The story of a young Italian stranded in Japan for almost 2 years

TOKYO – An Italian who visited Japan, the birthplace of the anime, in February 2020 as a high school graduation gift lost his return flight in April of the same year due to the coronavirus pandemic. With only his travel gear and no money in his pocket, he couldn’t get home. A year and nine months later, a reporter from Mainichi Shimbun traced the footsteps of the 21-year-old struggling in an unknown land.

At the end of February 2020, then 19-year-old Leo Okuda Tomiselli came to Japan with a high school friend fascinated by Japanese culture. They had planned to go sightseeing for about a month. At the time, no one around him in his small town in Italy had the coronavirus.

But as he visited tourist spots in Tokyo, including Akihabara and stayed at his host family’s home in Ageo Town, neighboring Saitama Prefecture, the infection spread. Travel to and from overseas has been suspended and her return flight booked for April 1, 2020 has been canceled.

Misao Ito, center, teaches cooking to Leo Okuda Tomiselli, left, and his friend, both from Italy, in Ageo, Saitama prefecture, April 15, 2020 (Mainichi / Kazuko Hamada)

Leo learned from the Italian Embassy that a special flight would be leaving Japan at the end of April of the same year. But his mother told him that if he came home now, he would not be able to leave the house due to the lockdown and that he would have to stay in Japan until the situation was resolved. At the time, Italy was facing a serious epidemic. Many died, hospitals overflowed and the resulting recession left many unemployed.

While his friend managed to board a special flight, Leo remained in Japan. His host, his mother, Misao Ito, 80, kindly allowed him to continue to stay for free, but Leo had to earn money to pay for food and other expenses.

Born and raised in Italy to an Italian father and a Japanese mother, Leo is not yet 22 – the age at which a nationality must be chosen under Japan’s current system. He has Italian and Japanese nationality, which allows him to work as a Japanese. His problem is the Japanese language. Although he can speak it well enough, he cannot read or write it. Leo applied for a number of part-time jobs including a gyudon beef bowl restaurant, sushi restaurant, transport company, supermarket, and convenience stores, but none of them did. hired.

“Maybe you’ll have a better chance of finding a part-time job in Tokyo? Why don’t you save your money and go to college or vocational school in Japan? Misao suggested to Leo. Then, in July 2020, Leo moved to the home of Chikako Ito, an acquaintance of Misao, 68, in Inagi, Tokyo.

Chikako said, “The first thing I did was get him used to the Japanese language. Then I helped him become independent so that he could live on his own. In addition, I supported Leo. in terms of mental and physical well-being while keeping in touch with his parents. Basically I had to raise Leo to be a whole person. ”

Leo Okuda Tomiselli, left, is seen having breakfast in Inagi, Tokyo, November 20, 2021. Chikako Ito said: “It’s great that he eats almost anything.” (Mainichi / Kazuko Hamada)

Chikako, a former member of the local assembly, knows a lot of people. She took Leo to an international exchange class at a local elementary school, as well as an event at a citizen farm.

Her first part-time job was to clean a hospital. Although his Japanese reading and writing skills were untested, he was a bit disappointed. Leo graduated from a high school specializing in computer science. He and his friends took part in programming competitions every year, and in his third year, he won second place in a regional competition. If possible, he wanted to work with computers.

“But no matter how good at computer science you are, I’m sure a lot of people in Japan are at your level,” Chikako told Leo.

The owner of a nearby convenience store took pity on his situation and hired him. Leo ended up working part-time at a recycling center sorting plastic bottles and at a pork chop restaurant washing dishes.

Around January 2021, Leo suddenly told Chikako, “Monotonous work is not for me.” He forgot to leave the trash at the hospital cleaning. At the convenience store, he misplaced items and forgot to give customers change. Whether it was sorting plastic bottles or washing dishes, he was losing focus and taking a long time to complete his tasks. He was reprimanded so much that he was eventually fired.

Chikako decided to connect Leo to a part-time job in an IT company through an acquaintance. He started in May 2021 at GIB Japan, a systems development company based near JR Shin-Okubo Station in the Shinjuku district.

A manga drawn by Leo Okuda Tomiselli on his computer is seen in Inagi, Tokyo on November 20, 2021. He also creates games and dreams of making it a worldwide success. (Mainichi / Kazuko Hamada)

“Leo is pretty good,” President Keiichiro Miyamoto said with a smile. In Japanese society, years of experience are often used as a criterion, but Leo is seen as having his head on his shoulders, regardless of his inexperience.

Miyamoto said: “He can learn things quickly. I think he will grow up a lot.”

Leo works on website creation and systems development while Miyamoto looks at his screen and gives advice.

“It’s the kind of job that interests me and I don’t feel uncomfortable with the atmosphere of the company,” said Leo.

Leo was hired as a full-time employee in December 2021. That night, Chikako and her husband baked a strawberry sponge cake with lots of whipped cream, oyster rice and a quiche to celebrate the new status. of Leo.

But Leo said, “I thought the cake was for my birthday, but that was a long time ago. By the way, I forgot to tell my parents I had a full time job.” It seems that communication is still not perfect.

2021 has passed and Leo celebrated his second New Year’s Day in Japan. “I’ve had a lot of experiences and I think I’ve grown a bit,” he said.

(Japanese original by Kazuko Hamada, Proofreading Center)

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