Tomoki Okuyama

Tomoki Okuyama: Contributing to Armenian-Japanese Friendship


YEREVAN — Tomoki Okuyama is a 26-years-old Japanese man who has been residing in Yerevan since last February. He studied sports management at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto and worked as a staff member in the Japanese University Football League. Tomoki participated in CONIFA (Confederation of Independent Football Associations tournaments (London, Artsakh) and attended Annual General Meetings (Northern Cyprus, Poland) as a CONIFA volunteer staff.

Dear Tomoki, I was in Stepanakert in 2019, when the CONIFA games took place. No one could imagine what calamity would take place after a year and half. What are your memories about that year?

I participated in one of the referee team staff but only helping referees off the ground. That was an amazing tournament for everyone involved. I cannot forget the scene of everyone smiling at each other in the stadium. Probably the level of football was not like the English Premier League, but definitely there was value of football on and off the field.

Among the tournament, we had a cultural event day in Shushi. We visited some museums about Artsakh’s culture. It was very meaningful day. Also, we were dancing under the big tree at Shushi without any borders, nationalities, races. There was nothing we cared about.

I have amazing memories from Artsakh and that is why I could not believe when the war happened the following year. I chatted with my friends from Artsakh in that time. I felt their suffering and sadness, but I could not find any words to tell them.

Was it after that you decided to study Armenian?

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That is right. I became interested in Armenia after the tournament, so I wanted to study as soon as I returned to Japan, but there was no way to do it. After listening to my interview to the Armenian TV during the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, an Armenian from California (the owner of an online school) offered me an Armenian language class. He introduced me to a teacher who could speak Japanese. Since then, I have been studying little by little through online in Japan. But now I have to study harder.

What did you know about Armenia before your visit?

In 2019, I only knew about Armenia as one of the Caucasus countries and almost nothing about its culture, language and history. Nevertheless, I felt enthusiastic before visiting Armenia and Artsakh. And my feeling was right.

What are the main challenges for a Japanese person learning Armenian?

For me, the hardest thing is the pronunciation and listening to native speakers. There are also many sounds that do not exist in the Japanese. In addition, I am confused because people are using a lot of expressions in daily conversation that are different from textbooks. And sometimes they are mixing in Russian. I need to adapt their language culture.

Tomoki Okuyama in Artsakh

You appeared in an interview on Armenian TV in Tokyo during the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. How did that happen?

An Armenian journalist I knew was reporting the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. There were only a few Japanese who had been to Artsakh and were involved in sports in Artsakh, so they decided to interview me. In that time, we talked about the Tokyo Olympics, our memories of Artsakh, and the conflict in Artsakh. It was hard to talk about the conflict. But I was also happy to receive some messages from Armenian friends after the on-air my interview.

What do you do in Yerevan now?

I am taking Armenian online lessons about twice a week. Since the end of February, I also work several days a week at the Japanese restaurant “Tokyooo” in Yerevan. And, if possible, I would like to play grassroots football with Armenians in Yerevan, so if there is any good idea, I would like to know.

Originally, I feel that Japan and Armenia have a very good relationship. Recently, the number of Japanese people who want to work online in foreign countries are increasing. For example, in Georgia, more online working Japanese people live than in Armenia. I think it is important to create an environment that makes it easy to do such work and promote it. Also, when I actually lived here, I thought that the public order of Armenia is a very good point.

Tomoki Okuyama during hanami event (enjoying the bloomed sakura trees) at the garden of National Assembly of Armenia (April, 2023)

The Armenians mostly are conservative with food. Do they like Japanese food?

Due to my working experience, I feel Armenian people like Japanese food. I think Japanese food has the potential to be spread in Armenia and feel also it has a positive effect on nowadays Armenia’s food culture.

Do you have some special dreams regarding Armenia?

I would like to be involved in the cultural exchange between Japan and Armenia, including language and sports. Even if I will be in Japan in the future, I would like to contribute to maintain the Armenian-Japanese friendship!



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