got a strong personality, so that’s good. But I’ve heard that being bullied and ostracized in school groups can be pretty harsh, so I don’t want that for her. And I just wish people would stop touching her on the train. That’s why when somebody does, I pull out my Lysol wipes and wipe her hand in front of them. I don’t care if they think I’m rude. Who has to deal with her having a cold? Not that person.

“I’m originally from L.A. I first came to Japan because of my work, as a casting assistant. I was also an acting coach to famous Japanese actors, teaching them acting through English, exposing them to American culture and helping them with pronunciation (because the scripts were from Hollywood). Now I’m a mom and I am being consumed by this mom life. There is this certain expectation that once you become a mom, you have to dress a certain way or act a certain way. All of a sudden it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re now a housewife.’ But I don’t see it that way. I’d much rather be working, not hanging out with all the moms and babies at department stores on a weekday at 12 o’clock. I feel like dads have an easier time. Socially, there’s not this expectation. You’re not just a housewife. Then there’s the pre-school situation in Japan. The waiting list is really long. A month after she was born, I got a visit from somebody from the ward office. They came to my home. And they’re like, ‘We recommend you look for pre-schools now.’ That’s how bad the wait-list is.

“I guess I miss the sunsets back home in California. But life is so easy here. Facilities to take care of your child are great–the public diaper changing pads are clean. There are places where you can warm up milk and everything’s just so readily available. I know L.A. is not like that. It’s strange. I do miss California. I miss the support system and how people express themselves. People are upfront with each other. Moms here in general are like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s so fantastic being a mom. It’s hard but it’s fine.’ Whereas my mom friends back home are like, ‘Damn, this shit is hard.’ They lay it out. It’s not really complaining. They’re willing to share information or share truths with each other. So should I go back? I definitely want my daughter to go live in the States for a while and get some exposure.”

“I think everyone goes through some kind of identity crisis. I’m from Taiwan and when I was 16, I went to the States, where I lived with a white host family. I went to a private school that was predominantly white, although there were also a couple of Asians and some black people. I remember eating lunch in the bathroom because I didn’t know which table to sit at, with so many different groups. And I didn’t feel like I was part of the Asian American group. I didn’t know what they were talking about. My English wasn’t that good at the time. So to save myself from embarrassment, I would eat lunch in the bathroom instead. That was the year I had a big identity crisis. But that experience really helped me learn about America, their politics, why they’re so passionate about American football, how they think, etc. Unlike a lot of international students who only go to America after college (and probably hangout mostly with their own ethnic groups), I got to experience how Americans grow up.

“Now I’m in Japan. I actually had no intention of coming here. But since I didn’t get a work visa in the States, which is a government lottery, I had no choice but to leave. And the Japan office of my company was their first suggestion for relocation. At first I was sad to leave my friends and the life that I had built in America. But now I’m glad I ventured out. I even found a Christian church that welcomed me with open arms. I was all alone during my first week here in Japan until I Googled and found somewhere I can belong. Most people here are foreigners, mixed-race, or Japanese who studied or grew up abroad and came back, so it’s very diverse. Not what I expected in Tokyo. And there are lots of groups and teams you can join to help you find a purpose. There’s photography, language exchange, or even groups that let you develop soft skills like leadership. I feel like because I experienced those things in the U.S., it’s so much easier in Japan. Up until then, I just followed whatever path was laid out in front of me. Now I’m making my own decisions in life. And I’m here thinking, ‘what can I do now?’”

“We met through a mutual friend at a party. She’s Japanese and I’m half Japanese, half Filipino. I was born and raised in Japan. But even though I’ve never lived in the Philippines, sometimes I miss the vibe of my Filipino side, and of course the food. My mom’s Filipina so she’d cook dishes from back home. I brought my girlfriend here today at the Philippine Festival in Tokyo to have a taste of Filipino culture. She finds my people very friendly and lively. As someone who grew up in a bicultural environment, I think there’s always a positive and a negative. But I would say it doesn’t matter whether you have mixed heritage or not. Everybody goes through some kind of identity crisis at some point. Sometimes you don’t know whether you fit in or not, irrespective of your background. OK maybe 10 years ago racism was more visible. But I feel like it’s gotten a lot better and it’s continuing to get better. You just have to be sure of yourself. Keep yourself together. Doesn’t matter what your nationality is, just have pride in yourself. I just wish I could spend more time with relatives back in Manila. Filipinos are very open and they make you feel at home. But unfortunately I’m so busy with my job. I just graduated from university and now I work for a creative agency in the advertising industry, doing sales.”