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Ulan Bator / Mongolia

The Relaxed, but Competitive People of Mongolia

Kazuhisa Fujimoto, Marubeni Corporation, Ulan Bator Office

With approximately 4 times the land area of Japan, Mongolia has a population of only 2 and a half million people and 30 million cattle. Ulan Bator is located 1,351 meters above sea level, despite having high temperatures of up to 35 degrees its lowest temperatures drop down to around minus 30 to minus 35 degrees, making it the world’s coldest capital city.

When you think of Mongolia, you probably think of vast grasslands, a sky full of innumerable stars, nomadic herdsmen, horses and ger (traditional, transportable nomad's tents). But with a population of 1 million, Ulan Bator is somewhat different. The government office buildings and opera theater, etc., built by Japanese prisoners of war interned in Siberia after the Second World War still remain, but in the building rush, cafés and restaurants are being built one after another, and Ulan Bator has become a city in which young people stride around with their mobile phone in one hand. With the rush to buy imported second-hand cars, there are major traffic jams every morning and evening, and people who could not be catered for in the socialist planned city have set up their ger around the rim of the city, the coal they use in winter creating serious atmospheric pollution.

At present, over 200 Japanese people live in Ulan Bator. In the space of the 2 square kilometers or so which I normally move around in every day, there are about 10 Japanese restaurants, and there are even Japanese people running a cake shop and Japanese style Izakaya pub. There are also restaurants for the foods of other countries such as Chinese, Korean and French (although you should not go expecting the authentic flavor), and in addition there are also many bars and discos.

Mongolian people look Asian but their manners are European. They kiss upon greeting each other, they eat using a knife and fork, sleep on beds and adopt the attitude of "ladies first". They respect their elders, are considerate towards children and the elderly, and are generally friendly toward Japanese people. In the now more than 30 universities, it is said that about 9000 students are currently studying Japanese.

This country with a severe climate has historically produced a fierce, proud and spirited people. They are competitive and show-offish. At the same time, perhaps because they have long lived the slow life in this vast territory, Mongolians have no concept of time, and they are very rough and relaxed about things, but you cannot interact with them if you start to get annoyed about this. However, when it comes to driving cars, they are not relaxed about things at all but push and scramble to get ahead. I suppose this is not a matter of time, but a matter of their competitive spirit coming to the fore.

With 70% of its population aged under 35, Mongolia has a strange vibrancy that comes from its youthful power, and doubtless it will go on making rapid change.

Marubeni Group magazine "M-SPIRIT" VOL.36 (November, 2006)

  • The center of the city, the street scene around Peace Boulevard.
  • A barbeque camp in the plains
  • Mongolia's lively young people
  • One of the major traffic jams that occur all over the city

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