Apr 22

“Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi delivers a film packed with many of the attributes that characterizes Studio Ghibli at its best.” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)

By Lyle Sylvander (Yokohamashi, 2001-02) for JQ magazine. Lyle has completed a masters program at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University and has been writing for the JET Alumni Association of New York since 2004. He is also the goalkeeper for FC Japan, a New York Citybased soccer team.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower, the debut feature film from Studio Ponoc, an anime outfit founded by Studio Ghibli veterans Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura after Ghibli closed its doors in 2015, starts in medias res, with a violent firestorm engulfing the screen. A small girl with bright red hair escapes the maelstrom by flying away on a broomstick, pursued by dolphin-squid-fighter-jet hybrids. She plunges down through the clouds and crashes into a field, where her stolen cargo of glowing blue flowers scatters, instantly transforming the landscape as trees burst out of the earth to towering heights in the blink of an eye. Who she is, where she is, and why she needs to escape isn’t revealed until the final act.

Director Yonebayashi delivers a film packed with many of the attributes that characterizes Studio Ghibli at its best. In this story (based on The Little Broomstick, a 1971 children’s novel by popular British author Mary Stewart, a young female protagonist journeys through a fantastical world, battling witches on a magical quest. As in the best films of Hayao Miyazaki, the hand-drawn animation (a novelty in the CGI-dominated marketplace) depicts a European fairy tale setting while retaining a unique Japanese otherworldliness. This family-friendly film recalls such Miyazaki masterworks as Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Unlike those films, however, Mary and the Witch’s Flower falls short of being a masterpiece.

The animators invoke worlds upon worlds here: the green woods and mist-filled forests of England rendered in swooning evocative watercolors, and the show-stopping Endor, a psychedelic space from out of a dream or drug trip, packed with strange objects, unexplainable phenomena, students floating by in soap bubbles, fountains morphing into human form, grotesque creatures loping out of the shrubbery, only to disappear just as quickly. Endor is dazzling in an off-putting way (similar to some of the “worlds” presented in Ari Folman’s The Congress, where animated avatars engulf their originals). The action sequences are intricate and thrilling.

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Apr 10

“Japanese people are open and unafraid of owning music from other cultures. It’s a uniquely Japanese thing to embrace arts from other cultures and perform them at a high level.” (Taka Harkness)

By Allen Wan (Ishikawa-ken, 1990-92) for JQ magazine. Allen works as a foreign correspondent in Shanghai. He is also a lecturer in the executive MBA program at Jiao Tong University and currently serves as president of the Shanghai Foreign Correspondents Club. Allen would like to get in touch with other JET alumni in Shanghai who are interested in setting up a JETAA chapter.

Tokyo native Meg Okura defies convention. While forging a prolific career in music since graduating from Juilliard in the ’90s (working with the likes of Diana Krall and David Bowie to name a few), this Grammy-nominated jazz violinist continues reaching out to new audiences through her “world chamber jazz” that could mean anything from performing the erhu with her Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble or big band music from Japanese and Jewish composers.

As part of the NPO Trio, Okura recently released Live at the Stone, a collaboration with husband Sam Newsome (soprano saxophone) and Jean-Michel Pilc (piano) that creates a unique sound with hints of familiar melodies including well-known Yiddish songs and even excerpts of John Coltrane. Arriving May 13 is IMA IMA, Okura’s latest studio effort. A reflection on motherhood featuring the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble and trumpeter Tom Harrell, this new material will be showcased in an intimate live performance at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in New York on Aug. 20.

In this exclusive interview, Okura discusses her inspirations and also tackles taboo topics like whether the music industry needs its own #MeToo movement and the difficulty of making a living as a musical artist in the age of the internet.

You are known for your eclectic music, getting inspiration from jazz, pop, and all the way to 19th century Yiddish music. Is that a concerted effort to avoid being typecast in any particular genre?

I create music that is true to myself. Different types of music reveal themselves to me whether it sounds like Ose Shalom, J.S. Bach, Piazzolla, Coltrane or even YMO. I just welcome what comes to me. But don’t get me wrong, I am a firm proponent of straight-ahead jazz. I am a jazz musician first and foremost, but I also used to perform Brahms and Ravel, and have toured with Michael Brecker as well as many Jewish bands. So I just stay true to myself and try to accept my whole history and different life experiences.

Has being born and raised in Japan influenced your musical style? Why learn the erhu and not the shamisen, for instance?

Japanese people are open and unafraid of owning music from other cultures. For example, I am very unapologetic about learning the erhu, jazz, and Judaism—things that obviously belong to races, cultures, and traditions different from my own. It’s a uniquely Japanese thing to embrace arts from other cultures and perform them at a high level.

What got you hooked on Yiddish music, and did your husband have any influence on that?

Do you know that I have a big band called J-Orchestra? We play music by Jewish and Japanese composers including works by yours truly, who is both Jewish and Japanese. Not only am I a Jew but I have also studied German and Hebrew, so I always felt connected to the Yiddish melodies—minor melodies with major chords. I always cry every time I play “Oyfn Pripetchik.” My husband, Sam Newsome, on the other hand, is not Jewish. So he is not familiar with these melodies at all, and it works out beautifully keeping our music making fresh and unique.

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Apr 3

JQ Magazine: Book Review — New from Tuttle (Spring 2018)

Tuttle Publishing

By Rashaad Jorden (Yamagataken, 2008-10) for JQ magazine. A former head of the JETAA Philadelphia SubChapter, Rashaad is a graduate of Leeds Beckett University with a masters degree in responsible tourism management. For more on his life abroad and enthusiasm for taiko drumming, visit his blog at www.gettingpounded.wordpress.com.

Tuttle Publishing has released another selection of Japan-related books, and the following quartet includes works that touch on Japanese etiquette, language study, Okinawan history, and picturesque Kyoto.

Japan: A Guide to Traditions, Customs and Etiquette

While studying Japanese, I learned the term shikata, which is translated as the “way of doing things.” However, as the late lecturer and writer Boyé Lafayette de Mente thoroughly documents, kata represents a lot more than a translation of “form”: It is a concept present in just about every aspect of Japanese society, whether it be the business world, poetry, or sumo. In essence, kata guides the country’s etiquette.

In Japan, the process of accomplishing a goal is just as significant, if not more significant, than the actual result—a notable contrast to the West. De Mente defines kata as the “way things are supposed to be done,” and he educates readers on how the concept has shaped Japan throughout its history and the present.

The author also touches on other cultural differences between Westerners and Japanese (such as communication styles) and people reading the book will probably nod their heads in agreement as they read certain passages, such as “Foreigners can live a lifetime in Japan and not fully understand how the Japanese system works the way it does” and why Japanese often express amazement at foreigners who can utter the simplest Japanese phrase. Japan: A Guide to Traditions, Customs and Etiquette is really an exploration of the Japanese psyche.

If nothing else, you’ll be amazing at how different Japan seems from the West.

Tuttle Publishing

Beginning Japanese Kanji: Language Practice Pad

Those seeking an introduction to kanji, or just a way to brush up on them, should turn to William Matsuzaki’s work. The pad is an excellent tool for busy people: The 334 kanji it presents lends itself to a simple, one kanji-a-day memorization for those aiming to study at a relaxed pace. Furthermore, each page contains terms utilizing the featured kanji and tips on how to write its strokes.

The kanji appearing in the pad is really nothing out of the ordinary, as you’ll see them in many (if not most) materials geared toward relatively novice Japanese learners. Adding to the book’s appeal, the inclusion of spaces to write the kanji (as well as sample sentences featuring the characters) is most useful for those looking to bolster their knowledge of the language.

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Apr 2

“If nothing else, CITY is a reminder that big city chaos can be entertaining.” (Vertical Comics)

By Rashaad Jorden (Yamagataken, 2008-10) for JQ magazine. A former head of the JETAA Philadelphia SubChapter, Rashaad is a graduate of Leeds Beckett University with a masters degree in responsible tourism management. For more on his life abroad and enthusiasm for taiko drumming, visit his blog at www.gettingpounded.wordpress.com.

Work often gets in the way of fun times. But if you incorporate some creativity into your life, that doesn’t have to be the case.

Enter the world of Midori Nagumo, the protagonist of the comedy manga CITY. In this first volume (which began serialization in Japan in September 2016) from creator Keiichi Arawi (Nichijou), Nagumo is a very broke college student whose landlady is constantly hounding her for money. Her roommate Niikura refuses to lend her money when she realizes what Nagumo’s true intention is.

Nagumo has to resort to other avenues to raise money, such as stealing a clay figure with the aim of selling it. But she clumsily drops the object, rendering it shattered. Crazily enough, immediately afterwards she’s offered a job at a restaurant (where the incident happens).

Our protagonist accepts the job but still has issues. It doesn’t help that her landlady has a police officer help “move” (or steal) all of her stuff so she wouldn’t escape (as the stolen items are actually collateral). In the middle of the volume, Nagumo reflects on her life, telling herself that if she could continue to have lots of happy moments, she’d be unbelievably thrilled with her life.

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Feb 11

JQ Magazine: New York Adventure Club Offers Urasenke Tea Ceremony

Guests of the Urasenke Chanoyu Center experienced a setting like this one pictured at the Nippon Business Institute Japanese Cultural Center of Everett Community College in Everett, Washington. (Courtesy of Philip Hafferty/Urasenke Chanoyu Center)

 

By Aubrey Keene (Hokkaido, 2004-06) for JQ magazine. Aubrey moved to New Jersey from Kentucky to complete a master’s degree in Asian studies from Seton Hall University. This is her first article for JQ.

On Saturday, February 3, the New York Adventure Club offered participants a private tea ceremony demonstration at the Urasenke Chanoyu Center of New York (UCC) in Manhattan. Nearly two dozen participants from the area attended to have their first experience with this iconic Japanese cultural tradition.

Experiences like this are not unique for members of the New York Adventure Club. The group, formed in 2013 by CEO and founder Corey William Schneider, was an effort, he explains, “to get my friends to join me on my random weekend adventures around the city.” For more than a year and a half prior, Schneider had been exploring the city on his own as part of what he calls a “mini-early life crisis” that triggered a desire to do more fulfilling activities in his free time. By founding the group on Facebook, Schneider hoped he could get others to join him: he quickly discovered his idea was a hit when over 100 people showed up for the first event. The group now boasts more than 9,000 members, with activities ranging from trapeze classes to tours of Grant’s Tomb to tea tastings happening almost every day of the week.

On a chilly Upper East Side afternoon, participants gathered in the lobby of the UCC for an introduction by their chado, or way of tea, master Yoshihiro Terazono, who gave an overview of the 140-year old building. Originally a horse carriage house later refitted as an art studio for Mark Rothko, the UCC purchased the building in 1980 and spent two years transforming the space into a tea ceremony center. It now houses three tatami mat rooms of various sizes where students come and practice throughout the week. Each room opens to an outdoor space of a garden area with a view of the windows three stories above. The aesthetics successfully evoked the image of a tea house in Kyoto, the birthplace of Urasenke.

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Feb 3

JQ Magazine: Nippon in New York – Hello from Japan, Katsu Album Release, ‘Ponyo’ Turns 10

By JQ magazine editor Justin Tedaldi (CIR Kobeshi, 2001-02). Justin has written about Japanese arts and entertainment for JETAA since 2005. For more of his articles, click here.

Stay warm this winter with some hot local events, from live showcases that will transport you to another time and place, some new anime screenings, and a sake extravaganza you won’t want to miss.

Emily Munro

Now through May 6

Hello from Japan!

Children’s Museum of Manhattan, 212 West 83rd Street

$14 children/adults, $11 seniors

Experience Tokyo’s vibrant culture in a new interactive exhibit! Children will have fun learning about life in present day Japan in this playful, highly immersive environment that transports families to two distinct areas of Tokyo that exist side by side: one serene and exquisite, the other, too cute for words. Kawaii Central is a streetscape inspired by Tokyo’s bustling Harajuku district, bursting with color, trendy shops and cuter than cute styles. Kids sing karaoke, smile for the photo booth camera, serve up a seasonal Japanese meal, and design adorable mascots for their families. Plus, learn more about contemporary Japan through special programs for the public, free with admission.

Courtesy of Eventbrite.com

Saturday, Feb. 3, 3:30 p.m.

Private Japanese Tea Ceremony Demonstration @ The Secret Kyoto Garden 

Urasenke Chanoyu Center of New York, 153 East 69th Street

$35 advance, $39 day of event

Experience one of Japan’s oldest traditional tea ceremonies in a secret indoor Japanese garden hidden in the Upper East Side—led by a Tea Master of Urasenke! Join New York Adventure Club for a traditional Japanese tea ceremony demonstration in the style of Urasenke, one of the main schools of Japanese tea ceremony. Established in 1967 to promote the rich cultural tea tradition of Urasenke in New York City, the UCC is a private organization that teaches its members how to master this ancient tradition over the course of 10-15 years. This event also offers an opportunity to consume the best quality sweets and matcha green tea from Kyoto, the birthplace of Urasenke.

Sunday, Feb. 18, 2:00 p.m.

Katsu: Debut Album Release Concert

National Opera Center – OPERA America, 330 Seventh Avenue

$20 suggested donation

Katsu started to perform in public about a month after he started playing the piano when he was the age of 19 by self-learning. He also started composing originals soon after the beginning of the public performances. After performing several times in Japan, He moved to New York. Then in December 2016, he debuted as a composer and a pianist at the Steinway Hall. Now, he has been performing his original tunes as a solo pianist at multiple venues. His music is described as New Age music, classical, Jazz, romantic piano, and more. This intimate performance will feature selections from his recently released debut album, Moon.

GKIDS

March 25-26, 28

Ponyo 10th Anniversary

E-Walk 42nd Street 13, 247 West 42nd Street / Empire 25, 234 West 42nd Street

$12.50 all ages

For the kickoff of Studio Ghibli Fest 2018,  From the legendary Studio Ghibli, creators of Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, and Academy Award-winning director Hayao Miyazaki, comes a heartwarming family adventure. When Sosuke, a young boy who lives on a clifftop overlooking the sea, rescues a stranded goldfish named Ponyo, he discovers more than he bargained for. Ponyo is a curious, energetic young creature who yearns to be human, but even as she causes chaos around the house, her father, a powerful sorcerer, schemes to return Ponyo to the sea. Miyazaki’s breathtaking, imaginative world is brought to life with an all-star cast, featuring (on the March 25 and March 28 English-language screenings) the voices of Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Lily Tomlin, Liam Neeson, and more.

Illustration by Ben Warren © Japan Society; Hideto Iwai © Toru Hiraiwa; Sarah Hughes © Alex Tilney

Monday, March 26, 7:30 p.m.

Manhood

Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street

$15, $10 Japan Society members, seniors and students

This program is the 13th installment of Japan Society’s annual Play Reading Series, which introduces topical plays from up-and-coming playwrights in Japan to artists and audiences in the U.S. Written by Hideto Iwai, the winner of the prestigious Kishida Kunio Award for Drama, Manhood follows the twisted turns in the lives of four men as their boyish posse faces the harsh realities of adulthood and old age. Sarah Hughes, a New York local and emerging theater director, leads her gender swapped cast in this off-kilter depiction of Japanese “bro culture.” Playwright Iwai joins in a post-performance Q&A with the audience and director.

Courtesy of Lonelyplanet.com

Friday, March 30, 6:30 p.m.

Travel Japanese

The Nippon Club, 145 West 57th Street

$10 (materials included), RSVP at jpcourse@jfny.org

Are you planning a trip to Japan in the near future? If so, this workshop is for you! Please join us for our Travel Japanese workshop and learn Japanese vocabulary and basic expressions essential for travel in Japan! Japanese customs and useful travel information will also be introduced. In this workshop, you will be able to order food at a restaurant using simple terms, communicate with a store attendant while doing shopping, tell your destination to a taxi driver or station agent and ask for information, and more!

Want to stay in the loop on future eventsFollow Justin on Facebook and Twitter.


Jan 25

Click image to read article

By JQ magazine editor Justin Tedaldi (CIR Kobe-shi, 2001-02) for Shukan NY Seikatsu. Justin has written about Japanese arts and entertainment for JETAA since 2005. For more of his articles, click here.

Since forming in 1987, the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET) has become one of the world’s largest international exchange programs, with nearly 65,000 people from 65 countries selected to promote English language learning and teaching in Japan. To commemorate its first three decades, the JET Alumni Association of New York (JETAANY) is hosting an equally ambitious event.

“The main purpose of the JETAANY Gala is to celebrate 30 years of the JET Programme and all we hope it will become,” said JETAANY events chair Andy Shartzer. “JET has helped the grassroots community abroad, and our alumni chapters explore how we can continue its message. Our goal is also to establish JETAANY as a greater presence in the U.S.-Japan community.”

The sold-out gala, which will be held at Brooklyn’s Dumbo Loft on February 3rd, will feature multiple generations of JET participants and community members with ties to Japan, along with a taiko performance, an awards ceremony, and a prize drawing. Donations are from local companies and organizations including publisher Vertical, Inc., Kaoru Watanabe Taiko Center, and the venerable Japan Society of New York.

“Since its inception 30 years ago, the JET Programme has been a unique and outstanding facilitator of grassroots exchange between the U.S. and Japan,” said JETAANY president Wendy Ikemoto. “As one of the largest and most active alumni chapters in the U.S., we’re honored by the overwhelming response received.”

According to Shartzer, JETAANY plans to host similar events in the future, and is delighted to form new partnerships. For sponsorship and donation proposals, email Wendy at president@jetaany.org. For more information on JETAANY, visit http://jetaany.org.


Jan 18

JQ Magazine: Theatre Review — ‘Mugen Noh Othello’

“In this striking setting, the noh theatrics perfectly capture and complement the emotions and thoughts recurring in Shakespeare’s play.” (Richard Termine)

By Lyle Sylvander (Yokohamashi, 2001-02) for JQ magazine. Lyle has completed a masters program at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University and has been writing for the JET Alumni Association of New York since 2004. He is also the goalkeeper for FC Japan, a New York Citybased soccer team.

From Jan. 11-14, director Satoshi Miyagi and his company Shizuoka Performing Arts Center (SPAC) returned to Japan Society of New York with their sold-out production of Mugen Noh Othello. As with their previous Madea (seen at Japan Society in 2011), Miyagi and company adapt a classic play from the Western canon and infuse it with the stylistic conventions of noh. Specifically, Miyagi and his playwright Sukehiro Hirakawa re-tell the story from the viewpoint of Desdemona’s ghost, a traditional in the mugen (supernatural) style of noh. This style typically involves otherworldly beings, including gods, spirits and ghosts. Time is often depicted as passing in a non-linear fashion, and action may switch between two or more timeframes from moment to moment, including flashbacks.

Noh theatre is considered to be the highest art form among the five classical Japanese forms of theatre: noh, kabuki, bunraku, butoh and kyogen. The art form requires highly trained actors and musicians (Mugen Noh Othello featured a percussion ensemble of six). The actors usually wear masks to signify the characters’ gender, age and social ranking, and by wearing masks the actors may portray youngsters, old men, female, or even nonhuman characters such as demons or animals. Noh also contains a uniquely structured stage with the hashigakari, a narrow bridge that is used for entering. Since Japan Society’s theater contains a more conventional stage (albeit without proscenium), the hashigakari has been approximated. All actors enter through it, as if entering from another space into the new shared theatrical space with the audience. Throughout the performance, the actors chant in unison, further accentuating the otherworldly atmosphere.

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Jan 2

JQ Magazine: Nippon in New York — Studio Ghibli, ‘Final Fantasy’ @ 30, ‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’

By JQ magazine editor Justin Tedaldi (CIR Kobeshi, 2001-02). Justin has written about Japanese arts and entertainment for JETAA since 2005. For more of his articles, click here.

Start 2018 off right by heading down to your local concert hall, cinema, or arts center for some fantastic new year’s fare. Whether you enjoy movies, travel, or orchestral performances classic video games, treat yourself and catch a break from the cold.

This month’s highlights include:

GKIDS

Jan. 1-11

The Complete Studio Ghibli

IFC Center, 323 Sixth Avenue

$15 adults, $11 children

In collaboration with GKIDS, IFC Center is pleased to present the return of this smash-hit retrospective of Japan’s famed Studio Ghibli animation house. Don’t miss your chance to see some of the greatest films of all time on the big screen! Titles include the favorites Spirited Away, Nausicaä and My Neighbor Totoro—with select screenings on 35mm prints! All films shown prior to 6 p.m. will be screened in the English-language version; evening shows will be subtitled in English. For a list of all films and dates, click here.

Mugen Noh Othello © Takuma Uchida

Jan. 11-14

Mugen Noh Othello

Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street

$35, $30 Japan Society members

Following a sold-out run of Medea in 2011, Satoshi Miyagi and his company SPAC return to New York with another literary masterpiece, Othello. Miyagi re-tells Shakespeare’s famed tragedy through noh theater’s most distinct storytelling structure, mugen noh, or a play that features a spirit. Told from the perspective of Othello’s wife Desdemona, who returns as a ghost after her death, Miyagi’s production is replete with stunning masks and costumes as well as powerful live music and chanting. Performed in Japanese with English titles. The Friday, Jan. 12 performance is followed by an artist Q&A.

Courtesy of Ffdistantworlds.com

Saturday, Jan. 13, 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.

Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy

Carnegie Hall (Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage), 881 Seventh Avenue

$28-$120

Distant Worlds brings its concert production to one of the world’s most famous orchestral venues. With composer Nobuo Uematsu in attendance, the Distant Worlds Philharmonic Orchestra and the Dessoff Choirs under the direction of Grammy Award-winner Arnie Roth celebrate the 30th anniversary of Final Fantasy. These special performances feature exclusive HD video presentations from Square Enix alongside classic scores and new premieres.

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Dec 31

JQ Magazine: Book Review — ‘Zen Gardens and Temples of Kyoto’

“While Zen Gardens can be challenging to grasp, there is magic to behold.” (Tuttle Publishing)

By Rashaad Jorden (Yamagataken, 2008-10) for JQ magazine. A former head of the JETAA Philadelphia SubChapter, Rashaad is a graduate of Leeds Beckett University with a masters degree in responsible tourism management. For more on his life abroad and enthusiasm for taiko drumming, visit his blog at www.gettingpounded.wordpress.com.

Kyoto has served as the focal point of Japanese cultural forms such as geisha, noh theater and ikebana. And as John Dougill thoroughly details in Zen Gardens and Temples of Kyoto, the city has played an enormous role in the development of Zen in Japan.

A professor at Kyoto’s largest Buddhist university, Dougill explores the ties between Japan’s former capital and the Buddhist sect in this guide to Kyoto’s most prominent Zen gardens and temple sites. While not the birthplace of Zen in Japan, Kyoto could be considered its soul as the city has long housed renowned temples where visitors and monks have sought serenity.

At first glance, such a book would seem to be a largely visual journal featuring a score of beautiful places. Zen Gardens doesn’t disappoint in that regard as photographer John Einarsen captures the splendor of some very spiritual places. But it’s clear early on that the book will rely primarily on stories to chronicle the story of Zen in Kyoto—not surprising since Dougill has previously written about Japan’s World Heritage Sites and Kyoto’s history.

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Dec 24

JQ Magazine: Jamming After JET — Rural Island Alums Release New Albums

“Living in Japan exposes you to music you would not have heard otherwise. I owe most of my knowledge to availability of 100 yen records all over the country and the friendly record store employees that were eager to teach me about Japanese music.” (Courtesy of Eli Cohen)

 

By Greg Beck (Hiroshimaken, 2006-11) for JQ magazine. Greg is a writer, producer, home brewer, and Social Coordinator for JETAA Southern California and Arizona. A former news producer for Tokyo Broadcasting System in New York, he currently works freelance in Los Angeles. For more cinema reviews, follow him on Twitter at @CIRBECK #MovieReview.

Regardless of your placement on JET, music is a constant part of the experience. Whether it is karaoke parties with friends, music festivals like Fuji Rock, “live house” local performances, or simply singing Beatles and Carpenters with your students (over and over), all of us take something musical with us from our time on JET. But what about musicians who join JET? JQ reached out to two alumni from small islands off the coast of Kyushu, who have gone on to release their own albums, and hear from them how these unique records reflect that experience.

Eli Cohen (Kagoshima-ken, 2009-2010) runs the International Admissions department at one of the City University of New York’s institutions. He is also a DJ who started a record label, Alliance Upholstery. His new album, Tokyo Nights: Female J-Pop Boogie Funk —1981 to 1988, is a collection of music that fits into this genre.

If that sounds obscure, we thought so, too. Cohen explains: “In high school I was really into Japanese punk (Teengenerate, Guitar Wolf). This is where my interest in Japan started. As I grew older, I became very interested in Japanese music from the ’80s, as well as fashion and art from the era. Japanese people refer to this style as ‘City Pop.’ Outside of Japan, the term is a little vague and people often call this Japanese Boogie. The sound reflects the attitude and excitement of the bubble, bright and full of optimism,” adding that his favorite artist is Toshiki Kadomatsu.

Cultures of Soul Records (click image for audio samples)

Many JETs can probably relate to Cohen’s experience as a JET placed on a rural, island, both in the difficulties adjusting, and the unexpected opportunities. Having spent several years before JET living in Osaka and Tokyo, Cohen was placed in Minamitane, below the southernmost tip of Kyushu, which he describes as “a tiny town of about 8,000 people on the island of Tanegashima.” Before that, he says, “I had felt very little culture shock when I first moved to Japan as I had only lived in major cities. Tanegashima was my first taste of inaka life and a very unique and challenging experience.” While he admits, “The students were great but I prefer city life and was eager to return to Tokyo,” he also shared the following: “JAXA, the Japanese space program, is based in Minamitane. There was a bar in town appropriately titled Moon Bar. I would DJ there on occasion and tried to incorporate space themes into the sets.”

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Dec 23

JQ Magazine: Book Review — ‘The JET Program and the US-Japan Relationship: Goodwill Goldmine’

“While focused solely on the American experience, the outline of the history and intention behind the JET Program’s creation is a fascinating and illuminating one. One hopes that this book will be the start of the conversation and academic study on JET’s other accomplishments and help complete the picture of a fallible but venerable institution.” (Lexington Books)

 

 

By Eden Law (Fukushima-ken, 2010-11) for JQ magazine. Eden is the current JETAA New South Wales President (in Sydney, Australia) and Australian JET Alumni Association Country Representative, and handles the social media/website side for JETAA International as Webmaster. He also runs the Life After JET podcast.

Note: Spelling is always problematic when dealing with international differences. I shall be spellingProgramthe way it is referred to in the book and the title, to avoid inconsistencies. Apologies, especially to any fellow Australians reading this. However, Ill be keeping my quixotically placedus andrs.

Created in 1987, The JET Program has brought tens of thousands of young people from around the world to work, live and experience life in Japan. An international exchange program of a diplomatic nature, its aims were to improve global perceptions towards Japan and to internationalised Japanese local communities, all through the format of teaching and improving English skills in schools. Since then, articles and papers about the effectiveness of JET has focused primarily on its impact (or lack thereof) on the level of English language ability on the student population, leading to questions about the feasibility of maintaining the high costs of the program. At least once, the program came close to termination: In 2010, a Japanese government budget review panel called for the discontinuation of JET, before the subsequent administration of Shinzo Abe saved it, setting the agenda for expanding numbers in the lead-up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

More positive literature exists, of course: David L. McConnell’s Importing Diversity: Inside Japan’s JET Program, published in 2000, is the most well-known example, written by an academic who was once a JET participant. Seventeen years on, Emily T. Metzgar (Shimaneken, 1993-95), herself also once a JET and now an academic, has penned a follow-up of sorts, entitled The JET Program and the US-Japan Relationship: Goodwill Goldmine, which, as described in its title, confines its evaluation of the program on its international impact in relation to the United States and Japan. The JET Program justifies its restricted focus on this bilateral relationship on its assertion that the program was originally created with the United States in mind as the first target for Japan to improve its international image abroad. Statistically, 50 percent of the total number of participants throughout the program’s history have been sourced from the United States (and in an impeccable sense of timing, the book arrived on the eve of the program’s big 30th anniversary celebrations and JETAA conference in Washington, D.C., featuring Metzgar as one of the headline presenters).

Commentators seeking to put a more positive outlook on the program’s accomplishments have had to look outside of the hoary old topic of education. The JET Program settles on examining how it worked as a “soft power” initiative for Japan’s global image (the topic of how JET fared as an internationalisation agent of Japanese local community is, as Metzgar says, best left “as a promising research topic for an ambitious doctoral student,” though she does comment on these other aims later on). For those wondering, yes, the book argues that JET has been enormously successful in this aspect. Examples are plentiful in The JET Program: recalling the threat of JET’s culling high-profile American JET alumni in organisations such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and JCIE/USA defended it by referring to its “soft power” success. In other less fraught periods, the book cites senior members and policymakers of both governments who spoke positively of JET’s contributions to their countries’ relationship, implying acknowledgement of the same thing.

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Dec 18

JQ Magazine: Film Review — ‘In This Corner of the World’

In This Corner of the World is more than a good story with vibrant animation. It is a thoughtful work of art that holds its own against the other big anime hit of 2016, Your Name.” © Fumiyo Kouno/Futabasha/Konosekai no Katasumini Project

By Preston Hatfield (Yamanashiken, 2009-10) for JQ magazine. Preston is the English teacher you wish you had growing up. He taught in Kofu, Yamanashi on JET and later received his Masters in Education and teaching credential from Stanford University. He now teaches English at a public high school in the Silicon Valley, and is inspiring the leaders of tomorrow one dank meme at a time.

Raise your hand if you remember how it felt to watch Grave of the Fireflies. It isn’t often that you’re truly glad to have watched a film that slowly rips your heart out, but the iconic 1988 film about Japan during World War II did exactly that for generations of viewers. Nearly 30 years later, director Sunao Katabuchi (Mai Mai Miracle) has created his own anime masterpiece that is every bit as poignant, tragic and beautiful as Grave of the Fireflies.

Based on the award-winning manga by Fumiyo Kouno, In This Corner of the World follows Suzu, an 18-year-old girl from Hiroshima, as she is plucked from her life by a man she only vaguely knows and moves in with his family in the nearby naval port city of Kure. As Suzu acclimates to life with her new family, the audience gets a look at the daily ins and outs of domestic life for Japanese women at the time, from tending the garden and collecting locally grown plants to make their meals, to refashioning kimonos into trousers and robes. Suzu also struggles with learning how to be a good wife and ingratiating herself to her new in-laws and her husband’s hypercritical sister.

In the latter half of the film, Katabuchi shows how the war progressively deteriorates the Japanese’s sense of normalcy, comfort, and security. What was once a quaint seaside naval town is reduced to a scene of waking nightmare and blazing fire. There are incessant air raid sirens and evacuations to bomb shelters, government propaganda, espionage hysteria, overcrowded hospitals, and the incomprehensible annihilation of cities and the people who populate them. But despite a number of somber (if not heart-wrenching) moments, In This Corner of the World ends the way most of us wish Grave of the Fireflies could have ended, and that small dose of optimism makes the film much easier to sit with when the credits roll.

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Dec 17

JQ Magazine: Book Review — ‘The Abundance of Less’

“Although the purpose of The Abundance of Less might be to extol the virtues of simple living, it emerges as an enriching journey into the world of many extraordinary people.” (North Atlantic Books)

By Rashaad Jorden (Yamagataken, 2008-10) for JQ magazine. A former head of the JETAA Philadelphia SubChapter, Rashaad is a graduate of Leeds Beckett University with a masters degree in responsible tourism management. For more on his life abroad and enthusiasm for taiko drumming, visit his blog at www.gettingpounded.wordpress.com.

Simple living. Sustainability. Living off the grid. Practices and ideals that could bring about an enriching life and possibly freedom for many people—as well as concepts that have become more prevalent in recent years.

But the above-mentioned buzzwords aren’t endemic to the West. Thanks to Andy Couturier, the stories of Japanese living the most sustainable lives they can outside of the mainstream is documented in The Abundance of Less: Lessons in Simple Living from Rural Japan.

Couturier, a former English teacher and staff writer for the Japan Times, originally profiled ten Japanese living “a very principled way of life” that didn’t feed the capitalist machine for his 2010 book A Different Kind of Luxury. Spurred on by a surge in environmental activism following the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, the author provides updates on each of the people he profiled in his original book (unfortunately, two of them have since passed away).

The people providing the “lessons” are (or have been), among other things, an anarchist; a writer/filmmaker inspired by the hippie counterculture; and a painter. Couturier was introduced to several of the ten people he wrote about by Atsuko and Gufu Watanabe, a couple he and his partner Cynthia met while teaching in Japan. Although the bookends of The Abundance of Less are dominated by his observations about life in Japan, a how-to guide for those wanting to follow in his footsteps (Couturier and his partner built their abode in California by themselves and applied many of the principles they learned in Japan) and his life story, the book largely focuses on the remarkable individuals he profiles.

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Dec 12

JQ Magazine: Book Review — ‘Speak and Read Japanese’

Speak and Read Japanese won’t be mistaken for the most thorough guide for learning the language. But it is a nice reminder that injecting humor into language learning can go a long way.” (Stone Bridge Press)

By Rashaad Jorden (Yamagataken, 2008-10) for JQ magazine. A former head of the JETAA Philadelphia SubChapter, Rashaad is a graduate of Leeds Beckett University with a masters degree in responsible tourism management. For more on his life abroad and enthusiasm for taiko drumming, visit his blog at www.gettingpounded.wordpress.com.

Your JET experience (hopefully) included a lot of Japanese study. Whether you remember what learned is another story. But it might have helped to concoct some humorous words and phrases to help you best retain the new vocabulary.

Enter the world of mnemonics, courtesy of author Larry Herzberg. The longtime professor has created a language guide titled Speak and Read Japanese: Fun Mnemonic Devices for Remembering Japanese Words and Their Meanings.

You might be wondering, just what are mnemonics? They’re tools language learners might find indispensable in preventing the meanings of new words from escaping their minds. Early in Speak and Read Japanese, Herzberg mentions that such memory hooks have served as the best method of learning new vocabulary in foreign languages for him, for if he could tie the sound of words he was trying to learn to a word in English, he was more likely to retain the new vocabulary.

So is Herzberg’s work a productive tool for language learners? Well, much of the book is an English-Japanese dictionary featuring the translation of many common words and better yet (for hardcore Japanese learners), detailed breakdowns of each word’s kanji as well as literal translations for some terms. You might not have known that hikouki (airplane) is literally translated as “flying-going machine” and shinshitsu (bedroom) means “sleeping room.” And those wanting to improve writing kanji will be pleased to discover a chart of radicals toward the end of the book.

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