Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi
Mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Averiyanova Lyudmila (Russia)
Trading farm staff/Russian Cafe organizer
(First visit to Japan in 1998, Returned to Japan in 2006)
It was amazing! 90% of the participants are Japanese, but they were talking to each other in Russian really fluently.
And our friend introduced us to Averiyanova Lyudmila, one of the participants in the salon. We’ve met many foreigners including Russians, but her Japanese is almost perfect. If you talk to her over the phone, you may not think she is Russian.
On a warm spring day, we enjoyed a Japanese conversation with Lyudmila who speaks softly like a soft spring sunlight.
*Interview at Parco Department Store Urawa Branch (Saitama Pref)
*Cooperated by Alexander Hey, organizer/representative of Russian Cafe
A place where I feel human warmth
“Russian Cafe” is not a class. It’s a kind of salon where you can enjoy talking. So if you’re interested in Russian culture, you can join us even if you cannot speak Russian. Today I sometimes taught something to participants, but I’m not a teacher. I’m a member of the salon like the others.
I met an organizer of the salon at an event which was hosted by “Japan-Eurasia Society“. I was not asked by him “Please teach us Russian”. He asked me to join his salon.
Members talk about Japanese culture in Russian. So I can learn a lot about Japan here. Above all, they speak in my mother tongue. Also everybody has a strong sense of purpose. So I feel human warmth here. It’s a really lovely place for me. I hope the Russian Cafe will continue for a long time and more people will join us.
The Inch-High Samurai – a Japanese fairy story –
I’ve been in Japan for 6 or 7 years in total. Before coming to Japan, I studied Japanese at a Russian university for 4 and a half years. But I’ve not gotten used to the Japanese climate. Especially the summertime is terrible. So I go back home once a year. I prefer the Russian climate.
My father bought me a picture book when I was a child. That was “Issun Boshi” (The Inch-High Samurai). Of course it was written in Russian, but some Japanese words such as “hashi (chopsticks)” “kimono” were transcribed into Cyrillic letters. I was nicknamed “Thumbelina” because I was smaller than other kids in Russia. So I had a feeling of empathy for the Issun-Boshi story. Its pictures were different from ones in Russian books, so it was impressive for me. After I came here when I became an adult and I showed it to my Japanese friends, she told me that it looked Chinese.
When I was in junior high school, I looked into Germany with my classmates as part of our school curriculum. On the other hand, a friend of mine researched Japan. I heard their presentation and envied them. I thought “Why didn’t I choose Japan as a research object?”. Actually I chose Germany. My school required us to learn English or German and I chose the latter. That’s the reason I looked into the German culture.
I had read a Japanese fairy story a long time ago so had forgotten about Japan. But my friend’s presentation renewed my interest in Japan.
Decision to go to Japan
I did a lot of research on universities and found one which you can study Asian languages such as Japanese, Chinese and Korean. I majored in world history & culture and also learned Japanese there.
The level of my Japanese language was zero at that time. Professors were mainly Russian but sometimes Japanese students who studied at a Russian music college taught us Japanese songs and customs with gestures. So I learned more about Japanese culture than the Japanese language. We didn’t have that much homework.
So my Japanese skills did not improve up to my expectations. Russian universities offer a five-year course, but I couldn’t speak Japanese at all even in my senior year. For example, I couldn’t say something like “I love winter because it snows in the season”. I only could only say “I like winter. Because it snows”. I could only put some formulas together. Compared to the Russian level of the Russian Cafe participants, their Russian skills are much, much better than my Japanese at that time.
I wanted to brush up on my Japanese skills so I decided to go to Japan to study more. My university had a sister school in Sapporo, Northern Japan.
I studied there for a year. I was aiming for mastering the Japanese language and improving my Japanese skills, but I couldn’t understand what the professors said. So I couldn’t follow the lessons even though I studied with other foreign students.
This means I had a tough time for the first six months. There were many, many differences between Russia and Japan. Even now I’m not sure I can overcome the cultural barrier between two countries.
Looking for a job which needs Japanese skills
After going back home, I finished university and entered a Russian company. I wanted to be involved in anything related to the Japanese language. But those kind of job openings were scarce. Finally I became a part-time Japanese instructor. Also I participated in a company which has business with Japanese companies and a software company project in which Japanese language skills were necessary.
But I went out of business after the software project ended. A president asked me to remain with them because they thought I could speak German. But I really wanted to do a job which needs my Japanese skills because I wouldn’t be satisfied unless I did that kind of job. Moreover I’ve forgotten a lot of German.
Unconnected place and Unconnected field
I thought I wasn’t proficient enough in Japanese yet so I attended a graduate school in Kobe, Japan. It does not have a sister school relationship with my university at all. I ran over the Japanese language for the first 6 months and prepared for the entrance exam of the graduate school for another six months. Then the 2-year master course.
I’ve studied the Japanese culture/history/language. But on the other hand, I’ve not learned the sphere of non-verbal communication. Even though it focuses on non-verbal signals, it differs depending on the ethnic group. I wanted to learn the Japanese culture from both linguistic and non-linguistic angles.
There were some graduate schools where you could study non-verbal communication, but I chose an university in Kobe. Because I wanted to put myself to the test in a school which had no connection with my home or my school. I wanted to surround myself with “Kansai Dialect“; there are sea and mountains around the city and it’s an international city even though it’s not big, but it didn’t lose its Japanese identity… Those were the reasons I chose it.
I’ve lived in Kobe for three years and it was excellent! Kobe became my 2nd home. Of course I looked for the job openings in the Kansai area, but it was difficult for me to find a job in the educational or international exchange area there. If you’re a part-time worker, a company won’t sponsor you in Japan. So I came to the Tokyo area in order to get a job I wanted. Then finally I found a job at a trading firm and came to Tokyo.
Japanese language is natural for me
As I told you before, I’m not sure if I can overcome the cultural barrier here in Japan. But I don’t feel it’s unnatural for me to be here.
I’ve learned Japanese culture while I taught Russian culture in many places in Japan. Every time I did so, differences between the two cultures occurred. That was really fun for me. Japanese has many circumlocutions, so some of you would get fed up with Japanese or Japan itself. I think that’s OK because you have the freedom to choose.
Language is nothing more than a device to tell/learn culture. But why did I devote myself to the Japanese language even though I know that fact? … I believe that was my fate. Japanese language is very natural for me. I really love Japanese words.
I want to continue to live here and explore the language. Japanese language is endlessly interesting to me. So to me, studying Japanese is not a “study” for me at all.
What is Japan to you?
I connect with various kinds of people by communicating with them. I never get tired of communicating and it is always fresh.
And above all, I connect with Japanese people here at the Russian Cafe. So I hope this place will remain.