When did you come to Bulgaria and why?
It was 15 years ago. My mother encouraged me to study puppet and stage design at the National Academy of Theatre and Film Arts in Sofia. I arrived and stayed as there was a strong connection between Japan and Bulgarian in this field. Now I do a lot more than puppet and stage design.
Did Bulgaria surprise you and how?
It was 15 years ago and everything surprised me. I remember that back then everything was grey. I felt like I was in a grey egg. Things have changed a lot. I remember my student years when you only had money to buy one cigarette. I used to collect things from trash bins to fulfil the tasks assigned to me by my professors. Didn't even know where the stationeries were.
And the Cyrillic alphabet. It was so different from the world standard. But it was also interesting. It is actually very sweet, the Cyrillic.
Have you noticed special attitude towards you because you are a foreigner?
When I create something, people say that I am capable of it because I am Japanese. "Here is a bit of Japanese work," they say. I know that they mean it as a compliment, but for me it is not a compliment. Not all Japanese people are able to do the things I do.
Have you experienced sexism in Bulgaria?
No. I think to the Bulgarians I am not a woman. I am Japanese. That is why when I am on the phone with some company for my work, I usually say "Hello, the Japanese lady is calling, I've ordered this and that from you." They wouldn't remember my name, so this has become my business card. That I am the Japanese lady. In Gabrovo they say, "Oh, the Japanese lady, she is so sweet and good, works a lot and does great stuff." But there comes a moment when I get angry and vicious because I want the things done.
Is there something typically Bulgarian which you can see in most Bulgarians?
Grumbling. This is the typical disease in the theatre companies, and everywhere else. When I am served by a grumpy shopkeeper, I don't mind, this is their problem. But when they grumble at work: "This cannot happen, that cannot happen, I won't do anything," I listen to them, and then I gently tell them, "Yes, this will happen, you can do it." I know how to pull the strings of Bulgarian grumpiness.
Do you grumble?
Of course I do. But instead of "this won't happen," I grumble: "This should happen." The Bulgarians say a lot of "this can't happen," and "we'll do it tomorrow, or later." And they don't want to pay attention to the tiny details. The big things, they do them, for sure. But I want even the tiniest things crafted to perfection, and I grumble to have them done.
Do you have Bulgarian friends?
I do, but I don't have kompaniya, a group of them. When I work with a theatre company for a project, we become a family, but only while the project is in progress. And I am very close to my neighbours in the place I am living now. We help one another all the time, that is why I am staying at this apartment. Because of them.
Do you celebrate Bulgarian holidays?
I do the Martenitsa and Easter and all that, because of my daughter. I don't celebrate in my heart. I would celebrate Japanese feasts, but I am so busy...
Can you describe Bulgaria in three words?
I don't know, I have been here for only 15 years, and I live in a closed circle. But the three words can be black, white, colourful.
Do you plan to stay in Bulgaria?
Yes. I am trying not to plan anything and not to suffer about the past. Because of my daughter, I am trying to live in the present. But I am definitely staying here.
Do you sometimes feel a part of Bulgaria?
Yes, I do. I am Bulgarianised Japanese. In the first five years, Bulgaria felt like a temporary home. Now it is my real home. My home is here. Really.
The UnBulgarians is a project of the Free Speech International Foundation and the Multi Kulti Collective, sponsored by the NGO Programme in Bulgaria under the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area 2009-2014