Kansai Scene Magazine


My life as an expatriate

KS talks to some of Kansai's diverse expats

The impact of foreign residents in Japan is easy to see in Kobe, one of the first cities to allow expat riates to reside there. The first expat community immediately starting changing the landscape, literally, in the late 19th century

The first foreign residents found Japanese homes to be inadequately small, a complaint still heard today about modern dwellings. The solution was to build foreign style homes.

Today the houses are a popular tourist attraction. The early expat community was mostly businessmen who were in Japan to force trade on the country. The trading of commerce and culture is still practiced today, but by a wider selection of people.

Silk screen artists, newspaper editors, and the frequent English teacher make up the modern expat community, along with numerous other workers and entrepreneurs. A few have offered their opinions about their community to Kansai Scene.

What have been advantages and benefits from living in Japan?

• Many people feel that the opportunity to live in a foreign country has introduced them to another culture. Along with the culture come friends. "... my husband and I have made some really good friends." Andrea Miller, an English teacher, said. "We have befriended young, old, men, women and couples," some of whom traveled to Canada recently for her wedding.

• "The variety of friendships ... from all walks of life," as Eric Johnston, Deputy Editor of the Japan Times, wrote, has influenced many people.

• Along with the friendships come "monetary benefits" as Sumit Ahuja responded who started his own business here. Another entrepreneur, Daniel Lee who owns his own web design company, likely sees some of those benefits as he has found his own niche market of Japanese and English web design.

• Judith Ritter finds Japan to be the best place to buy silk canvas for her own, Japan influenced, art works.

What have you gained from living in Japan?

• Experiences gained and things learned are different for each person. "Japan was fascinating to discover for itself, and as a springboard into continental Asia," Una Funk, a student, answered.

• "I gained the birth of my original art style and thus my life as an artist from living here," Judith Ritter wrote.

• "A deeper understanding of cross-cultural communication ... about 5 kgs and a beautiful wife," Daniel Lee responded.

• Eric Johnston's and Andrea Miller's gains likely mirror many people's. "... Patience and tolerance," and an increased confidence are probably felt by a majority of expatriates in Japan. A few foreigners might also have gained "discipline" and "time management", as Sumit Ahuja put it.

• No two people are the same and neither are their experiences.

Have there been disadvantages from living in Japan?

• "Copious paperwork," answered Una Funk and the difficulties of "forging close ... friendships," according to Daniel Lee are some of the more common disadvan tages in Japan, and likely in any expat community anywhere in the world. Sumit Ahuja's comments reflect Mr. Lee's and the distance from family is a problem as well.

• Other disadvantages come from what is expected from a foreigner in Japan. "[many Japanese] ... basically want the outcome to be 100 percent foreign style or ... 100 percent teacher trained Japanese-style." Judith Ritter wrote, referring to the reception some of her art exhibits have received.

• The "suspicion of foreigners" some Japanese show can also be a disadvantage. It could affect everything from making friends, as Mr. Ahuja wrote, or simply looking for work according to Mr. Lee.

Have you lost out on anything by living here?

• "Absolutely not! For me, Japan, with all its daily challenges, is where I belong," Judith Ritter answered. "I've always felt more Asian than Western ..."

• Other people feel different. Being away from family and friends and missing out on special events, such as birthdays or wed- dings, gives Andrea Miller a feeling of "detachment" at times.

• Similar feelings are felt by Mr. Ahuja and Mr. Lee. "... at times [I] regret being so far away from them," Mr. Lee said, referring to his family in England.

Have you adopted any Japanese traits or customs?

• Besides the obvious answer of language, many people un knowingly adopt mannerisms. Eric Johnston refers to his formal style of speaking, which he learned while in Kyoto. "Some of my physical mannerisms are more Japanese than American," he added.

• Pointing at one's nose to refer to yourself and bowing, even while talking on the phone according to Daniel lee, have become ingrained in a few long term expats.

• Other adaptations of Japanese customs are more visual. Judith Ritter has added Japanese elements to her work and Una Funk, who studied the tea ceremony while living here, has added a Japanese touch to the French neighborhood she now lives in. "Geta [wooden clogs] serve as delightful house slippers, which occasionally see the street in Summer." Silk obi are also combined with shifts and frocks for fusion fashion.

• "As for my paintings" Ms. Ritter responded "I have adopted (and adapted) the nihonga and ukio-e styles ... in my most recent hanging scroll formats."

Today's expat community has changed a lot from the days of the late 19th century. Fewer walls are being built between Japanese and other cultures and more doors are being opened as expat- riates adopt and adapt, in the words of Ms. Ritter, to life in Japan.

The expats

Una Funk • A student

Lived in Kansai for 18 months where she studied the tea ceremony and ikebana. Grew up in Wahington DC and felt an urge to visit Japan after graduation from univeristy. Presently France studying French Literature.

Andrea Miller • A teacher

English instructor at a big language school living in Osaka. Has appeared in several print advertisements for the English school chain. Born and raised in Canada, describes Japan as her first international experience.

Eric Johnston • A writer

Born in the US, has been living in Japan for 20 years. Deputy editor of the Japan Times, Osaka Bureau. Has contributed to several magazines and newspapers in Japan and overseas.

Daniel Lee • An entrepreneur

Native of Bath, England, came to Japan in 1998 as a JET tea- cher. Later went into magazine work as an art director. Presently operates his own graphics and web design company, Mojoworks Ltd.

Judith Ritter • An artist

Artist specializing in silkscreen works. Lives in Osaka and has been featured at several art exhibitions. Has been interviewed for television as well as magazines about her work.

Sumit Ahuja • A businessman

A native of Hyderabad, India and Tokyo-based director of sales and distribution for World on Demand, an internet access service that offers viewers TV choices from around the world.

Text: Charlie Harrington

:: Online Articles


What are we doing far away from home?
The expatriate experience


Come together
A meeting of minds across cultures


My life as an expatriate
Kansai's diverse expats in their own words

:: health

The spring of our discontent
It's hay fever time again!


Royalty in crab
Eat, bathe, and be merry ...

:: profile

The tango man
Maximiliano Paradiso

:: Kansai Listings


Up to date cinema listings guide so you always know what's on, where and when!

:: ART

Best exhibitions & listings


Best events & listings


Best gigs & listings


All the hot picks

:: Also in this month's mag

:: Food

Tentokemai, Shinsaibashi


Dragonfly, Amerikamura


Best festivals & listings


New releases & recommendations


Best films & cinema listings


'Tis the season to be poorly

:: travel

Scooting around
Hanoi, Vietnam


The digital Swiss Army Knife
Getting the most out of your DS

:: Food

Gourmet Girl
Pizza at Pomodoro Rosso