Africa: Meet the Japanese woman in Rwanda, who understands Yoruba, Hausa languages


Mrs. Mio Yamada owns and runs a Japanese restaurant in Kigali, Rwanda. Aside this, she is a biker (cyclist) and her garden is open to bikers affiliated with The Warmshowers; an association of bikers/cyclists, who travel the world on bicycles.

Yamada, who has lived in Singapore, studied African languages at Osaka University in Japan. And she still converses, albeit, in limited Yoruba and Hausa languages.

Kigali, Rwanda.
Kigali is fast becoming a hub in East Africa and on the African Continent. A melting pot of diverse nationalities flying in for business meetings, summits and conferences, academic studies, African governments’, civil servants and private corporations’ delegations on research activities (bordering on efficient governance etc) and tourism adventures.

The City of Kigali is a clean city and much of the country (you cannot fail to see the cleanliness outside Kigali). This is undeniable. What is also glaring is that Rwanda is becoming a hub of sorts for different nationalities, languages and races. If you are observant and listen attentively, you are probably going to hear Kinyarwanda, English, French, Swahili being spoken in public. And in some certain quarters, you would likely hear people speak Lingala (Ngala), the major language spoken in Congo. You would likely hear people speak Luganda (a language spoken in Uganda). For those who know about Rwanda, you would know that during Rwanda’s tumultuous past, a lot of Rwandans lived in Congo and Uganda.

Also, you are likely to hear tourists in groups speaking German, Dutch, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish and even Arabic. On a couple of occasions, I have been passed by people talking to each other with a Nigerian accent. Even though there are Nigerians living and working in Rwanda, I had not met a non-Nigerian in Rwanda who could speak a Nigerian language. All that changed recently.

On an unforgettable day in the month of October 2018, I met a Canadian lady by the name Genevieve Fortin, who was struggling with her luggage. After offering my assistance, we got talking and she informed me she was a biker, who cycled with her luggage (all tucked and strapped) on her mountain bicycle.

Initially, I did not understand why anyone would travel the length and breadth of continents with a mountain bike? After she narrated and explained the biking platform and her journeys which you can follow via, I began to have a lucid grasp of this unique kind of outside sport; where people travel on bicycles rather than commute via other modes of faster travel transportation (planes, boats, trains etc).

Genevieve Fortin introduced me to Mrs. Mio Yamada, a Japanese lady, who runs a Japanese restaurant in Kigali. The fascinating discovery for me was that the ever-smiling and detailed Mrs Yamada, has an interest cum affiliation with Nigeria and Nigerian languages, which I would reveal in the latter part of this piece.

Being curious and wanting to find out why a Japanese family would be in Kigali, I paid Mrs. Yamada a visit at the Kiseki Authentic Japanese Restaurant where I saw what the Japanese tradition is all about, coupled with Japanese cuisines, furniture and surprisingly, the Japanese chopsticks and Japanese wines (called sake) and the Japanese wooden cups used for drinking wines (called masu); and a map of the world with several marked lines left by travel cyclists who had rested in the premises.

Mrs.Yamada informed me that her husband had visited Rwanda about 20 times and he encouraged the family to move to Rwanda, which they did in 2016. Before then, the family had lived in Osaka, Japan and in Singapore.

Discussing with Mrs. Yamada, I could see the Japanese culture of respect, timeliness, paying attention to every detail and attentive listening. And I learnt that when you’re invited into a Japanese home, you don’t reject meals (reluctance and at the end acceptance should be applied).

As I previously alluded to, Genevieve Fortin introduced me to Mrs. Yamada because of a platform I had no previous knowledge of. Warmshowers ( is a social network for cyclists who travel or who are travelling across the world.

According to warmshowers’ website, “the warm showers community is a free worldwide hospitality exchange for touring cyclists. People who are willing to host touring cyclists sign up and provide their contact information, and may occasionally have someone stay with them and share great stories and a drink. All members agree to host others either now or in the future, but for some members hosting may be in years or even decades in their future.”

Later on, I discovered how it works. One becomes a member, one finds a host or becomes a host, one gets on a bike to travel, one keeps the light on, and one grows the warmshowers’ network.

In a nutshell, Mrs. Yamada is a host in Kigali. What this means is that a host’s premises and convenience(s) can be accessed and are open to cyclists on the platform. Basically put, cyclists who are members of warmshowers can travel around the world and stay for some days (after contacting the host via warmshowers’ platform) in the premises of the host in the country the cyclists are travelling through or are in.

I was also informed by Mrs. Yamada that since she officially made her garden/premises and shower available via the warmshowers’ platform in 2016, she had welcomed more than 20 visitors (cyclists) who would stay for some days (two to three days to relax and regain their strength) and continue their journeys.

Fascinated by this method of travelling and resting, I had to ask Mrs. Yamada why the use of bicycles to travel around the world when there are cars and trains and planes?

According to her; “I am also a cyclist (a biker) and I have travelled by bicycle to 23 countries including some countries on the African Continent. With my bicycle, I can go anywhere and I can stop anywhere I want. But if I boarded a bus, I cannot stay in a small village; thereby missing many little things and I would not discover certain things. And without doubt, I would miss the minutest of details. With a bicycle, I can see even a tiny ant on the ground. This is one of the advantages of travel cycling.”

On the nationalities of the cyclists cum bikers hosted by her, Mrs. Yamada told me that most of the travelling cyclists came from Europe (mostly from Germany). Also, citizens from Taiwan, Hong Kong, United Kingdom and other parts of Europe. And usually, the cyclists are lone travellers or group travellers.

Travelling is one of the hobbies Mrs. Yamada has done in the past and still finds time to engage in; and when I met her, she was glad she met a Nigerian and she informed me that when she was at the University of Osaka, she studied (as some of her language courses) Yoruba and Hausa for two years and one year respectively. Lectured by a Japanese professor who lived in Kano State in Northern Nigeria for a year and who learned and studied the Hausa language for 20 years, I was awed by her story.

Delicacies like eba, egusi, amala, ogbono, ewedu, okro, edikang ikong were not new to her. She had prepared a lot during her university days.
Musicians like King Sunny Ade, Sir Shina Peters, Ebenezer Obey, Fela Anikulapo Kuti were not new to her. So much so that she always endeavoured to attend concerts in Kigali, when Nigerian artistes were billed to perform, her previous being the concert that soulful Waje graced in Kigali in 2018.

Nigerian writers: Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie are known to her (I was not surprised).
What was surprising was the fact that she had not visited Nigeria. I learnt that her Yoruba and Hausa were a bit rusty but she remembered several words and sentences and pleasantries.

So, I put her to the test and recorder her. And she began with e kaa ro (Good morning); e ku ise (well done); e kaa bo (welcome); ba wo ni? (how is it going)? Alafia le wa? (Are you at peace)? And as I uttered some statements in Yoruba e.g. ba wo ni omode yin? (how are your children doing)? Ba wo ni oko yin? (how is your husband doing?) Mofe jewun (I want to eat), e ku o jo (this is a pleasantry said when it rains), e ku ile (a pleasantry said when you meet someone or people in a home). Her eyes lit up and I could see that she remembered those sentences.

With the warmshowers community having 118, 578 members and counting; 72, 124 hosts and counting; 161 countries and website translated into 17 languages, I was glad I met Mrs. Mio Yamada, so much so that I had to return to record a short video clip of her speaking Yoruba and Hausa.
This experience really highlighted to me that the world is becoming a global village. How else do you explain this? A Japanese lady who has not been to Nigeria; but who lives in Rwanda and who can converse and who understands the Yoruba and Hausa languages? During a trip to Rwanda in December 2018, I had to visit Mrs Yamada again to see how things were going and we still exchanged banters in Yoruba.
By Dolapo Aina,


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