SGRA Kawaraban (Essay) in English
Hourieh_Akbari “We are still in Japan!”
Thirty years ago, back in the 1980s, I came to Japan when I was only three years old with my family. My father was an Iranian student in Japan. At that time, it was very rare for an Iranian to study in Japan and it is said that he was the first generation to study abroad in Japan.
Japan’s economy was in top form back then, during the “bubble era.” This news reached Iran as well and people in Iran were looking for jobs as this was just after the Iranian Revolution. In 1974, the “Visa Mutual Waiver Agreement” was concluded between Iran and Japan and we could visit Japan without a visa. Due to such changes, Iranian youth began to visit and stay in Japan looking for jobs. It is said that in the year 1992, more than 40 thousand Iranians – the highest number ever – were in Japan. Our family was also living in Japan in that period.
I do not know why Iranians have been gathering together around Ueno Park in Tokyo. On Sunday, Ueno Park became a “mini-Persian town” and a place to exchange information over Iranian foods. Sometimes, famous Iranian singers or artists came to the park to have concerts. I have a memory of our family going to Ueno for Iranian foods, music and movies.
Looking back, I have a strange memory of my father whom I believed to have been busy in preparing his doctoral thesis. When I was in the third grade of elementary school, he went out around 11 o’clock in the evening a few times a week in a luxurious car and came back the next morning. Feeling anxious about this, one day I asked my mother about it, thinking that my father had a part-time job at night because he was busy in the day.
My mother told me that a lot of Iranians were in prison for illegally overstaying.
Japanese police stations were short of interpreters for Persian and Japanese at the time and asked Iranian students such as my father to interpret.
In 1995, we returned to Iran when my father completed his studies in Japan.
Other Iranian people who had been working in Japan also began to return.
After my return to Iran, I had the chance to talk with Iranian people who had been working in Japan. When I talked with my mother in Japanese in places where there were a lot of people, we communicated freely as we assumed that Iranian people could not understand Japanese.
When we talked in Japanese in taxies or supermarkets, I was surprised on many an occasion by taxi drivers saying “I understand Japanese” or “your Japanese is very good”.
In my schooldays, I was teaching Japanese to ordinary citizens at the University of Tehran. Some Iranians who had lived in Japan took my class and told me about their memories of Japan in the 1980s, bringing up Japanese soberness and politeness.
In 2013, eighteen years after my first visit to Japan, I came to Japan again as an Iranian student. In my doctoral course, I started my research in the field of sociolinguistics, focusing on Iranian people who have stayed in Japan for more than five years. I aimed at an investigation of the actual situation of their use of the Japanese language.
I tried to listen to their life stories as much as possible, because their life stories relate to their abilities of speaking Japanese after their studies of the language.
Students were included in my field of research, of course. However, it was also true that many Iranians who came over to Japan in the 1980s were laborers. Some of them were married and had their families in Japan, and some of them were running good Persian food restaurants or supermarkets.
Whenever I start my interviews with these individuals, sitting in front of them and asking them to “please, tell me your “life story”, I always have a strange feeling. They came to Japan in their twenties and are in their forties or fifties now. I came to Japan as a schoolgirl and am an adult woman now. And I am sitting in front of them as a researcher. Our paths might have been different, but I have a feeling that we share something in common.
It is a fact that “we are still in Japan.” We love Japan and are sharing our memories, be they happy or terrible. We thank Japan for Japan has made us grow and gain many experiences. We are sharing wonderful lessons with each other.
Hereafter, I will continue to look into the Iranian community in Japan. Though we are living in Japan with some similar background and reasons, we will grow and have our own way of living.
I would like to convey the stories of our small communities to the Japanese people.
Hourieh_Akbari / 2017 Raccoon, Researcher at Chiba University (Graduate School of Humanities and Studies on Public Affairs)
Translated by Kazuo Kawamura
English checked by Sonja Dale