Every month on WOMENCANFLY.CO’s blog series, The Way, we introduce inspirational women who live abroad.
This time, we meet Sydney-sider, Shiho Omoto who teaches English and Japanese and practices as a Beauty Energy Trainer who supports the health of the mind and spirit. To share a slice of her personal life, she’s married to an American and has raised her children in Australia. She has a best friend-like relationship with her daughter Erika who is bilingual in English and Japanese.
We talk about Shiho’s work on fostering connections with others, publishing a photo essay, meeting her husband like in a scene from a movie and how bilingual parenting isn’t a one size fits all approach.
How her insecurity led her to the opportunity to explore the world
When meeting Shiho, it’s hard not to think about how cool she is. It’s not only her height of 173cm and fit appearance, but also the accumulation of her efforts and experience that makes her confidence shine from the inside out.
Shiho loves herself and her body now but this wasn’t always the case. During her school days she was tall which made her feel uncomfortable.
“In Japan, didn’t feel like I fitted in. The clothes and shoes that I liked didn’t have sizes that fit me. This made me want to go abroad.”
During her school days, Shiho was always interested in English so she majored in it at college. While studying, she worked part-time at an English conversation café where she started dating an American. However, when she went on exchange to America and took part in a homestay, she was taken aback by the fact that she couldn’t verbally express herself at all which made her decide to enrol in an American university to master the English language.。
Three months after graduating from junior college (vocational education), she worked part-time to earn money to pay for her school fees and in September of that year started university in America thus achieving her goal on her own. After graduating, she returned to Japan and started working as a professor at a major English school.
“When I went to America, I was able to overcome my insecurity about my height. My English improved and after coming back to Japan I got a job related to what I studied. I became more confident in myself and my abilities.”
How her job is a combination of what she likes and what she’s good at
In Japan, Shiho worked as an English conversation teacher but she moved to Sydney by herself to seize the opportunity of the Japanese language learning boom in Australia and thought, “If that’s what’s happening, I’ll try to teach Japanese.”
When Shiho immigrated, worries about money and her family never ended. However, she realised that if she used those as excuses, she’d never move. She thought it’d be better to take on the challenge even if she failed than regret it later on and left Japan on her own.
In Australia, the first thing she did was get her qualifications to teach Japanese at the University of New South Wales. It’s been about 20 years since then and Shiho still engages in the Japanese education industry today.
“I enjoy teaching. During university, I also taught home economics but I also had fun teaching conversational English.”
Shiho’s teaching skills are useful in her current job as a Pilates trainer and energy healer.
Shiho trains as she likes to move her body. Her career as a trainer was born when her friends who are mums asked her to teach them how to train.
Shiho trains as she likes to move her body. Her career as a trainer was born when her friends who are also mums asked her to teach them how to train.
“My job is an extension of my passions and hobbies. Up until now, I’ve been lucky to have been able to combine the two together.”
At the moment, Shiho teaches students from Japan, Australia and around the world. Apart from holding sessions everyday, she also hosts daily salons (gatherings where ideas are exchanged) and also supports entrepreneurship for Japanese women.
Big results come from small actions
Shiho continues to challenge herself in different ways by holding sessions in Japan and Australia, setting up online salons and publishing photo essays.
“My students and friends connect me to the right people when I tell them I want to try and do something. Thanks to those around me, everything I wanted somehow became a reality. I feel blessed.”
Shiho says she’s lucky but when looking at the support and speed of responses she gives to us, we feel that it is her accumulation of small habits that has contributed to her success so it didn’t all happen because of luck. She works hard to maintain relationships by sending birthday messages to friends and students.
"I do everything because I want to do it, I enjoy doing things like sending messages and celebrating.”
Shiho shares useful information and connects people and in that way whoever she goes out of her way to help out and because she doesn’t expect anything back, there are people who naturally support her dreams.
Even though having connections to help her came by chance, ultimately, Shiho seized those opportunities and made everything happen through her consistent preparation and hard work.
What are the secrets to success of a cross-cultural marriage?
Shiho was fascinated by Australian nature and people and after getting PR, she met her American husband and got married.
Shiho and her husband both like Japanese food and they frequently ran into each other at their favourite restaurant. Her husband who was interested in Shiho heard from the restaurant’s owner that she was working at a Japanese language school and the next day he sent her a bouquet of flowers.
“At the time, the film, Pretty Woman was popular and I felt like I was Julia Roberts. I thought it was romantic.”
The way the two met was like a scene from a movie. Her husband who is older than her has two children from his previous marriage. In Japan, in the case of a divorce, generally, the children continue to live with only the parent who has custody but in Australia, they spend a week with their father and a week with their mother. At the same time as she got married, Shiho became a mother of two children.
Afterwards, she had their eldest daughter Erika and became increasingly busy. Shiho stopped working and dedicated herself to raising her children and doing housework.
“In Sydney, there are a lot of groups for Japanese mothers. She felt lonely from raising a child but being part of the group saved her. Ultimately, I wanted to express my concerns and anxieties in Japanese.”
Though many long to be in a cross-cultural marriage, there are a lot of challenges involved.
“The language and culture we were both raised in is different, being able to understand each other without using words doesn’t always happen. That’s why, I have to explicitly say the things that I need to say. However, since English is my second language, even if I can communicate clearly, I get stressed when I don’t know how to say something.”
Shiho is used to it now but, at first she had a lot of small frustrations like when her husband would walk into the house with his shoes on but because they come from different backgrounds they made compromises.
“There are many things I’m not satisfied with but it all depends on how I perceive it all. It’s important to be grateful.”
The secret to being married is not forgetting to be grateful and accepting the other person for who they are.
Raising a bilingual child - Fostering intrinsic motivation
Shiho’s daughter Erika is 16 this year. It’s cute when her unexpected use of the Kansai dialect (A dialect spoken in south-east Japan around cities like Osaka and Kyoto) comes out.
“My parents who live in Japan don’t speak English so I wanted Erika to be able to communicate with her grandparents.”
Shiho read Japanese books aloud to Erika when she was young and used Japanese extensively with her. Both are basic methods but Erika came to voluntarily make an effort to learn Japanese.
“The most important thing is that the person learning the language actually wants to learn it. Children are also human beings so they have the right to choose.”
We admire Erika’s will to learn Japanese. She went to a local school in Japan for short periods of time during her long school holidays in Australia but when she reached high school, the fun started fading away so she stopped going.
“It is important to respect the language learner’s desire to learn and not just force them to study. Fortunately, the opportunity to talk to her grandparents was motivation for Erika to continue studying Japanese.”
Amami Island is a place where people gather from all over the world
Of all the students Shiho trains and teaches, the ages of attendees ranges from 5 to 88 and there are even some who have continued to learn with her for nearly 10 years. Before COVID-19 broke out, she held sessions in Japan and there are many students waiting for Shiho to return to Japan.
“At the moment I can’t go back but once everything returns to normal, I want to take my Australian students to Amami Island.”
In the past, Shiho was taken away by the alluring nature of Amami Island when she went on a retreat and immediately made plans to hold a session tour there. Four women over the age of 70 planned on participating and Shiho started preparing. However, her plans came to a halt during COVID-19 so her most recent goal has been to take those women to Amami Island.
Shiho also wants to eventually open a guesthouse on Amami Island.
“It’d be nice for everyone to exercise, eat organic food and practice English together. I want to create a place where people from around the world come together and I can say, “Welcome home” to them.”
There are many people who become positive after talking to Shiho and it’s because Shiho herself is overflowing with good vibes. She feels it’s important to recognise and reinforce the importance of believing in herself. Let’s start by taking good care of ourselves first as well!
Thank you for reading and we are always here for you!
Women can fly.
Much love, xxx
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