This series will give you a peek into the life of Dutch Moms around the World. I will ask them all 10 questions, that will give you a better view on what life as a Dutch Mom abroad is like. The moms will share some pictures and give you some advice in case you would like to move to another country too.
Q&A with Nicki Yoshihara - van Ingen Schenau
Nicki lives in Tokyo, Japan, together with her Japanese husband and daughter. When she realized it was impossible to get a job, without speaking Japanese fluently, she started her own company: Tokio Tours. She provides guiding tours for tourists who visit Japan. She also writes a BLOG about interesting things in Tokyo and/or Japan.
1. In which country do you live and why did you choose that country? Did you choose a specific place or area to move to? Why did you move there? When did you move there from the Netherlands?
When my husband asked me if I would consider living in Japan for a few years, I never gave it much thought and told him:”Sure, if you can find a job that sounds great!” He is Japanese but grew up in an expat family that moved to the Netherlands and liked it so much that they never left, so my husband never actually had any experience living in Japan and therefore it had always been a dream of him to see what it was like. We live in Japan, for four years now.
My husband once met someone at a seminar working for an American bank who was working in London. Next time my husband was going to London he approached this guy and asked to have a meeting. He just came right out and said to him that he really loved the company this guy worked for and that if there are any opportunities in Asia, he’d love to have a chance to apply. Apparently this guy thought it was quite a ballsy thing to do to and he decided to recommend him for a position in Tokyo.
2. What does an average day, as a Dutch mom in the country that you live in look like? Please describe your own average day.
My little girl goes to pre-school two mornings a week. After I have dropped her off I usually run errands. On other days I try to find ways to stimulate her by going to the park or to a local ‘jidoukan’. This is a center that has a free indoor (and sometimes) outdoor play area and arranges activities for children and their moms like singing, music lessons, exercise classes, etc. As I work from home I try to limit any work related stuff I do when my daughter is awake.
3. What do you miss when you think about the Netherlands? Why do you miss that?
Well of course the obvious; my family and friends and some food items that you cannot buy here like ‘drop, calvé pindakaas’ and that sort of thing. Other than that I do miss (and not miss) the Dutch openness and willingness to help. Often it is a blessing to be able to just disappear in the crowd and no one paying attention to you. The down side is that if you acquire any kind of assistance or if you are 9 months pregnant and all the priority seats are taken by able bodies people, there is usually also no one who will help you or get up for you. Last time when I was in The Netherlands and struggling with a stroller and baby, so many people jumped to my rescue without even being asked. I was completely not used to that anymore.
4. Are there things you don't miss at all when you think about the Netherlands? Why?
The same thing basically. Although it’s really amazing that there are so many people in the Netherlands willing to help out a mother and child, Dutch people also sometimes tend to give their unsolicited opinion too freely or feel the need to complain about anything in sight.
5. If you look at the school system in your country, how does it compare to the Dutch school system? What are (dis)advantages?
The Japanese schooling system feels a bit like the 50’s in The Netherlands. Obedience is valued quite high. You are to listen to the teacher and do as he or she tells you to do. You are not meant to ask questions or have an opinion or any ideas about what is being taught. Learning on rote is the way things are done. Team-work or coming up with creative solutions is, in most schools, not part of the curriculum. Usually the English teacher is someone who is Japanese and unable to give the correct pronunciation, which is why the emphasis is on grammar and learning new words, rather than conversation class.
6. How did YOUR life change when you moved? What are the differences compared to your life in the Netherlands? Were these choices you made, or were these differences decided for you (by a company, by the visa that you have, by the different circumstances)? How do you feel about these changes?
My life changed tremendously when I moved to Japan. For starters I had a full time job and when I first came here I was unemployed. I felt completely dependent upon my husband for not speaking or understanding the language and finding out people were unable to speak to me in English and for not having my own income and having to ask for money whenever I wanted or needed to buy something.
In the Netherlands you have a few different options besides marriage. We had a partnership before entering into marriage. Because of that, we did not receive a marriage license but a ‘change from partnership to marriage’ certificate. When I wanted to apply for a visa for Japan, they told me I could not get a spouse visa due to the fact that I did not have the wedding license because of the partnership we had previously. It was a real hassle to get everything sorted out and we even got the advice from the embassy to get a divorce and to re-marry just so we could show the correct paper, but fortunately in the end it all worked out.
When I first came to Japan I really had to adjust to not having a job and being so dependent, but after starting my own company and learning Japanese life became easier and more comfortable. All the information around you is basically in Japanese so it’s hard to even know what to ask for, let alone decipher the answers to your questions. When I became pregnant it was such a nightmare to communicate with my doctor and to find out where I had to go to register all that needed to be done for instance.
7. What is happening in the country that you live in, that worries you? Why does this worry you? Is there anything you do to solve this?
The animosity between Japan and China and Japan and North Korea sometimes worries me. Japan does not really have an army to speak of and is dependent on the United States when it comes under attack. (Coincidentally one of the points Donald Trump likes to go on about, although he makes it seem this is something the Japanese want and are leeching valuable resources from the US, while in fact it is something that was forced upon Japan after WWII)
Other than that there’s of course the radiation scare in Fukushima. There is very limited information regarding the damage that has been done and whether it is something to be concerned about.
And lastly there is the always-looming threat of big earth quack and tsunami that will destroy large parts of Tokyo.
8. What habits have you taken with you from the Netherlands? And which ones have you integrated from your new country? Why (those habits)? Which ones do you on purpose NOT use? Have these habits learned you something? If so, what?
The habit I hold close to my heart from the Netherlands is to speak my mind when I feel offended or wronged in any way, but I have learned from the Japanese diplomacy and do try to choose my wording really carefully as the Dutch bluntness does not go over very well here in Japan. Another thing we do here is to take off our shoes when we enter the house and to ask all our guest to do the same (although that’s usually a given in Japan). Especially with a small child it really makes sense not to track in any dirt from outside if it’s not necessary.
The habits I do not use is to show total obedience and submissiveness to anymore who is deemed ‘above’ me like my husband or other people that should receive more respect solely due to the fact they are older or due to their profession. Although I always treat people courteous and with respect, I treat them like I would like to be treated myself and not like some kind of demi-God.
9. What is your advice for other moms who are thinking about moving to another country? What do they have to think about?
If you are moving abroad you need to consider the culture you are moving into. If you are already married to someone from that back ground, you need to realize that he will probably be more westernized from not having grown up in his home country. Also another thing that surprised me is that my husband actually over time became ‘more Japanese’ the longer we are living in Japan. He is taking over the Japanese values that I do not necessarily agree with since he is exposed to them so much. After a while what seemed outrageous before, can seem perfectly logical when you are immersed in it long enough. Another thing that is really important in that regard is to not loose your sense of self. Your own morals and values might start to erode when you move to another country so it makes sense to wonder whether you would find the same thing acceptable if you were still living in The Netherlands.
10. Is there anything you want to share? A funny situation that you have experienced, a life lesson, a favorite quote?
In Japan it’s customary when you make a purchase (other than daily groceries) that the shop attendant walks with you to the door and hands you your wrapped items at the door. When I first bought something in a department store, the sales lady did not want to let go of the bag and we had a little struggle over it. It turned out that she wanted to accompany me to the border of her ‘area’ and hand me the bag there since there wasn’t an actual exit.
Thank you so much, Nicki. I love how you just created your own business and with that your own opportunities. You are a great example to others moms living abroad.
If you are interested in Nicki's company she has a Facebook page too.
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