Interviewed & Written by Isao Tokuhashi
Edited by Jennifer A. Hoff
Mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Violeta Yurita (Romania)
The Rugby World Cup and the Olympics lure people from around the world into the capital of Japan. We’ve interviewed people from Five Continents and showed the world their perspectives on Tokyo. But until now, we hadn’t met people from this country – Romania.
There are only 530 residents who came from this Eastern European country who are in Tokyo. Today we will introduce you to one of them.
A reader of My Eyes Tokyo from Taiwan introduced us to Ms. Violeta Yurita (also known as Vi hereon, as all her friends call her), a mathematics graduate with a focus on mathematics education. While she was hiking to Mt. Takao with a colleague of hers, she met Ms. Yurita by chance. She told us about this episode, and we got interested in meeting this woman from a land that is far-away, both physically and mentally for those of us living here in Japan.
We were really impressed by the depth of her love for Tokyo when we actually saw her. Even though she’s been in the city for only about a year and a bit, she was very familiar with not only where the places were but also the historical backgrounds of them.
We would like to follow the tracks of a hardworking woman who came from a distant country to Japan, together with you.
*Interview in Shinagawa
Leaving the communist country for the center of capitalism
I like to visit many places in Tokyo, such as Mt. Takao, Kamakura, beaches in Kanagawa and Chiba, so many parks and gardens, and the awesome West of Tokyo, the Kukubunji area and the beautiful Jindaiji Temple with its autumn colors… There is a lot of nature not only around, but also in the middle of the city. To me, Tokyo is really lovely. I came to this wonderful place about a year ago.
I grew up in Romania and worked at a high school as a mathematics teacher for 5 years after graduating from university there. I majored in mathematics and started to work in 1989, right before the collapse of communism. At that time, many of those who graduated from university were placed in teaching jobs. People expected that something better would come for us after the breakdown of the communist regime, but actually that’s when the economic downturn happened. Our salaries were very low.
Then I heard that we would be able to get a scholarship to study at the graduate level in the United States. At that time, the country was drawing in talent from Eastern Europe. So I moved there in order to receive my doctorate in Mathematics.
However, since jobs in pure mathematics were very hard to obtain, I decided to change my field, from research to Mathematics Education. I went to a different graduate school which was in Michigan. Then I met a Japanese man there when I joined an international breakfast that was being held at the university.
An unexpected long journey
He majored in history and philosophy and had already been in the US for about 15 years at the time. We fell in love and we got married. I’d never imagined that I would join hands with a Japanese person. I saw many Chinese people in my country because Romania was one of the communist countries along with China. Even after moving to the US, there were a few people from Japan in my first graduate school in Indiana.
After obtaining my doctorate degree in Mathematics Research, I started to work at a university in Massachusetts as an assistant professor. On the other hand, it was very tough for my husband to find a job in his field. I wanted to help him find any open position, but there were no job opportunities in his field even at my university.
Finally a Japanese university in Shimane Prefecture, Western Japan, offered him a position of an assistant professor. I suggested to him that he take it, because it was seeming to be almost impossible for him to get a job in the US. He went back home, but I stayed there without him for a year and a half. Actually, I didn’t want to come here originally because I didn’t want to quit my job and leave an environment that I had become familiar with, even though I had visited and stayed here several times after our marriage. But finally I moved to Japan in 2008 after quitting my job, because my husband was calling me three times a day every day. *laughs*
It all started in a beautiful, conservative pastoral countryside
Shimane is one of the least populous prefectures in Japan. It is very beautiful and has a lot of history. Matsue, the capital city of Shimane, has a beautiful castle. But there were few people who could speak English and people—including Japanese English teachers at schools—were hesitant to communicate with foreigners 10 years ago. Also, students were not particularly interested in their studies and on what was going on in the outside of Shimane. Because they had little incentive for change. They were so conservative. I felt it would have been difficult for me to live there and work there.
My first job in Japan was as an English teacher at Shimane University. They already knew about me because I’d met them several times. So they got interested in me as well as in my husband. However, they couldn’t hire me as a mathematics teacher because I couldn’t speak any Japanese. Finally, they added me to their English education program instead. I was assigned to Shimane University Middle School and taught English to middle school and university students for three years. After the expiration of the contract, I took a year off, and then afterwards joined their mathematics education program. I taught students mathematics in English and did research with a mathematics education group. It was fun and I had a very good time in the countryside of Japan even though I was worrying about if I would really be able to survive there.
In the meantime, my mother was in bad physical condition. I needed to go back home because I was her only child, and my father had passed away three years before then. While I stayed in Romania for a couple of years then, my husband moved to Tokyo to start a new life as a senior researcher at the National Institute for the School Teachers and Staff Development. I came to Tokyo directly from Bucharest, the capital city of Romania, in October 2017. I’ve been living here with him ever since.
Reaching for outer space
I haven’t started doing anything in Tokyo yet. I’m kind of new to here, so I’m learning about the city through visiting lots of places and meeting new people. On the other hand, I’ve been getting interested in working with people in the space industry through my husband. He has acted as the official advisor for JAXA’s Education and Outreach Department in the last few years.
Many countries have their own space agencies, and my country has one as well. I’d like to do something with people who are involved in space research and education. Modern space education uses a concept and model of education that brings researchers from the domains of the space sciences together with educators, to think about and design a program in which the expertise, skills and knowledge of space researchers inform and form tomorrow’s citizens. This is not only or mainly about science, but about the development of civic society and the literacy necessary for democratic citizens in space exploration era as well. These are new aptitudes and new ways of relating to society and to the world, which are needed in this century.
I’d like to introduce this example to the Romanian Space Agency as an educator. That’s what I’m interested in the most at the moment.
What is Tokyo to you?
A place I really love. I think Tokyo is a very beautiful city.
I have a number of foreign friends. They are not attracted to things that young Westerners like, such as Akihabara, anime or robot restaurants. While Kyoto became rather like a “tourist mall”, Tokyo still has a lot of raw, genuine, living history. It showcases the last 500 years of history in Japan. Also, nobody knows that there are places you can enjoy real hot springs in Tokyo.
Tokyo has some really interesting places. I’d like to tell people around the globe about what it really is.