By Iva Ralica
In our feature ‘Foreigners who made Croatia home’ – we meet people who have decided to move and make a new life in Croatia.
We find out why they came and stayed, what they enjoy about their ‘new’ home, how they getting on with the language, and what tips they have for those contemplating a move.
Today we meet 38-year-old Shinichi Takahashi, who moved to Zagreb from the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan.
How long have you been in Zagreb?
I have been living and working in Zagreb since September 2008.
What brought you to Croatia?
Since I finished Chiropractic education, I didn’t want to stay in the USA, and I was looking for a job in a country that has a rich history. I got some good offers from Germany, the Netherlands and Croatia. Somehow I had a positive image about Croatia, where I had never been before, maybe because of Mirko Cro Cop. I had also met a Croatian Judo friend through the Internet and he helped me in visiting Croatia.
Once I came, I was so surprised how people here are warm and kind. I really liked it here. It was a very good feeling about the people, so I also wanted to introduce a real Chiropractic skill and Judo spirit to Croatia.
What was the most difficult thing about the shift?
There weren’t actually many things that I found difficult in Croatia. But lets say, being legally here was not as easy as people would think, which means constantly renewing a working visa was very tough. I actually knew some foreigners who were rejected a visa and were staying illegally. Luckily I met a good lawyer and he helped me a lot. Of course we are still friends (often fight but OK) and he was my best man at my wedding.
What is the main difference between Croatia and Japan?
People are different. To be honest, Slavic people are physically the best looking, both men and women. This is totally unbeatable. Guys are tall, big and with good looking faces, women are totally sexy, like models.And their mentality is open, wild, warm and aggressive which is perfect to me. When I see Japanese tourists in Zagreb they look so ‘strange’ to me. Sometimes I forget I used to be one of them.
How do you make your living here?
I left Japan and my parents when I was 18 years old and I went to the USA to study Chiropractic. It was very hard and I almost gave up many times. But I managed to graduate Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport Iowa which is the best and oldest Chiropractic school in the world. Most of my Japanese Palmer friends chose to stay in the USA as real doctors or went back to Japan for a ‘better life’.
However, it was not my choice. I was still 27 years old then, so it was quite normal that I wanted to expand my views and experience more of the different culture and people. So I came to work as a Chiropractor. And luckily due to a lot of support from my friends and patients, I opened my own office in the center of Zagreb, in Martićeva. Now my schedule is totally full everyday and I am the best Chiropractor in Croatia.
3 favourite things about Zagreb?
Zagreb is the first foreign town I visited after the USA, so I remember very well.
1. I like people as I’ve mentioned before. Probably most of the tourists or foreigners don’t mention that much, they are always saying how Croatian sea and nature is beautiful, but it’s not my main favorite thing. If you want to see a beautiful sea, you can go to Spain or Greece too. I like Croatian people. They are the most ‘human’-like for me, and have attractive appearance.
2. I like the climate and weather in Zagreb. Here is not as sunny as in Split or Dubrovnik, but for me it is quite comfortable. No earthquakes, no tsunami… this is something we should actually appreciate more.
3. I like the water in Zagreb. Upper part town of Zagreb’s tap water is from Sljeme natural water. It still contains a few percent of chlorine for sanitation, but overall the quality of the water is still very high. You can appreciate it much more once you’ve lived in some other country, where tap water isn’t drinkable, which is actually most of the countries in the world.
3 things you would like to change about Zagreb?
1. Kids graffiti makes Zagreb dirty, obviously it is connected with football hooligans, but I am sure it is almost impossible to prohibit football in this country. So the only possible way to stop graffiti is, once the police, security camera or any witness can catch the guy who was drawing it, to let him and his family erase the whole building covered in graffiti, along with 20.000 kn punishment. The same punishment should be applied to people who let their dog poop on the sidewalks and don’t clean after it.
2. There are only a few private kindergarten that can accept kids who don’t take vaccination. I understand this is not the ‘Western Europe’, but the way mandatory vaccination is forced in Zagreb (and whole Croatia) is illegal. Of course media is not so happy to report about this topic.
3. Probably we don’t need so many fountains which maintenance fee costs way too much. Maybe it is not a bad idea to notice who gets the most benefit from it.
Favourite Croatian food?
Believe it or not, my wife and her father are hunters. My father-in-law often brings and cooks fresh meat and very good soup for me. I like everything, but I would say that I like ‘krvavica’ the best. But only the good, fresh one!
Croatian ‘normal’ tap water, of course. The water in Japan and the USA was so stinky. Here is like heaven. Also I like Tomislav pivo as the best beer.
Favourite place to eat?
I should say some fancy restaurant name here, but home is the best place to eat and relax. I can recommend one of the best quality and reasonable price restaurant ‘Kod Šime’ near Kvatrić. It’s always crowded!
If there is a kids playground, that would be my 1st choice immediately. But I usually go to Torte i To, Kim’s coffee, Velvet, and Vanilla in Martićeva, cafe bar next door to my clinic.
Favorite place to chill out?
I would say KIF. It is the Faculty of Kinesiology, I used to go there twice per week for Judo training. Sometimes I would train Judo with Croatian National Team. And there is where I broke my ligament of the left knee. It is really ‘chill out’ place.
Favorite place outside of Zagreb to visit in Croatia?
Well this is a tough question, actually everywhere in Croatia is so much fun. I have a lot of Judo friends in Pula, Split and Dubrovnik. Also it was so cool to visit one old stone house that my wife’s grandfather had built in Ričice in Imotski. I also like Slavonija, especially food. War memory is also important for me to remember.
How well do you speak the language?
I think I can listen and speak OK. When I talk to my patients, I don’t need any translation at all, and conversation are always very smooth and nice. Since I had to work immediately after I came to Croatia, to earn some money to live alone, I did not have time to go to language school to learn the language from professionals. So my Croatian grammar is still broken, and I swear more than ordinary people here.
The biggest cultural difference between Croatia and Japan?
Actually not an easy question for me, but one interesting point is that Japan lost the war in 1945 from the USA, and after that the USA illegally occupied Japan for 7 years and completely changed the education. It is good to know current Japanese constitution is 100% made by the USA.
I was thinking about the main reason why Japan got so much spoiled and why Japanese citizens lost self-confidence as being Japanese, and I believe it was because of the war (lost and occupied). Japan tried to forget that war. On the other hand, Croatia won the war in 1991-1995, however media and politicians keep repeating ‘Don’t forget the war’. Obviously propaganda of both countries has some kind of benefit for a few people.
This culture, or historical difference, the one that lost as opposed to the one who won the war, is quite interesting. It is difficult to express everything here by letter… maybe some other day.
What makes you ‘homesick’?
I was crazy homesick when I was living in the USA as a Chiropractic student. Everyday I was fighting against school and exam pressure. But since I chose to live as an independent person, I’m not homesick at all. People are wonderful, the food is excellent. I have a beautiful Croatian wife and two ultra healthy daughters.
Job is perfect, more than ever… No earthquakes… what could make me homesick? Nothing. I have the highest respect for Croatia. I even feel homesick for Croatia once I leave to visit Japan.
Do you see yourself staying here?
Yes, of course. I don’t have any thoughts of going back to Japan, or going to any other country. Living in Croatia is not as easy as how tourists think when they look at Croatian beautiful coast in summer, but there are many ways to make life stable and happier with self-confidence.
Advice for someone coming and staying in Croatia?
Today in the 21st century, borders are getting lower comparing to 50 years ago and many people are exchanging across the world. At the same time we as foreigners must think about the fact of friction against Muslim immigrants in Europe. Once you come to Croatia, you must respect Croatian culture and language. Some foreigners are only hanging out with other foreigners and make their own community.
I think people here don’t like that. Try to spend time with Croatian people and speak Croatian. Maybe this is the reason why I don’t have Japanese friends here. I know them, but just because of the same country of origin. That doesn’t make me want to befriend them in Zagreb.