Feb 14

Interpreter/Translator/Writer Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03) presents WIT Life, a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as art, film, food and language. Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she offers some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

Happy Lunar New Year! It’s been a while since I’ve checked in, and I hope your Year of the Dragon is going well so far. Somehow we’ve already made it to Valentine’s Day, and I hope you have a wonderful holiday with your loved ones whether they are family, friends or pets.

Some interesting V-Day trends were shared on the Japanese news recently. As you might know, in Japan this holiday involves women gifting chocolate to men (and men returning the favor with cookies or other sweets during next month’s White Day). According to this year’s statistics, women’s average Valentine chocolate budget is 5024 yen (a little more than $33 at today’s exchange rate). This is 1200 yen ($8) more than last year’s average, or around 1.3 times that figure.

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Nov 21

WIT Life #377: Things She Carries exhibition at Seizan Gallery

Interpreter/Translator/Writer Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03) presents WIT Life, a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as art, film, food and language. Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she offers some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

Recently I had the opportunity to interpret at an artist talk for photographer Aya Fujioka, whose collection Here Goes River is part of the current exhibition Things She Carries at Seizan Gallery. Hiroshima-born Fujioka began taking photos of her hometown after returning in 2013. Thanks to a scholarship from the Agency for Cultural Affairs in Japan, she had spent the previous five years in New York where she created the series Life Studies. Here Goes River depicts everyday life in modern Hiroshima, and one portion of the collection focuses on the apartment she moved back into from its initial empty state to getting filled up over time via being lived in.

Photographer Aya Fujioka (center) with David Wilentz and Stacy Smith

Although Fujioka doesn’t deal with the topic of the atomic bomb directly, its legacy can’t help but be reflected in her work. During the talk, one photo she highlighted was of a group of high school students practicing dance choreography in front of the iconic Atomic Bomb Dome. Fujioka shared that she received a lot of bashing on social media when this photo was unveiled. Hiroshima citizens decried her for tarnishing the memory of those who lost their lives there, but she explained that for her as an artist the work would be meaningless without the dome. Always striving to avoid didacticism, Fujioka saw its inclusion as an opportunity for people to reinterpret the image and its symbolism. She also noted that when this photo was part of an exhibition in Tokyo there was no pushback, so she’s wondering how it will be received by New York audiences. She hopes that her work in general will enable viewers to imagine the Hiroshima of today.

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Nov 2

WIT Life #376: MANGA in New York exhibition

Interpreter/Translator/Writer Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03) presents WIT Life, a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as art, film, food and language. Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she offers some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

Yesterday I had to chance to stop by the event MANGA in New York, presented by Ginza Sony Park Project. This free Chelsea exhibition features work from six groups of Japanese artists who use diverse forms of expression to create original manga. According to the enthusiastic staff member who greeted me at the door and kindly provided an explanation of the exhibition, this is one of several experimental activities being tested out for next year’s expected completion of the second phase of Ginza Sony Park (it opened in 2018). They’re looking to receive feedback from visitors and potentially incorporate it into their new project.

There are two floors of manga to enjoy, and enhancing the visitor experience is a free vending machine with specially designed MANGA-CANs exclusive to the event. When you put in the letter and number of your choice, you receive a can of tea with a label showing a scene from one of the manga in the exhibition. The label is actually a commemorative sticker, so you can peel it off to save when you’re done with the tea. I picked UEDA & SASAMI from illustrator Hikaru Ichijo, a manga depicting the story of an aspiring painter named Ueda and the hamster Sasami who lives in her stomach. Ueda derives her energy from Sasasmi running on her hamster wheel, and Sasami is in turn is powered by eating sunflower seeds. But what happens when Ueda discovers that she can be the source of her own strength?

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Oct 27

WIT Life #375: PERFECT DAYS

Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03) presents WIT Life, a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as art, film, food and language. Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she offers some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

Earlier this month I had the amazing opportunity to work with the legendary actor Koji Yakusho when his newest work PERFECT DAYS premiered at the New York Film Festival. The film was helmed by German director Wim Wenders, who shot it over the course of 16 days in Tokyo. Wenders co-wrote the screenplay with the film’s producer Takuma Takasaki, who I had the honor of interpreting for during the festival.

Post-screening Q&A for PERFECT DAYS at the New York Film Festival (from left: interpreter David Neptune, Koji Yakusho, Stacy Smith and Takuma Takasaki with moderator Dennis Lim)

The film’s backdrop is The Tokyo Toilet, a public works project featuring 17 public toilets throughout Shibuya designed by world renowned creators. Yakusho plays a cleaner of these toilets named Hirayama, a man who leads a simple life. His days consist of an early morning commute to work with a soundtrack of nostalgic music, enjoying a soak at the public bath, having a simple meal before returning home and reading before bed. Hirayama has a flip phone and no Internet access, but he is content with his existence. The unexpected arrival of his niece shakes up his routine, and during their time together we learn more about his background.

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Sep 19

WIT Life #374: TIME100 NEXT featuring two Japanese women

Interpreter/Translator/Writer Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03) presents WIT Life, a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as art, film, food and language. Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she offers some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

This month Time magazine released its list of the world’s 100 rising stars designated as the “TIME100 NEXT,” and two Japanese women made the cut. Both have very interesting stories, so I’d like to share them here for those who might have missed checking it out.

34 year-old Arfiya Eri is an LDP member of Japan’s House of Representatives with Uighur-Uzbek heritage. She grew up in southern Japan and spent some of her childhood in China, where she attended an American school. She went on to study at Georgetown University and eventually work at the Bank of Japan as well as the UN. Her platform is one emphasizing diversity, inclusion and female representation in politics, which might be surprising considering her political party. However, Eri aligns with the LDP on security and diplomacy, and a Japan Times profile says this mixture of being progressive regarding civil rights and diversity “while being conservative on defense issues could help boost the LDPs profile and appeal among younger voters.”

House of Representatives LDP member Arfiya Eri
(Kentaro Takahashi/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The other Japanese woman profiled is Rina Gonoi, a former member of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) who endured physical and verbal sexual abuse for over a year while serving. After leaving the SDF in 2022 and appealing to the authorities but being ignored, she took her case to social media when traditional media also dismissed her. Thanks to her efforts, five servicemen were dishonorably dismissed and four others punished. In addition, Gonoi received a public apology from the Ministry of Defense, as well as apologies from several officers. She also filed charges against the government and her assailants in both criminal and civil cases. In the former three perpetrators were indicted on sexual assault charges, but in the latter four of the five accused denied the charges. Gonoi continues to battle sexual harassment in Japan’s male-dominated military.

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Aug 30

WIT Life #373: Discovering Isamu Noguchi in Philly

Interpreter/Translator/Writer Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03) presents WIT Life, a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as art, film, food and language. Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she offers some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

I’ve been on the road for the majority of this month interpreting for the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program. I’m traveling with a six-person group from Japan here in the U.S. to study technology transfer and commercialization of biotechnology. Our three-week journey is an East Coast tour that has taken us from Washington D.C. to Boston and Philadelphia, followed by our current final stop of Orlando (where we were almost derailed by Hurricane Idalia!).

During our time in Philly, I was delighted to discover a previously unknown Isamu Noguchi sculpture. Philly has a robust public art program, including a wide variety of murals all throughout the city. This Noguchi work called A Bolt of Lightening refers to Benjamin Franklin’s famous experiment flying a kite in an electrical storm. It rises above what seemed to be a construction site so at first I thought it was some sort of crane, but upon closer look it revealed itself to be a stainless steel structure supported by cables.

Isamu Noguchi with Bolt of Lightning (Penny Balkin Bach for the Association for Public Art)
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Jul 24

Interpreter/Translator/Writer Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03) presents WIT Life, a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as art, film, food and language. Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she offers some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

One of my favorite meals during my recent trip to Japan was 回転ずし (kaiten zushi, or conveyer belt sushi). It’s always fun to watch the food as it goes around and grab whatever looks good. I have a faint recollection of kaiten zushi in midtown run by a Singaporian company existing some years ago, but since then we haven’t had this type of restaurant in the city. But the wait is over, since a new kaiten zushi establishment opened last week.

Called Kaiten Zushi Nomad, this futuristic restaurant has ordering via tablet and three levels of conveyer belts that deliver your food. There are booths and counter-style seating, as well as a front waiting area that looks like it could double as a bar (Kaiten Zushi also has a wide array of alcoholic beverages to go with your food). They boast over 100 types of sushi, but fear not if raw fish isn’t your thing for they have plentiful appetizers and main dishes that feature meat and other cooked items such as donburi, ramen and karaage.

Kaiten Zushi Nomad’s delectible sushi
(Photo courtesy of @kaitenzushi_nomad on Instagram)
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Jun 23

WIT Life #371: Made in Japan exhibition at Poster House

Interpreter/Translator/Writer Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03) presents WIT Life, a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as art, film, food and language. Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she offers some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

Yesterday I had the chance to check out the Made in Japan: 20th Century Poster Art exhibition that opened this March at Chelsea-based Poster House. This is the first museum in the U.S. dedicated exclusively to posters, and I was excited to visit in person as I’ve joined many of their online programs. The museum is modest in size, but it packs a punch in terms of content (the Japan exhibition is on the main floor, but the basement space currently features a powerful Black Panther Party exhibit).

Made in Japan begins with wartime propaganda, such as picture sugoroku (a board game similar to Chutes and Ladders) urging women to support the war effort. Later versions of the games encouraged consumers to shop at department stores, and the exhibition’s array of commercial posters even includes Playboy sugoroku games. They are dynamically colored and the goal is to reach scantily clad actress Kikko Matsuoka. Each number has instructions like: “Use body paint to draw a face on your back,” “Shake a can of beer 20 times then open it,” and “Starting tomorrow, cross dress and go to school or work like that.”

PB Grand Prix, 1968, Keiichi Tanaami (Photograph: Collection of Peter Kahane)
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Jun 8

WIT Life #370: A Month in the Life

Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03) presents WIT Life, a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as art, film, food and language. Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she offers some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

As a freelance interpreter, I often get asked about who comprises my client base or what my typical schedule is. My schedule is anything but regular, something I would imagine is common to many freelancers. It actually was the JET Program that introduced me to the idea of incredible variety within a daily schedule, as in my role as CIR one day I’d be sharing aspects of my home town with elementary school kids and running around on the playground with them, and the next I’d be a speaker in a panel discussion about internationalization for the community. I loved the fact that what I did every day was never the same as it kept me on my toes, and I have incorporated that spirit into my current work life. Nowhere was this more evident than over the last month, during which I enjoyed a great range of interpreting assignments.

May began slowly with a handful of jobs within the New York State Court System. I’m primarily needed in Family Courts throughout the boroughs or state to interpret for cases regarding divorce, custody, and child support or child abuse, or Civil Courts for landlord/tenant and other housing matters, but I also sometimes have cases at Surrogate’s Court regarding guardianship or Criminal Court for cases of a very serious nature. During Covid all types of cases were carried out virtually, but recently more have been taking place in person.

The second week of May brought the arrival from Japan of Sayaka Murata, author of the acclaimed Convenience Store Woman. I had first interpreted for her in 2018 when that book had been translated into English, and this time we would be working together in conjunction with the release of the English version of her short story collection Life Ceremony (in between these two publications, her stellar novel Earthlings has also come out in English). At the PEN World Voices Festival, Murata-san was part of an all-female author panel focusing on the theme of friendship. The following week I joined her and her publisher in visiting a handful of bookstores throughout the city to sign copies of Life Ceremony. It was fun for me to facilitate her interactions with book sellers, and for Murata-san to get back to old favorites like Three Lives & Company as well as to discover new bookstores like Yu & Me Books.

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Apr 24

WIT Life #369: Sakura-filled spring and Plan 75

Professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03) presents WIT Life, a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language. Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she offers some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

Happy spring! It’s hard to believe that May is right around the corner. Earlier this year I spent two weeks in Japan (my first trip in six years, after a few stops and starts during Covid), and timed it extremely well to catch the 桜 (sakura, or cherry blossoms) at their peak in two of the four cities I visited. One was Kyoto, which is always a special place for me to return to as it is where I studied abroad during my first time in Japan. The other was Kumamoto, where I lived for three years during my time as a JET. It was a fantastic homecoming filled with long-overdue reunions, delicious food, 温泉 (onsen, or hot springs) and お花見 (ohanami, or cherry blossom viewing). I don’t know when my next trip will be, but here’s hoping it’s sooner than another six years!

When I returned to the U.S. everything was in full bloom, so I felt lucky to be able to enjoy a double spring. I love this season with its wonderfully warm afternoons, as well as chilly mornings and nights where hot tea hits the spot. I brought back sakura tea and a wide assortment of other cherry blossom goods, so hopefully those will tide me over when I start missing Japan…

An amazing array of sakura goods from the source! (thanks to Muji, Kaldi and various conbini)

Yesterday I had the chance to see the Cannes award-winning film Plan 75, which is showing at IFC Center through Friday. The title refers to a Japanese government program that encourages the elderly to terminate their own lives (and will subsidize this), as a way of relieving this demographic’s social and economic burdens. The film follows the three main characters of a 78-year old woman considering Plan 75, a young civil servant working on behalf of the plan, and a Filipino health care worker who ends up working for the plan. Each goes through their own personal journey over the course of the film’s almost two-hour duration, changing the way they view the plan and their roles in relation to it. The weight of this dystopian film makes it anything but an easy watch, but its heaviness is commensurate to the heft of the premise.

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Dec 30

WIT Life #368: 今年の漢字

Professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03) presents WIT Life, a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language. Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she offers some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

2022’s Kanji of the Year was announced earlier this month as 戦 (sen/ikusa), which means fight or battle. It is part of 戦争 (sensou or war) and both 戦う and 戦い (tatakau/tatakai, meaning to fight/a fight). 戦 won with 10804 or almost 5% of the votes, followed by the close second of 安 (an/yasu, meaning secure/cheap) which came in at 10616 votes. Lagging behind in third with 7999 votes was 楽 (raku, meaning easy or relaxed) or fun when it is used in 楽しい (tanoshii). Fun piece of trivia: this is the second time 戦 was chosen as Kanji of the Year, following its selection in 2001 after 9/11 shifted the world into fighting mode.

One of the reasons for 戦’s selection was this year’s invasion of Ukraine by Russia and North Korea’s repeated missile launches. Other fights were of the non-military kind, such as how Japanese struggled to maintain their livelihoods amongst the weakening yen, rising prices, energy shortages and ever-present Covid.

There was also a sports angle, as some voters picked 戦 to commemorate the outstanding efforts of Japanese athletes. Most striking was their World Cup soccer team who surprisingly defeated Germany, Spain and other tough opponents to make it to the Round of 16. In addition, Japanese sports stars had a strong showing at the Beijing Winter Olympics, and in the baseball world Shohei Ohtani continued to rock MLB and Aki Sasaki became the youngest perfect game-pitcher in Japanese professional baseball history.

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Nov 30

WIT Life #367: Ganbare Samurai Blue!

Professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03) presents WIT Life, a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language. Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she offers some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

All you soccer (or should I say football) fans out there have probably been busy watching the World Cup. I don’t follow soccer, but am excited to see how far Japan has gotten and will be cheering Samurai Blue on in their match with Spain tomorrow. It’s also been nice to see Japanese fans receive recognition for their attention to the stadium’s cleanliness. I particularly like this image of the Japanese team’s locker room following their upset victory over Germany (check out the origabmi cranes displayed in the back!).

Samurai Blue, Japan’s national soccer team!

A segment on this morning’s Japanese news interviewed some of these volunteers, and the reporter seemed to be taken by one response in regard to what motivated them: cleaning is「当たり前」(atarimae, or natural, obvious, reasonable). Another respondent replied that a clean stadium is a reflection of their pure hearts (a familiar Japanese trope). The cleaning crew’s earnestness was not only endearing but an inspiration to fans from other countries, some of whom emulated the Japanese fans after their own teams’ matches.

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Sep 30

Professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03) presents WIT Life, a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language. Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she offers some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

Time flies and hard to believe that we are already at the beginning of fall. For all of you bookworms like myself, as the title says this season is often called 読書の秋 (dokusho no aki or “autumn is for reading)”. Alternatively, for those who love pumpkin spice and everything nice, it is also known as 食欲の秋 (shokuyoku no aki or “season of good appetite”/”fall is for eating”). Other versions include 実りの秋 (minori no aki or “the harvest season”), 芸術の秋 (geijutsu no aki or “best season for enjoying art”), and スポーツの秋 (supo-tsu no aki or “best season for sports”).

Japan had its state funeral for former PM Shinzo Abe this week, with many waiting to offer their condolences and many others offering vociferous protest. His assassination has revealed the deep connections between the Liberal Democratic Party and the Unification Church, the repercussions of which are yet to be seen. This NYT article from earlier in the month touches on the relationship between the LDP and the church, in the context of Japan’s thriving telegram industry. For a heart-warming read, check out this other NYT article which talks about “baby workers” in Japan’s nursing homes.

On a personal note, I recently interpreted at a Japanese food event called “Taste of Japan in New York” that was held at Carnegie Hall. Many famous chefs attended from Japan, sharing their knowledge and creating one-of-a-kind menus focused on the country’s rich fermentation culture. PM Fumio Kishida was in town for the UN General Assembly and appeared at the end as a surprise guest! In his remarks, he highlighted how next month Japan will loosen its Covid restrictions and once again welcome individual tourists. I’ve tried to get back to Japan twice during the pandemic, so I’m hoping three times is a charm for my visit scheduled for next year!


Jul 27

WIT Life #365: New York Asian Film Festival

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Professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03) presents WIT Life, a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language. Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she offers some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

The New York Asian Film Festival taking place at Lincoln Center is one of my favorite annual events, and it’s coming to a close this weekend. This year the festival celebrated its 20th anniversary, and it was back in person for the first time in two years. Over the first week, I was lucky enough to interpret for several actors, producers and directors. Particularly thrilling was being able to work with the actor Hiroshi Abe, of whom I’ve been a longtime fan. He attended the festival to receive the 2022 Screen International Star Asia Award and participate in the Q&A for his film Offbeat Cops, which had its world premiere at the festival.

My sharp-eyed friend in Japan was up early watching Fuji’s Mezamashi TV, and she was able to capture this photo of me on stage with Abe and Offbeat Cops director Eiji Uchida (to my left/right respectively in the picture). Abe plays a hard-boiled detective named Naruse who gets shunted off to the police band, and ends up going on a journey of self-discovery as a result (and learns how to play the drums, as the actor had to in real life!). During the Q&A, Uchida expressed his desire to make a sequel where Naruse has a showdown with the NYPD Police band, and to the delight of the crowd Abe said that he’s be up for it.

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Jun 30

WIT Life #364: What’s in a Name?

Professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03) presents WIT Life, a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language. Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she offers some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

It’s been a while since I’ve written here, and it’s nice to be back. I hope that everyone’s early summers are going well! An interesting announcement was made in Tokyo this week in regard to the terminology for “childcare leave.” Previously 育休 (ikukyu) was the term used , but it was officially changed to the phrase 育業 (ikugyo). You can see that the first character, referring to “raising children” has stayed the same, but the second character for “time off” or “rest” has been changed to the one for “work.”

According to Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, this new terminology is more appropriate because “child-rearing is the important, valuable work of raising those who will carry our future.” Gyo indicates results achieved by putting in effort, whereas kyu is associated more with taking a break and doesn’t acknowledge the hard work involved. In a public appeal citizens were asked to come up with a new catchphrase for childcare leave, and this one was selected from almost 9000 submissions received in just a month.

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