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Asian Spirit: Another Kim Hye-gyong    By Keiko Iwata
Chapter 14: Living in Japan
Asian Spirit Archive

About Asian Spirit

A compilation of nonfiction essays, the book comprises the experiences, both good and bad, that author Keiko Iwata shared with South Korean students living and studying in Japan.

About Keiko Iwata

Keiko Iwata is the representative of the NPO Heart Connections, which provides non-Japanese students with consultation services to help them solve problems related to living and studying in Japan. Iwata authored the book "Asian Spirit" (published in February 2004).

About Larry Greenberg

Larry Greenberg is the founder of Urban Connections Co. Ltd., an enterprising group of professionals that strives to provide innovative solutions to the latest challenges.

For foreign students who study in Japan, their living conditions are harsh.

Among clothing, food, and shelter, the first problem that they deal with is usually searching for housing.

The biggest barrier that they deal with in this process is finding a way to provide for the generally expensive fees and finding a sponsor. It is a lot for one person.

But there are some clever ideas among these students.

"Is there anyone who would like to be my roommate?" they advertise to their school offices or volunteer organizations and find someone to divide their rent with. Many of Hye-gyong's friends from Japanese language school and her part-time job share an apartment room among two or three people.

However, it is usually difficult to find a roommate who respects privacy, has a similar time schedule, and has a matching personality.

It may be rare for them to have fortunate conditions like Hye-gyong where they already have a place to stay at from even before they arrive to Japan.

From the chance meeting at the Yokohama church, Hye-gyong often walked home with Budi.

Conversations with Budi were amusing and always involved laughter because of Budi's playful personality.

She especially enjoyed listening to his stories about living in the exchange students' dorms because she felt as though she was exploring a whole new world.

The dorm for exchange students fell under national control through the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Over 350 students live there with 50 in each block, and all seven dorms are full.

Although there are conditions to be able to live there, with his friend's referral, Budi was fortunately able to move in.

Right when he moved from Indonesia, he lived with his older brother in Japan. But because he desired to continue through to university, he wanted a space that he could use alone to study.

He was fortunate that he could move into the dorm.

His dorm room had a bedroom, a different room for his desk, and it even had a toilet. He had to share the bath and kitchen with others but the monthly room fee was only 33,000 yen. Any other similar apartment room in this country would have been at least twice the cost.

The dorms were like an Olympic village, and every day something was sure to happen.

A few days ago, a piece of paper was put up on the dorm bulletin board.

It said, "Please return my microwave. I bought it with money I worked hard to earn. Thanks," and signed it with the dorm room number and the name.

It was written by the student who lived next to Budi's room. According to the student, he bought a microwave, but because his room was too small, there was no space inside the room to put it. Thus, he had decided to put it out in the hallway. But one morning when he opened his door to use his microwave, it was gone.

God knows what the reasons were.

It could have been due to an initial intention to borrow it for only a little while, a sudden impulse, or a premonition that the problem would progress into a more serious one

But the next day, the microwave was safely returned to the door of the room.

Several times, Budi had also experienced "losing his belongings" in the dorm.

It was last night. When he went to the kitchen to cook and looked inside his cupboard where he stores "his own cutting board" and "his own kitchen knife," he realized that his new bottle of oil that he put inside this cupboard had already been half-used.

But this kind of "crime" was an everyday occurrence.

"So there was someone who didn't have enough oil again," he accepted the stranger's actions generously.

These "problems" became "funny stories" when people like Budi looked at them from a different perspective.

Time passed as Budi peacefully continued living in the dorm, and before he even realized, eight years had passed. When he starts his job this spring, he is going to move into a company dorm. Believe it or not, his room costs only "8,000 yen a month."

Everyone knows that prices in Japan are high, but it is a problem that remains a big burden for exchange students. For people from countries with the same economic level, adapting would be very fast. However, for students from developing countries, they can't live without subjecting their parents to a lot of strain. There is a limit to the money they can prepare before coming to Japan, and they often find themselves having to work all the time.

Students who have roommates share their food supply. Using their spare time in between studying and working, they take turns preparing their meals.

Among college students, there are some who grab something they prepare the night before and eat it on their way to class, and others who buy bread or onigiri rice balls at convenience stores and eat them at school.

Because Hye-gyong only makes food for one and thus ends up wasting a lot of it, she is in the category of "people who usually eat out." With her problems of housing and eating, it seems that she has a lot of things to worry about.

Although there are many people who come from foreign countries and get flustered by their new lifestyles and the unique national character, every one of them hope to be able to build good relations with Japanese people.

In Japan, Hye-gyong has gone to many school-related gatherings or parties that her friends host, and when she had friendly conversations with Japanese people, they would occasionally say to her, "Let's meet up again another time!" or "Come over to my place sometime." However, even though she waited, "another time" or "sometime" never came.

Not long after she had met Mother for the first time, Mother told her, "Come sleep over at my place 'sometime'."

Hye-gyong thought, "Not again. . .," but a few days later, her Japanese mother invited her over and even took the time to cook her dinner. This one experience was enough to change her perspective about Japanese norms.

In the same way as her, Budi felt some uncertainty in these kinds of situations. Because he had been told, "Come over to my house," he called his friend thinking, "Maybe it'll be fun to go." But the friend on the other end of the line obviously seemed a little confused.

This is a little episode of the way exchange students are misled by Japanese "diplomatic language."


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