Tokyo Interview #24 Elok Halimah

Tokyo Interview

I'm really happy to see you.

June 20 (Sat), 2009

#24 Elok Halimah

Vice Chairperson of foreign representatives assembly
(She's been in Japan since 2002)

We foreigners should not press for only own our demands. We must have a sense of contribution for the places where we live.

Today we introduce you to Elok Halimah from Indonesia. She is a person whom My Eyes Tokyo has waited for because we felt the goal of her activities is close to our goal. She is working on creating a comfortable environment for foreigners in Kawasaki, a part of Greater Tokyo. Her activities are not at the grass-root level. They involve the government of Kawasaki, a city where 1.4 million people reside.
Her goal is to create a multicultural society which respects people who have different cultural backgrounds. Now she is moving ahead to realize her ideal world.

*Interview in Mizonokuchi, Kawasaki

Bringing foreigners' voices to the government.

I'm a chairperson of the organization called "Foreign Representatives Assembly of Kawasaki City", launched in 1996. This is the only foreigner aid agency in Japan which is conducted under a municipal ordinance.
For example, the governments could interfere in foreigners' conferences in ordinary circumstances. But as for us, the City of Kawasaki has never done it. So we can convey to the government all of the voices of foreigners in Japan. Aren't we affected by others’ voices. Never.
I know other municipalities have organizations supporting foreigners' lives but I think ours is the first and only one which is protected by an ordinance. At Kawasaki city hall, they have the head office where we submit recommendations to improve our social environment.
We've made and submitted more than 30 proposals to the city government. Among them are proposals for renting rooms. The City of Kawasaki set up a consultation service and now foreigners who have no guarantors can find solutions on how to find rooms there.
At our conferences, even the head office people can't open their mouths. No other Japanese can either. But we hold open conferences where anybody can have their say once a year. We hear opinions from local people there and that's our chance to sell this conference to them.
I want foreigners in Kawasaki to know our conference much more. We'll get through our term of office next April so we are inviting foreigners to join as new representatives.

A fish shop took me to Japan.

I came to Japan for the first time when I was a high schooler. I participated in a homestay program and I wanted to go to the Netherlands. But I wouldn't have been able to receive a scholarship if I had gone there. The only destination to study abroad which was granted to me through a scholarship was Japan. So I came here involuntarily.
I stayed at a fish shop in Ikebukuro, a huge commercial and entertainment district in Tokyo. It was a really tiny store and my host family members didn't look international-minded. But actually they'd accepted foreign students from Indonesia, Thailand, Australia, Serbia, Norway and so on. Foreigners appeared in photos with the family and they were posted on the walls.
I stayed in Japan for only three months but it was really impressive. I couldn't forget about Japan so I decided to study Japanese at an Indonesian university. When I was a university student, I came to Japan again and studied at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies as an exchange student for one year.
After I graduated university, I entered the grad school of TUFS in 2002 and deepened my knowledge of the Japanese language and literature. I've been in Japan since then.

My husband is also a foreigner.

I'm a married individual. My husband is an American, not Japanese. I met him here in Japan. I think it's interesting for foreign couples like us to live here.
My husband has been in Japan for more than 20 years so he speaks Japanese very well. Of course I also speak fluent Japanese so we don't have any language barrier. But there are some cultural things which don't fit us. Even though we face such things, he tells me not to complain about them. He's been here much longer than me so he knows how to deal with cultural gaps well. But on the other hand, I sometimes quiet him down when he gets angry about something.
If he was Japanese, he would say that Japan is different from my country. I would feel that I was borne down by him. We are not like that at all.

*We've interviewed her husband. Click here to read.

Foreign-friendly city = a city where Japanese can live comfortably.

We started to live in Kawasaki spontaneously. I didn't know the existence of the conference which I'm working for when I moved here. But actually we foreigners can make proposals and submit them to the government of Kawasaki thanks to the ordinance.
There are 30,000 foreigners in Kawasaki. It means many foreigners choose this city as a place to live. There are many factories here and we have job opportunities but that's not the only reason why we live here. Kawasaki has more nature than Tokyo but it's easy for us to go to central Tokyo or other big cities from here at the same time. Moreover the rent fee is cheaper than in Tokyo. Those are also the reasons foreigners stay here.
In addition, we have the conference for foreigners which is supported by a municipal ordinance. So I think it may be no exaggeration to say that Kawasaki is the most comfortable city for foreigners to live in in Japan.
Our motto is; "Foreign-friendly city is the city where Japanese can live comfortably". So we foreigners must not force things upon Japanese which will not be useful for them. We should not press for only our own demands. We must have a sense of contribution for the places where we live.
At our conference, we talk about our daily problems with each other and make proposals. What is important for us is to have a sense of contribution to Japanese society and not only for improving foreigners' living environment. We have to tell the government that it would be good for Japanese society if we solved foreigners' daily problems.

Great upheaval causes damage to foreigners.

Some foreigners were born and raised in Japan. It means they don't have Japanese citizenship since they were born. So foreigners' problems are wide-ranging. I think the government of Kawasaki is getting to understand this gradually.
We've solved many problems but other ones come up sometimes. For example, recently foreign laborers have been getting laid off due to the economic crisis.
Also there is another problem. Foreign women who marry Japanese men become victims of domestic violence. This phenomenon occurred at the time when the word of "DV" or "domestic violence" appeared in the Japanese media.
Problems come out one after another so we wouldn't be able to solve all of cases perfectly. But we try to clarify the problems and discuss and solve them. That's what we want to do.

Enrichment of language education for foreigners.

What I myself want to work on is supporting language education for foreigners.
In Japan, the first nine years of elementary and middle school are compulsory. We have a well-organized language education system for foreign children until they finish compulsory education in Kawasaki.
And some high schools have a good education system. But on the whole, the language education in high schools is not good enough in my impression. Some of them are eager to enter universities so the government needs to equip the hi-level language education system to meet the level of the college entrance exams.
For example, an Indonesian kid comes to Japan because of his parent's marriage or remarriage with Japanese. He enters a Japanese junior high. But he can't get a job or go to high school after he graduates because of a lack of language skills. We have to help those kind of children for them and our society. It's highly likely that they enter a life of crime so I think the government has to provide them with educational support. We are discussing this issue and it will be formally proposed soon.

To create a society in which multiple cultures coexist.

Our term of office is two years but we can work for two terms. So I want to do the next term if possible. My ideal plan is to start working on multi-cultural education with an NPO after the termination of the second term. I would like to visit schools and tell students that there are people who have various kinds of cultural backgrounds. My life will be the promotion of coexistence of multiple cultures.
I think that kind of education is very important. We are told that we should not discriminate against people who have other cultural backgrounds even though we've not learned about other cultures. But in order to eliminate discrimination, we need to be exposed to diverse cultures. So I would like to tell children about our culture, such as food, customs and religion little by little.
America, my husband's country, is a typical multi-cultural country. Each culture exists there and asserts itself. If I begin to work on that kind of activity in the US from now, people would feel that it's outdated.
Whereas in Japan, the diversity of culture is less represented. If you look closer, you can see many kinds of people live here. That's why I want to pursue my lifework here in Japan.

What is Tokyo to you?

If I didn't come to Tokyo, I wouldn't be me.

I could meet with a wonderful family of a fish shop because I came to Tokyo. And thanks to them, I got interested in the Japanese language and culture.
I had my first taste of living with other foreigners for the first time in Tokyo. Before that, I knew only the small town where I was born.

Tokyo is the city where led me to
a whole new world.

Elok's Links

Foreign Representatives Assembly of Kawasaki City (Japanese):

"Let's Enjoy Japan!" (Her weblog in Japanese):

Tokyo Interview with Donald Nordeng (Her husband) :

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