[From July Issue 2015]
Wife of Albanian Ambassador to Japan
This is the fifth year I’ve been residing in Japan. I have experience living in Japan as I’ve just stated, that is why I do not have any particular difficulties living in Japan. I am enjoying every single aspect of Japan: everyday life, culture, food, transportation, even the language, and my work here in Japan. I think that all foreigners have initial difficulties when they come to Japan because of the cultural differences; participation in cultural events is the best approach for speeding up understanding and for getting used to these differences.
Japan is a country of advanced technology and of tradition. Besides tradition, cleanliness and tidiness are noticeable in every aspect of everyday life. I was also impressed by the elegance and style of kimono and traditional Japanese food. The same thing can also be seen in buildings, as Japan is one of the seismic hotspots of the world: Japanese people have learned to defy nature itself with their wonderful skyscrapers.
When I came to Japan it was the season for the Tanabata and Bon Odori festivals. These events immediately attracted me and I decided to find out more about Japanese heritage and did that through learning the Japanese language.
And through those events like “Mikoshi Matsuri,” “Nebuta Matsuri” in Aomori, or ”Kitsune no Yomeiri” in Kyoto, one learns a lot about the vitality and sense of community in Japanese society, as well as about Japanese perceptions of history and about the traditions of ancient Japan. I still have an affinity for the “shinto” feeling that came over me when I participated at the Kitsune no Yomeiri.
The worst experience I had here was on March 11, 2011, when the great earthquake happened in Eastern Japan. We are a small embassy and community here, but we felt we needed to stay to support our friends in Sendai (Miyagi Prefecture) and wherever else this natural disaster affected people. Therefore, I decided to publish my work. This was the first Japanese-Albanian dictionary, which took me ten years to make and was made available at the start of 2012.
When I first came to Japan I used to live in Sendai; one of the first things that impressed me about Japan was the kindness and hospitality of the Japanese people. As I started to adapt to Japanese life, I was able to notice more about the wonders of Japan. And I realized that it was all due to the hard work and dedication the Japanese people put into their homeland.The things that I would like my country to adopt is the diligence and punctuality that Japanese people display in their work.
One of the charms of Albania is its unspoiled nature. Seventy percent of the land is mountainous. Albania has a variety of natural landscapes such as the coast alongside the Adriatic and Ionian seas, beautiful Alps located in northern Albania, rich forests, natural rivers and fields.
I would like to recommend three of Albania’s best sightseeing spots. These are cities registered by UNESCO as World Heritage sites. We have the cities of Gjirokastra – also known as “the city of stone” – and Berat, which is known as the “city of a thousand windows.” These cities are still inhabited. The third one is the ruins of Butrinti. Butrinti was an ancient city that prospered in the Roman era.
As for food, I would like to mention the grilled fish with salt and lemon sauce that is served in our coastal areas and the fried lamb of our inland areas. All the food is served with Albanian olives, olive oil, and white cheese. For those that like strong drink, Albania has its own traditional beverage called “raki” which is made from grapes.
Our policy is to facilitate tourism through Albanian hospitality. We have about 5,000 Japanese tourists per year, a number that is likely to increase because of the successful cooperation between Albanian and Japanese tour operators. Japanese tourists can enter Albania without a visa. During the peak season in the Balkan Peninsula, the “Balkan Schengen” applies; this facilitates the free movement of tourists not only from Japan, but also from other part of the world.
Diplomatic relations between Albania and Japan date back to before the First World War. Albania declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire and Japan acknowledged its independence in 1922. Unfortunately the relationship was not developed further. Relations were restarted in 1987 and developed further when Albania became a democratic country and solidified its relationship with the opening of the Albanian Embassy in Japan in November 2005. Today Albania and Japan have intensive bilateral relations, through technical cooperation with the JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency), by supporting each other in international organizations.
I see a lot of parallels between Albania and Japan. For example, we share the same geographical latitude, and the climate here for me is the same as home. In terms of character, Albanians have the institution of “besa” (keeping a promise) and Japanese have the institution of “bushido” (a code of honor developed by samurai).
Of course we are different as well. We generally use bread instead of rice in our daily lives. We eat raw fish carpaccio style (sliced with lemon, salt and olive oil), which is different from “sushi and sashimi.” When we nod our heads it means the opposite to what it does in Japan, so many times people mistake a yes for a no.
I like spending my free time photographing aspects of everyday life in Japan. That is why I always keep a camera with me so I can photograph every interesting moment that I come across every day. More than anything I like visiting Mount Fuji and taking pictures of each side of it. I also like exploring Tokyo by bicycle.
One of Japan’s greatest treasures is its people, it is they who build and maintain the culture of their country. I think that it is important to take care of your own people as they are the ones who bring prosperity to your land. This is something that not only Japanese people should do, but also people in the rest of the world.
Text: KATANO Junko