Five years ago, 27-year-old Anita Sapkota left behind friends and family in Kathmandu to seek a better life on Japan’s tropical island of Okinawa. Sapkota is now married to another Nepali who runs the Shiva Mahal restaurant in Naha, speaks fluent Japanese and is at university studying to be an English teacher.
She was working in a travel agency in Kathmandu, but decided to take the leap to pursue her studies 4,000km away. “At first I cried a lot, was homesick and did not want to leave my parents,” recalls Sapkota. “I did not know when I would be back.”
The number of Nepalis in Japan has grown 10-fold in the last ten years to at least 80,000 today, and many of them have decided to settle in Okinawa, which is warmer and more relaxed than the main islands of Japan. Nepalis make up the biggest proportion of foreign workers in Okinawa at 24.6% — followed by Vietnam (16.4%) and the Philippines (12.5%).