Expat tales: Turning Japanese

Last updated 05:00 03/08/2014
Venessa Setiawan

WE ARE FAMILY: Venessa Setiawan with her "Japanese grandmother" and family.

Venessa Setiawan
JAPANESE DREAM: "It has been a year and four months and I have never been happier."

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Venessa Setiawan loves all four seasons of her new life in Japan.

What inspired your move, and how long have you been there?

I always wanted to travel and experience the unique and beautiful culture and tradition of Japan, to start a new chapter in a new country, but I was scared to leave my comfortable bubble. Then some good friends told me I should follow my dream. A few days later, I went online and enrolled myself in a Japanese language school in Nagano prefecture. It has been a year and four months and I have never been happier. I have a great part-time job, have been adopted by the sweetest Japanese grandmother and have great friends.

What are the greatest advantages to living there?

Nomihoudai. Let me translate that - all you can drink alcohol. It's about 2500 yen (about $28) for two hours of all you can drink. My parents will be so unhappy that I've told you this, so I better state all the other advantages: the best ramen you ever tasted, the delicious sake during festivals, the vibrant autumn colours, beautiful castles, the kind people, the appreciation when you can speak Japanese, the smile when you mention "All Black haka".


Paperwork. Japanese people love paperwork. Also, the heat of summer - waking up in the middle of the night because you feel like you just sleep-walked to the nearest sauna is never OK.

How expensive is it compared with New Zealand?

If you have a job, the cost is similar to home.

What do you do in your spare time?

There are a lot of things to do here, from climbing Mt Taro to swimming in Ueda Castle's swimming pool, to eating sushi and a day trip with friends.

What's the local delicacy and would you recommend eating it?

Jimanyaki (custard or red bean filled pastry), matcha (green tea) icecream and of course, the famous Nagano soba noodles.

Easiest way to get around?

Walking and the train. There are a lot of rules regarding bicycles and a lot of problems finding a spot to park your bicycle. I love walking best because I can take my time.

Best time of year to visit?

Winter is great if you love skiing or snowboarding. Spring is another great season to visit because of the beautiful sakura trees and beautiful scenery. Autumn, my favourite, is when you can see beautiful leaves and is a great time to get cozy everywhere! Summer is only good if you love hot humid air blown on your body 24/7 - but then there are a lot of amazing summer festivals.

What are the top three things you recommend for visitors?

Go to Kyoto and Osaka during autumn or spring and immerse yourself in the rich tradition of Japan. Go to onsens (hot pools) during winter or autumn. The Jigokudani snow monkeys, especially for those who love photography.

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How easy is it for you to get back to NZ?

Physically it is pretty easy. Emotionally, it's always sad to leave this beautiful country behind.

Besides family and friends, what do you miss most about home?

Big sized food.

If you know an expat who wants to share inside knowledge about their home away from home, email escape@star-times.co.nz with Expat in the subject line.

- Sunday Star Times


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