Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi
Mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jenna Röhrs (Germany)
Jenna Röhrs is from a Baltic small town in Germany. One of our Japanese friends introduced us to her online first. We almost backed away because she looks really beautiful. But actually she was so friendly when we met her, so we enjoyed the interview; it was like chatting. She expressed her love for Japan, but sometimes she pointed out some Japanese work habits. We thought, “Japanese companies would be truly global if they hire her”.
Sleep talking in Japanese?
I usually work for an event-organizing company run by a Canadian. I take care of networking parties for those in high places at a hotel, which is affiliated with my company. And I sometimes work as a model/entertainer.
I came to Japan in March 2014. Before that, I had learned the Japanese language and culture for 6 years at Hamburg University, which is located about an hour away from my hometown by train. Also I spent a year learning the language at Gakushuin Women’s college, a Japanese college which is a sister school of Hamburg Univ.
I don’t know why, but I’ve loved Japan since I was a little girl. When I was in the first grade, my teacher asked us; “Everyone, do you like your hair color?” I answered, “I don’t like it. I prefer black hair.” Actually I looked at Asians with my eyes shining every time I saw them.
According to my mom, I spoke Japanese-like words for about 20 seconds when I was around 10. She was surprised at that. Of course, it was before I started to learn Japanese and even before watching anime. I might be Japanese in my previous life LOL.
When I was 14, a Japanese anime called “Sailor Moon” was popular in Germany and I really got into it. I watched the clip with a German voiceover. That was my first encounter with Japan. I love other anime such as “Dragon Ball” and “ONE PIECE”, that were broadcasted at the same time as Sailor Moon in Germany.
A musician opened the door to the Japanese language
When I was 16, I got to know a Japanese musician called Gackt. He used to be a vocalist of Malice Mizer, a Japanese visual kei (ビジュアル系) rock band, in the late 1990s. My friend from Poland told me about him and I got into the music that he makes. Also I felt the Japanese language sounded beautiful through his songs and decided to study the language. To see him and say thank-you to him became my dream because he opened the door to the new world.
I started to learn Japanese by myself to turn my dream into reality. I didn’t like grammar books, I like to learn languages by listening. Of course I used some textbooks, but those were not my main tools.
I watched Japanese anime with English subtitles first. I think anime are useful for Japanese learners because each character speaks the language very clearly.
After I understood what they were saying, I tried Japanese dramas. I love the drama called “Nodame Cantabile”, but I didn’t catch what they were speaking at all, especially what male actors were saying.
I came to Japan for the first time before entering college after I overcame that obstacle. I heard about non-Japanese people who went back home because of the cultural shocks that they got in Japan. I didn’t want to have the same problem so I came to Japan to look it over beforehand. I enjoyed the Japanese atmosphere, kindness and dishes and I liked the country much more.
Then I majored in Japanology at Hamburg Univ. We studied Japanese in the first two years and we learned Japanese literature and Japanese culture in German after that so I needed to learn Japanese by myself for the remainder of my college years. I could master the language while I was at Gakushuin Women’s Univ for a year because everybody else was speaking the language that I was studying.
My dream came true after I came to Japan in March 2014. I told my Canadian boss about it. He is a friend of Gackt and he said, “OK, I’ll introduce you to him.” Finally I saw him and said thank-you to him.
“Foreigners in Japan are treated as outsiders as long as they live there”
I’m now living in a shared house in Tokyo with 5 non-Japanese. No Japanese people live there. It’s more difficult for non-Japanese to rent rooms than Japanese and my shared house accepts them. That’s why there are only non-Japanese living there.
When I was at Hamburg Univ, a Japanese professor said;
“If you want to live in Japan, please remember one thing; You’re just an outsider in Japan even if you live there for many years.”
Actually I feel that in my daily life. I have to bring tons of documents when I go to a real estate office to look for a room to live in. I cannot make a VISA card at banks. I could open a bank account, but I couldn’t open another one. A bank teller said, “It’s difficult now”. It happened at a branch of a major Japanese bank. I didn’t expect that to happen at all. I didn’t learn that even when I came to Japan for the first time before entering Hamburg Univ.
When I went back the other day, I visited Hamburg. There were so many foreigners like Turkish, Russians, Chinese, Japanese walking on the streets. They can rent rooms and sign up for bank accounts like us. I think we have no word which means “Foreigner” “Outsider” or “Alien”. It’s because there are many different kinds of people in my country, I guess.
Taken in Lübeck, Germany
A bit twisted internationalization
Tokyo is an international city, but there are still few non-Japanese in rural areas in Japan. When I went to Yamagata to go to one of Gackt’s concerts, many girls waved to me at Yamagata Station.
It happens not only in the countryside but also places near Tokyo. When I went to Tokyo Disneyland, girls saw me and screamed. I guess I looked like a Disney princess LOL. When it comes to Disney, Japanese really love it.
When I opened an account at a branch of a Japanese bank, a teller asked me if I would have their bank book decorated with Disney characters. I like Disney, but I said “No, thank you” to her because I was not a little girl. But she seemed to be shocked and said to me; “Why don’t you want to have this? Don’t you like Disney?” LOL Japanese are said to be bad at English. On the other hand, they reply to me in English even though I speak
Japanese. The same thing happened at a networking party that my company organized. An attendee talked to me in broken English even though I was chatting with him in Japanese. I couldn’t catch his English, so I wondered why they didn’t reply to me in Japanese. Of course some Japanese speak English fluently, but there are more Japanese who are not fluent in English in my impression.
When I went to an izakaya bar in Tokyo with my friend, a bar guy gave me an English menu. I told him that I can read a Japanese one. But you’re lucky if you can have an English menu here in Japan. There are still many bars and restaurants in Japan who don’t have an English menu nor English-speaking staff. I used to work at an izakaya bar and everyone else couldn’t speak English. Every time foreign customers came to the bar, they say, “Jenna, please take care of them!” LOL
Sometimes I join recordings of dramatic re-enactments as an actress. A director asks me NOT to speak Japanese even though a script is written in Japanese. He/she asks me to speak English. And my voice was dubbed in Japanese when I watched the broadcast one LOL
Why don’t Japanese people take days off?
In Japan, streets are really clean. And Japanese bathrooms are amazing. You shouldn’t go to subway station lavatories in Germany. In the aspect of cleanliness, Japan is like an utopia. Also people wait for trains lining up perfectly at the stations in Japan. Germans are totally opposite.
Japanese work seriously and precisely. It’s similar to us. But I still feel that Japanese society is very stressful. The typical example is the jam-packed LAST train in Tokyo. It shows that Japanese work late into the night. Japanese have similar characteristics to us, but we leave work at a fixed time.
As for vacations, Japanese people tend not to take days off. For example, a staff of the hotel which is affiliated with us couldn’t take days off for a honeymoon even though he got married, because there were no staff who could fill in for him when he was away. Moreover, hotel staff don’t go home and stay there to work until late at night.
Germans think that they should take holidays in order to work well. If they keep working in an exhausted state, they won’t achieve results. We work really hard, but we take days off, too so we can work efficiently. I love Japan very much, but I don’t want to work with a Japanese company. I know I’m kind of selfish. In that sense, I’m lucky because now I’m working at a company which is owned by a Canadian and has no Japanese people at all. On the other hand, I work with Japanese people at hotel parties. I really appreciate it because I can brush up on my Japanese skills.
I want more green!
I’m enjoying my life in Japan. My favorite town in Tokyo is Yoyogi-uehara in Shibuya-ku. When I was studying at Gakushuin Women’s Univ, I was living there and really love it. There are no high-rise buildings there and it has a cozy atmosphere. Also it’s close to the Yoyogi Park.
But I need more green! I think Tokyo lacks nature. New high-rise buildings are built after the old ones are pulled down. A few people put flowers on the balcony. So I feel stress here. You can say Tokyo is a truly concrete jungle. I love nature and gardens so it sometimes leave something to be desired and I miss my hometown.
There are some things that don’t go as planned here. I’m not sure how long I will be in Japan. I have no future plans at all. Now I’m living freely.
With Stuart O, an Australian DJ
What is Tokyo to you?
The place which brought me a positive change.
I went to the university in Tokyo, so I didn’t plan to live in other cities. It’s because I got used to it, I guess.
After I got out of the small town in Germany and went to Tokyo to study abroad, I met wonderful people and made a lot of wonderful friends here and they improved my life very much. When I faced some difficulties, I said to myself, “Every failure is a stepping stone to success!”
Some people may think that change is not always a good thing and be afraid of it. But it brought me a lot of fabulous things. If I didn’t come to Tokyo to study, I wouldn’t be who I am now. Also I had wonderful and marvelous experiences after I came back to Tokyo. I really appreciate all of them. I’m really happy to be here.
I’ll continue to be involved in Japan. I always want to be excited at what’s going to happen while I’m in Tokyo.