"The best thing about kimono is the patterns on themthey are fantastic. Only the Japanese could have developed such artistic techniques. I like the bold, bright colors best."
Ketut Rundeg works at a kimono fabric and clothing store in Kuroishi, Aomori Prefecture, in northern Honshu. At 38, he's still young, but people depend on him and he's destined to become the storeowner. The store, called Mikami Gofuku-ten, sells mainly kimono, but it also handles uniforms for school students and company employees. At work, Rundeg is on the go all the time, serving customers, selling products and making deliveries.
He was born in Nusadua on the island of Bali in Indonesia. Bali is a popular tourist destination, and after graduating from high school, he got a job at a local resort hotel, giving instructions in marine sports to tourists from other countries. That's where he met Yuko. She had come to Bali from Japan to work, and they got married in 1988. Rundeg was 24. They moved to Japan to live with Yuko's parents, with the plan that he would eventually inherit the family store.
"Our first plan was to live in Bali, but the lifestyle there is so different from that in Japan, and I thought she'd have a hard time adapting. So it seemed natural for both of us to go to Japan, and for me to adapt to life there. Looking back, I realize how optimistic I was."
The first challenge waiting for him was the snow, which northern Honshu gets every winter. He had never seen snow before and found it beautiful, but it made him skid and fall over while making deliveries on his motorcycle. This happened so often that he realized he couldn't do the job properly like that. The solution was obviously to take the exam for a car driver's license, but how was he to pass a test with all those kanji ideograms?
"Even then, I really enjoyed singing Japanese enka ballads, karaoke-style. The lyrics are written in Japanese on the video screen, and I had to put my brain into overdrive, figuring out the words while singing. That's how I learned kanji."
Another difficult challenge was serving customers. When it comes to shopping, attitudes in Japan are quite different from those in Indonesia, and Rundeg found this perplexing.
"When someone enters a store in Indonesia, they are sure to buy something. Otherwise, we think, why would they want to go in? But in Japan many people go in, just ask the price of something, and then walk out without buying anything. That was a shock, and I didn't know how to handle it."
He got depressed, not being able to sell anything, but Yuko's parents were a big support during that period. In the store, he would speak with them haltingly in Tsugaru-ben, the local Japanese dialect. Through this, he learned how to break the ice when talking with customers and suggesting one kimono over another. The customers would laugh at his jokes and open their hearts to him. A smile and friendly chat are the prelude to a sale, and Rundeg, always happy to give someone else enjoyment, caught on quickly and soon became an excellent speaker of the dialect. He even placed first in the 1997 Tsugaru dialect speaking contest for foreigners.
Rundeg is well known in his community. He's a disk jockey on a regularly scheduled program broadcast by the local FM radio station. He's also an executive member of his daughters' elementary school PTA.
Rundeg lives with his wife Yuko, their two daughters, and Yuko's parents and grandmother. Their home is on the 3rd floor of the store building. He often finds time to take all of them by car to a nearby hot spring. "My wife's parents and grandmother help me a lot, and I want to show them some of my appreciation in return. I find it fun living in Japan, thanks to the entire family."
Ketut Rundeg talks with a smile on his face. When family bonds exist, cultural differences fade away.
Ketut also runs a small prep school offering different courses: conversation in foreign languages, after-school review sessions for elementary and junior high students, and classes to prepare children for their exams.
Ketut Rundeg and his wife, Yuko. The store also has cosmetics which they consider to be among the best, T-shirts from Indonesia, and other goods.