NELSON, NEW ZEALAND – Tokyo resident Khamida Malianchinova, 26, hails from Kyrgyzstan. The eldest of seven siblings, she moved to Japan in 2019 after receiving a MEXT scholarship to conduct research at the University of Tokyo, where she’s a proud member of the “Potsuai” aikido club. Last year, she co-founded a video podcast, “Tokyo State of Mind,” which focuses on helping international residents find community and combat loneliness.
1. What first brought you to Japan? When I was 14, I watched my first anime show and decided that one day I would go to Japan, not as a tourist, but to live. I remember at that time everyone thought I was a freak because I was the only one who liked anime. People from Kyrgyzstan rarely come here, as there are very limited opportunities to come to Japan on a Kyrgyz passport.
2. You got a MEXT government scholarship to study at the University of Tokyo in 2019. What was your area of focus? I focused on learning Japanese, and my area of focus was podcasts! So in a way “Tokyo State of Mind” is my research project.
3. Was it an easy transition? I wouldn’t say it was an easy transition. I felt super lonely at the beginning. But, I was lucky to meet my aikido circle members and my university friends — including (podcast co-founder) Katya. They saved me, and to this day they remain a safe place for me here in Japan.
4. Is there anything you wish you’d known before moving? Not really. Everything turned out the way it was supposed to be!
5. You started your podcast, “Tokyo State of Mind” in June 2020. Did the pandemic inspire you? Even before the pandemic, I had the idea of doing a podcast, but didn’t have time. One day Katya and I decided to hang out in Ebisu Garden Place. We were both sharing stories of coping with depression and isolation in Japan and how it would be great to meet more “out of the box” people and get to know their stories for reference. The crazy thing is that Tokyo is a city with a lot of opportunities, but at the same time we felt like we (couldn’t) judge if it was Tokyo or us who chose to stay isolated.
The next day I called her and said, “Wanna meet people in Tokyo and learn more about the city we live in from them?” And that’s how two Russian speakers decided to start “Tokyo State of Mind.”
6. How do you work out creative differences? We are friends first, so it’s easy to negotiate. We always support each other and focus more on growth and fun.
7. Is loneliness and isolation that big an issue among the non-Japanese community? I believe so. And the scariest thing is that you don’t notice until you also become isolated, both physically and mentally. Especially in Tokyo, it is very easy to feel so lonely surrounded by the crowds. And as a foreigner, once you come here without family — or if you don’t have friends who can emotionally support you — things can get way too overwhelming. My personal way of coping was watching cheesy shows and running 10 kilometers three times a week.
8. What do you think should be done to improve mental health among the country’s international population? The Japanese government could create more spaces like the Tokyo International Exchange Center residence halls for international people to have a community around them who can understand their emotional needs. I had a very bad experience living in a shared house that had a toxic culture of filing reports on neighbors for small things. There should also be more offline platforms for people to connect with local communities that are super amazing and willing to have more international members.
Overwork culture should be ended, as it’s primarily connected to mental health problems of most people here. Like, seriously, how is it even possible to create meaningful relationships in life if all you do is work? When you are off the clock you are off the clock, and that should be practiced more.
9. Can you walk us through the process of putting together an episode? Usually we start by choosing a topic of interest and then start asking well-connected people around us if they know anyone who would fit. Though sometimes people just DM us, and if we find them interesting we’ll invite them for an interview. Katya and I meet at her apartment with all the equipment to film. It takes an hour for mic check and warming up, and then the magic starts!
10. How do you prepare to interview guests? It depends on the guest. If it’s a friend of ours, not much research is needed, but when it comes to a new person we take a couple of days to look at their social media profiles and ask them questions in advance. We then write a light script and send it to the guest to make sure we don’t talk about something the other side isn’t comfortable with.
11. Who has been your most moving guest? Filmmaker Jeremy Rubier has had the biggest impact on Katya and me, because the way he talked about important topics like global warming and “self-culture” was very passionate.