is a small, but growing Japanese community in Chiang Mai. This
is mainly retirees, but there is also an active younger Japanese
contingent here, and Junji Taniguchi, the site director of the
Princeton Review, is a fine example of the ‘Eastern’ ex-pat
community. He is a man who has spent more time away from Japan
than he has spent within it, and despite having culture shock
problems in Japan, is still proud to be Japanese, but is living
here in Chiang Mai by design.
Junji was born in Osaka and his first
exposure to Thailand was when he was three years old when his
father, an engineer, was seconded to Bangkok. He was sent to a
Japanese school in the capital, but in his everyday life he had
to talk Thai with other children in their neighbourhood. Like
all adaptable children he was very quickly bilingual. When his
school devoted one hour a day to English, he then became
trilingual, a portable skill that should have been an asset to
the young Junji. However, this was initially to be a great
stumbling block for him.
When he was 11 years old, his father was
transferred back to Japan and Junji experienced just how cruel
children could be - even those of his own kind. Because he had
learned English, the Japanese school children looked upon him as
a foreigner. “They changed their attitude and 9 out of 10
would ask me where I learned Japanese! This was the hardest
period of time in my youth. I was not accepted because I had
He had been in Japan for two years when his
father was given a job offer in Singapore. “I was anxious to
leave the country (Japan) and when father confirmed Singapore I
He stayed in Singapore with his parents for
the next eight years, and when tertiary education was looming,
his mother wanted him to go and study back in Japan. This was
not what Junji wanted and he managed to convince his parents of
this, even though his mother wanted him to attend school in
Japan. He went to America for his final schooling and university
education, where he gained his bachelor’s degree in
International Relations and Education.
Like many graduates, employment in his chosen
field was not instantly available and he went to work for a
construction equipment company in Wisconsin. “I wanted a job,
and I wanted to work in America. I didn’t want to go back to
Japan, even though my parents had returned there.” This
‘interim’ employment was to last for the next three years,
but eventually he had to go back to the land of his birth.
Fortunately, the construction equipment company had a branch in
Japan and he transferred to be with them there.
However, after one year a position came up in
the educational field and he took a job as an education advisor
in Japan, where he stayed for the next three years. Following
this, he joined the Princeton Review group’s Japan office in
Tokyo, where he spent the next ten years.
Even with Junji back in Japan, the family was
not united, as his parents moved back to Thailand when his
father retired from work. Bangkok had become like a second home
for him and they settled in Thailand.
His mother unfortunately passed away in
Bangkok, but even then, his father did not want to return to
Japan. By this stage Junji was married and had a young son. “I
felt like I wanted to come back to Thailand (too) and did not
feel that Japan was the place to raise our son. I wanted my boy
to learn the virtue and niceness of Thai people.”
Bangkok was too large a city for them and he
had previously experienced Chiang Mai on a visit to see his
parents. Another factor that influenced his decision to migrate
to Chiang Mai was the serendipitous meeting with an old
childhood friend at his mother’s funeral. This was a boy he
had played with in Bangkok during those years before he had
returned to Japan when he was eleven. His old chum lived in
Chiang Mai and extolled the virtues of living here and Junji and
his wife made the decision to relocate. Fortunately, the
Princeton Review was also here and the decision was easy.
I asked him if his Thai had returned, after
all these years, but he looked disappointed to report that,
“It is coming back, but it is only slowly.” It was for me
heartening that even other Asian people have problems with my
personal nemesis, the Thai language!
I asked Junji if his boyhood bad experiences
in Japan had coloured his attitude to his country of birth, but
he said that he was still Japanese and that Japanese culture had
changed very much from the time when he was a young boy.
“It’s a different era,” he said.
Junji comes across as very fit, almost
athletic in build, so it was no surprise that he listed playing
tennis as his first hobby, but after that physical pursuit came
books, “I read anything,” and movies, where he does movie
reviews for some Japanese internet home pages. In fact, he
enjoys movies so much that one day he would like to be a movie
scriptwriter, a pursuit that he has added to his other long-term
goal, which is to start some kind of teaching institution.
For young Japanese about to embark on their
lifetime’s career, his advice was very definite. “Get out of
Japan and go anywhere. You need to be exposed to different
cultures. You need a goal.”
Junji Taniguchi has certainly followed that advice, and even
though he says that Japanese culture has changed, he obviously
still feels that exposure to different cultures will produce a
“rounder” Japanese character. I would agree with Junji, but
extend that to young people from all cultures.