I’m originally from Rome, but I have been living in Tokyo since 2011. This wasn't my first time in Japan — I had visited the country in 2002 for a couple of months. Back then, I had just started to learn Japanese and I decided to come and get an idea of what the country was like.
That first visit happened during the summer, and the heat was unbearable. Tokyo was crowded to an extent that I could never have imagined, and I would never have thought that a few years later I would be living here. But then I came back for a second visit, arriving in autumn, and my impressions were completely different. I also met many Japanese people on this trip, and those interactions made me think that I could manage moving here for a while.
In March 2011, the strongest earthquake ever registered in Japan occurred; it triggered a major tsunami that killed more than 20,000 people and caused the nuclear accident of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. At that point everybody I knew was against me moving to Japan. Nevertheless, on my birthday I left Rome. I didn’t know how long I was to stay. What I knew was that I needed to expand my world and push myself in another environment. I wanted to improve my Japanese and pursue my research of Japanese culture.
I was an Italian teacher for 3 years and my life in Japan has gone through different phases. Currently, I’m a researcher and I'm studying how the role of past-disaster memory can improve Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) policies. I think many foreigners do not know much about it and are in danger of being unprepared in the case of an emergency. Migrants are often considered a burden in times of crisis such as natural disasters, especially in Japan, because of language barriers. I’d like to contribute in creating more opportunities for foreigners to be aware of disaster risk prevention and enhance their active participation. DRR starts with social integration, a process that needs to be developed in our everyday life.
I do miss many things about my country and especially about Rome, my hometown. I miss my family, my friends, and the openhearted way in which Italian people communicate. Social interactions in Japan are completely different from those in Italy and I find them particularly difficult to manage. But I do feel that I have more opportunities here, especially with regards to my research; access to resources is easier and social problems here are on a different scale than in Italy or Europe, therefore it is easier to make contacts and find interesting areas of culture and society to study.
As a foreigner who can speak several languages and has knowledge of many different cultures, I believe I can bring this diversity to Japan and improve its connection with foreign cultures. Japan is still closed to the outside and it needs people that can participate in the delicate process of cultural mediation. While I think it is important that Japan becomes more open to migrants and foreign cultures, I strongly believe that as foreigners in Japan we need to respect the country and learn as much as possible to be able to negotiate our presence here.
People contemplating migration are often scared of what they do not know. Societies tend to be closed to outsiders because people fear losing their identity. Without trying to know the other, and especially without setting clear and reasonable immigration policies, the exchanges between Japanese people and foreigners will always end up in a cultural clash.
I don’t know how long I will be staying in Japan, but home is a warm place inside us made of human relationships and strong self-confidence. When we reach that place, nothing can take it away from us. We can live wherever and still feel at home.