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Japanese expats at ease in Vietnam

Released at: 14:51, 20/09/2018 Vietnam - Japan Relations

Japanese expats at ease in Vietnam

Photos: VET Magazine

Most Japanese expats in Vietnam are quick to settle in and find a lot to like.

by Ngoc Lan & Hai Van

After moving to Vietnam to work in the most vibrant city in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City, in 2016, 30-year-old bank officer Ms. Sasaki Kaku has decided she will try to live here as long as possible. “I came to Ho Chi Minh City after graduating after finding a job a Vietnamese friend from university told me about,” she said. “I wanted to challenge myself with a new life away from home and with differences in culture.” 

Initial impressions

Like other foreigners, Ms. Kaku’s biggest difficulty has been the language. Working for a foreign bank, it’s not a problem at the office as she communicates with staff and business partners in English, and most people she deals with are foreigners. But it’s a different story outside of the office. “Vietnamese is very complex in both vocabulary and grammar,” she said. “Vietnam is famous for its street food and culture, but the language barrier can be a problem.” 

But Ms. Kaku quickly adapted by making many Vietnamese friends. “I learn Vietnamese from friends or by chatting on Facebook,” she said “After just a year, though I wasn’t fluent, I was able to communicate and am now quite confident about my Vietnamese skills.” 

Living in Vietnam for a year already because of her husband’s job, Ms. Kobayashi Kami also had difficulty with the language when she first arrived. She lives in Hanoi, is pregnant, and teaches Japanese at a Japanese center near her apartment. “When I want to explain a new word to my students, I often use of my English skills, a few Vietnamese words, and body language, or get help from the teaching assistant,” she said. But she has learned a lot of Vietnamese from her students and teaching assistants. “When we have a break, I talk to my students about their daily lives, good restaurants, famous street food, and places I should visit in Hanoi and elsewhere.” 

While Ms. Kaku and Ms. Kami have had language difficulties while living in Vietnam, office worker Ms. Yamamoto Ohio has been in Vietnam for eight years and remembers that when she first moved here it was the traffic that concerned her. She even had trouble crossing the street. “I felt that everything was moving too quickly and that drivers seemed like they wanted to crash into me,” she laughed. Eight years on, the traffic is no longer a problem and she hopes to live here for quite some time. 

Not only Japanese but most other foreigners living and working in Vietnam have common difficulties in the language and the traffic, but after a while adapt and love Vietnam more and more.

Good place to stay

Many Japanese say that Vietnamese are so friendly and helpful, which helps them quickly settle into an unfamiliar environment. Their friendliness first made a strong impression on Ms. Kami when she studied with Vietnamese students in Japan. “Some students at the Japanese center have become my friends,” she said. “They help me practice Vietnamese, take me to good restaurants, introduce me to their friends, and show me the local culture and scenery.” 

A large number of Japanese have fallen in love with Vietnamese and gotten married, like Ms. Ohio. As well as being married to a Vietnamese man, she has found other reasons to love life in Vietnam. “My husband was my first Vietnamese friend and took me around on his motorbike to help me get accustomed to the traffic,” she said. “Like many Vietnamese, he was just so friendly.”

As well as friendly people, Vietnam also boast a multitude of delectable food that most foreigners love, such as “pho”, “bun cha”, and “banh my” (bread). Mr. Suzuki Kawajiri has lived in Hanoi for two years and said Vietnamese food made a strong impression on him as soon as he arrived. “There’s plenty of choice, including cheap and high-end food, and they’re all delicious,” he said. He has a special fondness for Hoi An bread and also egg coffee, which he drinks in the Old Quarter. When he sips on a cup of coffee on the weekend and looks around, he finds Hanoi to be quite peaceful.

Another attractive feature of Vietnam for many Japanese is its beautiful scenery. “Vietnam also has different habits and customs, which stoke my curiosity,” Ms. Kaku said. “I love Sapa with its cold weather and Dao children, and the peace of Hoi An.” She hopes to live in Vietnam for a long time and explore its culture and visit famous destinations.

Many long-term Japanese expats say the cost of living in Vietnam is more reasonable than elsewhere in the region, including Ms. Ohio, whose salary more than covers her needs. There are different options to choose from, she said, depending on need and cost. 

More foreigners have been coming to Vietnam recently, especially Japanese and South Koreans, as the country pulls in more investment. The Japanese have created large communities in main cities, with most Hanoians thinking of Kim Ma Street, Linh Lang Street, and Dao Tan Street in Ba Dinh district as having many Japanese people. There’s also a Vietnamese-Japanese Cultural Center on Nui Truc Street, off Kim Ma, where people can study the Japanese language, and the Embassy of Japan is on Lieu Giai Street, off Kim Ma and near Dao Tan and Linh Lang. 

The number of Japanese living in Ho Chi Minh City is also rising and Japanese culture is even more easily found than in Hanoi. “Little Japan”, an area bounded by Le Thanh Ton, Ngo Van Nam, Thai Van Lung, Thi Sach, and Hai Ba Trung Streets in District 1, and Japan Oishi Town are the two biggest and are popular among Japanese and Vietnamese alike.

Not only does Ms. Kaku want to stay a long time in Vietnam, she also wants to change the way Japanese think about the country. “Japanese that have never been Vietnam think its polluted and that some Vietnamese are untrustworthy,” she said. “I know better - this is my second hometown.”

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