'People here don't look you in the eye': Russian woman - about life in Japan
Source: Billboard Daily
Two years ago, the Russian woman Daria Berezina moved to live in Japan and got a job at the laboratory where they study neuroblastoma (this is a form of cancer).
«Billboard Daily»Talked with Daria about the difficulties of adaptation, the Japanese corporate events, the inaccessibility of local education, prices, domestic comfort and longing for cucumbers.
About the reasons for the move
I was born in Murmansk, and after [school] examinations I entered the St. Petersburg State University (St. Petersburg State University. - Editor’s Note.) In the Faculty of Chemistry. I was expelled, but I wanted to finish my studies, so the next year I entered the [St. Petersburg State] Chemical Pharmaceutical Academy, graduated from it and became a biotechnology engineer. In theory, I know how to build a plant for the production of a biological substance from scratch, but such enterprises do not open every day, and this work should be started after a certain career growth.
My first job was a technologist at a pharmaceutical factory in the village of Volginsky in the Vladimir region, where I spent six months and ran away, because there was absolutely nothing to do there. Two streets, several shops and a swimming pool - all my entertainment. I returned to Petersburg and started working at the pharmaceutical plant in the OCC section (quality control department. - Ed.), Where I carried out chemical analyzes of the preparations. I quickly understood, I want to do a more interesting thing - to work with living cells.
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The problem was that I did not know English. In modern pharmaceutical companies, where most of the technologies are advanced, the equipment works in English, so it would be very difficult for me. I took several courses at once and looked for work in parallel. As a result, I was invited to the plant in Yaroslavl - the company entered into contracts with European pharmaceutical companies, so there was an opportunity to travel abroad. In the first month of work, I was sent to Holland - then I first went abroad, I was 25 years old.
Working in this company, I met my future husband. He had been looking for a vacancy outside of Russia for a long time, because he wanted to go into science and continue working on his research at the university. He also worked in the department of quality control, in graduate school he was engaged in organic chemistry, but then his scientific interests shifted towards cancer biology. In the pharmaceutical companies where we worked together, there was a joint project with Japanese specialists at one of the Nagoya universities. He was offered a job there - and we went. In Japan, we have been living for almost two years.
Is it easy to get an education in Japan and get a job
Arriving in Japan, I wanted to enroll in a graduate school at a local university, but this was not such a simple task. Education in Japan is 12 years of school, four years of undergraduate and two years of graduate school. For some specialties more. Total 18 years - just need to learn so much to be in graduate school. When I came to do, I was asked how many years of study behind my shoulders. It turned out, 10 school years and five years of academy - all 15. I didn’t even have a place in the magistracy - there need 16 years of study.
Examinations [pass], as elsewhere. You will be required to bring an IELTS / TOEFL / Eiken certificate, the last one is the Japanese equivalent of English tests. Plus you need to pass the exam in specialized subjects. All anything, but it is paid - 30 thousand yen (approximately 270 dollars). Education is paid, and you have to pay for the semester ahead. You also need to have a substantial amount in your account or your guarantor — one million yen (approximately 9 thousand dollars). And upon receipt you must pay an entrance fee in the amount of 282 thousand yen (approximately 2,5 thousand dollars).
I decided to find a job in the laboratory at the university. It was necessary to choose areas that are interesting to me, and to find a person who could introduce me to a professor — this is something like a personal acquaintance. I was afraid that if I just sent a resume to the post office, they would not pay much attention to it. I wanted to make a personal impression, to tell about my experience, to convince the commission that I was a professional and not afraid of a lot of work.
This was helped by my husband, who at that time was already working at this university and was acquainted with one of the professors. I was immediately told that there was no budget for my salary, but I agreed to work for free. I was formalized, the contract spelled out three hours of work a week, although in fact more, but the salary, as my professor said when he took me to work, was “on ice cream”. 12 thousand yen is about 110 dollars.
About languages and citizenship
Everyone says that in science it is enough to know English, and everyone will understand you. Maybe. But how to work in production without knowing Japanese? To receive big money and be a sought-after specialist, you need to speak the language of the country in which you live. Now I’m just learning Japanese and working in a laboratory that studies neuroblastoma - this is a form of cancer that is found only in children.
In Japan, my husband and I studied Japanese at various courses, including those that were offered at the International Center - a place where foreigners come to learn more about the city they came to. There you can find literally everything - from a map with landmarks to a list of language courses near the house. But the courses offered at the center were either not very good or rather expensive.
Now we are learning Japanese at our Nagoya University - it's free. Three times a week we have conversational lessons, and one - kanji (Chinese characters used in modern Japanese writing. - Ed.). There are three alphabets in Japan - two syllabic and one with hieroglyphs; a separate lesson is put to study them. There is progress: I come to the laboratory and start talking with my Japanese colleagues in their language, it touches them.
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I am a citizen of Russia, and in order to get a Japanese passport, you need to work there for five years and give up the Russian one. My husband has a Processor visa - according to her, he can work in this country. My visa is called Dependent - this means that I, as a scientist’s wife, am with him, but I can’t work more than 28 hours a week. Visas were needed only to enter the country. Upon arrival, we have issued a Residence Card, it is possible to cross the Japanese border there and back, but a visa is not needed.
About Japanese comfort
Toilets in Japan at every turn - they are cozy, clean and free. You can walk down the street and see how a person washes a trash can. The streets are perfectly cleaned: a huge fine is provided for abandoned trash. Although there are those who litter, and usually it is the elderly.
The stores are all in Japanese. When we first moved, I was in a panic - I did not know which sauce to buy and what lies in the jars. There are almost no cereals, but there is rice and soba - buckwheat noodles. No cottage cheese, sour cream dear, and we only saw beets once. Fruits are also very expensive. One apple is worth 200 yen - this is more than 1,80 dollar, and they are sold by the piece. Although the apples are big, beautiful, perfect and sweet. This cost is explained by the fact that the Japanese support their own farmers, although it is rather expensive to grow fruits and vegetables. Therefore, the state has equalized the prices of imported and local products. At first it was hard to think of what to cook, and we tried a lot of new things. But now they are used to it, and basically we have classic Russian food - pasta with chicken or cutlet with rice. About 60 thousand yen (approximately 550 dollars.) Are spent on food per month.
Traveling around Japan is always very convenient. Here at each station there are information centers where you can find out everything that interests you, in Russia there is no such thing. The whole country can be crossed by train, but it is a long time, although cheap enough. With one ticket you can ride unlimited up to five days, but in certain periods and only four times a year. There is a Shinkansen - these are high-speed trains, but they are very expensive. Convenience is that, without using the airport, you can get from the center of one city to another in a few hours. Mostly they are used by businessmen, employees of large companies and seconded.
About Japanese communication, entertainment and corporate
People here are very educated, cultural. One of their main features is that the Japanese always make sure that the person with whom you communicate is as comfortable as possible. Here, no one looks into your eyes, people do not stare.
In Russia, corporate is one time on New Year's Eve, and most companies rarely have parties once. In Nagoya 3 – 4, once a year, we go to the institution with the whole laboratory, which is not necessarily expensive. There are always heroes of the occasion - those who just came to the laboratory, or those who are going to leave it. They have to get up, give a speech, go nuts and say “campaign” is the word that is pronounced at the end of the toast. After everyone eats and drinks, you need to go up and talk to each person from the company, exchange courtesies. Everyone is drinking, having fun, and no matter how you behave, the next day no one will remember it and laugh at you.
Japan vs Russia and Homesickness
I miss rye bread, beets, pickled cucumbers. I can not say that I miss Russia. Friends, family - another question, I miss them.
It is difficult for me to compare Russia and Japan in terms of science, because at home I didn’t do what I’m doing now. Taking into account the stories of my friends and acquaintances, the financing of science in Russia is much poorer. But here, as I understand it, it is gradually decreasing.
In Russia, you can admire the temples of the XII century with frescoes preserved on the walls, in Japan there is nothing ancient. There are several reasons: first, the Second World War wiped out most Japanese cities. Secondly, the temples here are rebuilt every 100 years - this is a sacred place, and not just walls. In Shinto, originally Japanese religion, people worship trees, mountains, and other objects. Recently we saw a tablet in Hiroshima telling of a very ancient pine tree, but we did not find it.
In almost two years in Japan, with my relatives, I saw only two times. I think that this is unacceptably small. Adapting to a new place was easy enough, because I did not come alone. By and large, we [with the husband] are enough of each other, we are never bored or lonely. But there are times when you need to force yourself to socialize. Our social circle is just like us, expats from all over the world and their Japanese friends. Someone came to study at university, someone - to learn Japanese, someone - to teach English.
Among the Japanese it is fashionable to be friends with foreigners, so they tighten the language. There are half-half Japanese, half Europeans. Among my friends there are two of them: one grew up in the USA and the other in Germany, but came to live in Japan, because we are sure that people are better here. But still rotate in an international get-together. I'm also friends with my colleague, Japanese. She is always ready to help, we can share with her any personal secrets and experiences, but I am afraid to get close to people. From here I will leave sooner or later, and the separation will be painful.