“To tell you the truth, I used to have no interest whatsoever in Japan,” says Dongi USENG LAFI from Taiwan with a wry smile. “Many people in Taiwan love Japan and sightseeing trips to Japan are very popular. But I never participated in any. Having an interest in Europe, I studied German in college.”
However, Dongi came to Japan in October 2012 when her boyfriend was transferred there for work. “I didn’t speak a word of Japanese and on top of that my parents were very concerned because it was after the Great East Japan Earthquake. However, I’d made up my mind to go along with my boyfriend.” Since coming to Japan, Dongi has taken quite a liking to the country. “Everywhere you go in Japan the streets are clean. Trains operate on time. The people are all polite and well dressed. Waste is properly recycled. I think we Taiwanese should learn from this side of the Japanese.”
She’s been won over by Japan’s culture and nature. “I’ve always been fond of flowers, so I’m practicing ikebana (flower arrangement) and kokedama (moss ball making). While pursuing those activities, I’ve come to acquire a powerful sense of the beauty of flowers. When I saw cherry flowers in full bloom for the first time in the spring of 2013, I was moved to tears.”
Dongi has also come to like Japanese cuisine. “My boyfriend hated nattou at first. But he liked yuzu chili paste, so I put it in nattou for him. Then he just fell in love with nattou,” she says. “On special occasions, we look forward to eating Kobe beef. We also often go to a chanko-nabe restaurant near our place.”
She also finds some things problematic. “I was shocked by the high prices in Japan. They are about three times as high as in Taiwan,” says Dongi. “The house we live in now is close to a station and convenient. It gets a lot of sunshine and it’s a good house, but I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard how much the rent cost. In winter, electricity for heating is quite costly.”
Dongi started studying the Japanese language as soon as she came to Japan. “Thinking that if I was going to live in Japan, it would make sense to study Japanese, I enrolled at the Evergreen Language School (Meguro Ward, Tokyo). School fees are about 700,000 yen a year. I study Japanese for three and a half hours in the morning and work part-time in the afternoon. At night, I study Japanese until late at home. The good thing about Evergreen is that there are never any more than eight people per class. Right now there are five people in my class and we are able to talk a lot.”
Dongi enrolled in April 2013 and passed the N2 (second highest level) of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test in July. “Next time, I want to take the Japanese Business Proficiency Test,” she says, explaining her goal. “Even though I’m pretty busy with work and Japanese studies, I’m enjoying life in Japan. Japan has lots of shops selling well-known brands second hand. I’m glad I can buy good quality items cheaply. My Taiwanese friends ask me, ‘Have you become rich overnight?’” she laughs.