[From August Issue 2014]
“Since 2005, I went through a cycle each year of coming to Japan to live for a while, and when I ran out of money, returning to my country to work, then I’d save some money, I would quit my job and return to Japan,” smiles Sonia SOMOZA from Spain. “I came to Japan for the eighth time two and a half years ago. Because I found work and obtained a working visa, it has been my longest stay yet,” she says with glee.
Sonia has liked robots since she was a child. “I was attracted to the Japanese robot ASIMO and the manga ‘Dr. Slump Arale-chan,’ which had robots in it. It triggered my interest in Japan and this led me to begin reading websites written by Spanish people who lived in Japan, and to watching Japanese TV dramas and movies. Movies by the director KITANO Takeshi, TV drama ‘Stand Up!’ and the actor WATANABE Ken, made a big impression on me” she reflects.
When Sonia was a university student, she also went to a language school to study Japanese. “Japanese is rumored to be a difficult language, so I thought that if I could use it, this would enhance my skills,” says Sonia. “But I didn’t get along with the teachers in the language school and this made me dislike Japanese so much that I stopped studying it,” she smiles wryly. After that, she learned Japanese from a Japanese person residing in Spain.
When Sonia visited Japan for the first time, she was surprised at the difference in customs. “If you give up your seat for someone on the train, rather than saying ‘arigato’ in gratitude, they apologize, saying ‘sumimasen.’ The food was totally different from Spanish food, too. I wondered about this difference and thought, ‘I want to know more about Japan.’”
After 2010, she worked part-time in Japan and attended a Japanese language school. “I went to Kai Japanese Language School and studied grammar, reading and writing, kanji, and conversation for four hours each day. As my skills improved, I was able to select my own classes. Since I had trouble reading, I took classes in which we read novels; works like MINATO Kanae’s ‘Kokuhaku.’” Thanks to this, she also passed Level Two (second highest level) of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test.
The high cost of living in Japan was a problem. “When I stayed in Japan for three months while attending Japanese school, it cost at least 5,000 to 6,000 euros. I economized by doing things like buying cheap from wholesale supermarkets.” During her stay in 2011, the East Japan Great Earthquake hit. “I went back to my own country once to reassure my parents, but I came back again the following year and have continued to stay here ever since,” she laughs. Her parents, who were worried then, now look forward to the Japanese snacks, nibbles, and radio controlled toys that Sonia buys and sends to them.
Using her English, Spanish, and Japanese, Sonia currently works at a real estate agency called Asiavox Plaza Housing. “Many non-Japanese customers often say that they do not want to pay key money (money paid as a gift to landlords). When this happens, I accompany them to the property so that they can understand that those places requiring key money are more comfortable than those that don’t.” She enjoys shopping on her days off. “I buy unique clothes and accessories in Harajuku, and search for stationery at Tokyu Hands. Because my younger sister is into erasable ball-point pens, I often buy some to send to her,” she says.
Text: SAZAKI Ryo