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from sson’s opular omedy


April 2010

20 there to here

Japanese Brussels identities from A to Z

Ryoko, a 27-year-old architect from Tokyo, has been living in Brussels for a year. She calls the city stinking, poor and dangerous, as well as uncreative, disjointed, provincial and without dignity. She realises well enough that the city also has assets. But, she says, “Brussels is a city to visit, not to stay in.”


n Japan, Brussels is famous for its waffles – very popular with us. You can buy them on every street corner in Tokyo. But to be honest, they are much tastier in Brussels. I have them at least once a week – waffles make me happy! When my parents came over for a visit, they sent me a list of what they wanted to see and visit in Brussels, with the clear message: make it happen! Waffles, of course, were part of the experience. They wanted to visit Antwerp too, because of an old story that takes place there: A Dog Of Flanders. The book is very famous in Japan, and was famous even before they turned it into a popular animated film. Oddly, few Belgians have heard of it. The story ends with its hero, Patrache, and his dog dying in Antwerp Cathedral, in front of the Rubens painting they desperately wanted to see. The Japanese are crazy about this story: our culture sees the beauty and dignity in dying. I think this comes from the Samurai tradition. In any case, my parents were more impressed with Antwerp than with Brussels. And, honestly, so am I. Before coming to Brussels, I lived in the Netherlands for a while and had visited Brussels as a tourist, in the footsteps of my Dutch colleagues, who liked to come to Belgium to eat. I thought Brussels a nice place to visit, but I never thought I would ever come and live here. Before the

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 In praise of: The roof terrace of the Music Instrument Museum (, 2 Montagne de la Cour) is my favourite for afternoon coffee. Good quality coffee and a nice view over the city. Opera La Monnaie is a great place to be: often they perform interesting pieces, and they have last-minute tickets for €10. A lot of Japanese restaurants are in fact run by Chinese people. An exception to the rule is Yamato, Rue Francart 11, Ixelles, a noodle restaurant run by a Japanese couple. There are lots of Japanese clients, and also Japanese comics for when you’re waiting.”

Netherlands, I worked in Sweden as an intern. I didn’t speak English, and could not communicate in any way, which made me lose a couple of pounds: my host family would ask “Are you hungry?” but I didn’t know what they were saying. Thankfully, I realised in time it was pointless to wait till I spoke perfect English – my English is broken but it’s ok. Here in Brussels, a perfect command of a language is not important – what matters is that you can communicate. And since most conversations in Brussels are still in French, I am now taking lessons. But it’s not only about learning a language: it’s also about a way of life. In Japan we always say “yes” – but this can have different meanings. It could be that you’re still in doubt

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and that the “yes” eventually turns into a “no”. No problem in Japan, but in Brussels if you say “yes” and think “no” a couple of times, it will cost you your reputation and your friends. In Tokyo, people from other cultures are still a curiosity. When a white person enters the neighbourhood, everyone will notice him and give him free drinks or some other special treatment. The sort of treatment I got, by the way, in Sweden, which is not very cosmopolitan yet. But here in Brussels, I belong to a majority of people with no Belgian roots. I find this melting pot very interesting, except there is no real contact between the communities. Also striking is that people are in Brussels only for the time being – they

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Ryoko at the Musée de Point de Vue (192 Rue Antoine Dansaert, www. fr). The street museum is open 24 hours a day and is free. “It’s against the façade of one of those typical Arab call shops. At the opening, the artistic crowd was raising glasses, with the neighbourhood Moroccans watching from a distance. Interesting to see how the two crowds never mix.”

choose Brussels because it’s cheap, but in fact they’re here on their way to somewhere else. Making friends here is a curious experience: you can lose them at any moment. No, Brussels is not my favourite city, for many reasons. Coming from Japan, where shame and dignity are important concepts, I cannot understand that men here can piss anywhere they like, even in the middle of the street, without the police stepping in. But then, the Netherlands is nearby, and nobody does that there. The Dutch also will not simply park their car on the cycle path, as they do here. Brussels is also a very dirty city with a lot of poverty; the number of homeless is staggering. And a dangerous city: innumerable are the stories of colleagues and friends who were robbed in Brussels. I closely escaped it once; an attentive colleague chased the thieves away. The funny thing is, even though the population of Brussels comes from the four corners of the world, its events are on a local level. In the field of architecture and design, the city is absolutely non-existent. When I lived in Tokyo, I got intellectual, artistic and creative input from the entire world – but never anything from Brussels. I don’t get much inspiration out of this city. My colleagues and friends have the same problem: as soon as they have a weekend off, they go out of town, to Paris, to recharge their batteries. This makes Brussels a city that is easy to leave. But it is an interesting city, in full transition. It’s also a city that shows itself how it really is; it does not try to hide anything like other cities with more fully developed marketing. That in itself is a good thing. And there are a lot of talented people here, but a lot of them are on the point of moving, and do not get deeply involved with the city. I understand that: this is a potentially very interesting city, only it doesn’t realise this potential. This has a lot to do, I think, with the fact that in Brussels there are no gathering places where the creative scene can meet, like they have in London or New York. Brussels is a disjointed city. Ideas often bounce on invisible walls. I hope Brussels will develop in the right direction.”  Interview by Veerle Devos & Kristof Dams Image by Veerle Devos

17/03/2010 11:29:18

Brussels identities from A to Z: Japanese  

Ryoko, a 27-year-old architect fromTokyo, has been living in Brussels fora year. She calls the city stinking, poorand dangerous, as well as...

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