How does it feel to be a foreigner working in Japan and how to navigate the unique cultural experiences? In this article, Ayu shares her stories of being a researcher in a research facility in Nagano Prefecture, including working in a laboratory during the pandemic and learning about Japanese working ethics, participating in a tradition, exploring attraction places, and dealing with homesickness by finding a sense of family in her local community.
Living in Japan has been a rewarding and challenging experience. This experience taught me not only about a foreign country, but also about discovering myself even more. Here are the heaven and hell of my journey as a research assistant in Japan!
I obtained my bachelor’s degree from the Aquaculture Department at Sriwijaya University in 2017. Several months after graduation, I started to work in a research institute in Palembang. While working, I was planning to apply for a master’s scholarship and prepared some requirements needed for the application, such as a passport and an English proficiency certification. Yes, I had never been abroad, and it is almost impossible to travel abroad for a holiday with my financial condition. However, I believe if there is a will, there is a way.
One of the seniors in my office let me know of a research opportunity with a Japanese Professor. I found out that the research topic was quite relevant to my field. As a fresh graduate, I realized there was little possibility of getting accepted, still, I tried sending my application through email. I assured myself that being rejected is better than never trying at all; at least I could expand my network by reaching out. A few days later, I received an email that I was accepted. I was like, really?! Long story short, after several discussions regarding contracts, I began my visa application and prepared myself for moving within a month. Opportunities can come unexpectedly, but it comes to those who are prepared.
May 22nd, 2019 was the day when my dream came true. I stepped my feet at Narita Airport, Tokyo, then headed to Ueda city in Nagano Prefecture. Nagano is famous for its mountains and ski attractions as it was the host for the Winter Olympics in 1998. I was lucky cause I arrived in spring, so the weather was quite fine so I could adapt well. Not long after my arrival, in December 2019, the first infected case of Covid-19 was announced. It indeed changed everything, I could not travel a lot to other prefectures due to restrictions. However, I was grateful that Nagano has a lot of natural attractions and Ueda City is a peaceful city to live in.
Working in a laboratory amid the pandemic
My research field is genetic population analysis, I had to handle the lab work for samples DNA extraction to sequencing steps using Next-Generation Sequencing methods. In the lab, my co-workers come from different countries, such as the Philippines, India, and Australia. It was fun to learn from them about the working ethics, I had to be disciplined about time the most. Japan is famous for their punctuality, when the meeting starts at 9.00 am, all participants are already gathered 5-10minutes before the schedule, everything is very on time. Not to mention the buses and trains, too.
Nomikai tradition (飲み会)
Before the pandemic, my office once held a workshop, and we had a dinner party afterwards at a hotel. Japanese like to have a drinking party or nomikai after working hard during the day. Since I was the only Muslim in my office, I consulted my Sensei regarding religious restrictions to have alcohol or pork. Fortunately, they were all welcome with my condition, I could still join the nomikai by having tea. I remembered that as a special memory.
Explore anime-in-real-life attractions!
If you have heard of Japan, most of you must be familiar with its anime, one of the most popular ones is Kimi No Nawa by Makoto Shinkai! Surprisingly, there is a scene which is inspired by a real lake in Kiso Mountains, the central region of Nagano prefecture, it’s Lake Suwa. Also, if you ever watched the anime “Orange”, it used Matsumoto City as a reference. I had a chance to explore Lake Suwa with my co-workers during the weekend, here is the picture!
How to deal with homesickness
Amid the pandemic, I could not travel to Indonesia due to strict travel restrictions, for almost two years I had to cancel my plan to visit my hometown for a holiday. It was so sad, but I had to be grateful for my health. However, I found a family in Japan. There are some Indonesians living in the neighborhood, we sometimes travel together or just have a family gathering. Once I tried a ski attraction at Sugadaira Ski Resort, it was the closest one to Ueda City! Skiing is one of the best attractions you should try when you come to Nagano!