I LIVE IN JAPAN / Monika Kumari

JUN 2021 (VOL.164)


Monika Kumari

From California, USA


Were you hesitant to relocate to Japan?

Not at all, I was very excited to come to Japan to experience a new country and new culture.  Coming to Japan was my first international exposure, and I existed for it.  I was a little worried about the language barrier and high living costs in Japan.

What do you study in Japan?

I am a Ph.D. student at Kyoto University, Kyoto.  My major is Environmental science, and I am doing research on Indian soil from an agricultural perspective.  I do many experiments and analyses in the laboratory and study soil quality.  My lab has many international students from different corners of the world working on soil from their country.

What do you miss about your maternal country living in Japan?

Living alone is not an easy thing, and I badly miss my family and friends.  Other than that, I miss Indian food, especially street foods and sweets.  I order many cooking materials from online Indian stores located in Tokyo and Kobe.  Celebrating festivals is one of the most important Indian cultures, so I miss family gatherings and festive vibes in Japan.

What are the most impressive things to you in Japan?

I am highly impressed by honest, polite, and hardworking Japanese people.  Neat and clean cities, hygienic and healthy lifestyle, natural beauty, clear sky with pure air, vending machines, and excellent public transport are some of the admirable things in Japan.

What do you find different about living in Japan over the term compared to when you first arrived or came as a tourist?

When I first arrived in Japan, I thought I could not survive without knowing the Japanese language.  But over time, by learning a few Japanese words and phrases, I managed to live normally and enjoy Japanese culture.  Apart from this, I found japan very expensive for buying vegetables and fruits.  For the initial few months, I did not have any fruits, but later I got accustomed to buying fresh food items from the supermarket.

What do you appreciate most about Japanese culture?

The overwhelming and caring nature of Japanese people is the most appreciable thing.  I like the “Hanami” (cherry blossom viewing) culture when people enjoy cherry blossom and enjoy food and drinks with their friends and family.

Which places in Japan do you recommend that foreigners see?

I love traveling, and I tried to cover as many tourist places as I could in Japan.  Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Hokkaido, Hiroshima, are the must-visit cities due to their beautiful natural landscape.  No one should miss the chance to visit the snow monkey park in Nagano, Osaka aquarium, Amanohashidate, any Onsen village, temples and gardens in Kyoto, and old traditional houses in Shirakawa-go.

What parts of Japanese culture do you recommend that foreign people try to experience?

I will definitely recommend experiencing wearing a kimono and attending a traditional tea ceremony.  The culture of visiting the onsen is another must-try thing as there are many natural springs in Japan.  I experienced kimono wearing with my mother when she visited Japan as a tourist.  She really liked the experience.  If possible, watching a sumo match will be a great adventure for a foreigner.

Are there any aspects of the Japanese culture or its people that you find bizarre or unique?

Experiencing onsen and seeing naked people was a shock for me on my first

onsen visit.  Later I got habitual of going to onsens and enjoying the natural bath.  Meeting energetic older people on hiking trails also makes me surprised how they manage to hike challenging mountains even like Mt fuji.  I have huge respect for all the aged people in Japan, who are very independent and full of passion.  I think friendly and polite customer service, which includes greetings and warmth for the customers is also very unique to Japan.

What are your favorite Japanese foods?

I am a big foodie, and I tried many street foods during my stay in Japan.  Okonomiyaki, Takoyaki (Octopus ball), Taiyaki (Fish shaped sweet with bean paste), and tempura are my favorite Japanese dishes.  A must mention is Kit-Kit chocolate which comes in unique flavors like matcha, apple, sake, strawberry cheesecake, and many more only in Japan.