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).
For about two weeks after Hye-gyong arrived in Japan, she constantly told herself that she shouldn't rush adjusting to her new environment.
In Korea, she patiently saved up some money, hoping that she would get some free time in Japan and be able to buy a few trendy things. However, by the time she was about to leave Korea, after paying for the airfare and tuition, she only had 300,000 yen left.
There was no guarantee that she would find a job right away so she accepted the fact she would have to live on the 300,000 yen she had left. But with her monthly expenses adding up to 60,000 yen, she knew it would be difficult.
Nevertheless, Hye-gyong was determined to budget her money accordingly. She limited herself to buying only one can of juice or coffee a day and she made an effort to cook her own meals.
For a while after she arrived in Japan, she ate yakisoba noodles religiously — morning, noon and night. And to ensure she wouldn't get bored with her same routine, she added plenty of vegetables and Korean and Chinese spices.
Some days, Hye-gyong desperately wanted to eat out, but somehow she managed to not to give in to temptation. She and her bento box were inseparable, and she did everything to keep her lunches interesting and tasty. But the only trace of color in her bento box was the umeboshi ipickled plum). Her bento was the picture of frugality.
Her lifestyle was so different from her life in Korea and she felt a little melancholic at times. But strangely, she never felt homesick. Having noticed her loneliness, Brother and Sister sometimes took her out for meals and to the movies to help her get by.
When she occasionally went to their house and Sister would say, "the sento (bathhouse) must add up to a lot of money. Go ahead and take a bath here." The concern Sister had for Hye-gyong touched her deeply.
Since He-gyong had to give up on enjoying a vacation or shopping, Hye-gyong took bike rides around her area. As she pedaled around a neighboring town, she felt the stress from her frugal lifestyle melting away. With each turn of the spokes, she felt better and better.
After a month of going to Japanese language school, a old friend from Korea happened to be in Japan and got in touch with Hye-gyong. They decided to meet at a new store in Shibuya called East Gate, which sold the latest fashions and goods from Korea.
The store East Gate, however, was actually an imitation of the "East Gate" in Korea. The original East Gate is located in a small town of northern Seoul and is widely known as "a hot spot of Korean youth culture." When stepping inside the East Gate in Shibuya, she was reminded of the bustling streets of Seoul, crowded with both residents and tourists. Knock-offs of famous brand-name products were openly sold at the market at incredibly low prices. Hye-gyong was always tickled when she saw the many tourists who bought these items, knowing full well that they were counterfeit.
She loved East Gate in Shibuya because it was like a small piece of home.
The store required its salesclerks to have some knowledge of Korean culture as well as Korean language ability. Needing a part-time job and meeting the basic requirements, Hye-gyong decided to apply for a part-time job there.
It had only been a month since she left Korea, but Hye-gyong was glad to be working there. She was able to be in Japan and still have a daily connection with home.
As fall approached, thoug, Hye-gyong was upset that she still didn't have any money to spend on fashion. She desperately wanted to be fit in and was jealous when people had new outfits to show off. Hye-gyong made a vow to herself that she would be dressing in style when winter came.