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Ghanaians Abroad: Kobby in Japan

Updated: Jul 26, 2020

Accra-born Kobby came to Kobe, Japan from the Bank of Ghana to undertake a research fellowship with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Ogata Research Institute. He tells us about the skills he’s acquiring and why Ghana could learn a thing or two from Japan about handling earthquakes.

What brought you to Japan?

I came to Japan in 2018 from the Bank of Ghana as a JICA research fellow. The JICA Japanese Development Service (JDS) fellowship in Africa is only open to Ghanaian public and civil servants. You engage in research work that you could take back to your institution for proper governance or innovation. I came from the Central Bank and my research has been in mobile money and financial inclusion. This means I get to deepen my understanding of the current electronic money and digital payment ecosystem, to strengthen the Bank’s systems when I return.

Kobby as Hideyoshi-sama - the Lord of the Osaka
Kobby © as Hideyoshi-sama - the Lord of the Osaka

You also engage in cross-cultural and language development activities with the Japanese community. I was deeply involved with high school students and retirees as an ambassador. I like the intercultural and international settings and the opportunity to learn new things.

My research work will lead to a second Master’s degree in Economics.

In Japan, the customer is not just king, the customer is God. Hence, the appellation for a customer is ‘Sama’, which translates as ‘Lord’.

What skills from Japan have you learnt that you think would be useful in Ghana?

Excellent customer service skills. In Japan, the customer is not just king, the customer is God. Hence, the appellation for a customer is ‘Sama’, which translates as ‘Lord’.

Emergency preparedness and management is also one key skill to take to Ghana given the recent earth tremors and realising peoples first reaction was just to run outside. The frequency of earthquakes in Japan tops any country in the world but they’ve put in place systems and basic public education to reduce casualties if it happens.

Japanese woman in traditional garb © Pexels
Japanese woman in traditional garb © Pexels

What is the city you live in like?

Kobe is an international city and very receptive of foreigners. The locals have engaged with people from other countries since the port was opened to foreign commerce in 1858. This makes Kobe one of the warmest Japanese cities.

Tell us something about the culture that you love and something that you are not so passionate about.

I like the way they are very polite and courteous. But their shy nature on the other hand could be frustrating sometimes and also the fact that there are very few English speakers.

Which tourist sites would you recommend for a first-timer to Japan?

Oji Zoo, Arima Onsen (hot spring), Rokko Mountain, Kobe Port, Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara.

Kobby at the Itsukushima Shinto shrine in Kobe
Kobby © at the Itsukushima Shinto shrine in Kobe

Tell us about your most memorable experience so far in Japan.

It’s difficult to point to one thing in particular because Japan is really a magical place. But witnessing the transition from the country's era Heisei to Reiwa on 1 April 2020, where Emperor Emeritus Akihito abdicated the chrysanthemum throne for his son Emperor Naruhito, is a surreal once in a lifetime experience. Reiwa signifies signifying order and harmony.

Have you travelled much around Asia?

I had been to Singapore a year before moving to Japan. I have since visited South Korea and the Philippines as well.

Is there an active Ghanaian community there/ are there a lot of Black people there?

There is a small active Ghanaian community to keep our sense of home intact. I also have some good friends from Nigeria, Uganda and other parts of Africa as well as some Jamaicans and African-American friends.

Japanese food - sushi
Japanese food - sushi © Pexels

How fluent are you in Japanese?

I won’t say fluent, but I’m able to have simple conversations especially in buying food.

How have you coped during lockdown?

It’s been quite a challenging experience dealing with life under lockdown and working from home. My family was supposed to visit just when the pandemic was declared. I deal with the anxiety by going for walks, exploring the neighbourhood, and interacting more often with family and friends.

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