by Hoai Nam
DA NANG — Hirukawa Yuki decided to give up the fast-paced life in Tokyo to open a souvenir shop in laid-back Hoi An 13 months ago. She says she hasn't regretted the decision for a moment.
|Laid-back: Hirukawa Yuki (left) offers customers Japanese craft items at her shop in Hoi An. — VNS Photo Cong Thanh
And she is not alone – she joined a community of at least 20 Japanese expats in the ancient coastal town, which is recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Yuki, who graduated from Tokyo-based Wako University in 2006, said she was disillusioned with the frenetic pace of life, and her job as an advertising executive in the Japanese capital.
She said she jumped at the chance of coming to Hoi An, which was an important Vietnamese trading centre in the 16th and 17th centuries, and where Chinese, Japanese, Dutch and Indians have settled.
"It's a major change in my life. Hoi An was recommended to me by a friend when I said I was too busy and stressed in Tokyo," Yuki said.
"I began doing business in Hoi An just five months ago. I love the quiet, peaceful life in the ancient town. The people are so friendly. They warmly welcomed me with a smile."
Her 20sq.m shop, Cool Japan in Hoi An, on Hoang Van Thu street, near the Hoai River, sells traditional Japanese arts and crafts imported from her home country.
"I really want to create a little bit of Japan here in the city. But it's not about profit. I love the fresh air, the weekly street festivals and lantern ceremonies on the Hoai river every full moon," the 29-years-old said.
She said she particularly enjoyed Tet (Lunar New Year holidays) this year, when thousands of tourists descended on the town.
"Many tourists came to Hoi An during Tet. Most of them were Chinese and South Koreans. My shop earned a lot during the holidays," she said.
However, there have been some clouds in the sky. Last November, torrential rain flooded the town.
"The shop's first floor was flooded. My shop assistant and I had to move everything from the shop to the second floor. We couldn't move them back again for three days. It was the first time in my life that I had to take a coracle to a market.
"Water on the Hoai River rose three metres. The centre of the city was under water and it took days to clean the shop and restore it to its pre-flood days," she said.
Yuki, who is single, lives above the shop. Unlike back at home, she says she rarely cooks for herself because she loves to eat Vietnamese food – particularly locally made noodles with beef and chicken with rice.
She says she also loves Vietnamese green tea and the local fruits. She is also a fan of the local coffee, which she drinks in a cafe next to the river-bank, 100m away.
Yuki says she never feels homesick because she often joins her fellow-countrymen and women for lunch or dinner. Hoi An is also home to the only covered Japanese bridge in Viet Nam, and it was once believed by the Japanese that the heart of all of Asia (the dragon) lay beneath the earth of the ancient town.
Most Japanese people living in the town wear casual clothes, but when the city celebrates Japanese Day in August, they dress in kimonos.
"I love to live in the old quarter. Only pedestrians and bicycles are allowed and there is almost no noise. I ride a bicycle in Hoi An – never a motorbike. Traffic in the town is quite good, nothing like Ha Noi and HCM City. And nothing like Tokyo." — VNS