Nov 30

“Finding one’s home is often an experience. If told correctly, its story can be thrilling. The View from Breast Pocket Mountain will captivate those eager to learn more about gaikokujin who have made a home in Japan.” (Karen Hill Anton)

By Rashaad Jorden (Yamagata-ken, 2008-10; Kochi-ken, 2018-2020) for JQ magazine. A former head of JETAA Philadelphia’s 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.

There are gaikokujin whose journey to Japan is quite an adventure. One of them is Karen Hill Anton. She takes readers on a tour of her unconventional life in The View from Breast Pocket Mountain: A Memoir (the mountain is the translated name of the area home of her and her husband’s farmhouse). This is a life that sees her become a columnist for two Japanese newspapers as part of a 45-year (and counting) history with her adoptive country.

Anton’s story starts in New York City, where she grew up in a tenement apartment. The author spends most of the early chapters telling stories of life in the city. Her father often struggled to find work (but did so occasionally as a presser) while her mother was institutionalized. View really takes off when Anton details the period when she traveled outside the United States for the first time. Her adventures took her around Europe (often getting around the Old Continent by sticking her thumb out), where she hung out with a cast of colorful characters, including Swedish painter and textile artist Moki Karlsson, the mother of Swedish music star Neneh Cherry.

The European portion of the book includes more than anecdotes involving interesting figures she met. Anton adroitly captures the vibe of not just a bygone era, but apparently a different planet from the United States—writing that it’s “common sense” in Denmark (where she gave birth to her first child) to put babies outside. You get the sense that she’s completely in tune with her surroundings there as she includes other fascinating tidbits about the Scandinavian country. Through her writing, she comes across as someone who can feel at home almost anywhere.

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Oct 27

JQ Magazine: Book Review — ‘The Japanese Sake Bible’

“While reading The Japanese Sake Bible, you’ll probably feel overwhelmed. But you’ll leave amazed at the journey of ‘Japan’s gift to the world of drinks.'” (Tuttle Publishing)

By Rashaad Jorden (Yamagataken, 2008-10; Kochi-ken, 2018-2020) for JQ magazine. A former head of JETAA Philadelphia’s 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.

Maybe it’s a bit too strong for your liking. Or maybe it contributed to an unpleasant hangover. But it’s quite possible it was a part of your JET experience.

I’m talking about sake. Anyone curious about what they might have been sipping at an enkai would do well to pick up The Japanese Sake Bible. Compiled by Kotaku Senior Contributing Editor Brian Ashcraft, this comprehensive work examines the world of sake—most notably its origins, its rise to becoming “Japan’s National bBeverage” (coincidentally the title of the first chapter), and tips on how to make the drink yourself. 

True to its name, Ashcraft creates a book heavy on history. It’s clear upon looking at the first page of the aforementioned first chapter that this Bible will be more or less Sake 101 (oddly enough, the origins of sake were addressed not at the beginning of the book, but in chapter five). Although the author presents a lot of facts that will probably go over readers’ heads, he excels at thoroughly explaining in detail topics like the definition of sake, which is legally defined as being filtered from fermented rice, koji and water, and the differences between sake, wine and beer.

Although the book is in large part an introduction to the drink, it also serves as a guide for aspiring, if not full-fledged, sake connoisseurs. Ashcraft (also the author of Japanese Whisky) presents to readers more categories of sake than one might have thought actually existed: there’s well-polished sake, sparkling sake, and raw and unprocessed sake. Also, niche sake that might not be easy to find. 

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Oct 12

JQ Magazine: Book Review — ‘Pure Invention’

How did Japanese pop culture become such a dominant force across the globe? Matt Alt answers that question and more in Pure Invention: How Japan’s Pop Culture Conquered the World. (Crown)

By Rashaad Jorden (Yamagataken, 2008-10; Kochi-ken, 2018-2020) for JQ magazine. A former head of JETAA Philadelphia’s 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.

Nintendo, karaoke, Miyazaki, manga, Pokémon. Those names resonate with so many people all over the world as Japanese pop culture, which has become a significant tool in promoting the country. After all, many people feel like they know Japan through what they’ve seen on TV, in the movies, etc. They can also enrich and add joy to our lives.

But how did Japanese pop culture become such a dominant force across the globe? Tokyo-based writer, translator and reporter Matt Alt answers that question and more in Pure Invention: How Japan’s Pop Culture Conquered the World by illuminating brands and names that have seemingly made Japan an epicenter of coolness.

Of course, seemingly everything in Japan has a long history, so why would various forms of pop culture be any different? Unsurprisingly, chapter one of Pure Invention is devoted to the very first manufactured item to emerge from the ashes of World War II, which was a toy jeep. It’s fascinating to read about the backstory of the toy’s creator (Matsuzo Kosuge) and creation, as “jeep” was one of the first English words that Japanese kids mastered in the postwar years. Despite this influence, it is the story of a product that, in Alt’s words, was largely forgotten. 

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Oct 12

JQ Magazine: Book Review — ‘Healing Labor’

Healing Labor reveals that there’s more than meets the eye for those who have spent a night out in a seedy Japanese neighborhood.” (Stanford University Press)

By Rashaad Jorden (Yamagataken, 2008-10; Kochi-ken, 2018-2020) for JQ magazine. A former head of JETAA Philadelphia’s 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.

Modern Japan is a huge market for sex.

That statement probably isn’t surprising to those who have spent a night out in certain parts of Tokyo. But this is a reality for people who devote a lot of time to sex work.

Gabriele Koch tackles that statement and more in her examination of Japanese sex workers in Healing Labor: Japanese Sex Work in the Gendered Economy. Koch, an assistant professor of anthropology at Yale-NUS College, conducted 21 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Tokyo from 2008 to 2013 (she also gathered information from additional trips to the metropolis in 2016 and 2017). During her fieldwork, the author explored sites connected to the sex industry as well as diverse groups of people involved in it. Koch would seemingly have had plenty of opportunities to do so: according to research she cited in the book, roughly 22,000 legal sex industry businesses are in operation in Japan.  

The information in Healing Labor (a term used to illustrate the view many sex workers have of the reparative aspects of their care since it’s ostensibly vital to any success in the male-gendered economy) is largely qualitative, so Koch doesn’t heavily rely on statistics. But she does use numbers to illustrate the risks for sex workers at Tokyo deriheru (an escort business in which a sex worker is sent to a hotel, rental room or private residence): mainly, in that instance, the relatively low condom use by male patrons.

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Apr 28

JQ Magazine: Book Review — ‘Issei Baseball’

By Rashaad Jorden (Yamagata-ken, 2008-10; Kochi-ken, 2018-present) for JQ magazine. A former head of JETAA Philadelphia’s 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.

The first professional baseball game involving a team of Japanese players took place in Frankfort, Kansas.

Yes, you read that correctly. That fact—and many other interesting tidbits—appear in Mashi author Robert K. Fitts’ new book Issei Baseball: The Story of the First Japanese American Ballplayers, which chronicles the birth of Japanese American baseball as well as several key figures in its growth. Those figures color the early chapters, as Fitts doesn’t jump right into the tours embarked upon by Japanese American teams.

We’re treated to the stories of pioneers such as Harry Saisho, the creator of a club named the Japanese Base Ball Association (which canvassed the Midwest in 1911), Tozan Masko, the co-founder of the Mikado team (the world’s first Japanese-run professional club), and Isoo Abe, the manager Waseda University’s baseball club and organizer of its U.S. tour in 1905.

Speaking of the famous Tokyo university, Fitts devotes most of the book’s fifth and sixth chapters to that cross-country jaunt.

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Jan 15

JQ Magazine: Film Review — ‘Weathering with You’

“With beautiful visuals and compelling characters, Weathering with You is a charming world you want to believe.” (GKIDS)

By A.A. Sanborn (Shimane-ken, 2009-11) for JQ magazine.

Sun Amid the Clouds

*Warning: This review contains spoilers

“Don’t interfere with the weather too much,” warns a fortune teller early on: “Messing with nature always has a cost.” As the title suggests, weather is the focus for writer/director Makoto Shinkai’s newest feature film Weathering with YouIt’s a tough act to follow after 2016’s Your Name, Shinkai’s previous work and the most commercially successful anime film of the last decade. Nevertheless, despite similarities in plot (adolescent romance, natural phenomena, and a sci-fi twist) the film offers a refreshing story which transports and delights.

We follow the friendship of Hodaka, a runaway from a remote island, and Hina, a girl with mysterious powers that temporarily conjure sunny skies. Hodaka is intent to find freedom in the big city, while Hina is just trying to get by. The number of scenes alone where characters resort to eating cheap instant ramen is an indicator that life is not going quite as planned. Still, adventure can be found just around the corner.

Soon after meeting, Hina and Hodaka start a business using Hina’s sun-producing powers. Their services are marketed to Tokyoites for weddings and outdoor events otherwise ruined by a rainy day. The sunny vignettes are one of the most charming aspects of the film, connecting it to a broader sense of space and community. Tokyo is no longer an anonymous megalopolis, but a city formed of friendships and relations.

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Aug 25

JQ Magazine: Book Review — ‘Gentle Black Giants’

Gentle Black Giants proves that the Royal Giants’ legacy has lived on in the countless tours taken by American teams to Japan since they first graced Asian shores nearly a century ago.” (NBRP Press)

By Rashaad Jorden (Yamagataken, 2008-10; Kochi-ken, 2018-present) for JQ magazine. A former head of JETAA Philadelphia’s 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.

In the 1930s, major leaguers including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig went on tours of Japan, dazzling throngs of new fans while dropping nary a match (Gehrig’s group visited the country in 1931 while the Bambino arrived three years later). Those visits by all-star teams were widely credited for generating Japanese enthusiasm for baseball, which in turn helped launch professional baseball in Japan. But many (if not most) baseball fans are unaware the first American professional baseball players to tour Japan were not major leaguers.

A recently expanded book from the Nisei Baseball Research Project delves into a group of Negro Leaguers who sparked the growth of Japanese professional baseball. Gentle Black Giants: A History of Negro Leaguers in Japan explores the tours taken by the Philadelphia Royal Giants that contributed to the development of baseball in the country. Co-authored by Kazuo Sayama and Bill Staples, Jr. (the former is a Japanese baseball historian, the latter is a baseball researcher), Gentle Black Giants was first published in 1986, which coincided with the 50th anniversary of the birth of Japanese pro baseball.

At first glance, it’s apparent that Gentle Black Giants resembles a victorious baseball squad as numerous contributors pitched in to create an extensive resource about the link between the Negro Leagues and Japan. While the cover suggests a collaboration between Sayama and Staples (Sayama penned the original version of the book in Japanese while Staples took charge of the English translation), several editors and authors collaborated to create this new edition.

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Apr 4

Justin’s Japan: ‘Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon’ Makes Broadway Debut

Click image to view 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.

On March 29-30, “Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon the Super Live” premiered with three sold-out performances at the PlayStation Theater. This dazzling musical adaptation of the megahit anime and manga franchise, which has generated $5 billion in merchandise sales to date, featured a talented all-female cast (including for the male roles) performing in Japanese.

“At its core, ‘Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon’ is about strong girlfriends banding together to fight for what they believe in…they are the ultimate example of ‘girl power,’” said show producer Takaharu Uera. This universal theme was reflected in the wide diversity of the audience, who were overjoyed to see their heroines come to life.

Innovatively directed and choreographed by TAKAHIRO (Madonna’s Sticky & Sweet Tour) with book by Akiko Kodama (Takarazuka Revue Company) and music by HYADAIN (pop groups Momoiro Clover Z and AKB48), these performances also marked the first time a 2.5D musical, a genre based on popular contemporary Japanese properties like manga, anime and video games, was performed on a New York stage.

First published by creator Naoko Takeuchi in 1991, the manga is now localized in more than 14 countries and released as an anime in more than 50 countries around the world, according to Naho Yamada, general manager of Kodansha USA Publishing, which ran a packed pop-up store at the theater displaying the newest volume of the “Sailor Moon Eternal Edition” collection and other exclusive goods that had thousands of fans eagerly lining up before and after the shows.

“We are happy that fans of all ages have the opportunity to experience ‘Sailor Moon’ in new ways, and that it continues to be a worldwide phenomenon,” said Yamada.

For more information, visit http://sailormoon-official.com/stage/superlive/us.


Dec 11

JQ Magazine: Book Review — ‘Dragon Quest Illustrations: 30th Anniversary Edition’

“Packed with over 500 iconic hand-drawn illustrations, this handsome, 240-page hardcover edition is a testament to the artist who helped set the visual standard for RPGs, raising the bar impossibly higher with each release.” (VIZ Media)

By JQ magazine editor Justin Tedaldi (CIR Kobe-shi, 2001-02). Justin has written about Japanese arts and entertainment for JETAA since 2005, and is eagerly awaiting the 30th anniversary edition of All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku. For more of his articles, click here.

In the summer of 1988, the “World News” page in the debut issue of Nintendo Power magazine reported: “Ninjas and Kung-Fu Masters are no longer heros [sic] to Japanese players since they are now being replaced by warriors and sorcerers who bravely confront dragons with their swords and shields.”

With this mind-blowing description, my eight-year-old self was introduced to the world of Dragon Quest.

With over 71 million copies sold, this landmark video game series published by Enix (now Square Enix) is still going strong, with eleven main titles and thirty overall, securing a legacy that spans at least three generations. While role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and Ultima existed long before game consoles invaded our homes, DQ was the one that rewrote the book and kept adding chapters that everyone from Final Fantasy to Pokémon copied from, long after its initial release in Japan in 1986 (and in the U.S. as Dragon Warrior in 1989).

Ironically, those other series are probably better known in the West, likely because for years Dragon Warrior lacked the “star power” associated with one man whose fame in Japan easily rivaled any game: Akira Toriyama. As the creator/illustrator/genius behind the back-to-back manga smashes Dr. Slump and Dragon Ball, Toriyama was coaxed by his trend-savvy editor to lend his talents to a new sword-and-sorcery title, marking a profound transformation (and future synergy) between the manga and gaming worlds. After DQ, nothing would ever be the same.

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Oct 5

JQ Magazine: Book Review — ‘Japanese Cooking with Manga’

Japanese Cooking with Manga is an entertaining introduction to the world of Japanese food, and an approachable book for those interested in learning more about Japanese food culture.” (Tuttle Publishing)

By Alexis Agliano Sanborn (Shimane-ken, 2009-11) for JQ magazine. Alexis is a graduate of Harvard University’s Regional Studies-East Asia (RSEA) program, and currently works as a program coordinator at the U.S.-Asia Law Institute of NYU School of Law. Additionally, she is an artist and independent filmmaker, currently working on a documentary about food education in Japan entitled Nourishing Japan.

Tuttle’s latest cookbook, Japanese Cooking with Manga, captures the ethos of creating food which suits the place you live. This quirky read was written by the Gourmand Gohan team comprised of Spaniards Alexis Aldeguer and Ilaria Mauro and Japanese-living-in-Barcelona “Maiko-san,” highlighting the universal love of Japanese food and its adaptations around the globe.

Created to be part comic book and part recipe book, this is a cookbook that you “read,” filled with colorful and humorous visual explorations of preparing Japanese food. Drawn in an artistic style more reminiscent of Tintin than Totoro, the trio guides us through visuals of chopped ingredients and simmering pots culminating in the completed meal. In truth, it would be difficult to consult the book while cooking (there’s something to be said for a more traditional layout); it’s more coffee table or bedside reading. Nevertheless, readers, especially those with an appreciation for comics, will likely enjoy this book.

In addition to recipes and narrative, the writers take care to provide background information, context and history to the world of Japanese cuisine—such as the importance of seasonal ingredients, the history of sushi, or how to identify fresh fish.  For anyone embarking and revisiting the world of washoku, these principles are good reminders of the foundation to the cuisine and culture.

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Sep 8

JQ Magazine: Film Review — ‘Kusama: Infinity’

“Clocking in at just 78 minutes, this documentary from director Heather Lenz is deceptively compact. Within its swift running time, viewers will be regaled with how Kusama overcame impossible odds to become the top-selling female artist in the world.” (Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

By Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03) for JQ magazine. Stacy is a professional Japanese writer/interpreter/translator. She starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and shares some of the interesting tidbits and trends together with her own observations in the periodic series WITLife.

I’ve always been an admirer from afar of Yayoi Kusama’s polka dotted and pumpkin themed artwork, but I have never waited hours in line to see it, as many New Yorkers did when her mirrored “Infinity Room” made it to the city last year. This lack of intimate knowledge regarding her work might be why I found the new film Kusama: Infinity about this amazing 89-year-old artist to be so revelatory. Clocking in at just 78 minutes, this documentary from director Heather Lenz is deceptively compact. Within its swift running time, viewers will be regaled with how Kusama overcame impossible odds to become the top-selling female artist in the world.

Born into a dysfunctional family in Matsumoto City in northern Nagano Prefecture, Kusama grew up during World War II. Her father was unfaithful and her mother’s reaction to this was to become angry and violent, even destroying Kusama’s artwork which she began creating at age 10 (The film suggests that this trauma is behind the maniacal energy that Kusama channels into her creations). Interestingly enough, her mother agreed to let her attend art school on the condition that she attend finishing school as well, but Kusama never set foot in the latter.

I had known that she spent time in New York, but the story of how she got here was fascinating. Kusama respected Georgia O’Keefe, and sent her a letter along with some of her works. After receiving a reply, in 1958 Kusama came to New York on a wing and a prayer. Before she left Japan she burned most of her early works, promising to make better ones in the future. During her time here she met legendary artists like Andy Warhol and Donald Judd, the former of whom she was distraught to later find had stolen her work. Kusama got caught up in the spirit of the 1960s counterculture and was involved in many “happenings,” such as body painting festivals and anti-war demonstrations. She even crashed the Venice Biennale exhibition in 1966 with an installation of 1,500 mirror balls on the lawn outside the pavilion, clad in a red leotard amongst them. Despite the double punch of sexism and racism that Kusama faced, she managed to make a name for herself.

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Jul 24

JQ Magazine: Book Review — ‘Amy’s Guide to Best Behavior in Japan: Do It Right and Be Polite!’

“For JETs and others who have lived and worked in Japan, many of these rules and customs might seem very familiar and would only serve as a refresher. Yet Chavez does an excellent job of providing a clear summary of many aspects of Japanese culture—all in 144 pages.” (Stone Bridge Press)

 

 

By Andy Shartzer (Shizuoka-ken, 2014-16) for JQ magazine. Andy graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in chemical engineering, and currently works for JETRO New York. He is also the Community Development Chair for JETAA New York.

The best part about world travel is the chance to step outside of our comfort zones and sometimes monotonous day-to-day routines to gain new and different perspectives of the world. Oh, and eat lots of amazing food, right? Not just that? Okay. Sorry, that was my stomach talking there.

In all seriousness, the chance to interact and learn from locals is an opportunity travelers should make the most of. But what if you haven’t brushed up on all the rules, customs, and etiquette of the country you’re visiting? And what if that country is Japan? And what if you’re boarding the plane now? Eesh. Well, instead of binging on reruns of Marvel movies, Amy Chavez has you covered with her new book, “Amy’s Guide to Best Behavior in Japan: Do It Right and Be Polite!” Chavez, a 25-year resident of Japan and tourist adviser who lives on Shiraishi Island (population: 600) in the Seto Inland Sea, provides a quick, easy-to-read overview of how to fully enjoy your experience in Japan and best incorporate the complexities of Japanese customs and etiquette into your homestay, study abroad, or quick jaunt to Japan. With some strong support from the educational “Amy Cat” (illustrated by Jun Hazuki), this 144-page book is the perfect reading material for your 15-hour flight.

For JETs and others who have lived and worked in Japan, many of these rules and customs might seem very familiar to you and would only serve as a refresher. Yet Chavez does an excellent job of providing a clear summary of many aspects of Japanese culture — not easy to do in 144 pages. For example, this author never quite learned the proper protocol for praying at Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, so the guidelines provided in this book (with pictures!) were very helpful. Even if you have spent a year or more as a resident in Japan, Chavez includes enough topics to ensure you learn a new thing or two — like a whole section on how to use Japanese squat toilets (Ooooh, you face the wall…who would’ve thought!).

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Jul 23

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

Tuttle Publishing

By Rashaad Jorden (Yamagata-ken, 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 recently released two books: one showcases the capital of Japan at its hippest and most colorful, while the other is dedicated to the traditional splendor of its castles.

Tokyo: Capital of Cool

“Capital of cool” sounds like an appropriate phrase to describe the host of the next Olympics. Rob Goss’s largely pictorial tribute to Tokyo certainly succeeds in making potential visitors to the capital salivate.

Subtitled Tokyo’s Most Famous Sights from Asakusa to Harajuku, Goss’s work doesn’t intend to be the typical travel guide containing useful recommendations about transportation and accommodation. Most importantly for readers, Goss provides extensive information (much of it historical) about Tokyo’s most popular tourists areas. Of course, the fun of a Tokyo trip isn’t just limited to Shibuya, Ginza, Harajuku, and the rest Goss includes segments devoted to common day trip excursion sites like Kamakura, Nikko and Yokohama.

While the photographs are obviously the first thing that jumps out at readers—indeed, Ross scores at portraying Tokyo as a youthful, vibrant city—the images are definitely not the only useful tool for prospective visitors. Several maps appear in the book, displaying places of interest that even seasoned travelers may not be aware of.

Tuttle Publishing

Samurai Castles

Castles are lot more than opulent fortresses to gaze at—these palaces represent an integral facet of Japanese feudal and military history.

That’s the biggest takeaway readers will get from Jennifer Mitchelhill’s Samurai Castles. Her work (complemented by photographs from David Green) provides a comprehensive introduction to two dozen of Japan’s most prominent castles. History buffs are treated to more aforementioned locales as the author then lists Japan’s 100 most important castles.

However, before seeking out what venerable fortresses might be in an off-the-beaten prefecture, the author expounds on their rich history (whose use was first recorded in an eighth-century work entitled Nihon Shoki). Architecture aficionados will appreciate the chapter dedicated to such structures, and if you’re motivated to visit one of Japan’s more prestigious castles, you’ll have some idea what you’re looking at, since Mitchelhill supplies meticulous information about each castle, as well as practical tips for prospective visitors.

For more information, visit www.tuttlepublishing.com.

For more JQ magazine book reviews, click here.


Jul 19

JQ Magazine: Book Review — ‘My Year of Dirt and Water’

“From her pottery classes to family visits, Tracy Franz takes you to a sometimes magical and sometimes complex world, but one very much full in enriching experiences.” (Stone Bridge Press)

By Rashaad Jorden (Yamagata-ken, 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.

If you wrote about your year (or more) in Japan, what would you say? What stories would you tell?

Welcome to the world of Tracy Franz. An English teacher at a university in Kumamoto, she welcomes readers to her “year of dirt and water.”

My Year of Dirt and Water (the books takes its title from a line when Tracy asks herself what she hopes to accomplish while trying to recycle those two objects) is a journal-like journey of Tracy’s world. Her JET alumnus husband Koun Garrett Franz (Kumamoto-ken, 1999-01) is spending a year training as a monk in a Buddhist monastery, so Tracy must navigate the complexities of Japanese life feeling like an outsider (she mentions at one point she always feels a distance that prevents her from feeling at ease in the country).

As the book is a diary containing an entry for each day, the content runs the gamut from the mundane to the only-in-Japan moments (such as Tracy’s pottery teacher incredulously responding to the author’s being unaware of her husband’s blood type) to her observations of life in the country (Tracy concludes, to the surprise of no one, that Kyoto is a bit crowded during Golden Week and possibly not the most comfortable destination for those accustomed to the Alaskan countryside) to the creepy (like an eerie night at an onsen with a university colleague).

Of course, a journal may not be an enthralling read for some (My Year of Dirt and Water is divided into four sections each named after a season of the year while the book’s chapters each bear the name of a specific month). Remarkably, a decent portion of the book takes place in the United States, where Tracy spends much of the summer visiting her husband’s family, which has a mother-in-law battling illness.

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Jul 18

JQ Magazine: Film Review — JAPAN CUTS 2018 at Japan Society

An “oh-my-god-it’s-too-accurate portrayal of first love” starring Aira Sunohara, Amiko makes its U.S. premiere at Japan Society July 16. (Amiko © Yoko Yamanaka)

 

By Katharine Olla for JQ magazine. A Friend of JET, Katharine taught as an ALT in a public elementary school in Gunma Prefecture from 2015-16. She currently works at Japan Society in New York.

It’s summer in the city, and that means another year of JAPAN CUTS, North America’s largest festival of contemporary Japanese cinema. From July 19-29, Japan Society will screen 30 films ranging from dramas and comedies to documentaries, anime, and experimental works. The festival will also feature special guest appearances by directors, documentary filmmakers, and actors, including the legendary actress Kirin Kiki, who will receive the CUT ABOVE Award for Outstanding Performance in Film.

It was difficult to choose just three to review, so I decided to watch films with strong female leads (because that’s one of the categories that Netflix tells me I like).

Kushina, What Will You Be

What if I just ran away and lived in the woods? is a question some of us ask after a morning commute on New York public transit. Get your fix by immersing yourself in the surreal, visually-striking world of Kushina, What Will You Be.

Anthropologist Soko (Yayoi Inamoto) and her assistant Keita (Suguru Onuma) trek through the forest to locate and study an elusive group said to be in the mountains. What they find is a women-only colony led by matriarch Onikuma (Miyuki Ono). Onikuma’s family consists of her daughter Kagu (Tomona Hirota) and granddaughter Kushina (Ikumi Satake), whose secret pastime is listening to her cassette player. After the outside world intrudes, how will this closed community react? And what is Kushina listening to on her Walkman?

This is Moët Hayami’s debut feature film, and it’s a labor of love: as its writer, director, art director, costume designer, and editor, with this level of care she’s managed to curate every detail of this film to create a truly singular world within a world. It’s hard to shake off after the credits roll.

Featuring an intro and Q&A with writer/director Moët Hayami and actress Tomona Hirota, Kushina, What Will You Be screens Wednesday, July 25 at 6:30 p.m. (international premiere).

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