Originally from Chennai, India, 39-year-old Keerthana Mariappan came to Tokyo at 17 to study. She grew up listening to stories of Japan from her father, who lived there from 1964-70 and had a fantastic experience. In fact, he encouraged her to move to Japan because it’s safe. Mariappan now serves as director at Deutsche Bank Securities.
1. When you came to Japan in 1998, what was the biggest culture shock you faced? The language. Even figuring out restaurant menus was a challenge, it was great that they had the plastic food displays.
2. What was the biggest surprise? The first day of my orientation at Sophia University, I got lost. I asked someone the way, and the person walked me to my destination. Experiencing such kindness was so impressive.
3. What did all that, shocks and surprises, teach you about yourself? It helped me realize the world is bigger than what I knew, and taught me to be adaptable in new situations.
4. You work full time at Deutsche Securities, so why did you also become a yoga teacher? The physical benefits for the body are, of course, fantastic. But I want people to understand that the purpose of yoga goes beyond that.
5. What is the purpose then? The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word “yuj,” which means union between body, mind and breath. It is a state of being in the present, and in total harmony. Practicing yogic techniques can bring happiness in life.
6. Why do you think a lot of people have taken up yoga in the pandemic? They have more time? I think people are reflecting on their life more and are concerned about their health. And we can do it online now.
7. Do yoga and meditation go hand in hand? Yes. A state of being in yoga is a state of meditation as well. When I was training to be a teacher at Sri Sri School of Yoga in Bangalore, my teacher said, “The purpose of asanas (poses) are to make the body ready to sit for meditation.” The goal is not just stretching, or to make the body flexible; beyond that is where the true wealth lies.
8. What is the best time of the day to do yoga? Traditionally any kind of spiritual practice, including yoga, should be done at sunrise and sunset. Now our lives are so busy that it might not be possible to follow those times every day, so you could try doing it in the morning but, if not, then any other time during the day on an empty stomach.
9. How often do you practice yoga? I do my meditation and breathing practices in the morning, and I do my asanas after work in the evening. Doing asanas in the evening helps me unwind after my day.
10. What is the biggest difference between yoga in India and yoga in Japan? In Japan, yoga is more of a fitness thing. That’s the same in some parts of India, but overall yoga in India is still in touch with its roots and traditional teachings are honored. It’s also rare to see male yoga instructors in Japan.
11. What is the biggest challenge you have in teaching yoga to Japanese people? In India, learning from a guru is a matter of pride as it comes with a wealth of knowledge, depth and tradition. In Japan, there is an apprehension to this, though it’s slowly changing.
12. What advice do you have for Indian women looking to work in Japan? Learn the language so you can connect deeply with the people. Japan has a lot to offer, there is richness in its culture, and knowing the language will help.
13. Has the impression of Indians changed since you first came here? Yes. When I first came, people asked me if there are elephants on the road in India. Now more people recognize the potential of India as an economic and cultural partner.
14. What’s your favorite Japanese food? I’m a vegetarian and I like soba. After 22 years here, I’m finally eating nattō.
15. Is it hard to be a vegetarian in Japan? It’s getting easier. People are more aware of the health benefits and there are more vegetarian and vegan options.
16. If you could import an Indian idea to Japan, what would it be? Authentic yoga.
17. How about from Japan to India? Cleanliness.
18. Do you have a favorite kanji? “Ai” (愛), the kanji meaning love. My guru taught me that “love is our nature and it moves the world.”
19. What do you miss the most about India? Tropical fruits and vegetables. Sometimes, I miss the chaos. There is a lot of stimulation that comes from it, and it keeps you on your toes.
20. This has been a year of self-restraint. What would you like to do when it’s over? I want to travel. That’s something I took for granted before the pandemic.