Japanese expats in Dubai

There is more to Japan than just sumo and sushi. Japanese expats talk to <em>Time Out</em> about their life in Dubai

Expat focus, Area Guides
Kaoru Takeda Martin, 35

I come from Kobe, a town near Osaka, on the west side of Japan. While I miss my home country, especially the food, the culture, and walking outside, sometimes, the people there wouldn’t treat my husband with respect because he is a Westerner. I met my husband, an American, in Japan, nine years ago, and then left after we got married. We moved to Abu Dhabi, where he taught English. The city wasn’t busy at that time; it was calm and quiet. We found it a bit boring, to be honest, and so we left, spending a year in Japan and a year in Thailand. These years made us realise that life is actually quite easy over here, especially for a mixed couple, so we moved back – this time to Dubai. We’ve now been here for four years.

I have two children: a son, Ren, who is eight, and Hanna, my daughter, who is six months old. I’m not working now; instead, I take care of my kids and do housework.

Dubai is so big now, and so busy. When we were in Abu Dhabi, it wasn’t like this. There were fewer buildings and there wasn’t construction everywhere. Now Dubai is growing so fast, it’s surprising. Before, I could take taxis everywhere, but this time around I need a car to get around. I like that I can meet lots of people from different cultures here. It’s also nice that everyone speaks English. When I’m not looking after my kids, I go out and meet friends for coffee, or go to the park or do gardening; I like being outside. I like Bento-Ya for Japanese food: it’s owned by Japanese people, so you can get Japanese home-style food there. But I don’t really eat out much, I mainly cook at home. For Japanese products, I go to Choithrams in the Hyatt Regency. There are a lot of Japanese in that area, living in hotel apartments, so the grocery stocks more Japanese food.

Dubai is definitely a good city to raise kids. There is a group that gives Japanese lessons to Japanese kids once a week, called the Nihongo Circle. Ren, my eight-year-old son, goes to improve his Japanese. The teachers are all volunteers, who also try to give kids the chance to learn Japanese culture through various events. I feel it is very important to know our own cultures and languages, even though we live outside of our own countries.

Atusuko Kobayashi, early 40s

My husband’s the Consulate General for Japan in Dubai and I came here for his job just over two years ago. Originally, I’m from Osaka.

I like this place a lot, because back in Japan you don’t tend to meet that many people from different cultures. We’ve got friends from New York, Thailand, Egypt, so many places.

I also really appreciate the flexible attitude of the society here. This month has been Ramadan, for example, and yet the religious beliefs of the society never felt imposed on the people that live here. There’s an atmosphere that everybody is free to exercise their own religious duties as long as they don’t conflict with the beliefs of others.

Because of my husband’s job, we host parties almost every night and invite a lot of people over. My life is always like that. We have so many diplomatic parties and have to meet a lot of people.

We go out a lot as well, we really like Kisaku in the Al Khaleej Palace Hotel. It’s a Japanese restaurant that’s pretty authentic and you get a lot of Japanese expats eating in there. Kiku, near the airport, is also a good place to eat.

I have missed Japanese food a great deal since coming here. I’m not quite sure what it is, but I think it might be the fish and vegetables that make the food taste so different. The ingredients used here are totally different to those used in Japan.

Once a week I take Ikebana classes in Deira. It’s a Japanese form of flower arranging that I find relaxes me. I used to do it when I was younger. The compositions that we create are very particular. You have to concentrate your thoughts so much on what you’re doing – everything else seems to fade away.

We’re not certain, but we don’t think we’ll leave Dubai any time soon – we don’t have any desire to. We’ve made a lot of friends here and want to stay as long as we can.

Shoji Koike, 32

My wife is in Japan with our two-year-old daughter. They’re coming out to live in Dubai next week. She’s a concierge for the Hyatt in Tokyo, so I’m sure she won’t have any problem finding work. I work for a British telecommunications company. We were located in Tokyo, but then the company got bought out, so I came here.

In Japan we do things very much in order, whereas here things feel very much out of order. In Japan, you go to a bus station or a bank, you wait in a queue, you take a number, no one cuts in front. We especially hate going through things that are unexpected, but here you can’t help it, especially when you’re trying to do paperwork. We also hate traffic. Of course there’s traffic in Tokyo as well, but it’s nothing like what’s over here.

I visited Dubai a couple of times before I came here for good, so I knew what to expect, but the part that still throws me is finding easy dining. You don’t really have street food that you can pay Dhs10-20 for. Of course they have some cheap food counters in Deira and Karama, but there aren’t that many varieties of them. One place I do enjoy eating is Kisaku; they serve up traditional house food, such as tonkatsu [deep fried pork] and ramen noodles. Sushi in the Grand Hyatt’s atrium is also good. It’s run by a Japanese chef. It’s not just about the freshness of the fish – Japanese chefs understand how to preserve fish – it’s about the technique, the way you display it, the way you cut it. There’s so much art to it.

When I’m not at work, I’m training for the triathlon. I’m also taking Arabic classes at Walangon University. I’m pretty serious about learning the real, local customs, rather than just living the expat life. That life is really not something I enjoy, because it seems fake. I’m working on finding the real Dubai. I’m even fasting for Ramadan. I like it, it gives you discipline. It makes me more aware of my needs. For example, do I really need to drink that glass of water, or do I just want to?


Bento-ya, (04 343 0222) Sheikh Zayed Road

Choitrams, (04 209 6456) Hyatt Regency

Ikebana Sogetsu Group, (04 262 0282) Opp. Syrian Consulate, Al Waheda, Deira. Classes are for women only

Kiku (04 282 4040) Le Meridien Dubai, Garhoud

Kisaku (04 223 1000) Al Khaleej Palace, Al Maktoum Road, Deira

Nihongo Circle, (04 317 1234) Meets every Saturday. See www.dxbnihongocircle.nomaki.jp

Sushi (04 317 1234) Grand Hyatt, Oud Metha

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