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  • Interviews and Storytelling: Akiko Karoda

    Can you tell me your name, birthdate and place and present address?

    Akiko Karoda, I’m Japanese. I was born in Osaka, 1956, September. I live in Hebden Bridge.

    When and how did you come to live in Hebden Bridge?

    I came to live in Hebden Bridge in 1990 because of my partner, he’s an Englishman. Earlier he lived in Japan for a while, but he decided to come back to the UK and he had a house in Hebden Bridge, so we came together. I came with him.

    So you met in Japan?

    Well, for the first time I met him in this area, but our relationship started after he came to Japan.

    You had a relationship in Japan, what made you both decide to come back then?

    His father’s illness and also, he felt, probably thought, he’d had enough of life in Japan. So, wanted to come back.

    Were you alright with that?

    Yes, I wanted to try a new life.

    How does Osaka compare with Hebden Bridge?

    A very big difference because Osaka is a very huge city. I was born there and brought up there and the last three years before we came to Hebden Bridge I lived in Kysaki, which is also, a very big city. So that was a very big difference for me. Other than that, the culture within Japan and England, in the cities and towns is different.

    Do you actually like living in the country?

    I like the countryside, but at that time my feeling was as a tourist. But, I like the beauty of the countryside. I had no idea what life would be like in the countryside.

    So you’ve been here for thirteen years now. Has that view changed, that you’re a tourist?

    I feel pretty much I am a resident now. Hebden Bridge is quite a cosmopolitan sort of place really. There’s a lot of local born and bred and a lot of offcomers from all parts of the world, but particularly other parts of the UK.

    How do you find you mix with those kinds of people?

    I don’t know what to say.

    Have you made a lot of friends in Hebden Bridge?

    Yes, but most of the friends I’ve made here have been through my husband and they are mostly English people.

    Are they from Hebden Bridge?

    Normally, they are from outside, mostly from the south.

    Could you tell me a bit about your youth or early days before you came to Hebden Bridge?

    I went to school in a big city and worked as a English teacher in language schools in big cities, so I always commuted in a crowded train and my social life always related to shopping streets, or meeting people in cafes, or on high streets or something like that.

    So you use to work as a language teacher. Do you still do that sort of work?

    I’m not teaching anymore, but I do interpreting and translation.

    What kind of companies do you work for?

    What I often do is work for manufacturing factories and helping the Japanese consultant who’s giving advice to those factories.

    Are they Japanese firms or English or both?

    Mostly British firms.

    Are they local to Hebden Bridge or Yorkshire?

    No, I never work locally and seldom in Yorkshire. I mostly go to Birmingham or the Newcastle area.

    How do you get that work? Is it through an agency?

    Yes, through an agency.

    I know that you’re also an artist and that you work with glass. Can you tell me a bit about that side of your life?

    I work with glass when I’ve free time. The technique is called warm glass and I use an electric kiln. The process is very similar to pottery making. So, I put the glass pieces into the oven and fuse them or put them to fit the shape of a mold. I make dishes or decorative pieces.

    Is Hebden Bridge a good environment for doing that type of work? Do you get inspiration fron the landscape or the fact that there are a lot of other artists around?

    Yes, I think so. The landscape, lots of plants and trees and wild life gives me a lot of inspiration.

    What other kinds of ideas do you try to put into your work?

    My approach to making glass is it normally starts with the shaoes of the glass pieces I want to use, rather than start a design of flowers or such. Then suddenly, I find some pattern. I play with the glass pieces to find something related to natural forms. And this starts to develop the designs and forms.

    Do you try to exhibit your work?

    Yes. At the moment, I don’t have an outlet in Hebden Bridge, but I’m hoping to get somewhere. My outlet is in Sheffield.

    Since you’ve lived in Hebden Bridge have you noticed that it’s changed in anyway?

    Yes, I think so. First, the traffic, the cars on the road have increased and there are more new shops, particularly cafes.

    Do you think that’s good or bad for the town?

    I’m not sure if it’s good for the local economy, but for me it’s creating new attractive items that’re available.

    So you like the fact that’s it’s busier?

    Yes.

    Do you think that’s because you come from a city background?

    Maybe. Yes, to be honest, local shops that have lasted a long time, for me as a newcomer, particularly as a stranger from a foreign country, I need to be a bit brave to go into that kind of established shop or place. When new shops open, I somehow feel it’s a bir easier to go try them.

    Do you do your shopping anywhere else other that Hebden?

    You mean everyday grocery shopping?

    Any kind, whatever?

    Well, for everyday grocery shopping I tend to go to Halifax, because of the big supermarkets there. For other things, particularly gifts or souvenirs to take with me to Japan, I tend to buy things in Hrbden Bridge.

    How often do you go back to Japan?

    Every two years.

    How long do you go for?

    From three weeks to four weeks.

    Who do you see when you go there?

    My family.

    Do you miss them?

    Well, most of the time no, but now my mum lives alone, so I feel I ought to see her.

    Do you have brothers and sisters?

    Yes, I have two brothers.

    Do they still live in Japan?

    Yes, in Osaka.

    Do you have friends that you see?

    Yes.

    Have any of them been to Hebden Bridge?

    Yes, for the last ten to twelve years, almost every summer we’ve had Japanese visitors.

    What do they think of Hebden Bridge?

    Very different. First, they say it’s a very beautiful place and very different from Osaka. They really enjoy their stay, but they also say they’re not sure they would be able to live here.

    Why?

    Well, because it’s countryside and they don’t know if they’d be able to get a job as a Japanese person.

    Do you think it’s difficult for Japanese people to get jobs in Britain?

    Well, if you are in cities like London, it’s a lot easier because there’s a Japanese community and lots of Japanese visitors. But in the countryside, their choices are very limited. Either you go for the low skill work, like cleaning or catering, or you have to specialise with the Japanese language like teaching or translation. To explore other areas you need some special training.

    That’s curious, because my cousin has been teaching in Japan, in Tokyo, well in Kyoto firstly, then he went to Tokyo and has married a Japanese girl. They’ve been together for two or three years now. They came back to England, to Lancashire, and looked for work and it’s very much what you just said. She found it very difficult to find work, really. So, they’ve actually gone back to Japan now. Her sister works in London in a bank and she got work very easily when she came over, because it’s a big city and there’s more available.

    I have a friend living in London and she comes to Hebden Bridge every summer, well for the last four years. We both came to settle in the UK at the same time. Our experiences are totally different. She’s from Tokyo, but she seems to continue her old lifestyle in London and she has a very busy life working for a Japanese restaurant and teaching some art to Japanese children. She has many friends from various nationalities. Every time she comes here she feels it’s England by seeing and looking at a lot of English people. In London she seldom sees English people.

    Do you think you’d like to try that? Go to a big city just to try it out?

    I wished we could have lived in London or another big city in the first few years. It would have been easier for me to find a job and to settle down. But now I’ve adjusted to being here. I find the pace of life a lot easier for me. I like and enjoy it here now.

    So, do you feel you’re part of the community now?

    Not sure, yet. Most of my social life is through John. So, I’ve got to know a lot of people here, but not to know them directly, but through my husband.

    So, you haven’t got any women friends of your own that are separate from that?

    Nothing like that.

    When you came to Britain did you bring with you any customs or traditions that you still carry on doing here?

    Yeah, one of the things we still do in the house is the shoe custom. On the ground floor we still wear shoes, but upstairs we take off our shoes.

    Anything else, like the kind of food you eat?

    Yeah, we sometimes cook Japanese. Like what, like tempura, but not much.

    Why is that?

    I’m not particularly bothered about Japanese food, partly it’s because it’s hard to find the ingredients.

    What about other types of customs, perhaps seasonal customs?

    I can’t think of any at the moment.

    Are there any British customs you’ve taken to, like Christmas is very big in Britain even if many British people think it’s a total waste of time? What’s your take on British customs and holidays?

    Well, one thing I have to say is because we have no family around, John’s parents died and he has no brothers or sisters, well, he has a brother, but he lives in Japan. So we don’t have any family gathering here, so that’s why we don’t do much traditional stuff.

    Do you miss that?

    You mean family gathering?

    Yes.

    Well, yes and no. Sometimes I feel a bit lonely, because we don’t have any family or relations, but at the same time we don’t have the pressures.

    Do you think you’ll stay in Hebden Bridge? Can you see yourself moving somewhere else?

    Probably, but I don’t know yet.

    So, it’s open.

    Yes, it’s open.

    If you did leave where would you go? Would you go back to Japan or to a different part of the world or to a different part of Britain?

    Probably back to Japan.

    Back to where you were born?

    Yes.

    To go back to one of the things you said earlier, when you came here with John because his father was ill and you said I just thought I’d like to see it, two questions really, what were tour first impressions and now thirteen years later, have any of those impressions changed?

    What, my impressions of here?

    Yes, about the Hebden Bridge area.

    Well, I don’t know if it’s related to the change in Hebden Bridge or not, or changes in me or my lifestyle. When I first came here I didn’t know how to get to know people or how I could have a sociak life. Earlier, in Japan I had friends from work or school days. I always belonged to some organisation through schools or the workplace, but here, I’m self employed and don’t belong to any such groups. So, I had no idea how to make friends locally or in the neighbourhood. But now, I’ve got to know many people locally, and the style we have, to have a good time, is not to go to pubs or restaurants, but to have people just to visit. To go to theirs to have a cup of tea or to have dinner together. That type of social life I did not have in Japan, because in cities we seldom visited each other. That involves a lot of travelling, so it’s a lot easier to meet up in the centre in restaurants or bars. So, that’s very different.

    That’s something I was going to ask you about. British culture in general, very often the social life is, much of it, is very much centred around going to a pub. Do you get involved in going to pubs in this area much?

    Not very much.

    Is that because you don’t drink or don’t like the atmosphere?

    Well, I like drinking, but in the pub I still find it hard work trying to entertain people with my conversational skills. So, I don’t know what to say.

    I only say because it’s a good way to meet people. It’s more difficult for women I must admit, particularly if she goes on her own. There are a lot of women who just won’t do it.

    Maybe related to that point, I find British culture pretty much is a couples’ culture, whether it’s heterosexual or homosexual. You always need to be in a couple. If you’re with a partner, it’s a lot easier to have an active social life, but in Japan it’s not against you.

    Do you find the people in Hebden Bridge friendly people?

    Yes, I think so.

    Can you compare it to other parts in England? You said earlier, you’ve been to Birmingham, Newcastle and London. How do you find the people in those places?

    A bit difficult to compare., because when I go to other places we’re there to work together. So, they’re friendly too, so I can’t see a particular difference. But as a whole atmosphere, the place Hebden Bridge is more relaxed, it’s quite a friendly atmosphere.

    Well, I haven’t got that much more to ask, maybe just a little bit about your background, like your parents. What jobs did your parents do?

    My father was an engineer, he worked for a shop in a big electrical appliance company. And my mother was a housewife.

    Did you have a close family? You have two bothers you said, did you have a close family environment or were you left to get on with it?

    In childhood, I was very close with my two brothers. We often played together and even when we were teenagers we often went out together to do shopping or to cinemas. But as a family, we didn’t have family holidays together, because my father was always busy, even at weekends he had some work to do. Oh yeah, holidays, that is quite, how can I say it? I’m amazed how British people focus on the holiday. Holidays seem to be an essential part of their life. I mean having fun or going somewhere at the weekend, Japabese people do that, but it’s not such an important part of life, particularly families. I don’t know why.

    I was just going to ask, why is that? Are they more work oriented or do they enjoy life day to day rather than saving it up for a special time?

    Maybe it’s because adults are very busy in Japan. Fathers are very busy with their work and at the weekends just want to rest. Kids are also very busy with their school work. And even in the summer holiday they have a lot of homework to do or are busy with other things, occupied with clubs, sports or musical lessons and such. So, that leaves very little time for the family to do things together.

    Have your family been here?

    My father came here before he died, that was interesting. He came with his granddaughter, my niece when she was nine. My mother came two years after my father died. She came with her sister, my aunt.

    Why was it interesting when your father and niece came?

    For me, it was very hard to look after an older man and a little girl at the same time. Also, that was a very interesting experience for me, because we don’t have kids, but when my niece was here I took her out and I saw a very different response from the people outside.

    I must admit, my son is fifteen now. I raised him and took him to school and collected him. I took him swimming when he was three and shopping and played football with him and the amount of people I met and the response I got being with a child was very different that being a man on your own. It was very interesting. Did you decide not to have children?

    We decided not to have children. I had no particular ideas when it comes to children, but John was very clear from the start that he didn’t want children.

    Do you know anything about the history of Hebden Bridge and how it has changed?

    Yes, I know Hebden Bridge was once a very prosperous mill town. The canal, that is something I had never seen in Japan. I’ve heard the canal was a very important transport system in those days. Since I came here, well, being here has made me interested in textiles because of the history around here. I took a textile course. That is one thing that’s changing here, that worked on me and has made me explore outside.

    Have you ever experienced any problems with the local people at all?

    Very occasionally, with some young kids.They’ve seen my oriental face and thought, that’s Chinese. So, when they’ve passed me they made some strange noises that sounded Chinese. But it’s not particularly bothered me. Apart from that, no, nothing. I’ve no problems. Seeing places vandalised, and like graffiti, that’s made me feel sad.

    What kind of places?

    Burned timetables in stations and graffiti on benches, that kind of thing.

    So that kind of behaviour, you find out of order?

    Yes.

    I think most people would, really. Thank you for talking to me.

    Okay.

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About Us

Wild Rose Heritage and Arts is a community group which takes it's name from the area in which we are located - the valley ("den") of the wild rose ("Heb") -  Hebden Bridge which is in Calderdale, West Yorkshire.

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Pennine Heritage Ltd.
The Birchcliffe Centre
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HX7 8DG

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