Adversity to Victory

“I came to Japan from Russia when I married my Japanese husband 17 years ago. I was just 21 then. Now we have two kids, but we’re divorced. Back then, I had no chance to be employed in a good company because I lived very far from the city. The only work available was being a cashier or a sales clerk, which I did while raising the children and studying Japanese. But I felt like I could be doing more so I attended university through the British Council in Tokyo and earned a degree with honors. After that, I got hired by a trading company. They wanted some Russian staff since they were selling cars and equipment to Russia. They paid me a low wage because I was a housewife with kids and dependent on my husband to pay medical insurance and pension. They said I didn’t need a full-time job and career. I was cleaning toilets, making tea for men, and no one asked for my opinion during meetings, even though I spoke three languages and negotiated with the clients. I was underpaid just because I’m a woman with kids and a foreigner, too. So one day, I decided to leave after the president and vice president of a Russian trading company came to visit and told me I could be working for myself, instead. When I left, I didn’t cause any problems for my company, no scandal, no conflicts. I just packed my bags and started my own consultancy, which I have been doing for 11 years now.

Viktoriya Shirota is the director of NPO Mishel Club)

Domestic violence

“Four years ago, when I decided to divorce my husband, he abducted my children. One minute I was in the bathroom, the next they were all gone. And it’s legal in Japan. So I called the police but they told me I was crazy and that I should go to a mental hospital. They must have thought I was crying wolf since I reported my kids missing before when my husband took them out for shopping and didn’t come back on time. I called his mobile many times but couldn’t reach him. But then after the police asked for their description and went looking for them, my husband finally returned home with the kids. But this time, it was real. He really took them away from me. So what I did was hire a lawyer and take my case to court with the local government. After seven months, I could finally see my kids and the police were cooperating.

“That experience made me realize I could help others in need. So many women, especially those dealing with domestic violence, feel trapped in their marriage because they have nowhere to go. That’s why my friends and I created an NPO to provide educational support for children from socially disadvantaged families—households with single moms, after the father disappeared. These children have no access to proper education. They cannot graduate from university and would be trapped into poverty. Some of them even experience depression and attempted suicide. Also, with domestic abuse, it’s not always just someone beating you up. There’s also financial and psychological abuse. So I’m helping women escape from such toxic environments, too.”

(Viktoriya was teaching English to kids when she noticed her class turning into a shelter, a refuge, for kids who have troubles at home and at school. Today, through her NPO’s recreation and special activities, they help children with special needs so they can learn how to communicate and adjust to society.)

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Finding diversity and inclusion. Breaking down barriers one post at a time. Stories and snapshots of foreigners making their way in Japan.

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