Many Japanese journey to Nepal – alpinists, trekkers, lovers of nature. Far fewer Nepalese journey in Japan. This is the story of one who did, Godar Upakar Thapa, and now calls Okayama home.
Upakar is the son of a Junior High School principal from Pokhara, the tourism capital of Nepal and gateway to some of the most magnificent trekking and climbing in the whole Himalaya around Annapurna. His two sisters are now also high school teachers, and from an early age he had the benefits of education instilled in him. He was inspired to let education and hard work expand his horizons.
“Japanese universities have a global reputation for excellence and innovation” he says, “so I thought studying in Japan not only provides a chance to broaden your horizons and experience a new culture, it will also boost your career prospects.”
So he went to Okayama in Japan to study, full of hopes and dreams, which were soon under stress.
“Expenses of daily survival as well as the school fees had me often going without drinking and eating, a situation I couldn’t tell to my parents who sent me to Japan. Tears didn’t stop and I thought of suicide also.”
“So I decided to get a part-time job. I collected all the part-time job magazines. I went around the city and called so many places saying, ‘Please let me work for you’, but because of my poor language skills and my foreign face, I was turned down.”
“Finally I got part-time jobs in a bento lunch box factory and a ramen restaurant. I was often discriminated against because I’m from poor country like Nepal. But I had to have patience and put up with it to fulfil my daily life expenses and college fees.”
During this time he discovered the famous alpinist Ken Noguchi’s book, Hiyakuman-kai no konchikusho (A Million Curses), and read it enthusiastically. Noguchi was the son of an Egyptian mother and Japanese father who suffered plenty of harassment growing up. In 2002 at just 25 years of age he became the then youngest person to climb the highest peaks on all 7 continents. But personal records are not what Noguchi is about – he led an inspiring effort to clean up Everest, taking down the trash left behind by the constant stream of climbing teams. The Nepalese authorities backed his efforts, but he initially encountered resistance from the Chinese – they thought he wanted to bring down the leftover rubbish (oxygen canisters etc) to sell it in Japan!
He persevered, and has helped change attitudes.
“After I read Noguchi’s book I decided to stand up” recalls Upakar, “I will become a human being that’s needed in Okayama. And do my absolute best to be the bridge between Japan and Nepal.”
He chose to specialise in tourism for a career to do that.
“Tourism is the largest industry in Nepal and it’s also the largest source of foreign exchange and revenue. So I studied tourism management at university. After graduating I joined JR West Hotels Group, at the Hotel Granvia Okayama. I wanted to make company the number one hotel in Okayama, to continue to grow it and give back to the people of the Okayama, who helped me.”
“On holidays, I visited hotels outside the prefecture and learned about hospitality. I worked as a bellboy, front desk clerk, and concierge accommodation service section for about 3 years. From May, 2018, I am handling international sales and marketing chief.”
“Now, I speak beautiful Japanese but I struggled a lot with it. I studied desperately by observing people around me, watching TV, news and studying books.”
“I love to walk around the city and travel to different place of Japan during holidays to discover little-known good places and local events that are not published in guide books or on travel websites. Then I can share original recommendations to the international guests who visit in Okayama.”
In the process Ukama has become a well known and well loved figure in and around Okayama.
He is also now in a position to give something back to Nepal, working with his inspiration Ken Noguchi’s Peak-Aid Foundation to deliver assistance to Nepalese country schools for example.
Japanezy highly recommend the Okayama Hotel Granvia, where we met Upakar. His story is an example of how while the Japanese may be conservative and initially slow to accept foreigners in their midst once they do they can’t do enough for you.
Drop in and say hi. Okayama has plenty to offer.