How did a shy girl from North Yorkshire with a ‘flair for languages’ end up in Fukushima? From country school to SOAS; on to Tokyo and several years cocooned in the Embassy; then marriage to Naochika – tall, handsome, charming. But he was an eldest son, the chōnan. There should be a sign at Narita: Beware the Chōnan! In 1980, finally bowing to pressure from his father, we moved to Koriyama in Fukushima prefecture, a commercial town in a rural backwater no one had heard of. Aside from missionaries, there were few foreigners. I didn’t like being stared at but enjoyed special status giving talks on my assigned topic, ‘A blue-eyed view of Japan’ where a foreigner speaking Japanese was the main draw. Mastering the language, discovering the culture was an adventure. Fukushima was beautiful. In the winter we skied in the mountains. In the summer we swam and sailed on the lake.
Then in 1989 Naochika died and I became CEO, shachō, of the family firm. If your husband died you were expected to step into his shoes with no training and carry the torch for the next generation. I didn’t play by the rules. My three children I brought up in England. And after 23 years I sold the business. But after feeling like an outsider for so many years, the earthquake and nuclear accident made me intensely loyal to this area. Soon after the accident the Embassy rang me twice urging me to evacuate on the bus leaving from Sendai. But how could I abandon 100 staff? And I found myself deeply saddened. That obstinacy, reluctance to change or voice an opinion which I had found so frustrating suddenly became virtues in the aftermath of the disaster, and it was heartbreaking to see the blight on this area so rich in natural beauty.
I’m honoured to be part of this community and in the end that cliché about doing business in Japan – the importance of long term relationships – turned out to be true. The fact that I was able to sell the business and can continue making a living here I owe to the people I’ve known for over 30 years. For their friendship and support I’ll always be grateful.
When I eventually retire to England it will be hard to leave. But it will be the start of a new adventure. My life with Japan may have had its ups and downs. But it’s never been boring.
Read Anne’s blog about her life in Japan here: http://annekaneko.blogspot.jp/