Employer: Kyoto University

Nationality: Laotian

Family: Married, one son

Arrived: July 2010

We talk to the university professor who draws inspiration from Japan’s Nobel prize laureates – and is well and truly settled with his family in Kyoto.

Every day Khonesavanh Vilayvong walks past photos of Kyoto University’s Nobel prize winners. “It motivates me; I want to pass on that motivation to my child,” he says. As a professor in the university’s agricultural facilities engineering department, he studies the environmental impact of roads, dams, airports and tunnels. There weren’t too many resources for a specialist in his field back in Laos – which is why Vilayvong moved to Japan in 2010.

With only a rudimentary grasp of the Japanese language, he struggled at first. For a year he was in Osaka but later moved to Kyushu University in Fukuoka, the city where his son was first brought up. He had a lot to figure out: where to go for child daycare services and where to get medical care were two of his priorities.

In 2017, Vilayvong accepted a post at Kyoto University. Thanks to support from local government officials and expatriates living nearby, he is comfortable in Japan teaching his courses. “At home we speak Japanese, English and Laotian with my six-year-old son,” he says. On weekends they visit Kyoto Universtiy Museum and Kyoto Municipal Science Centre for Youth or head to the shopping arcade. “If we find a restaurant in an old machiya townhouse that looks good, we go in.”


Vilayvong is the perfect candidate for Japan’s new green card – and he’s preparing to apply for one. Launched this year, it shortens the time it takes for researchers, engineers, corporate managers and other skilled workers to obtain residency. Some cases take just one to five years, from the standard wait of 10 years.