Interview with Verena Hopp
A common theme amongst people connected to Japan is that they’ve got an oddball collection of experiences, and Verena Hopp is no exception. Born in eastern Germany, Verena says the first time she became aware of Japan was when she was watching TV and stumbled upon sumo. She was just 13 years old and had little idea she’d become a sumo expert soon enough. She started searching online and found sumo forums where she learned more and more about Japan’s national sport, before making the decision to learn the language too at the age of 16. Her love of sumo lead her to study at University of Halle in Germany where she majored in Japanese Studies.
Encouraged by her parents to go see the world, Verena spent 10 months in Japan after finishing her second year of university and stayed close to the sumo stables in the suburbs of Ryogoku and Kurumae. She then returned to Germany to finish her studies, but couldn’t stay away and went back to Japan to conduct research for her Master’s thesis, on none other than sumo!
Verena was all set to move to Japan to start working when a week before her flight, the 2011 Tohoku tsunami hit, and she had to postpone her plans. After a brief stay in Thailand, she organised to start working at a language school in Tokyo and finally moved to Japan. She also attended the same language school to improve her Japanese skills, which she says weren’t the highest at the time.
What achievement are you most proud of thanks to your connection to Japan?
Making many youngsters dreams related to Japan come true, including an Egyptian boy’s who became the first ever person from the African continent to become a professional Sumo wrestler in Japan.
What advice do you have for students currently studying Japanese?
Network and do internships, volunteer, not only arubaito in konbini – they will never lead to real jobs!
Speaking of internships, Verena is the founder of Internship Japan. Run completely by volunteers since 2012, the organisation aims to improve the internship system in Japan. As a student, you can be linked to internship opportunities in Japan and be actively supported throughout your stay in Japan. You don’t necessarily have to speak Japanese either, which is great! The types of internships available are positions that see you doing real work, not just going on coffee runs, so you return home with valuable cultural and professional experience.
If you use LINE, you can also get sumo themed stamps made by Internship Japan!