Nov 28

 

By David Reilling (Nagano, ALT) and Eden Law (Fukushima, ALT). David hails from Cleveland, Ohio, and now lives on the Central Coast, Sydney in Australia. Eden is also from Sydney (via Malaysia). The interview questions were done by David, while Eden is the editor and did the write-up for this article.

Got thigh gap?

That’s a killer diet.

Here in Sydney we do love our film festivals, ranging from the grand Sydney Film Festival, to numerous language, cultural or country-based film programmes like the Japanese Film Festival (also grand), documentaries (Antenna) and short films (Tropfest). Horror and sci-fi gets to shine at the combined ‘A Night of Horror’ and ‘Fantastic Planet’ festival. This is also where director Hiroshi Katagiri gets to shine, with his debut film ‘GEHENNA: Where Death Lives’, after working in the industry as a special effects and makeup artist, sculptor and creature-creator (his impressive IMDB page lists some well-known entries like Wolverine, Hunger Games, Pirates of the Caribbean, Looper). He also lists his favourite films in the genre as ‘Zathura’ and ‘Cabin in the Woods’, giving you an idea of the influences in his film.

‘GEHENNA’ follows five people scouting for locations to build a spanking brand new resort, and while on a secluded island paradise, stumble across an abandoned Japanese WWII bunker, and decides to go exploring. As you can imagine, this is a Really Bad Idea – check out the trailer below.

We had a quick correspondence with Hiroshi as part of the promotion for film.

Your bio says you “moved to the US at age 18 to pursue a career in special makeup effects.” How did you start a career in special effects?
Basically I had build my portfolio and use that to approach make-up FX studios. That was in 1991 and it was kind of a new industry and… work and entry level [positions] were very low. I still feel I was so fortunate.

What was the most difficult special effects thing you ever made?
Dead mermaids for ‘Pirates of the Caribbean on Stranger Tide.’ Not technically difficult but I only had 7 weeks from start to finish to build 3 full body silicon mermaids. That was insane.

You directed the movie Gehenna: Where Death Lives. You also wrote it and did the special make-up effects. How was it? How long did it take? Tell us about it.
For the writing, I was writing as I’m thinking, “How do I make this?”. Since I know what exactly I can do, that really helped on writing… Doing make up FX myself is the best way to save money and keep quality. If I hire someone for this quality of FX, it will cost. It is not easy but I needed to do it. If there’s enough budget, I wouldn’t do the FX myself. I started doing make-up FX about 5 months before start of filming.

Why did you choose Saipan [location of the film]?
I was looking to the location where Japan and America fought. Saipan just came up to my mind first.

What challenges did you have filming there?
Biggest challenge was the weather. We avoided the rainy season but there were rainstorms. On first day of shoot, we had 5-6 showers between. That was scary. I had to modify camera angles to hide wet ground.

Will you direct a movie again?
Of course I will!

Will you make a movie in Australia?
Sure I’d love to! I’m a huge fan of Mad Max!!


May 5
"When it comes to art, there’s always a certain level of intensity that I like, because I like seriousness—especially when it comes to an almost religious seriousness in doing music or art for a higher presence. I love that about Japanese aesthetics." (Armando Zamora)

“When it comes to art, there’s always a certain level of intensity that I like, because I like seriousness—especially when it comes to an almost religious seriousness in doing music or art for a higher presence. I love that about Japanese aesthetics.” (Armando Zamora)

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

People from all over the world come to New York to launch their careers in entertainment. But can you do so in the world of Japanese music?

Patrick Bartley has. A Florida native who was inspired at a young age by the sounds of classic video game scores like Sonic the Hedgehog and Streets of Rage, Bartley came to New York to study at the Manhattan School of Music and later formed the J-MUSIC Ensemble, an multi-instrumental group that mixes the various genres that make up the Japanese music scene. A Grammy-nominated saxophonist and composer with a jazz background, Bartley formed the group as a way to express his admiration for the music he first discovered through video games, anime themes and J-pop classics.

The J-MUSIC Ensemble is currently recording their debut album, and their numerous live performances over the past year have led to this week’s release of the band’s first-ever single, FUTUREBOUND, available May 6. The group is celebrating with a special launch party performance that night at Shrine World Music Venue in Manhattan, followed by a performance at ShapeShifer Lab in Brooklyn May 8 with Tokyo electronic music pioneer Coppé and recording artist Kaoru Watanabe.

Keeping busy as a fulltime musician, Bartley has performed with artists as diverse as Wynton Marsalis, Steve Miller and Igor Butman, and earlier this year he bantered on-camera with Stephen Colbert for a taping of The Late Show as a guest with house band Jon Batiste and Stay Human. En route to another gig earlier this year, JQ caught up with him over falafel in Harlem for this exclusive interview.

What should readers know about the J-MUSIC Ensemble?

Even though we feature singers, when you go to a J-MUSIC Ensemble concert, you’re going to experience the music you’re used to hearing in a totally different way, because we put the horns in the front line in the same positions as singers. We want you to feel the horns just as powerfully as you would hear the other elements like the dancing and the singing. But this time, you’re putting the music under a microscope and really giving you the full experience. We’re also taking these songs and putting improvisational elements into it—we’re taking a microscope and putting jazz elements into it. But at the same time, we’re keeping the core essence of the music. We’re not just playing jazz songs; we’re taking the jazz mentality. We’re still playing rock. We’re still playing funk. We’re still playing pop. We still feel that exact feeling, but with a human element—live instruments and live bands performing it. There’s really nothing like it.

What projects are you and the J-MUSIC Ensemble working on at the moment?

The most recent thing we’re excited about is our single release on May 6. With this, people can finally get real, downloadable audio files to keep with them no matter what, and in high quality! We spent a great deal of time and invested a lot to get this working, and the mixes and masters turned out great. Other than this, the band itself is really the project. The way I think of this, project-wise, is I’m constantly looking at this huge, vast sea of Japanese music, art, and cultural history—and I often find myself asking the question, “Where do I start?” So, in that regard, I usually pick what I think can work best for the band, so that we can spend time developing our sound and finding what our natural tendencies are, you know? As well as just what the optimal horn sounds are, and if stuff is electronic, I have to figure out what’s possible to play live with real instruments. Right now, we’ve found that [J-pop band] Perfume is perfect for our instrumentation, so we’re going to keep exploring that, mainly, until we continue to find our sound.

How has Japan influenced your music?

The way Japan has influenced my music has been through understanding the history of the country. And even though I really haven’t gone there, I observe as much as I can, such as the intensity by which they operate on a day-to-day basis in everything. When it comes to art, there’s always a certain level of intensity that I like, because I like seriousness—especially when it comes to an almost religious seriousness in doing music or art for a higher presence. Like actually taking it seriously and creating something that no matter what creates deep emotions and passions.

I love that about Japanese aesthetics. That always has touched me and I think I’ll never really forget it. And then there’s the language, too. It’s a totally different way of thinking, so it’s influenced the way I think about rhythm.

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Mar 20
"JET Programme participants are in a very good position to match supply with demand by bringing people together, and there are many great examples of ALTs, CIRs and SEAs using crowdsourcing, social networks, recorded videos, and event planning to support their local community." (Courtesy of Julia Inisan)

“JET Programme participants are in a very good position to match supply with demand by bringing people together, and there are many great examples of ALTs, CIRs and SEAs using crowdsourcing, social networks, recorded videos, and event planning to support their local community.” (Courtesy of Julia Inisan)

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

Julia Inisan (Kagawa-ken, 2013-15) first visited Takamatsu City, the capital of Kagawa Prefecture in Shikoku, in 2011 on a two-week tea ceremony study tour. That excursion served as a life-changing experience for the Frenchwoman as she fell in love with the city and decided to apply for a spot as a CIR there.

As a JET, Inisan has established herself as a valuable member of her local community, working diligently to attract tourism to the area and promote it on a global stage. But Inisan’s work in Japan has been far from limited to just Shikoku: She currently works to support the next generation of JETs as a programme coordinator for CLAIR. JQ caught up with her to discuss her history and blossoming career in Japan.

What attracted you to Japan in the first place?

As an elementary school student, I was fascinated by mythology and folklore and started reading classics like the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) translated into French. I was also moved by the aesthetics expressed in works such as Murasaki Shikibu’s novel The Tale of Genji and Hayao Miyazaki’s movie Princess Mononoke, and I decided to study Japanese in high school to learn more about the archipelago’s traditional culture.

I then had the opportunity to study for one year at Higashi High School in Kitakata, where I fell in love with Fukushima Prefecture’s gorgeous landscapes, and later at Kyoto University, another life-changing experience. What kept me coming back each time was the kindness of the locals, which helped me feel at home despite the cultural differences.

What made you decide to become a CIR, and what was that like compared with your previous experience living in Japan?

I was a CIR in Takamatsu City from 2013 to 2015. I had always wanted to work for the Japanese local government and promote lesser-known areas of Japan, which is why I applied for the job. As I already had strong connections to Takamatsu, receiving my acceptance letter was one of the happiest moments of my life.

I was Takamatsu City Office’s first CIR. Without a predecessor, it was difficult for me to grasp the extent of my responsibilities at first. Fortunately, I received great advice from the CIRs working at Kagawa Prefecture and from my JET Programme sempai. Finding a good balance between work, volunteering, and private time was also challenging, but my experiences with the local community have been incredibly rewarding.

You currently work as a programme coordinator for CLAIR in Tokyo. How did that opportunity come about, and what kinds of things are you responsible for?

When my two-year contract ended in Takamatsu, my contracting organization encouraged me to apply to be a programme coordinator job at CLAIR. I felt very grateful to the JET Programme and wanted to contribute to its development while supporting Japan’s local communities at a global level. I am learning a lot from my Japanese and foreign coworkers at CLAIR, and most of all from the feedback we receive from JET participants.

I currently work on a wide variety of projects, such as planning content for Post-Arrival Orientations and the CIR Mid-Year Conference, revising publications like the CIR Handbook, and directing workshops at ALT Skill Development Conferences. Last year, I was fortunate to work in cooperation with Kagawa Prefecture to welcome back Sophie Le Berre (CIR Kagawa-ken, 1995-97), one of the 12 JET Programme alumni who returned to their former places of work as part of CLAIR’s Satogaeri Project.

I am also part of the team in charge of the JET Programme Video Contest, which started in October last year. We have received lots of awesome submissions from current and former JET participants promoting their regions from their points of view. I am greatly impressed by the quality and creativity of the videos, which you can view and vote for on the contest’s website. I hope more and more JET participants will participate in this initiative, as these videos are helping tourists discover amazing areas of Japan they’ve never heard of. If you are interested in the contest and missed the deadline for the Autumn/Winter edition, don’t worry: from April 7, 2016, you can still participate in the Spring/Summer edition.

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Feb 13

By Rick Ambrosio (Ibaraki-ken, 2006-08) for JQ magazine. A dusty old fixture of the JET Alumni Association of New York (JETAANY) community, Rick manages projects at a software company by day and sends drafts late into the night as a writer for JQ.

Well, folks, it’s that time of year again. Maybe you have a special someone you’re going out with on Valentine’s Day. Perhaps you’re grabbing a bunch of friends and doing a “singles karaoke night” instead (Like some JETAANY folks are). Maybe you forgot and this is a great reminder to get some flowers and make a dinner reservation ASAP. Either way, you can only hope for the best.

But some people seem to luck out in love, and I have to say I’m happy when it’s people I like. And what kind of people do I often like? JETs. That’s right, folks, we are going to interview some Cupid-conquering JET couples and get to know how they met, where they came from, and maybe a little advice on how to spark a little JET romance of your own. So if you find yourself at that next JET alum enkai thinking “what if…?,” this might be for you.

Chau Wing Lam (Gunma-ken, 2005-07) and John Ciocco (Saga-ken, 2006-07)

At Shofuso Japanese House and Garden, Philadelphia, May 2014.

At Shofuso Japanese House and Garden, Philadelphia, May 2014.

 

Did you meet on while on JET? Or after JET through an alumni meeting?

We met during a JETAANY alumni event—a boat cruise on August 20, 2008.

How long have you been together?

We’ve been together since 2008, married in 2014.

Was it your mutual love for Japan that brought you together, or something else?

Mutual love for Japan gave us something to start talking about, then the rest of our conversation filled in from there. We actually got married at the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden here in Philadelphia to commemorate what brought us together.

Have you guys ever had to do the “distance” thing? If so, what was that like?

Yes. When we first met, Chau was living in Hoboken and John was living in South Jersey. The commute was about two hours each way, so we only saw each other on weekends. We had some challenges at first being that far away and with the both of us trying to cultivate a new relationship, but we worked through it. Chau moved to Philly in the fall of 2009, shortening the commute to about half an hour—and now we’re married with a four-and-a-half-month-old baby!

Has being on JET made you a “stronger” couple? If so, how?

It’s a shared history that grounds us and helps us remember the many commonalities we have despite our inherent differences. We both learned to be self-deprecating to try and get our students interested in English, and that is definitely a quality that we love about each other and helps us through arguments that arise. Relationships aren’t easy, but we work at it every day—so yes, in some ways, knowing how far out of our comfort zone we’re able to stretch helps us.

What advice do you have for other budding JET couples?

Always remember to have fun with each other as you did in Japan—ALWAYS. And use your commonalities to help bridge the gap when the divide seems too wide!

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Dec 14
"Some in government suggest that the path to citizenship includes learning English. What we intend to do is provide all of our apps to these learners, but entirely for free.  It is a big dream of mine to give back to society in such a way." (Courtesy of James Rogers)

“Some in government suggest that the path to citizenship includes learning English. What we intend to do is provide all of our apps to these learners, but entirely for free. It is a big dream of mine to give back to society in such a way.” (Courtesy of James Rogers)

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

For many of us, our time teaching Japanese people the finer aspects of English was limited to…well, the JET Program. But that hasn’t been the case for James Rogers (Aichi-ken, 2003-06).

As the president of Kyoto JALT and the founder and editor of the Kyoto JALT Review, Rogers has utilized his comprehensive knowledge of English-language education to develop Smart Smart, a series of apps containing materials geared towards Japanese learners of English and vice versa (as well as other language learners). Among their features, the apps contain more than 100,000 words of content, a textbook using modern music to study English, and pronunciation exercises for native Chinese, Korean and Japanese speakers.

To learn more about how Smart Smart has thrived and what’s ahead, JQ caught up with Rogers, who also happens to be a Ph.D. candidate doing corpus linguistics research.

How did your experience as a JET inspire you to launch Smart Smart?

The JET Program certainly was my first foot in the door in regards to English education in Japan—without it, I do not think any of this would have been possible. So, in that regard, I view my experience on JET as an essential aspect to my current successes with Smart Smart and my career teaching English at the university level. I think the JET Program is a wonderful opportunity for foreign teachers and Japanese students.

What inspired you to create Smart Smart?

Well, we really are still just in the beginning stages of really taking advantage of technology in education, and I just looked at what is currently available and realized that I could totally improve upon it drastically.  Also, since I am a real teacher/researcher and do not depend on this to make a living, I could provide it for nearly ten times cheaper than some technology that is currently available. For example, over 30 volunteer researchers and translators helped me to create the content for over five years. Just the apps existing and the papers we’ve all published together helps all of our careers, so that is the benefit for the team. In addition, some team members already have tenure and Ph.D.s and just wanted to be part of something that truly had the potential to improve upon English education. Since I didn’t need to pay anyone to create the resources, the price we can sell them at can be kept at the bare minimum. Originally, I intended to actually release everything for free, but then I had the opportunity to collaborate with Ernie Thomason, the creator of the best-selling Flashcards Deluxe, and realized that not only can I provide the best quality content, but also the most cutting edge technology as well for mere pocket change. Without Ernie, none of this could have been possible.

Your apps contain well over 150,000 words of content. How often is the content updated?

We update the apps themselves—in fact, just last week we added a great new feature to the quiz function in the app. But the content, other than finding typos, is fixed. For example, the app 英語マスター1万/English Master 10,000 itself has over 100,000 words of example sentences. Each sentence highlights how to use one of the chunks it teaches (all chunks and sentences have translations as well). My Ph.D. research looked at years’ worth of corpus data from the Corpus of Contemporary American English to identify these chunks. So, basically, these are the high-frequency chunks of English according to the corpus. That’s a fact that doesn’t change, and thus no updating of content is really necessary. You know, chunks like “along those lines,” or “to make a statement,” or “a big deal”…these chunks aren’t going anywhere.

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Apr 10
"JETs have a special bond, somewhat like people who go to the same university, and I think returning JETs can exploit that connection to open a few doors. JETs and MEFs are in all sorts of powerful positions these days at multinationals, news agencies, nonprofits, and government jobs. Use that network!" (Courtesy of Bruce Rutledge)

“JETs have a special bond, somewhat like people who go to the same university, and I think returning JETs can exploit that connection to open a few doors. JETs and MEFs are in all sorts of powerful positions these days at multinationals, news agencies, nonprofits, and government jobs. Use that network!” (Courtesy of Bruce Rutledge)

 

By Julio Perez Jr. (Kyoto-shi, 2011-13) for JQ magazine. A bibliophile, writer, translator, and graduate from Columbia University, Julio is currently working at Ishikawa Prefecture’s New York office while seeking opportunities with publications in New York. Follow his enthusiasm for Japan, literature, and comic books on his blog and Twitter @brittlejules.

After spending a few years in Chiba doing teaching and promotional work that would be all too familiar to JET ALTs and CIRs, Bruce Rutledge went on to work as an editor and writer in Japan for over 15 years. Today, he is the owner of Chin Music Press, a publishing company in Seattle with strong ties to Japan.

In this exclusive interview, Rutledge discusses his time as a Monbusho English Fellow (MEF), which was in some ways a precursor to the JET Program, and shares some of his experiences in a variety of media positions in Japan along with the origin and direction of Chin Music Press.

Since most of our readers are JET alumni, they’re probably already wondering about your connection to JET. Would you mind telling us a bit about the Monbusho English Fellowship you participated in? Why were you drawn to that program? Where in Japan were you placed, and how would you describe your activities as a Monbusho English Fellow? Also, how would you connect MEF with JET and compare it to what JET eventually became?

I was an MEF from 1985 to 1987 in Funabashi, Chiba, I think my job was sort of a combination of a CIR and a teaching assistant. I spent every Monday in the city hall doing PR work for Funabashi, whose slogan was “We More Sports.” I talked to them about this thing called a verb and how their slogan needed one, but my intervention was too late. Tuesday through Friday, I would teach in the schools. I taught a whole year at one high school and spent the rest of the time rotating from middle school to middle school with an occasional elementary school visit thrown in. It was a memorable period of my life. I loved my time there.

Are there any special anecdotes you would like to share from your time in Japan?

Perhaps the time a neighborhood kid of five or six broke into my apartment by climbing through an open window. The little burglar left his shoes on the windowsill. It was just the sort of juxtaposition I love about Japan.

When you finished with MEF, what was your next job? At that time, what direction did you see your life taking, and how did the your path end up differing?

After MEF life, I moved about 15 stops down the Sobu Line to Suidobashi and took a job with Universal News Japan. I was an editor and had planned to have a career in journalism. That plan worked out for nearly 15 years, until the Internet changed everything and I started longing to work in a longer form.

You seem to have had many media-related positions, mostly involving Japan or Asia. How would you describe the kind of work you did post-MEF? During those times, were you living primarily in Japan or somewhere else? How did that impact your performance in those jobs?

I lived in Japan for 15+ years. I never lived in another Asian country. I was a Louis L’Amour of white-collar jobs, doing a little bit of everything. I even did a 15-minute shortwave radio newscast from the bowels of NHK headquarters that aired at 2 a.m. Japan time. We would sleep in bunk beds from 2:30 to 5:00, then do another broadcast at around 5:30. That was the weirdest job I had.

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Dec 13
"Technology is constantly changing and students need to be equipped with the skills to master changing technology. They also need to be prepared for environmental, financial, civic and global literacy because of the interconnectedness of these issues in a globalized world." (Courtesy of 21foundation.com)

“Technology is constantly changing and students need to be equipped with the skills to master changing technology. They also need to be prepared for environmental, financial, civic and global literacy because of the interconnectedness of these issues in a globalized world.” (Courtesy of 21foundation.com)

 

By Lyle Sylvander (Yokohama-shi, 2001-02) for JQ magazine. Lyle has completed a master’s 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 City-based soccer team.

Patrick Newell founded Tokyo International School in 2001, which has since become a model institution in many areas of education and learning. The same philosophy is behind the recent launch of the Global Institute, a 21st century kindergarten and afterschool program based in Naka-Meguro.

Patrick holds a postgraduate diploma from Oxford Brookes University with a concentration in international education, and has been a speaker and participant in over 20 international school conferences and workshops. He has also chaired International School Accreditation Teams for the Council of International Schools and New England Association of Schools and Colleges, and currently serves as the chair of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) Learning Committee.

In this exclusive interview, Newell shares with JQ how traveling the world sparked the interest his chosen profession, the subjects essential for students of the 21st century, and his work through the years as a coordinator and speaker for TEDx in Japan.

How did you become interested in education?

I fell into it while traveling the world. I was working in real estate in Southern California when I suddenly decided that I didn’t want to live that corporate life anymore. So, at the age of 25, I bought a multiple-stop airline ticket to travel the world. I went through the Caribbean, Europe, India and Thailand. While in Thailand, I decided that I wanted to spend a considerable amount of time somewhere in Asia and decided that Japan would be the best place to do it. I moved to Tokyo and joined my wife in the English education business. We then started an English tutoring service for students at international schools. I didn’t have any formal educational training, and so relied on my intuition and what was valuable or wrong from my own education. Education became a passion of mine and I was researching and developing my own model while observing the different models among the international schools in Japan.

Why did you found the Tokyo International School?

We had two daughters and decided to open an international school for them. We started with a preschool and then decided to open Tokyo International School. We started with 12 students in one classroom and now have over 320 students from 50 countries. It was such a challenge opening an international school in the oldest international school market in the world.

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Dec 6
"I believe very strongly that a national organization will strengthen the network and relationships between both chapters and individual alumni, as well as elevate the status and recognition of the JET Programme and its alumni in the greater U.S.-Japan arena." (Courtesy of Laurel Lukaszewski)

“I believe very strongly that a national organization will strengthen the network and relationships between both chapters and individual alumni, as well as elevate the status and recognition of the JET Programme and its alumni in the greater U.S.-Japan arena.” (Courtesy of Laurel Lukaszewski)

 

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By Eden Law (Fukushima-ken, 2010-11) for JQ magazine. Eden currently serves on the JETAA New South Wales committee in Sydney, Australia as the online social media, webmaster and occasional editor. Got feedback? Leave a comment below.

In 2013, the JETAA Initiative project was launched by the United States-Japan Bridging Foundation (USJBF), with funding provided by the The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership (CGP). The first phase of the project was to assess the feasibility of a national JETAA organization, with the next phases dealing with the structure, duties and objectives of the new organization.

The first phase (feasibility study) has now wrapped up and its findings presented at the September 2014 National JETAA USA Conference, and the next phase is currently underway. JQ spoke with Laurel Lukaszewski (Kagoshima-ken, 1990-92), JETAA Initiative project director (who is also a highly noted, Washington D.C.-based ceramic artist in her own right), who kindly gave her time to discuss the JETAA Initiative, the findings and next steps for the project.

How did you come to be selected for the role of project director of the JETAA Initiative?

I applied for the position after I saw the job announcement posted in a number of different places. I work as an artist full-time, but my schedule is flexible and I thought this would be an exciting project. In my previous career, I was the executive director of the Japan-America Society of Washington, D.C. Before that, I worked for the Japan-America Society of the State of Washington in Seattle as their program director. I’ve also been part of the JET selection process for over 15 years (reviewing applications, interviewing, working at the embassy as the review committee liaison for two seasons). I have also been a board member of the National Cherry Blossom Festival since 2002 and have served on a number of arts-related nonprofit boards and committees over the years. I was also the secretary, then president, of the JETAA Pacific Northwest chapter in Seattle in the late ’90s, so JETAA is near and dear to my heart.

It’s been a year since your appointment. What were the main challenges you faced as a director?

While not exactly a challenge, it has been paramount to reach out to all 19 chapters in the U.S. to give them an understanding of what we are doing and why we think creating a national organization is necessary. To do this, both [JETAA co-founder] Paige Cottingham-Streater (Mie-ken, 1988-89) and I have attended national and regional conferences to give presentations and speak with alumni to garner their support. We have also made site visits to chapters in Kansas City, Atlanta and Denver to find out what challenges exist at the local level. It was also imperative to show the progress we made over the first year to our funder, The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, so that we could continue.

Why was there a need to examine to conduct a feasibility study on whether a national organization was required?

The only way a national organization will be successful is if the JET alumni community wants it. This is being created for them. I believe very strongly that a national organization will strengthen the network and relationships between both chapters and individual alumni, as well as elevate the status and recognition of the JET Programme and its alumni in the greater U.S.-Japan arena, but the JET alumni community needs to believe this, too. We hope that the national organization will provide much needed support to smaller chapters and give alumni who live outside of large cities a way to connect to the broader JETAA community.

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Nov 15
"Living in Japan, you learn not just the Japanese language, but a new kinesthetic language as well, such as bowing all the time like it’s an instinct, or getting used to sitting on a tatami mat instead of a chair, or bathing Japanese-style. It’s like a new vocabulary for living in your own body." (Martin Bentsen/City Headshots)

“Living in Japan, you learn not just the Japanese language, but a new kinesthetic language as well, such as bowing all the time like it’s an instinct, or getting used to sitting on a tatami mat instead of a chair, or bathing Japanese-style. It’s like a new vocabulary for living in your own body.” (Martin Bentsen/City Headshots)

 

By Rafael Villadiego (Nagasaki-ken, 2010-13) for JQ magazine. A member of JETAA New South Wales, Rafael is a collector of words on a journey still searching for a destination, who has a tendency to forget, we are all sometimes like the rain…

Lee-Sean Huang (Oita-ken, 2003-06) was an ALT in Nakatsu City. Upon returning to the United States, he became the webmaster for JETAA New York. In 2008, together with Steven Horowitz (Aichi-ken, 1992-94), he helped to found JETwit.com in 2008 as an avenue for connecting and giving voice to the JET alumni freelance and professional community.

A modern-day Renaissance man, Huang is the co-founder and creative director behind the community-centered design and social innovation firm Foossa. He is also a faculty member at SVA’s MFA Design for Social Innovation program and an instructor of the Brazilian martial art capoeira.

He recently joined the Wisdom Hackers collective together with other likeminded artists, activists and entrepreneurs, to which he contributed a chapter entitled “The Thinking Body,” which outlines his views behind the virtues of kinesthetic creativity. In this exclusive interview, Huang shares his journey and thought processes with JQ’s readers.

The philosophical dispatches from Wisdom Hackers are described as an “incubator for philosophers that compiles dispatches from young, edgy thinkers from major cities across the globe.” Can you tell us a little more about this initiative and how you got involved?

We are building a movement for critical inquiry and connecting ancient wisdom to our contemporary context. In our present form, we are partnered with e-publishers The Pigeonhole and releasing a dispatch a week over 10 weeks. Next year, we plan on releasing a limited edition physical book made by monks in Denmark. Beyond publishing our own ideas, we want to create a curriculum or “cookbook” of sorts, and get it into schools, colleges, and other learning environments. The Wisdom Hackers curriculum would provide a starting point for anybody to start asking deep questions, think critically, and create their own dispatch to tell their own story and perspective. The curriculum would also include a guide for how to build your own community of like-minded seekers. That’s a bit of a preview of where we are going with Wisdom Hackers.

My friend Alexa Clay is one of the original instigators of Wisdom Hackers. We were introduced a few years ago through a mutual friend, Alnoor Ladha, who is also a Wisdom Hackers seeker. I ended up becoming an advisor for Alexa’s book, The Misfit Economy, and on her project, League of Intrapreneurs. When Alexa approached me about Wisdom Hackers, I jumped at the idea. I had a bunch of ideas floating around in my head that did not fit in the format of the usual blog posts and articles that I write as part of my design and teaching career. I also liked the challenge of writing longer form content, something I was a little afraid of doing, but that is exactly why I said “yes.”

You are certainly amongst august company. Have you had any direct interaction with the other “seekers” of your collective, or have you developed your ideas primarily on your own?

I have become good friends with the New York-based Wisdom Hackers crew. We hosted a Wisdom Hackers panel discussion here in September. We have edited each other’s dispatches and also have a private Facebook group where we share ideas, so there is lots of cross-pollination happening.

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Oct 25
"If you create businesses based on your own experience and enthusiasms, you’ll never tire of them. Be sure to network with JETAA to stay in touch with people who are interested in Japan." (Courtesy of Vanessa Villalobos)

“If you create businesses based on your own experience and enthusiasms, you’ll never tire of them. Be sure to network with JETAA to stay in touch with people who are interested in Japan.” (Courtesy of Vanessa Villalobos)

 

By Rafael Villadiego (Nagasaki-ken, 2010-13) for JQ magazine. A member of JETAA New South Wales, Rafael is a collector of words on a journey still searching for a destination, who has a tendency to forget, we are all sometimes like the rain…

Like many JET alums, Vanessa Villalobos (Tochigi-ken, 2000-03) thoroughly enjoyed her time in Japan and was seeking a practical means to maintain that connection upon returning home. Seeking to recapture her experiences on the JET Program and maintain her Japanese language skills after returning to the United Kingdom, she founded the travel/lifestyle/culture site JapaneseLondon.com and the language exchange hub, IsshoniLondon.co.uk.

As an independent businesswoman and entrepreneur, she offers some advice to JQ readers seeking to pursue their own ventures and shares some insight into the trials and tribulations of language exchange. She also offers insider tips to discovering the hidden Japan in London along with the colorful contrasts between the two island nations, her thoughts on the recent vote for Scottish independence, and her take on the UK version of nattō.

How long did you spend on the JET Program and in which prefecture were you placed?

I was a “one-shot” ALT in Tochigi-shi for three years. Tochigi-ken is north of Tokyo and is famed for Nikko, strawberries and gyoza.

How did your time on JET influence the overall design and purpose of the websites?

Japan was endlessly fascinating to me, and I loved teaching Japanese learners of English. Thus, I chose to focus my business endeavors on connections between Japan and England.

IsshoniLondon.co.uk connects private tutors of English to Japanese learners of English. Most of the tutors are ex-JETs. In my intro video on the site, I explain how the kindness of friends and teachers in Japan allowed us teachers to develop an understanding and fondness for Japanese language and culture, and how we hope Japanese people will develop the same fondness of the UK. I am always looking for top-quality tutors, so please do get in touch if you’d like to work as a freelance tutor.

JapaneseLondon.com does what it says on the can! It’s a labour of love and is all about discovering Japanese things in London. It promotes and profiles the individuals, events and businesses that together make up “JapaneseLondon”! There is an events calendar, and I’ve just added a job board. Please do sign up to the newsletter on the site! JapaneseLondon.com can also connect you to a tutor of Japanese here in London!

Do you have any advice for JETs looking to setup similar initiatives in their hometowns?

Just get stuck in—and don’t give up. If you create businesses based on your own experience and enthusiasms, you’ll never tire of them. Staying power is important as it is sooo hard to build your own business from scratch. But it is deeply satisfying at the same time!  Be sure to network with JETAA to stay in touch with people who are interested in Japan.

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Oct 6
"At an X Japan show, we create a show with the audience—it’s not 'the band is performing and the audience is just watching,' so we create the show together. We’re going to try to make Madison Square Garden like a huge club." (Courtesy of ID PR)

“At an X Japan show, we create a show with the audience—it’s not ‘the band is performing and the audience is just watching,’ so we create the show together. We’re going to try to make Madison Square Garden like a huge club.” (Courtesy of ID PR)

By JQ magazine editor Justin Tedaldi (CIR Kobe-shi, 2001-02) for Examiner.com. Visit his Japanese culture page here for related stories.

For Yoshiki Hayashi, this Saturday (Oct. 11) will go down in J-rock history, as one of the biggest bands in Asia makes their debut at Madison Square Garden. Formed over 30 years ago, X Japan first gained notoriety in the mid-’80s by ushering in the visual kei movement, a style that continues to evolve through other Japanese megastars like L’Arc~en~Ciel (who headlined the World’s Most Famous Arena themselves in 2012).

At the center of it all is X Japan’s founding member, Yoshiki. An equally talented songwriter, heavy metal drummer and classical pianist, he is both the heart and soul of X Japan, and, having lived in Los Angeles for two decades, the ideal mouthpiece for the band’s American tours, which started with a bang in 2010 at Lollapalooza and included a sold-out gig at New York’s now-defunct Roseland Ballroom.

In this exclusive, expansive interview, I spoke with Yoshiki about how the group’s original hopes to play the Garden in 2008 were dashed by personal health and management troubles, his favorite, anime, manga and X Japan songs, and his experience working with legends like Stan Lee, KISS, and the Emperor of Japan.

How did this concert for Madison Square Garden come together? I know there were plans to do this in 2008; can you talk about this history?

Our band reunited around the year 2008. We did our reunion concert in Tokyo Dome, three days or so, I think. At that time, we were also thinking of performing [shows] outside of Japan, and Madison Square Garden was one or two of [the ideas]. But for some reason they didn’t happen, so since then, that venue was always in our minds. A few years ago, we decided to try schedule Madison Square Garden. I think we were kind of confirmed last year.

It’s a long road.

Yes. Well, considering that X Japan was not doing anything—I mean, the band broke up around the end of 1997, so when we reunited we had almost 10 years of a break. We started doing a bunch of arena shows, and then we started touring the world when we went to 16 countries or so. Considering this, the [last] six or seven years have been tours [laughs].

Are there plans for X Japan to play any other concerts for the remainder of the year?

Not now. We just announced our shows in Japan, this place called Yokohama Arena, so we [performed] there Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. It’s kind of like a prelude to Madison Square Garden and a kickoff to [that] show, about 10 days before that. As of now, Madison Square Garden is the only American show, but [depending] on how it goes, we may start another world tour. We’re just talking about it right this moment.

For the complete story, click here.


Sep 27
"Hopefully the lines between my actual experiences and pure fiction are seamless. When readers ask me, 'Is this part true?' they seem surprised by the answers. So that makes me happy—the fiction is believable and sometimes the outrageous is the truth." (William Fraser)

“Hopefully the lines between my actual experiences and pure fiction are seamless. When readers ask me, ‘Is this part true?’ they seem surprised by the answers. So that makes me happy—the fiction is believable and sometimes the outrageous is the truth.” (Courtesy of William Fraser)

 

By Rafael Villadiego (Nagasaki-ken, 2010-13) for JQ magazine. A member of JETAA New South Wales, Rafael is a collector of words on a journey still searching for a destination, who has a tendency to forget, we are all sometimes like the rain…

Laurie Fraser (Osaka-fu, 1997-98) is a writer and traveler who married a Kurd in Turkey in the 1990s. The experience inspired The Word Not Spoken, semi-autobiographical debut novel that blurs the line between reality and fiction, casting light on a tumultuous period in history through the eyes of those who experienced it firsthand.

The conflict between the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] and the Turkish Armed Forces has its roots in the First World War and continues to have repercussions for the region to this day. But beyond these grand struggles are the quiet moments in between: The ordinary challenges and trivial frustrations of everyday life, and the more overarching issues of culture and religion, which Fraser approaches with a genuine curiosity and gentle humor that forms the emotional core of her book.

An extensive traveler to a number of different countries across the globe, Fraser has experienced life in the broadest context before eventually finding her way “home.” Now a teacher and healer in Ottawa, JQ caught up with her to discuss the events of her life that inspired the novel and how they contrasted with her time on the JET Program.

What led you to first write this novel, and why did it take so long for the finished work to see light?

The scene where Ahmet and Leigh meet a group of destitute Kurdish refugees is exactly true, except that it happened in 1996, not 1995. I decided then to write a book and tell their story in a way that wasn’t “bad news.” At that time, my husband believed that the world would never hear about the Kurds if the PKK wasn’t setting off bombs. I recognized that as a Canadian, I had a right that he did not—the right to free speech.

I am a poet at heart, and I found a novel to be unwieldy to say the least. I had the poet’s need to touch every word over and over—so that slowed me down.

The Word Not Spoken was refused by countless publishers—I had a stack of rejection letters collected just in the year I was in Japan. It did well in a Canadian national writing contest in 2000, but only the winner was published. I was incapacitated with illness for a few years, but I eventually did a huge rewrite in 2010-11 with a professional editor. The manuscript did get better and better over the years, but it wasn’t until self-publishing became accessible and respected that I finally decided to go for it on my own.

I promised those refugees and my husband (who was killed in 1997) that I would publish their stories and really, it was a stone in my stomach for 18 years.

Kurdish House in Vancouver flew me out there (from Ottawa) to read to a large Kurdish audience this past spring. Afterwards, men and women came to talk to me: “I lived in one of those tents for four years.” “I was tortured 45 days.”

I have been haunted by the refugees I met living in those tents in 1996. I couldn’t imagine how any of them would have survived. These Vancouverites were an affirmation of life—some of them had made it! Some of them would have been children in 1996…and here they were! All I could say was, “I’m so glad you got here. I prayed for you.” And indeed, I wrote a book for them.

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Sep 13
"When students do right, let them know about it and make sure to tell their parents, too. Show students that although you may have high expectations, you are fair and reasonable. Love what you teach and that excitement will transfer to students. These are some things that I found go into successful teaching." (MBIS, courtesy of Flickr)

“When students do right, let them know about it and make sure to tell their parents, too. Show students that although you may have high expectations, you are fair and reasonable. Love what you teach and that excitement will transfer to students. These are some things that I found go into successful teaching.” (MBIS, courtesy of Flickr)

 

By Lyle Sylvander (Yokohama-shi, 2001-02) for JQ magazine. Lyle has completed a master’s 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 City-based soccer team.

A native of Delmar, New York, Mark Deyss (Yokohama-shi, 2001-02) is a history and social studies teacher at Marist Brothers International School in Kobe, which has been a historic institution for the Kansai region’s pre-K through 12th children since 1951. Married with two young children, Mark is also a competitive bodybuilder in his spare time.

In this expansive interview, Mark spoke with JQ about how a visit to Iowa landed him his job, the unique benefits and challenges that go with teaching and living long-term in Japan, and some surprising misconceptions about bodybuilding.

What sparked your interest in Japan? Were you always interested growing up, or was it more of a curiosity thing?

I didn’t have a real interest in Japan per se. I was more interested in teaching in Indonesia (Bali, to be specific) or Thailand (Phuket). Both those places seemed pretty cool and exotic to a 22-year-old fresh out of college (SUNY Oswego). But what the hell does a 22-year-old know?! In the end, I backed away from those locations because from what I could tell, you needed to actually go to the place and start knocking on doors at language schools to find a job. That was a little too much adventure for me. A professor at my college mentioned AEON. I looked into it and it turned out that I could interview with them right in New York City. They gave me a contract to look over before I actually went to Japan and they seemed much more legitimate in general. That’s how my interest in Japan developed—as a conservative alternative to Bali.

Can you tell us about the conversation school you taught at in Japan before you joined JET?

I first came to Japan in September 1998 to work with AEON. Like most people who knew nothing about Japan, I requested to be located in Tokyo (in fairness to myself, I did actually know a couple of people in Tokyo, which is part of the reason for the request). AEON said they didn’t have anything in Tokyo open, but put me as close to Tokyo as possible—Hiratsuka City, in Kanagawa-ken. It worked out for the best, as most things in life do. I was with AEON for a year before taking a job (for a lot more money!) with another small eikaiwa outfit named Proto, which was actually run by a car parts manufacturer named Nippon Seiki (amongst other things they make dashboard and instrument panels for the “All-American” Harley Davidson and Chevrolet Corvette). Proto was located in Nagaoka, Niigata, surroundings that were much different than the urban congestion of Kanto. I was with Proto for about a year and a half before I came back to Kanagawa (Yokohama) for JET.

What did you do after JET?

I went to NYC to attend graduate school (education) at Queens College. Those years were indeed the hardest of my life, but my trials weren’t related to Queens College per se, more just being a scared young adult with an uncertain future and a tenuous present! Queens College served its purpose well and gave me the wonderful experience of living in Flushing, New York.

While attending the college, I taught at The Summit School, located in Jamaica, New York. It is a pretty good school for learning disabled and emotionally disturbed kids. I already had some experience working with that population of students before I went to Japan for the first time (summer job), so it was not an unfamiliar thing for me. That job served its purpose and provided me with enough money (barely enough!) to pay rent, eat three meals a day and get out of grad school debt free.

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Sep 2
James Rolfe, left, on the "Angry Video Game Nerd" movie with co-writer/co-director Kevin Finn: "To me, it’s the ultimate fan-film. It’s made by fans, for fans. It means dreams can come true, with a lot of hard work and personal sacrifice." (Justin Tedaldi)

James Rolfe, left, on the Angry Video Game Nerd movie with co-writer/co-director Kevin Finn: “To me, it’s the ultimate fan-film. It’s made by fans, for fans. It means dreams can come true, with a lot of hard work and personal sacrifice.” (Justin Tedaldi)

 

By JQ magazine editor Justin Tedaldi (CIR Kobe-shi, 2001-02) for Examiner.com. Visit his Japanese culture page here for related stories.

An Internet sensation that debuted as the Angry Video Game Nerd ten years ago, filmmaker James Rolfe has taken millions of YouTube visitors back to the past with his hotheaded, foulmouthed alter ego, who gleefully tears down some of the most notorious titles and accessories (the Power Glove, anyone?) from the golden age of retrogaming. (If you’ve ever thrown a controller across the room, you’ll understand.)

As the creative linchpin of his website and production company Cinemassacre, the AVGN legend culminates with this year’s release of Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie, a feature-length, years-in-the-making collaborative effort between Rolfe and co-writer/co-director Kevin Finn. A satisfyingly silly sci-fi/adventure hybrid in the Troma tradition, the film enjoyed a sold out 16-city North American screening tour earlier this summer, and makes its  Vimeo on Demand debut today (Sept. 2), with a DVD/Blu-ray release planned for the holiday season.

In this exclusive, wide-ranging interview, I spoke with Rolfe about everything from the film’s New York premiere last month, the Nerd Renaissance we’re currently living in, and the most “Japanese” (i.e., insane) game he’s ever played.

It feels like we’re living in some kind of Nerd Renaissance—even “Weird Al” Yankovic’s last album went to number one. How do you feel about all this?

Nerds were big in the ’80s. It’s all coming back now. I feel there’s a much broader definition of “nerd” now, and it’s something to be proud of.

What are your thoughts on the live appearances you’ve had promoting the film so far? Which moments have been the most memorable?

Since July 21, we’ve been touring this movie around, city by city. It’s been amazing. The energy from the crowd is fantastic! There’s nothing like watching the movie with live reactions. The best moment is during the opening credits. Everyone cheers. Sometimes they clap along with the music. You can really feel the hype building up to the AVGN title screen. Then it explodes, and everyone goes nuts.

What can you share about the back-to-back screenings held for the New York premiere?

It was a rowdy crowd. Especially the second screening. I loved it, though it was exhausting. Under normal circumstances, I would be sick of looking at this movie, but the fans make it exciting every time. It never gets old.

Mount Fuji and Godzilla movies play a prominent role in the film. If you were to ever visit Japan, what would you most want to see and do there?
I’ve always wanted to go. There isn’t one thing in particular. I’d just like to see all around the major cities like Tokyo. Just normal tourist things.

What are some of your favorite moments of “Japaneseness” in video games that you’d like to give a shout-out to?

Hmmm. Not sure. Probably Ninja Baseball Bat Man! That game is insane.

For the complete story, click here.


Aug 30
"Sake is so deep and varied that one could never stop talking about it. Every day is full of surprises. Not major ones, but usually surprises related to the attention to detail that goes into sake and the interesting stories behind it." (Courtesy of John Gauntner)

“Sake is so deep and varied that one could never stop talking about it. Every day is full of surprises. Not major ones, but usually surprises related to the attention to detail that goes into sake and the interesting stories behind it.” (Courtesy of John Gauntner)

By Eden Law (Fukushima-ken, 2010-11) for JQ magazine. Eden is a JETAA New South Wales committee member, who would like it to be known that if it wasn’t for getting involved with JETAA, he wouldn’t know what to do with his spare time after hours. JET: It’s like the Illuminati, except less about the world domination and more about the fun denomination. Got feedback on this article? Leave a comment below.

If ever there was a prize for most unexpected job opportunity spin-off from the JET Program, the career of John Gauntner (Kanagawa-ken, 1988-89) would be hard to beat, especially after a few rounds of nihonshu. A longtime resident of Kamakura and the world’s first (and only) non-Japanese to hold certification as both a Master of Sake Tasting and Sake Expert Assessor, Gauntner has come a long way since a drinking session with a buddy from The Japan Times led him to this series of fortunate events.

Proving that this beverage continues to be an infinite font of inspiration, Gauntner has recently added a new book to his growing stable of literary output, Sake Confidential: A Beyond-the-Basics Guide to Understanding, Tasting, Selection, and Enjoyment. In it, he covers all aspects of the precious drop: from what it is, how it is made, and how it is meant to be enjoyed (spoiler: any way you like it), to the inside story of its politics, marketing, and the industry itself. But this is no textbook: Like a true sake evangelist, Gauntner enlightens beginners and insiders alike, pairing clear and simple language with confidence and unabashed passion.

In this exclusive interview, Gauntner discusses the state of sake’s popularity in its own country and abroad, what it means being a non-Japanese sake evangelist with his unique qualifications, and what the future holds for him.

What was the reason behind writing this book, and who is its audience?

I wanted to show the depth and breadth of the sake world, to show it has as many avenues for exploration as wine does.

How is this book different from the others?

This book goes beyond the basics and more into depth about many interesting side topics of the sake world.

Is this book designed to replace or update your previous books?

No, it is intended to augment them. This one introduces less sake and is light on the basics,

What’s the market like for these books?

So far it is selling well, but ask me in two years!

What’s left to be said about sake? Are there any surprises left in the industry?

It is so deep and varied that one could never stop talking about it. Every day is full of surprises. Not major ones, but usually surprises related to the attention to detail that goes into sake and the interesting stories behind it.

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