BY BISAI YA
Japan continues to be unfazed by the earthquake and tsunami that hit her the past year. Her citizens have remarkably remained resilient and enduring. One citizen, who is also Filipina, has withstood the trials and continues to exhibit a flourishing spirit of strength and courage to succeed.
Businesswoman and English Teacher Esther Salomon-Michiwake, 48, hails from the province of Cebu, and is one of the many successful Filipinas in Japan. She shares to OSM! some of her secrets to success and how it is like to be in business in a highly male dominated society like Japan.
Esther owns and operates a convenience store in Kanagawa Prefecture, from the coastal Yokohama city. SHOPFIVE is currently the only exclusive convenience shop in the Kanagawa-ken area in bustling Yokohama which caters to the needs of Filipino communities and other expatriates.
“Japan is dominated by convenience stores and currently there are over 40,000 convenience stores here. We call it konbini in Japanese or sari-sari store in Pilipino. Naturally when we first thought of putting up a business here, it was a logical decision to think of the needs of the community and the majority populace and konbini came up on top of our choices.”
Esther said Yokohama’s business environment is conducive to growth because it allows entrepreneurs to operate in many ways, such as producing and introducing foreign products and flexible services to make make the lives of customers easier and convenient.
“I purchase my goods back in Philippines in Shopfive. I am able to promote high quality Philippine made products to a very discerning Japan market.” Esther’s Filipino-centric convenience store operates six days a week (from 9AM to 8PM) which is a licensed International Convenience Store.
Not to be cowed by competition by other Filipino entrepreneurs, she makes sure that her store provides for the basic needs of her Filipino clientele while offering them Japanese made products as well. Her distinctive advantage in business proves to be her cooking streak. She cooks and prepares the specialty Filipino foods that are to die for in her convenience store.
Esther also works as an English teacher in a Japanese Public Elementary School. She teaches first to sixth grade schoolers. There are about 800 teachers employed in the school and Filipinos comprise about 35 percent of the faculty members.
“Japanese people basically don’t speak any foreign language. They are a nationalistic lot. Currently the Education ministry is trying to give importance to the English by making it mandatory from Nursery and First Grade. My students learn the basic conversational and grammatical usage of English.
Filipinos who teach English in Japan are well-respected because people know it is not easy to learn Japanese. Many Japanese professionals nowadays are now openly enrolling themselves to English classes, usually conducted by foreigners. Filipinos are considered to be one of the preferred teachers because of their teaching style and their friendly and patient nature.
Esther, who came to Japan since 1989, studied Japanese and aspired to reach a higher degree of fluency and proficiency of the language in order to be equipped her for other opportunities that abound in the country. It was because of this foresight that made Esther succeed as a professional Filipina in Japan.
She used her proficiency in Japanese to help Filipinos in more ways than one. She offered freelance interpretation services for Filipinos who need translation services for submitting legal documentations used for job-hunting, bank transactions, loan applications and documentation for visa and any legal purposes. Only verified and classified translators in Japan are allowed to operate legally in this category of service, as Japan is very strict in this aspect.
She offers free translation jobs as a volunteer for Filipinos who encounter brushes with the law in Japan. Her translation services used at police stations for legal documentations proved to be useful many times where people both Filipinos and other expatriates needed quality translation and don’t have access to such facility without being charged highly.
Being one of the most difficult languages in the world, Esther said anyone wishing to learn Japanese must be patient and dedicated to learn it by heart. “Once mastery of the language is achieved, it can be very profitable for someone to use it to his or her advantage since survival in Japan includes having to learn to communicate in Japanese. Without it, life would be challenging since locals do not speak much of other language other than their own.”
Esther is married to a Japanese national and has a 17-year-old daughter who is a naturalized Japanese citizen. She enjoys the privileges of any other Japanese citizen.
“I admire the Japanese’ dedication to work and industry. This characteristics regained the country’s wealth and power after WWII. The Japanese are so disciplined in many aspects. They always wait in line to get things they want to have. This is an admirable trait.”
Japan does not allow dual citizenship. One has to select only single citizenship. But as a naturalized Japanese citizen, Esther enjoys the same benefits as the natural Japanese citizens do, such as travel to any country in the world without visa issues, and many other perks that the government provides.
She is also a proud mom to Siena, who loves Japan and the Philippines equally, and speaks both Japanese and Cebuano languages. “I am glad that my daughter is growing up gracefully beautiful in character inside and out.”
Esther studied in Cebu’s premier women institution, the Colegio dela Inmaculada Concepcion for her secondary and college degrees. She graduated Bachelor of Science in Commerce Major in Accounting.
Like the rest of the world, Japan is going through tough times, but Esther’s entrepreneurial spirit remains indomitable. .“Nowadays, business in Japan is quite hard and a lot of business establishments are closing. But I continue to work hard and be disciplined. In tough times, it is a matter of faith in oneself and God,” she said.