17m 22s

A Senpai from the Australian Embassy / Japan’s Northern Wonders

Living in Japan

Broadcast on February 5, 2023 Available until February 5, 2024

Peter Roberts has all kinds of experience in Japan: as an international student, as a ski resort worker, and as a diplomat. He’s now in his second posting in the Australian embassy here, as Deputy Head of Mission. In the program, he shares fun and safety tips on skiing and introduces “Smartraveller,” a website set up by the Australian government to provide guidance on backcountry skiing (Smartraveller: Snow sports safety https://www.smartraveller.gov.au/destinations/asia/japan). Peter also discusses good ways to do well, have a fine time, and be prepared for emergencies.

In the latter part of the show, our MC—Ruth—introduces an episode of an NHK WORLD-JAPAN on-demand program, National Parks of Japan. It’s about Akan-Mashu, a place to explore the natural wonders of the country’s north and the Ainu culture to which they are connected.

【Guest】 Peter Roberts: Deputy Head of Mission of the Australian Embassy in Japan



Living in Japan. Hello and thanks for tuning in to our show. I'm Stuart. And I'm Ruth.
Living in Japan is a program for international residents in Japan. Whether you're here now or expect to be here in the future.
We are the place to turn to for tips on making the most of your life in Japan. Indeed, we are.
Today, we're going to welcome a senpai from an embassy. Diplomats are sort of like us, you and I, connecting people from different countries. And they often have a great deal of experience in Japan, just like you. And like you.
But at a much higher level, I think. So which embassy is today's senpai from?
Australia. Oh, your country. That's right. Indeed, mate. Let's get to it.


Now it's time for hints from senpai. Senpai is a Japanese word meaning someone with more knowledge or experience than you. Now, each month, we ask a senpai to enlightens us about what he or she already has found out.
And today's senpai is Peter Roberts. He's the deputy Head of Mission. So, he's the deputy ambassador of the Australian Embassy in Japan. Oh, a true VIP. Wow.
And he knows this country very well. Peter spent a year in Japan as a high school student and another year when he was in college. He later came on a working holiday and since joining the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, he's been posted twice in Japan. And that's what I call a senpai. Indeed. Thank you for coming, Peter.
Thanks for having me. It's a bit scary being called a senpai. It makes me feel old.
I think I might be the oldest in the room. So don't worry about that. Now, high school, university, working. You've experienced so many sides of this country.
Yeah, I've really been very lucky to come to Japan in a range of capacities for study and now for work. But I have a particular affection for the Tohoku region, the northern area of Japan.
Why is that? 
Well, I studied at the Tohoku University when I did an exchange here. I had done some work on ski resorts and then drew my previous posting at the embassy when there was the 2011 earthquake. Yeah.
I took the search-and-rescue team that came over from Australia immediately afterwards up to Minamisanriku, which is one of the towns that was worst affected by the tsunami. And subsequently to that, of course, our Prime Minister at the time, Prime Minister Gillard, came to Japan just a month after the earthquake and tsunami. So, we went back up to Tohoku again then.
I also have a really, really deep affection for the Minamisanriku area. I was involved in a project called the Santa Soul Train. We go every year and do projects, live shows and so on, involved with the community there. And I remember when Julia Gillard was the first national leader of any country to visit the region after the quake. Australians don't really have much direct experience with earthquakes at home, so when one happens to us here, we're often at a loss of what to do. What have you learned about earthquakes here in Japan?
Well, I think the most important thing is they're inevitable. So, you've got to be as prepared as possible. And I definitely feel having been away from Japan, being away from the embassy and then coming back ten years later with a new group of Australians at the embassy who haven't experienced an earthquake of the scale of the 2011 earthquake, that they don't instinctively know what to expect. Right.
And so, I'm very keen to pass on that you do need to be properly, properly prepared. So, you do need to think about what you're going to do as a family. How you, how you're going to look after yourselves. What preparations you have. So, we all have go-bags, go-bags set up. We just switched over from our summer clothes to our winter clothes in the go-bag. That's a good idea. Yeah.
I've never thought about that before. The changing the clothes in the go-bag. That's a good idea. And, of course, this isn't just about Australians, right? Many people in Japan come from countries where earthquakes are very, very rare.
Okay, so let's now talk about the skiing situation. Right.
Aussies love skiing in Japan. You worked at a ski resort here, so I suppose you share that enthusiasm.
Yes, I just love it. I have to admit, again, showing my age, I think that I probably worked at the ski resorts over, well over 25 years ago. Wow.
So, you see a lot of Australians on the slopes now, but you didn't see so many of us, many of us back then. But, you know, the snow in Japan, so fantastic. Yeah.
Like, that's what I'd like to know. What is so special about skiing in Japan?
Well, I think, you know, you see so many Australians skiing in Japan now, and the snow is fantastic. And I think that initially came because of that. And it was, you know, a more affordable option compared to North America and so forth for Australians. Right.
But what I've really noticed is people come one year to come skiing, but then they fall in love with having onsen, fall in love with the food. All the best food.
So, you know, you come skiing in Japan, it's a package. That's so true.
It is indeed. And yeah, there's the food and the sake and the onsen, everything I love about the place, I can tell you that. Do you have any particular advice for would-be skiers?
Well, look, Japan has so many great slopes. And I personally prefer some of those that aren't so famous, where the snow is great and they're less crowded. Yeah.
I wish I'd known some of these places when I was younger, so it's worth exploring. But look, as an embassy official, the thing I want to point out to Australians and of course, Japanese skiers as well, Japanese ski resorts do have strict rules. Right.
You know, rules are designed for protection. We still hear lots of stories of injuries and of backcountry accidents. Yeah. Oh.
People skiing outside regular courses. So, we just want to make sure that visitors understand the dos and don'ts of the ski resorts and follow the advice of local authorities. Yeah.
And I think, you know, beyond a safety-level perspective, people should really just have a think about what they're going to do while they're skiing, where else they're going to go, what else they can enjoy about Japan.
Yeah, I actually heard about a recent case in Hokkaido. There's this thing. I don't ski. I'm from Hawaii. This backcountry ski when you go off-track and that sometimes, you know, people can actually sort of lose their life, you know, doing that. So, I feel like I've heard that the Australian embassy has a whole bunch of information about the ski situation.
That's right. I mean, we've been trying to put out information about safe skiing and you know, if you're going, if you're going backcountry, for example, you'd always want to go with a guide. You'd want to use local knowledge and work with within local rules. And also, putting out some information about sort of the local manners and customs.
So, where can all of us find this information?
Okay. Yeah, well, the Australian Government runs a website called Smartraveller.
*You will leave the NHK WORLD-JAPAN website

So, you can search for Smartraveller Australia online. And then if you go to the Japan section and look at "snow sport safety," you'll have all that information there. Terrific.
And of course, Japan features heavily because Japan is so popular with Australians.
So Smartraveller Australia, that is what they put into their, into their search bar.
Now I noticed like back when the earthquake came and then, of course, recently with skiing and so on, a lot of the Japanese advice doesn't have any English on it. Right? So, it's really good embassies like the Australian embassy putting out the Smartraveller app and so on. There's so much information that English embassies, English-speaking countries embassies are putting out, that can help people from other countries as well. Terrific.
Okay. So, Peter, you studied in Japan once while in high school and then again while in college. What are some of your favorite memories from that time?
Well, I guess it's a great opportunity to study overseas. And I think probably the most special thing is being able to study with people from another country, learn from them, study in a different way. So up at Tohoku University, I studied psychology. Psychology.
It was great. I went back there actually a few months ago to say hello and went back to my old study room. Nice. Excellent.
They had some, some old photos of me there. Very different. More hair and thinner as a lot of people say, right?
So how about making friends? Was it hard at first?
Look, I mean, I had a great group of people I was there with in my youth. I played a lot of soccer as well. So, I was in the University soccer club, which, you know, is a six-day-a-week sort of commitment. So, you can't help but make friends when you're training six days a week together. But I think, you know, having to get in and do things with people really helps you make friends quickly.
Sure. You had an image of Japanese people at first, did you, when you first came in?
Well, I think, you know, there's this sort of stereotype overseas that Japanese people are very serious, "majime" you know… don't bear out being true. Particularly the seriousness was a big one for me. And when I first came, I think I was 16, 17 and into went into a Japanese high school without having any Japanese. But I was very, I was very worried about, you know, the perception of very serious Japanese schools. And that's, and that's true, of course. But it was also a very fun environment.
Yeah, sure. It was easy for you to assimilate, too. That's really cool.
There's a lot of very interesting people in Japan. It depends on the location. I'm sure you're very experienced. But, you know, I find, you know, people have such great friendships with Japanese people, and there's so many Japanese people who are interested in and love Japan... or Australia… and work in Australia. And, you know, whatever you're interested in, if you're coming from overseas, whatever you're interested in, particularly in Tokyo, you'll find people who know more about it and are more into it than you.
More into it, yeah, definitely so.
So that's really interesting, and a lot of people that listen to this show are living in Japan and might be feeling a little bit of frustration or facing some difficulties. Was there any kind of frustration that you might have felt at the beginning when you were here?
Oh look, I've, I've always had a really great experiences in Japan. I think I've noticed, you know, talking to some friends and so forth who live in Japan, when people first come to Japan, people are very enchanted. Right.
You know, because you're hit by the wonderful food. You're hit by the, you know, the society that works so well, and everybody's polite, and you get along, and things work. So that's, that's amazing. But I do see some people, after they stay here for a certain amount of time, you know, different frustrations build in. Sure.
So, you know, be it frustrations with, you know, bureaucratic processes being different or working in different ways than they do in your home country, or the way that, you know, society organizes itself. Sure.
When you first got here, did you find anything that was already kind of familiar to you? For instance, in my case, I'm from Hawaii, so I had already been used to a lot of Japanese writing and symbols when I got here, so it didn't really surprise me. Was there anything that surprised you?
Oh, well, I wish I had been familiar with Japanese before I got here. I mean I find really interesting with other languages, when you have phrases that don't quite exist in your own language. So, I think there is quite a few in Japan, but like, for example, the one that always sort of strikes me, which I think is such a useful word, right, but I couldn't translate it perfectly into English, is "nantonaku." Oh.
So, I find that sort of hard to translate, but very useful and very meaningful.
How would you translate "nantonaku" into English though? What's your idea, Ruth?
I would probably say like "Nantonaku so da to omoimasu" something like that would be like, well it's just the way I think, you know, that's just the way I'm feeling.
Kind of, I think if you, for example, like "nantonaku wakaru," I kind of understand. So, you'd be able to say, I kind of...
I kind of get it.
You kind of get it. Yeah.
Yeah. Accepting things as they are. Has that attitude helped you in other aspects of your diplomatic career in other places, like being able to, you know, embrace the differences?
Yeah, well, being a diplomat, you get to go to lots of different countries. Immediately before coming here, I was in Timor-Leste, Higashi Timor. Yeah. And, you know, served in four or five different countries around the world, and everywhere is different. And you know, for a diplomat, you've got to deliver certain outcomes on the ground. So, you've got to be able to work within whatever system you're living in. So, I think having that flexibility, having the right attitude is really important.
Yeah. Not treading on local customs' toes, if you like. That's, that's a really important part.
I think that's the most important tip from today is that "Nantonaku tsuiteiku."
Accepting "Nantonaku."
Somehow you just, you know, sort of stick with things and keep going and have an open mind.
I think that's the key, absolutely. Peter Roberts from the Australian Embassy, it's been a pleasure. Thank you very much.
Thank you very much. It's been fun.


Okay. Something else to look into. NHK WORLD-JAPAN has an array of TV programs about the country's culture. Ruth, what is your recommendation today?
Yes, I chose a show called "National Parks of Japan."  Ooh.
You heard about it? Yeah. Yes.
And I want to introduce a particular episode about Akan-Mashu.
Yeah, Akan-Mashu National Park is located in Hokkaido, beautiful place, the northernmost prefecture of Japan, right? Yes.
If you go there, you'll see three lakes formed by repeated volcanic activity. Beautiful scenery. Yeah.
And for now, you can watch the program and take in the winter sights. Sounds great. You'll learn about the indigenous Ainu culture, too.
Terrific. Oh, I really want to go to Hokkaido again. I love the seafood around Hakodate. That area is so divine. It's full of only-in-Japan sights as well.
That's absolutely true. In wintertime, you can walk on the frozen surfaces of lakes, and in summer you can gaze into Lake Mashu, said to have the most transparent waters in Japan. Wow.
Twenty-five meters. You can see down 25 meters. That's how clear it is. It's amazing, right? It's brilliant.
The episode lasts only 5 minutes, but after you watch, I have the feeling you'll want to come and see a lot more in person. In person?
I definitely did. I wanna go.
I always want to see a lot more of Japan in person. And I've been here for a very, very long time.
And much of the Ainu culture developed around these lakes. Isn't that interesting? It is, yeah.
I did a bit of research, and I also learned that many of the city names in Hokkaido are derived from the Ainu language.
So, there's a lot that we can learn from the Ainu culture about northern Japan.
That reminds me Australia. Lots of the Australian place names come from the original Aboriginal name for the areas.
So that's the same with the Ainu. The whole country of course can appreciate their traditions. It's really good to remember that Japan is actually wonderfully culturally diverse. Yeah, exactly. It's fantastic.
You can watch the program on the NHK WORLD-JAPAN's website. Go to the site, click "On-Demand," and search for "National Parks of Japan." Let's do that now. Yes.


I'm so excited about going driving during winter. I love the clear water and the beautiful skies, stop at the service areas, do some ashiyu where you warm your feet. I'm so excited. So am I.
I get to sit in rotenburo, outside baths, drinking lovely warm sake under the kotatsu, etc. etc. I love it so much.
And don't forget the warmed toilet seats at all the service areas. Those are really important. Japan's best export, maybe.
If you want to hear today's program again or introduce someone else to it, just head to our website. Terrific.
Go to the NHK WORLD-JAPAN website, click on "On-Demand," choose "Audio," and select "Living in Japan."
If you have any comments or requests, send us a message through the site. We're waiting to hear from you and see you next month. Okay, then. Bye.

Program Outline