In another first for Riarumi, today we talk to Liz Cen, a young woman from China who now lives and works in Tokyo. In her interview, Liz tells us about her life in Japan and what brought her to Tokyo, shares her ideas on the type of future she aspires to for herself, her feelings about gender equality in Japan, and how it compares to gender equality in China.

Who is the riarumi?

My name is Liz Cen. I love life, love art, believe in true love, I’m open-minded, very sensitive to others, rational, romantic as well as realistic, and I’m a ‘follow-your-heart’ type.

You work for a recruitment company in Tokyo. Tell us about your work there and what prompted you to take this path.

To be honest, it’s not the job I want to do. However, it’s not easy to get a job in Tokyo, particularly initially when I was in China without a Japanese working visa. The company I’m now working for offered me a job and visa and I accepted it after thinking it over carefully. It’s a venture company and not known by many people. But the important thing is, they respect me and buy into my ideas when working on projects. My boss encourages me to challenge myself in many areas, in order to help me come to a decision on what I’m most interested in. What’s more, I have enough spare time to enjoy things I wanted to do but couldn’t do before. For example, ikebana lessons, yoga, writing a novel (still thinking of a story), Baha’i activities, travelling around, and so on. So generally speaking, I’m happy at my current stage in life, although my work is not as challenging as my previous job. It’s just the curiosity towards the unknowns in life that prompted me to take this path.

You previously worked as a Senior Account Executive at Dentsu in China. How was that? Were there any particularly memorable experiences or valuable lessons you took from your that job?

It was the most interesting and valuable job I’d ever had. In Dentsu, you are encouraged to think beyond and to put forward as many ideas as you can. You are encouraged to express your opinions and discuss openly with your team members, to always keep an eye on new things. You are encouraged to learn from others, or perhaps I should say, you have to keep learning and refreshing your views so that you will not be left behind. I rediscovered myself there, a new me that could be much more creative. That was the most valuable part of that job – knowing myself better. However, I have to say, along with all the positives mentioned above, the flipside is that you also have to sacrifice most of your private time and energy for this job.

What’s it like as a young woman living and working in Japan? How is living and studying in Japan shaping you and your outlooks on work and life? 

Tokyo is a wonderful city to live in for a young woman. It’s convenient, clean, comfortable, fashionable and you can find nature all around. Also, it’s cosmopolitan, vibrant, multi-cultural and there are lots of opportunities and resources to improve yourself. You can meet so many people from different backgrounds and challenge yourself to lots of things, if you like. In that sense, it matches my outlooks on work and life and helps me shape myself.

What are your personal goals and dreams for the future? How and when did you first realise these goals and dreams and what are you doing to achieve them?

I would describe my dream life and goals as:

Number one: To live my life creatively and full of art. I don’t mean I have to be an artist. But I’d like to have the creative ability to make my life and others’ lives more beautiful and graceful. And I would like to figure out a balanced way to make it become my long-term career in the future. Since I don’t really like to work in an office feeling trapped.

Number two: To help people who feel confused or lost or trapped in their life, and help them discover their real selves and become more fulfilled people.

Number three: To have a happy, warm, loving and spiritual family, with a completely full-hearted and respectful husband and lovely kids.

I realised these dreams and goals after I met my spiritual parents, an Iranian Baha’i couple, when I was 23 years old. They are kind, humble, well-educated, spiritual, artistic and living a peaceful life with two excellent sons. In order to achieve all of these dreams, I need to see more, experience more, learn more and think more.

To reach my number one dream, I am open-minded to all artistic pursuits. For now, I am learning ikebana from a professor here in Tokyo. Before I came to Japan, I spent half a year learning Interior Design and always keep an eye on this filed.

For my number two goal, firstly I stay curious about people. Secondly I’m trying to attend Baha’i community activities as much as I can.

For my number three goal, I’m positive and serious about relationships.

Are there any future goals you currently feel uncertain of, or that seem ‘cloudy’ in your mind? What’s your personal approach to this (common) feeling of uncertainty?

I wondered if I should continue my study of Interior Design and how I can connect it with my current career experiences. When I feel confusion in my mind, I choose to wait and see, meaning I don’t push things, I keep paying attention and I follow my heart.

You studied Japanese at South China Normal University. Why did you choose this course and how was the experience?

I love different languages and cultures. There were only three languages courses in my University, which were English, Japanese and Russian. I wanted to learn something different to English and Japanese and Japanese culture were more attractive to me than Russian. So I simply chose Japanese as my major. It was a special experience, since Japanese, Japan and its culture are so unique. And it turned out I made the right choice, because I got the opportunity to study and work in Japan, met so many great people and am really enjoying living here.

Have there been any especially difficult moments when you’ve been working to fulfill your career ambitions? What do you do to cope when it happens?

I had been so, so confused about my career and what I really wanted to do in the first five years after graduating from university. I changed my jobs three times in five years, from Nissan Trading to Toray to Dentsu. I coped by continuing to try different things, in order to try to identify where my passion is. It’s not easy to get out of your comfort zone and jump into a totally new field. But believe me, it’s worth you trying.

What has been your proudest or most encouraging or most memorable moment so far in life?

I got the opportunity in my 3rd year of university to study in Japan as an exchange student. That year was the most unforgettable, memorable year so far in my life.

What have been your most difficult or disheartening moments so far in life, and how did you deal with them?

One was during those days when I had been so extremely confused about my career, my future and the gap between the reality and my dreams. Back then, it felt like the real me was struggling with the not-real me. It was really difficult and disheartening. I talked to the people I respect and trust, asking them for suggestions and support, I read books, I tried and kept trying.

Another was seeing my aunty pass away in hospital. It was my first time to lose a close family member and the closest I’ve come to witnessing death. I realised that life is really too short, and you never know what’s coming tomorrow or when your time is up. This has helped me make decisions more easily in the years since then.

What inspires or motivates you to keep going?

The curiosity towards the unknown future and the faith that I can achieve my dream life.

How’s life outside of work (home life)? What do you do to relax?

I go to ikebana lessons, and I get myself in shape and get energy from doing yoga, I watch movies or dramas to improve my English while relaxing, I meet old friends and new friends, I go sightseeing in the beautiful nature, I’m in a Baha’i Ruhi book study circle and I participate in some Baha’i activities. I only spend my time on people who are important to me and on meaningful things. That’s the way to keep your energy and power without wasting it.

How was your home life as a child, growing up in Guangzhou, China?

Actually, I was a good child – very well behaved. I was a good child for my parents, teachers, grandparents … although now I wish I could’ve been more naughty! (laughs)

Really?! Why?

I think naughty children are much more creative.

I suppose it’s about a person’s definition of “naughty”. For example, having good reasons for not following arbitrary rules, boundaries or expectations from a group of people or a society or a culture, as compared to intentionally behaving in a way that’s harmful to others …

Well I always grew up living by other people’s expectations. After I went to Japan for one year of study as an exchange student. I met so many people from all over the world and got to know so many different ways of thinking. After spending time abroad, I remember thinking how small my world had always been and how restrained I, as an individual, had been in it – and I became very open-minded.

So how do you ideally imagine yourself and your life to be in, say, 5 years?

To be much more independent, both in finance and spirit. I’d like to have the ability and qualifications to share and teach art. I’d also like to be on a new chapter in life, moving to a new place to work and live in, and hopefully moving together with my life partner, although I don’t yet know where he is. (laughs)

Is there a gender equality imbalance in Japan? What can young women like yourself do to address this inequality?

Yes. A lot of men don’t like women who are too smart. Instead, they prefer women who are “baka kawaii”, which means women who know nothing and worship them as their possessions, without any regard for intelligence. In the work place, a very disproportionate number of women are doing the administrative affairs and assisting men, instead of in higher and more important positions. I think one of the important things to address this kind of inequality is that women should realise their potency and respect their real selves. If women themselves don’t even accept and respect themselves, what else can we expect from men and society?

What can men do?

Show respect and understanding to women. Be supportive to women, both in family life and in the work place.

Is it a similar story in China?

Yes, it is similar in China. Women have a difficult time finding a good job or achieving an important position when they are at their late 20s. The hiring company will ask you if you plan to get married or have babies in the coming years. And if you say yes, they probably won’t give you a chance, even if you are excellent. Because the company doesn’t want to bear the cost in any aspect. But on the other hand, you will also feel highly pressured if you are still single after the age of 28. People around you will keep asking why you aren’t married and will keep telling you that you should get married as soon as possible, otherwise your value will become lower and lower with age.

Do you feel that young women in Japan are being forced to make a choice between personal life/family life and career? What are your opinions on this? What do you think can or should be done to address this common perception?

I think it’s been getting better in recent years. Young women are more free to make choices by themselves. It still exists though. On the other hand, some women become too … almost extremist when it comes to emphasising their rights. The result is they think they don’t need men at all. I think the aim should be real equality, a good balance. Men and women are like the wings of a bird; both are important and indispensable.

At Riarumi, we usually end with an inspiring quote. Are there any quotes or philosophies on life that you particularly like and would like to share with readers?

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.” – Steve Jobs

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. ” – Steve Jobs

I like these words, because I know it is true through my own experiences. You need to believe in something that you prove by yourself, instead of being told.

Do you have any other words for young women like yourself?

Find out and accept the real beauty of yourself and be genuinely confident. Be a smart lady.