Bridging Cultures:A Filipino Student’s Journey in Japan

Japanese Dream

With an increasing number of people from Asian countries choosing to work and study in Japan, it begs the question: what motivates them to pursue opportunities in this country? To explore this topic further, we have launched a series called “Japanese Dream,” in which we interview individuals and delve into their aspirations and goals for their time in Japan.

In this fourth installment, we had the pleasure of speaking with Edry Dumandan, a student from the Philippines who is currently studying at the University of Tsukuba. During our conversation, Edry shared her dream of fostering a stronger relationship between Japan and the Philippines.

――Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Edry Dumandan, and my Japanese friends call me Erry. I’m from the Philippines and currently studying international social studies at the University of Tsukuba. I’ve lived in Japan for almost two years.

――What motivated you to study in Japan?

I’ve been very interested in Japanese culture and wanted to learn the Japanese language. So, I came to Japan to study the Japanese language for two years. After that, I decided to enter the university and take a bachelor’s degree to work in Japan because I was impressed by how the Japanese work passionately.

I finished a biology course at a university in the Philippines, but I was fascinated with Japanese culture and Japanese society as well. So now, I’m taking international social studies to know about the diversity of the psyche of Japanese, Philippino, and other international communities.

Perceptions of Japan

What did you think of Japan before coming here?

My view of Japan was that it was a very safe country. That might be one of the reasons why my mother allowed me to study in Japan. Also, it was a very clean country, and the Japanese people were very nice and helpful. I’ve been to Japan a couple of times as a tourist before I came to study the Japanese language. During those times, I thought the Japanese people were heartwarming, kind, and appreciative.

Has your perception of Japan changed since you began studying here?

Some of my views of Japan changed after I started studying here because it’s different from when you have fun as a tourist and when you try to make a living. I think the Japanese people tend to try not to stand out and become somewhat homogenous in some sort of place. When you start living and making friends in Japan, you could feel that Japanese culture doesn’t accept so much diversity in some parts. This could be changed in urban areas like Tokyo that accept many foreign people, but when you go out of cities, there’s a little bit more struggle to live together with the Japanese people.

What led you to feel that way?

Well, I felt that in many ways. For example, when I worked at the convenience store, Japanese people would see my name in katakana and ask me to call Japanese staff without even asking me if I could help them or not. Probably, they would like to talk to Japanese people.

Also, when I tried to make friends and even if I started talking to Japanese people in Japanese, they talked to me in English. Probably, they tried their best to talk to me, but that made me feel that they didn’t think that I was able to speak in Japanese and tried to make me separate from domestic groups.

Appreciating the Artistic and Rule-Based Aspects of Japanese Culture

What aspect of Japanese culture are you interested in?

Firstly, I’m interested in the kimono culture. The strict way to wear a kimono makes me feel it is very artistic. Also, I’m into the Japanese tea ceremony which focuses on step by step process of what you do. For example, you must turn a cup to left twice. Haiku also follows a very strict form that each sentence must include 5, 7, and 5 words, but it can be still creative. Even though Japan follows strict rules, they have room for innovation and creativity.

How does it differ from the culture and society of the Philippines?

Views of rules and laws are unbreakable In Japan, on the other hand, in the Philippines, we have more flexible views of laws or rules. Sometimes we tend not to follow a certain rule in order to achieve other values. For example, if there are certain forms of presentations you have to follow in a company or school and you think that not following forms or rules makes the presentation better, you will probably go to the actual results, not the procedure itself.

Appreciating the Artistic and Rule-Based Aspects of Japanese Culture

What are some cultural differences you’ve noticed between the Philippines and Japan?

I notice that the Japanese are more private people than the Filipinos. In the Philippines, the neighborhood knows everyone, and if a birth celebration is held, every neighborhood goes to the person’s house. We want to know who lives next to us and what they do for a living. It’s a certain intimate relationship.

Whereas I think the Japanese people tend to seclude themselves from other people with whom they’re not actually related and try to maintain a more distant connection. It is hard to connect with someone that you don’t see in the job, in school, or in other groups in Japan. For example, I’ve been living in Japan for almost two years in the same apartment and I haven’t seen my neighbors and that’s completely okay for Japanese culture.

In the Philippines, do neighbors tend to be close-knit even in urban areas?

Right now, when you live in condominiums, it’s hard for you to communicate with the neighborhoods, but even in the city, we have a small community called “Barangay” and in this place, people would know each other.

The Benefits of Studying in Japan

What are some advantages of studying in Japan?

One of the advantages is that I am introduced to a very different way from my culture, and it gives me a different perspective and a more kind of diversity like different business or food cultures. It’s interesting to know a lot of new things. If you can speak Japanese, you can also have a better understanding of why Japanese do this, how they talk, and how they work their lives.

Also, the Japanese government is very helpful to international students and tries its best to help them financially and academically and support their everyday lives. That’s a kind of advantage of studying in Japan.

What kind of unique perspectives can you gain from living in Japan?

I’ve learned how to follow time more strictly. In Japan, when I have a part-time job, I always get to the office earlier than the starting time because that’s the culture here.

We have Filipino time in the Philippines because we want someone to have enough time to prepare. So, if there’s an appointment at 10 o’clock, we will go there at 10:15 to give people 15 minutes to do everything that they want. On the other hand, in Japan, they will go there at the exact time because they try to give importance to other people’s time and don’t want people to waste their time. It gives me a deep perspective that Japanese people try to think about other people more often than how they’re taking themselves.

Overcoming Language Barriers and Promoting Diversity

Have you encountered any challenges while living in Japan?

I think one of the things that might be very difficult for me is that I have experienced some sort of racism in Japan, but I think this is the same in all countries. In every country, there are tolerant people and closed-minded people.

When I started to study in Japan, I realized that it’s very hard to live if I couldn’t speak the Japanese language. Even if in restaurants, I couldn’t ask for food and water. In the supermarkets, as I didn’t even know how to read kanji, it was difficult to buy soap and shampoo. In addition, When I lived in Chiba prefecture, I wasn’t forced to speak English because there were few people who could understand English. At that time, it was hard for me to survive, but once I learned the language, everything went a little bit easier.

In your opinion, what changes could Japan make to appeal more to people from Asian countries?

If there is anything they can change, I think they should try to probably accept more diversity. Even the word, gaikokujin (foreign people in Japanese), makes the Japanese people feel different from outside people and inside people. Many Japanese people might think this is a common situation, but if a lot of people from other countries come to Japan, they will see those people and change their minds. So, if they try to be open to global diversity, Japan will be more attractive to people like me.

Adding English translations for everyday living, not only in cities but also in local places would make foreign people live in Japan easier. For example, in Tokyo, it’s common to have an English menu, but out of Tokyo like in Chiba prefecture and Ibaraki prefecture, it’s hard to find it.

I think the digital promotion of Japan works because a lot of people try to go to Kyoto or Okinawa, and Hokkaido, but if each prefecture tries to put more English translations to attract foreign people, they will go to the other areas. For example, if foreign people can know about a bus tour in English, it’s obvious that more people can visit the local areas in Japan.

Advice for Prospective Students and Aspirations for Building Better Relations

What advice would you give to someone from an Asian country who is considering studying in Japan?

One piece of advice I can give you is to study Japanese culture first before coming to Japan because you can’t force the Japanese community to change because of us. So, we have to try to know their culture and be accommodating to their culture not to offend them.

Also, another piece of advice is to accept who you are and your own cultural identity. When you come to Japan, I think one thing that you want to do is to become how they are doing because that is the best way not to stand out probably. But if you accept and know who you really are and your unique cultural identity, you will feel easier to stand out and won’t force your own culture on Japanese people. From this, you can experience good cultural exchanges.

Do you have any dreams or ambitions you hope to achieve while in Japan?

I want to be a part of building a better relationship between the Philippine community and the Japanese community, especially for the younger generation. I would like to create programs trying to build better relationships between both countries.