Day 344 - Akiko

Day 344 - Akiko (5th person I approached)
December 10, 2014 - On my lunchtime mission to find today’s story, I approached a young woman, who, when she looked up, said “Hello!” at the same time as I did. It was Zoe, who I had met on Day 310. (*Fact Check - see link below.) It was nice to see her again, and we talked about the response from people after having her story shared here.

“Yeah, my friends thought it was great. One woman that I’ve seen at the gym but haven’t spoken with, told me she had seen my on the internet,” Zoe said. It’s a community builder!


After approaching a few people who either didn’t have time, or interest, in chatting, I spotted Akiko reading a book. She was sitting on an outdoor bench, taking cover from the rain under the roof of a large courtyard. I had to make a wide circular movement to approach her, to avoid creeping up from behind. When I explained to Akiko what I’m doing, she asked what I would do with the information. She also asked if I had something to show her about the other stories I’ve written. Once we looked at my Facebook page, she agreed to chat with me .


“I was born in the Ibaraki prefecture, north of Tokyo, in Japan,” she told me, in a gentle and measured tone.

“It is a small area that isn’t heard of by many (population almost 3 million!). I have one older brother and one younger brother.” There are still prevalent traditions in Japanese culture, of different roles based upon gender. Yet in today’s Japan, such traditional attitudes are changing.

“I didn’t notice any difference between the way I was raised, compared to either of my brothers. Our parents treated us all the same,” she said.


Her elementary and high-school education was all done in the Ibaraki prefecture.

“After I finished high-school, I went to college in Tokyo. I still lived at home with my parents, and commuted to college every day. It was a two hour train ride each way, every day for two years,” she told me. It was just like the picture that came to my mind; a busy commuter train, the station attendants in white gloves, pushing people into the packed train.

“I always made it inside,” Akiko said with a smile.

"I either read or rested. I didn't do school work."


“I was studying English. I love my hometown, but I knew that I wanted to explore other places were there was more wide open space,” she said.

“I knew that speaking English would be a key to that happening. Looking back, I wish I had taken a more specific course, like business English. I studied conversational English, which was ok, but it didn't help me to get a job. I failed at that,” said Akiko. 


“After college, I got a job,” she said. Then she leaned in and put her hand up to her mouth as if to confide in me,

“It had nothing to do with English. I was working for an advertising agency. They distributed flyers in various newspapers throughout Japan. I worked in the marketing department that was responsible for this,” she told me. 


Akiko continued to live at her parents home for the first six months that she worked. It meant still commuting two hours each way, only now, it was for work.

“I moved to Tokyo after six months. My first time moving from home. My parents were okay with me moving out. My older brother had moved to Kyoto for university. And my youngest brother was still in high-school, and living with my parents,” she said. 


We chatted about living in the bigger city of Tokyo, compared to her hometown.

“Yes, it is bigger, and crowded. Not the wide open space I wanted. I was shy, and didn’t know where to meet people. I went to a disco bar with a friend, but it wasn’t really my type of place. It was fun to experience it though. There wasn’t anything like this is my hometown,” she said.


Akiko worked at the advertising agency for four years.

“I applied for a working vacation visa. My parents weren’t so supportive, at first,” she said. The goal for Akiko, was to go the United States, but it was difficult to get into America.

“Canada is close. I came here and worked in a bakery. And then I got a job working in a busy restaurant,” she said. 


Akiko went on to tell me about a nice man she met while working in the restaurant.

“He was born in England, and grew up here in Vancouver. He was a regular customer of the restaurant,” she said. This gentleman waited for her one night after work, and offered her a ride home. They started dating soon after that. I asked Akiko if she had been interested in him, before he had asked her out. She laughed and said,

“No, the restaurant was too busy. He was always nice, and polite, but I was busy.”


Once her Canadian work/student visa expired, Akiko went back to Ibaraki, in Japan.

“I stayed there for a year,” she said. “And then I immigrated to Canada.” I asked if her boyfriend was the reason she came back to Canada.

“Yes, in part,” she said somewhat shyly.

“Actually he came to Japan to visit and spent one-and-a-half years there, when I was back home. He met my parents," she told me.

"They approved," said Akiko, laughing to herself.

“He had taken Karate as a child and had always wanted to live in Japan before we met,” she said. They married three years after meeting.


“We have one son, who is ten years old now. My parents came over to visit when he was a newborn baby. Now we’ve been back four times in last ten years to visit them,” she said. Akiko’s son is taking Japanese lessons after school. Akiko tells me it was at her insistence.

“He doesn't practise enough. And he won’t speak to my parents on the phone, because he is not comfortable with his Japanese. He feels shy,” she says. Akiko works part-time for the Vancouver School Board.

“I watch over the children at school during the break times,” she told me. 


Perhaps one day the family will live in Japan again.

“My parents are elderly now, and I would like to be closer to them. Vancouver is home, but perhaps for a few years,” she said. I asked Akiko what brought her to the spot where we were chatting.

“I was sitting reading my book, and having a little snack,” she said.

“I’m just having a rest before going I go shopping and then to pick-up my son from school.” I speak a few words of Japanese, and I used all of them as Akiko and I said goodbye. It was good to practise all five of them. #notastranger

*Fact Check - Zoe - Day 310 -