Let me briefly introduce myself first. Being originally from
Samarkand, Uzbekistan, I grew up in Samarkand, until I
Everything started with me while working as a local guide for
NHK TV casting ‘Itte miyo sekai no toshi’ (Let’s travel around
the world). Back then, I was studying at the university of
All I did was guide the TV crew around historical places
in my home town of Samarkand, and speak in my local
language. I did not know any Japanese, and communication
with the NHK staff was all in English. I had my closest friend
with me because she was learning Japanese and could
communicate with the TV crew in Japanese, which sounded
so hard, let alone writing and reading complicated kanji
But after I started working this first time ever with Japanese
people, I found myself interested in Japanese language and
culture, so after 2 weeks of NHK work experience, the first
thing I did was change my French course at university to
I still remember August 2001, when I first landed in Japan,
especially its unique odor, which I noticed right away at
Kansai Airport, the buzzing cicadas, and the humid weather.
My friend and I were picked-up at the airport by our
Japanese host family who went above and beyond, all the
way from hosting us at their house to showing us around.
Right after arrival, we took a train to Kyoto, the heart and
symbol of Japan with its old traditions and historical sites.
When we reached our Japanese-style hotel, with its beautiful
garden, we were amazed by its beauty and clicked our cameras non-stop.
Since both my friend and I were studying Japanese in
Samarkand, we loved to practice our textbook Japanese
with people we met. But realizing that textbook Japanese
was rarely spoken in daily life was a bit disappointing in
particular, because the Kyoto dialect is far from the standard
language we were learning. But never mind, we quickly
picked up some Kyoto dialect too, discovering McDonald’s
is MacDo in Kyoto, and just Mac in Tokyo.
Our friends showed us around Kobe, Kyoto, Osaka and Nara
for about a week.
And next came Tokyo. We took the shinkansen from Kyoto
Station and enjoyed our first ekiben (a boxed meal sold on
trains and train stations).
Tokyo greeted us with a million neon lights and we felt it was
truly enormous, with crowds almost everywhere. Another
good thing was being able to hear and understand standard
Japanese in Tokyo.
Nagano came next with its mouthwatering fruits and pleasant
weather as a short escape from the humid Tokyo summer.
As always, we had good friends in Nagano who hosted us
and showed us around the Olympic Village. We were so
lucky to have friends nearly everywhere in the country and
their hospitality would always leave us speechless.
Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention that I even met the people
who were why I started learning Japanese—the TV crew
from NHK, and this time I was communicating clearly in
When our trip ended, I was left with a huge desire and goal
to study in Japan.
So I started preparing to take the Japanese government
scholarship exam back in Samarkand and I passed it.
Exactly 1 year later I came to Japan again, but this time I
was a Japanese government scholar studying Japanese
language and culture. I had a totally different experience
from my first trip, but it was interesting. I saw Japan from
another view, studied and made new friends.
I was confident I could mingle with Japanese students and
get along well, since I didn’t have a language barrier. I could
make new friends, most of whom were hesitant initially due
to the language barrier. But when they heard me speaking
Japanese, they felt relieved and things moved faster and
smoother from there. Initially my classmates wouldn’t open
up, but residential trips, and study camps organized by the
university helped build better friendships.
A group of lady volunteers helped us learn the language
and culture of Japan totally free of charge. They introduced
overseas students to ikebana (flower arranging), sado (tea
ceremony), sumo (wrestling), kabuki (theatre) and other
cultural events. Moreover, they would sometimes bring
different treats to the student dormitory as well as invite
students home to dinner.
They were respected and appreciated by all the students.
After completing my scholarship course, I decided to
continue my studies and get my masters degree in Tokyo.
It was a very fruitful 2 years, combining university research
and part-time work experience in various industries.
I worked at an apparel store, home electrical appliances
store, as a Japanese/Russian interpreter, and Russian/
English conversation teacher. But my biggest role was as a
coordinator for Aichi Expo 2005, where I was involved in a
Russian-Japanese project related to the mammoth exhibit
at the Expo. Travelling to the Sakha Republic where it was
–40°C and getting involved in mammoth findings was a
breathtaking and exciting experience.
I met and worked with different people with various
backgrounds during this project and it was a great learning
chance for me. I observed and learned how business negotiations are led between two parties, how mutual
international relations are built and maintained, and the
importance of being a global-minded individual.
At the same time I finished my thesis on international
aid and completed my studies. As we had various students
in the class, ranging from fresh graduates to people with
work experience and retired senior people, as well as
overseas students, there was a good diverse mix for sharing
My full-time working experience in Japan was not deep,
because I married and had my first daughter. As everywhere,
it’s challenging to be a working mother with a newborn and
its twice as challenging when you don’t have your family
by your side for practical support. So I quit work and took
time to raise my daughter. Once I started being a stay-athome
mom, I realized I needed friends to talk with and share
baby-related matters. I started attending different mom and
baby classes organized by the local ward office and to my
surprise I met many new moms just like me. We started
meeting, organizing play dates, and sharing tips on raising our babies. My initial worries and anxiety of not having my
family around went away with the help of my wonderful and
helpful mamatomos (mom friends). When I had a sick baby,
they would drive us to a paediatrician or help with groceries,
or take care of our daughter when my husband and I were
packing our things for moving. I can’t thank them enough for
all the support they gave me, and for making my motherhood
experience overseas easier, smoother and more fun. I still
keep in touch with them, see their children growing up and
their achievements and always feel happy for them.
When my daughter turned one, my husband was relocated
to Singapore. It was quite a difficult decision for our family,
since we were settled in Japan after 8 years. Tokyo felt like
our second home and then there was a new challenge in a
different and new country.
Ultimately we took the offer, since both of us were looking
for new excitement and challenges in a new city. Saying
farewell to Tokyo was not easy. Our farewells went on
for 2 or 3 months, meeting with friends, exchanging new
contacts and promising to meet again in some part of the
world in future.
When I first arrived in Singapore, I was always comparing
every new thing to Japan. At times, I wanted desperately
to go back to Japan. But as time passed I discovered more
things in the new city, made new friends, and by then my
daughter could join preschool and I started working.
Working added more colours to my new life and helped me
settle faster and smoother. I had my second daughter while
working. I should mention that Singapore has a more open
and kid-friendly environment, offering good chances for
While living in Singapore, we travelled to Japan a few
times, and each time we were delighted by the delicious
food and nice seasons. We only realized in Singapore how
good it feels to have four seasons. During our trips, I met
my mamatomos and their kids, and we were amazed how
kids can get along together well even without speaking
a common language. Obviously, my kids don’t speak
Japanese and my Japanese friends’ kids don’t speak
English, but the fun they were having was beyond words.
My mamatomos visited us in Singapore too and I truly
appreciate this priceless tie we have made.
After living in Singapore for 6 years, when we were sure we
wouldn’t be heading to Japan anymore for a long-term stay,
my husband received a relocation offer to Tokyo. We started
thinking on whether to move or not, but decided to try our
luck in Tokyo again.
We moved to Tokyo, this time with elementary and preschool,
non-Japanese speaking kids. For them, Japanese is a
foreign language and they are not used to see us speaking
it. But the moment we started talking Japanese in Tokyo,
they said they felt so proud of us.
My eldest daughter says she feels at ease, because even
if we lose our way, mom and dad can speak Japanese and
we won’t get lost. Our kids love Japan, especially wearing
winter warm clothes, scarfs, and gloves. Well, summer and
swimsuits all year round can become boring!
We are exploring Japan again but there is still a lot more to
see, learn and explore. I am sure this stay will be fruitful and
give us even more experiences and adventures.
I am grateful for having a chance to visit this country. Making
true friends, learning and exploring new things, having work
experience, becoming a mother here—I could not possibly
ask for more.