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FairfaxFormer Vienna mayor settles in to life in Japan

Former Vienna mayor settles in to life in Japan

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As an empty-nester who recently had stepped down after six years as Vienna’s mayor, Laurie DiRocco last spring began a new adventure: living in Japan.

“It was an unexpected thing and it came along at a time where I wasn’t a mayor anymore and my children were grown,” she said. “It came at a wonderful time for us. I knew I would never explore that part of the world if I didn’t live there.”

DiRocco’s husband, Rob, was assigned a stint as CEO of Japan operations for technical-support firm Asurion. His time there originally was to begin in October 2021, but was delayed to last April because of the pandemic.

Laurie DiRocco never had been to Japan or lived overseas before, so she spent a week in Tokyo in late April last year to search for an apartment. The couple returned in June to start living there regularly (although they have made some trips back to the U.S.).


To prepare, they watched movies such as “Lost in Translation” and “Crazy Rich Asians” to learn a bit about the new culture in which they would be immersing themselves.

The former mayor’s impressions of Japan align with its reputation: The country has delicious food, is meticulously clean, has a “fantastic” public-transportation system and is safe to walk around in, even at night, she said.

“I don’t feel nervous,” she said. “If you leave your wallet somewhere, like in a cab or an Uber or on a subway, most likely you will get it back – and there will be nothing taken out of it.”

Japanese culture is exceedingly polite and considerate, she said, citing how people there form orderly queues and change from shoes into slippers upon entering people’s homes. They tend to consider the greater societal good before acting, rather than barging ahead with their own desires.
The couple also have been wowed by the quality and attentiveness of Japanese customer service.

“Nobody tips in Japan and people can even be offended when you offer one, yet the level of service you receive in any restaurant, coffee shop, bar or store is equal to the top tier in the U.S.,” Rob DiRocco said.

As for Japanese food, Laurie DiRocco is partial to the country’s high-quality fish dishes, sushi and fermented or seaweed salads. Japanese breakfasts are unlike those at American diners and often feature miso soup, vegetables, meats, fish (frequently salmon), eggs and rice.

“Also, portion size is very different and their desserts are less sweet,” she said.

The couple do not have a car in Japan and live in Tokyo’s Minato-Ku neighborhood, located downtown near several embassies.

Laurie DiRocco lacks a work visa in Japan, so she has found other ways to occupy her time and mind. Long a fitness buff, she takes workout classes and recently joined a mahjong group.

She and her husband often visit the country’s plentiful parks, Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Japanese parks and gardens are lovely places for strolling and contemplation and often have water features, she said.
The couple also attended one of Toyko’s thrice-yearly tournaments for sumo wrestling. The former mayor marveled at the size of the men and noted that many of their contests ended quickly.

“These matches aren’t long, but they’re as strategic as having the power, the force or the strength,” she said. “It’s very ritualistic. There’s a ceremony before each match. It was wonderful.”

The DiRoccos have visited other parts of Japan, including Nikko, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its shrines and temples.

The couple’s daughters, Sophia and Allie, visited them in Japan over the Thanksgiving holiday and attended a traditional Japanese tea ceremony with them.

Naturally, the DiRoccos’ time in Japan has had some inconveniences and frustrations. Tokyo has myriad restaurants from around the world, but grocery stores in their neighborhood have more limited offerings than their American counterparts.

The language barrier is a major obstacle, as many Japanese do not speak English or lack enough proficiency to engage in conversations confidently.
The couple are taking Japanese lessons. Rob DiRocco said the vast majority of his company’s employees and customers in Japan do not speak English.

“I often need to communicate through an interpreter, which still feels unnatural to me, and I’m learning to slow my rate of speech, use short sentences and eliminate phrases which don’t translate well in Japanese,” he said.

Laurie DiRocco said her husband also took lessons on Japanese culture before heading to that country, which included segments on bowing and proper presentation of business cards.

Rob DiRocco’s posting is through 2023, but might be extended. In the meantime, the couple plan to visit Singapore in February and Hiroshima, Japan, later in the spring.

The couple spent several weeks in the United States during the winter holidays, but will return to Toyko later this month.

“I really enjoyed being there,” Laurie DiRocco said. “I actually didn’t want to leave when November came around, but then I came back here and obviously I missed being in Vienna.”

Former Vienna Mayor Laurie DiRocco samples the fare at a local noodle restaurant in the Toranomon area of Tokyo. (DiRocco family photo)
While touring the city of Nikkõ, Japan, former Vienna Mayor Laurie DiRocco and her husband, Rob, visited Tosho-gu, the final resting place for Tokugawa shogunate who ruled Japan for more than 250 years. (DiRocco family photo)
Sophia and Allie DiRocco attend a traditional Japanese tea ceremony in Kyoto with their mother, former Vienna Mayor Laurie DiRocco. (DiRocco family photo)
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