Interview by Isao Tokuhashi
Edited by Daniel Penso
When interviewing people from various countries, we have tried to avoid (1) biasing the country or region of origin of interviewees, (2) avoid asking them about religion, politics, or other personal matters, and (3) listen to the voices of people from both countries or regions that are said to be hostile to each other. The experience of (3) in particular was inspired by a TV documentary that My Eyes Tokyo editor-in-chief Tokuhashi once saw, in which young people from allegedly hostile countries were interacting with each other at the grassroots in an effort to achieve mutual reconciliation.
One day, we came across an article in a newspaper. It was about a Russian restaurant that was supporting people evacuating from Ukraine to Japan. We were struck by the way they have supported the Ukrainian evacuees by hiring them to work at their restaurant and by processing their paperwork to settle in Japan on their behalf, rather than succumbing to the slander against the restaurant that appears to be caused by anti-Russian sentiment.
We then contacted the restaurant and they agreed to be interviewed. Anastasia Stetsyuk, the owner of the restaurant, who has Ukrainian roots, and her daughter Diana, who co-owns the restaurant, were concerned about the “two homelands” and the prolonged fighting, but each of their words was filled with a strong will to fulfill the mission given to them.
Anastasia Stetsyuk (Photo left), Diana Stetsyuk (Photo right)
*Interview at Matrëshka (Chuo-ku, Chiba)
We will live in Japan – the restaurant is a testament to our commitment
Anastasia Stetsyuk (A): We opened this restaurant in Chiba for two reasons: first, we have lived in Chiba for 20 years. The second reason is that there were no other Russian restaurants in Chiba Prefecture.
Diana Stetsyuk (D): This is the first Russian restaurant in Chiba Prefecture.
A: I have loved cooking since I was in Russia and studied at a school for chefs and pastry chefs. I also liked to cook meals for my children, and I used to make and sell piroshki and pelmeni at home.
I was born and raised in Khabarovsk, which is close to Japan, and I had friends living in Japan so I was always interested in Japan. For this reason, I worked for an automotive company in Khabarovsk that imported and sold mainly Japanese used cars and parts. And since I was transferred to the Japanese branch of that company, I have been living in Japan, and in Chiba Prefecture. Since it was a work-related visit to Japan, I was the only one in my family who came here, but once I returned to Khabarovsk, my daughter was born.
D: Mom returned to Japan after I was born and I was raised by my grandfather and grandmother. I was in Khabarovsk until about the time I graduated from kindergarten, and I came to Japan when I was 6 years old because she called me and I had a strong desire to be near her.
A: Eventually, the automotive company I worked for began to underperform and I left it. I raised my son and daughter (Diana) while working part-time at a ramen restaurant.
Having already lived in Japan for the past 15 years, I decided that I would continue living there. Then I thought about what I could do in this country and then opened this restaurant in 2018.
D: It was right around the time I was in high school. At the time, I was beginning to think about part-time jobs and my future career. Then, we decided to open a Russian restaurant in order to show some form of proof that we had lived in Japan for a long time.
When we opened the restaurant, it was run by just our family, including my grandmother and relatives from Russia, but we eventually began hiring part-time workers. Then, the number of customers grew and we opened the restaurant every day. We also began to actively sell our dishes outside of the restaurant, such as through delivery and kitchen cars.
We then stopped selling in our kitchen car and closed the restaurant on Mondays and Tuesdays. But, instead, we would like to sell Russian goods, open a stall at events, and offer Russian language classes. Also, many of our staff members are from former Soviet Union countries such as Ukraine and Belarus, so we would like to introduce their food culture as well.
Sunflowers, the national flower of Russia, are displayed near the kitchen.
People are the same in every country and place. If someone is in trouble, we want to help
A: Long before I was born, my father’s entire family emigrated from Ukraine to Khabarovsk. Then, my father met and married the woman who would later become my mother. At that time, no one cared if you were Russian or Ukrainian. Everyone thought that they were all the same.
The war between Russia and Ukraine started in February this year, and even before that, the relationship between two countries was shaking like an earthquake. And eventually a big bomb fell…I get goosebumps when I think like that.
When I learned that war broke out, at first I didn’t trust the information. “Why?” Why?” I looked at the Internet and TV. Even among my relatives and friends, people started arguing about who was right and who was wrong.
Under such circumstances, we thought about what we could do. When I first came to Japan, Japanese people taught me many things including the Japanese language and culture. I have a sense of gratitude for that. People are the same in any country or place, so, if someone was in trouble, I wanted to help them, just as I had been helped by people in Japan, a totally different country from Russia.
A flyer outside the store calls for cooperation in providing aid to those who have fled from Ukraine to Japan.
D: We employ displaced people from Ukraine in our store and go with them to city hall and immigration offices to complete the necessary procedures for them to live in Japan. Because of the media reports about us, our customers have started sending clothes and food to us, which we then provide to temporary accommodation for the displaced people. Sometimes, we receive inquiries from Japanese people asking how they can introduce jobs to the evacuees, and we also receive calls from the evacuees asking us to help them.
For the evacuees, Japan is a country they do not know at all. They do not know where to find anything. Furthermore, they have no one they can rely on here, so they must do things independently. That is why they come to us for help in terms of places, people, and jobs. On the other hand, from time to time we receive inquiries from Japanese people, such as “We would like to introduce jobs to displaced people, but what should we do?”. Through activities such as connecting both sides, we have come in contact with about 30 to 40 displaced people so far.
Newspaper articles about their efforts to help displaced people from Ukraine
D: But, on the other hand, after the war started, we have been receiving more and more heartless comments from Japanese people. Some of them looked up Russian restaurants run by Russians and called us.
A: Not only were there accusations from the Japanese, but there were also fights between our Russian friends over their visit to our restaurant.
D: Nevertheless, we will continue to support the Ukrainian refugees. They are still coming to Japan, and there are still people who need help. We have the feeling that “if we stop helping them, who will?” and we want to do everything we can. There are calls and messages that come in accusing us of not helping the refugees, and if we give in to those calls and stop our relief efforts, those people who need us will be in trouble so we try to ignore negative comments about us as much as possible. On the contrary, we are trying to motivate ourselves by listening to those who support us.
Focusing on what we can do while hoping for an end to the war
A: I wish the war would endRecently, Russia mobilized 300,000 male reservists (military enrollees living in ordinary society) over the age of 18. If they don’t comply with the mobilization orders, they will go to jail. But, on the other hand, if that many men go to war, there will be no one left to work.
Russia and the rest of the world are all thinking about war now. They manufacture vehicles, medicine, and all kinds of supplies for use in war zones. Also, big money is being spent on war. I am very afraid of that movement because the war will not stop. I don’t think the war will end anytime soon.
D: We know of people in the police and military services who were suddenly ordered to transfer from Khabarovsk to Moscow. This would change not only their lives but also the lives of their families. I don’t know what its purpose is, or whether it is a good thing or a bad thing…
A: I am afraid of war, which kills people. Since Russians and Ukrainians can speak the same language, I hope that they will try to discuss and decide things together as much as possible and not kill each other.
D: We would like to focus on what we can do anyway. We have hired several Ukrainian evacuees at this restaurant so far, but even if they cannot work here, we would like to make sure that they can work at other places, and we would also like to gain experience in the paperwork required for displaced persons to settle in Japan.
What is Japan to you?
D: It is the country that raised me.
When asked, “Which is your home country, Russia or Japan?” I answer, “Both are my mother country.” I don’t want to make a distinction; for me, these are both my home countries. There is no such thing as which is better and which is worse.
Russia is the country where I was born and where my relatives are from. Japan is the country where I live now, where I went to school and made friends.
Both Russia and Japan are my home countries.
A: I guess I was born in the wrong place (laughs). I look Russian, but my personality is close to that of a Japanese.
D: Your personality is very Japanese-like, and I might be very Russian-like (laughs).
A: So no matter how hard I had it in Japan, I would never want to return to Russia.
Japan is a country of safety, security, and peace. For me, those are the most important things.
After the interview, we enjoyed a variety of excellent dishes.
Thank you for the great meal!
Chiba Building 2F, 1-22-1 Nobuto, Chuo-ku, Chiba-shi, Chiba
*Nearest stations: Chiba Urban Monorail Shiyakusho-mae Station / JR Chiba Station or Chiba Minato Station / Keisei Chiba Station or Shin-Chiba Station
Lunch: 11:00-15:00 (last order 14:30)
Dinner: 17:00-22:00 (last order 21:30)
Closed: Monday and Tuesday
Phone: 043-307-8486 *Call this number if you wish to assist evacuees.
YouTube Channel: Here