MOSCOW: ‘’People are always smiling, the restaurants serve free water and there are toilets in the underground,’’ said Irina, 19, about some of the things that surprised her on her recent trip to South Korea to study the language. Irina, an Asian studies student, was going to take Japanese, but switched a month before classes started after attending a Korean cultural event in Moscow. She said her interest in Asian culture initially came from Japanese animation.
MAKHACHKALA, DAGESTAN: Sakura, 22, was probably destined to dance. As a baby, she once woke up to music on a TV commercial, shaked her body, and went right back to sleep when it ended. She may have inherited the love of dancing from her mom, who performed ethnic Dagestani and Indian dances. Sakura said she practices experimental dance when alone at home and will be moving to St Pete to develop further her skills. While many girls her age in Dagestan are contemplating marriage, Sakura is dreaming of visiting Japan .... Marriage is not in her near-term plans. She says she still feels like she is 16.
As I have mentioned before, Starbucks in Moscow attracts an interesting crowd. These two young women were enjoying a salad and coffee as they played with their laptop, when I interrupted them. They said they were from Japan and had come to Moscow to study ballet. Russia is well known for its excellence in ballet, so not a surprise they would choose to study here. They said they were finishing their third and last year in Moscow and would like to dance in Europe.
One thing I have learned from my Russian street portraits is that Japanese culture is more popular among Russian youth (girls in particular) than I thought. Natalya, who was sitting in a Moscow cafe with a friend at a table next to me, said her most memorable event of 2014 was attending a concert by One Ok Rock, her favorite Japanee band. "Their music is an escape from everything bad that has happened." Natalya, who works in HR, has been a One Ok Rock fan for 6 years and was planning to go see them in Japan as she never imagined they would perform in Russia...Natalya said One Ok Rock's visit was especially memorable because she got the chance to give them a picture she drew for them.
Valeria, 17, said she is a big fan of Japanese culture and wanted to study the language at university. As it wasn't offered at university, she signed up for Chinese, the closest thing in her view. She said every Friday fans of animation in Minsk meet, which is where she met her boyfriend. She said 'finding her soul mate' was the most important event in her life in 2014.