How this former student started her own company in Kyoto
Every year, many overseas students come to Japan and Kyoto to study, but not so many of those students go on to start their own companies. Study Kyoto spoke to one student who did. Ms.Chiem Minh Thu is from Vietnam, and began her studies in Kyoto in 2019. After improving her language skills and going on to study aesthetics and customer service at junior college, she decided to take on the challenge of starting up her own business right here in Kyoto: Oishi Aji Mart, a Vietnamese food shop.
So, just how did she manage it?
Coming to Japan, Studying in Kyoto
Q: What made you decide to study abroad in Japan?
A: “I’d visited once before with my parents–we went to Fukuoka. The quality of service in Japan, and the general environment being here made a big impression on me.”
Q: How did you decide on a school?
A: “I searched for a Japanese language school where I could study in my town in Vietnam, and while I was studying there I asked the teachers about study abroad. They suggested YIC Kyoto Japanese Academy, and I decided to take their advice and enroll there to study Japanese. The fact that it was in Kyoto was also a plus–once I started researching, I realized that Kyoto is a famous sightseeing destination, that it has many festivals and it’s famous for its beautiful fall leaves, and so on! My hometown isn’t a huge, bustling city like Ho Chi Min, so I liked the fact that Kyoto didn’t seem to be an enormous city, either. It has a lot of nature, and there’s a lot of traditional Japanese culture to be found here. It seemed like a great place to study.
“I studied at the language school for two years, and I had a great experience there with friends from many different countries. I studied with students from many different countries, but the teacher told us not to use our native languages in class, so as a result, we ended up practicing our Japanese with one another, and that helped me prepare for the junior college course. When I finished language school, I began my studies at Ikenobo Junior College in downtown Kyoto. The school is very centrally-located, and is especially well known for its Kyoto-style ikebana course offerings.”
Q: What did you study at Ikenobo Junior College?
A: “All of the students at Ikenobo study ikebana and tea ceremony as a part of their studies, but I was enrolled in the ‘total beauty’ course. At the time, I was thinking that I wanted to open a Japanese-style aesthetic spa in Vietnam, so I chose to study makeup artistry, aromatherapy, beauty, and nutrition. That changed a bit over the course of my studies, though. I studied beauty (“bi”) and harmony (“wa”): a kind of beauty inside and out, that incorporated external beauty studies, as well as nutrition and other topics that encourage beauty from within.
“I was the only foreigner in the Total Beauty course, but all of the teachers and my Japanese friends from the class were very kind and accommodating of me.”
Life in Kyoto, the cultural capital of Japan
Q: How many years have you lived in Japan?
A: “I’ve been here for four years. Next year will be my fifth. After studying and living in Kyoto for four years, the city had become like a second hometown to me, and as I studied at Ikenobo, I knew that I wanted to work here, too. But there was a lot I didn’t know about working here, and as a Vietnamese person away from home, I was a bit homesick for Vietnamese food, as I’m sure many other Vietnamese people are. That helped give me the idea to sell Vietnamese food products.”
Q: What do you like about living in Kyoto?
A: “I love the nature and how peaceful it is. I’m a big fan of the maple leaves, too. After four years living here and going out sightseeing in my free time, I think I’ve pretty much seen most of the city! Even now, I still like visiting places like Arashiyama, Nijo-jo Castle for the nighttime illuminations they have at night sometimes, and the maple leaf light-ups at To-ji Temple, which is within walking distance of my store.”