Japanese at home in Maastricht
June 5, 2004 1 Comment
“What Japanese community?” was the primary response given when Maastricht residents were asked about the Japanese community here.
But according to the municipality, Maastricht is home to about 150 Japanese residents, a small group glued together by its children and its strong value of education.
The Dutch-Japanese relationship has a long tradition, as the year 2000 marked the 400th anniversary of trading between the Netherlands and Japan, making the Dutch the first people other than the Chinese to have formal relations with the Japanese.
Despite this history, the Japanese, like any other expatriate group, often find it difficult to locate their own national community when they move to Maastricht. However, most Japanese residents are brought together when they send their children to the Japanese Supplementary School.
A community centred on children
“The main source of getting to know the Japanese community is through the school, but if you don’t have a child it would be very difficult,” said Rumiko Gargani, a teacher at the school.
The school started in 1992 when several Japanese families of students at Joppenhof International School joined together to supplement their children’s education with additional studies in the Japanese language and mathematics.
It is important for Japanese students living abroad to keep up with these subjects so they can adjust when they re-enter the Japanese educational system. The school’s students meet on Saturdays from 9.30 to 14.30 and follow the Japanese education calendar, which begins in April and ends in March.
The school began with 15 students. Then six years ago more Japanese moved to Maastricht to work for Mitsubishi, and enrolment at the school jumped to 30. However, as the economy has declined and some families returned to Japan, it has dropped to 20 students and continues to decline.
Since some Japanese families do not have school-age children, a group of five families came together in 2003 to form a group for Japanese mothers with pre-school children. The group has grown to include 22 families from in and around Maastricht who gather once a month.
Food, Culture and Religion
There are only few grocery stores in Maastricht that carry Japanese food items, so many buy specialty groceries in Düsseldorf, where there is a large Japanese population. It is difficult to find fish that is prepared in a Japanese way, so Japanese families in Maastricht join together once a month to order specially prepared fish from Hokkai Suisan, a company located near Amsterdam.
Because the primary Japanese religions, Buddhism and Shintoism, are closer to being philosophies than most institutional religions, Japanese expatriates in Maastricht have no formal gatherings to celebrate religious holidays.
“Japanese philosophy lives in my mind,” said resident Naomi Hisakuni. It is an understanding shared among Japanese residents that has little outward expression but great internal meaning that connects Japanese people with each other.
By Casey O’Dell
Source: Crossroads print issue, June 2004