Victoriya Shirota is from Russia. She moved to Japan seventeen years ago to be with her husband. In this article she shares her super interesting story and tells us why she feels she has always gone against the stream. Thank you so much, Viktoriya!
I am from a small ancient town, Novgorod Velikiy near St. Petersburg, in Russia. It’s UNESCO heritage, famous for its 11th century architecture. That’s where I met my Japanese husband. He was on a search for his roots (his grandfather was German and part of his family had lived in Russia), and I was doing a volunteer job as a student for foreign tourists for the local city hall, helping to organize tours and taking tourists around while practicing my English.
My family wanted me to work in the local administration after graduation. You can imagine how shocked and totally upset they were when I announced that I would marry a Japanese man and move to Japan. They all stopped talking to me. It took me some time to reestablish a good relationship with relatives.
I moved to Japan, had two children, and slowly got to know the Japanese culture and lifestyle. My husband is a very traditional man. A wonderful person, but with strong Japanese values in regards of women. Women in Japan are basically mothers and wives. There was not much space for other roles in Japanese society for women. It did not take me long to realize that I had moved from being dependent on my family in Russia to being dependent on my husband in Japan. I had again fallen into a schema that did not belong to me – there was no me in all this.
So I started to design my path. I studied Japanese with volunteer teachers first, but then I found a wonderful Japanese lady who graduated from Kyoto University, with a major in Japanese literature. She gave me deep knowledge at a professional level, I am grateful to her for her efforts. I started to drive, started to work, first in the local supermarket, then with a small trading company, and eventually for myself as a freelancer. My marriage lasted 13 years, but unfortunately my personal growth and financial independence led me to admit that my husband and I were totally different persons. Even after divorce we are keeping good relationship and raising our sons, so our kids have mom and dad in their lives.
I am lucky because this is not an ordinary situation in Japan. There is no joint custody of children here, and the visitation right is not properly supported by law. The most common situation is that custody is granted to the mother, and the father then disappears, leaving the family without any support.
It can also happen that the father supports his kids financially, but the ex wife does not allow them to meet their father. It is a painful situation for all. And I am on the side of the children. They can’t protect themselves.
About 7 years ago my neighbour paid me a visit. She was the CEO of a childcare company she had created, and asked me to teach English in her childcare facility. My way to social business started from there. I was involved in childcare, family consulting, education, etc. Finally, one year ago NPO Mishel Club was established to provide educational support for children from socially disadvantaged families and other forms of assistance.
So, my experience in social business and in entrepreneurship led me to idea of becoming a business mentor for women in Japan. Together with Edvard Vondra, personal branding trainer , (https://www.edvardvondra.com/) we are helping women to become visible, self-confident and successful.
My children are doing fine, and my mother visits me from time to time. I feel active in my community, integrated in my city, and finally in control of my own life.
Main photo credit: Peter Nguyen on Unsplash