Komura, Noriko


An Interview with Chopsticks NY Editor Noriko Komura

By Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken 2000-03)

Perhaps you’ve seen copies of Chopsticks New York stacked at a Japanese bookstore or restaurant.  Maybe you were curious, drawn in by the fascinating, intricate and colorful cover art.  Whatever your impression, this magazine has made its presence known in NYC and quickly grabbed the helm as the English language resource for all things related to Japanese food, culture and entertainment in the city.  Where did this fountain of useful information, seemingly custom-made for the NY area JET alum, come from?  And who is making it tick behind the scenes?  To answer these questions, the JETAA NY Newsletter spoke with Ms. Noriko Komura, Editor-in-Chief of Chopsticks NY.

JETAANY: What is the idea behind Chopsticks?  How did it come about?

Noriko Komura: The main purpose of our magazine is to have our readers know more about Japan, and there are many kinds of information about Japan that can be provided.  If you live in the NYC area, you have plenty of chances to come into contact with things that are Japanese, whether they are food, pop culture or art.  However, we seek to provide insight into the current state of Japan, as well as traditional aspects of the country including things that are still a part of daily life over there.  Thirdly, we hope to shed light on the Japan world that is in NYC that might not necessarily have been discovered by readers.  As a free paper, we have a very wide range in terms of who we are trying to target.  We know that our audience is comprised of several groups: those who know a lot about Japan and may have even lived there, those who are anywhere from casually to deeply interested in Japan through food, pop culture, etc. and those who have limited knowledge about Japan but are likely to be interested in learning more, and we seek to satisfy all of these categories.

JETAANY: I have heard that you share a publisher with the Japanese free paper Japion.

NK: We share the same publisher, Trend Pot, and this company also produced the predecessor to Chopsticks, which was called Asian Food and Lifestyle.  It was a bimonthly free publication that was distributed for two years, starting in 2004.  The problem with this effort was that in attempting to cover all things Asian, it spread itself too wide.  Additionally, something we discovered with this magazine was that people had more interest in Japan beyond just the typical arenas of food, anime and J-pop than we thought, so we sought to create a publication that would answer these needs.  Therefore, when we began Chopsticks in May of 2007, we not only had experience from publishing Japion but from the previous magazine as well, and I think that this works to our advantage.

At Chopsticks we are a small staff of five, so we share office space with Japion although we are two separate entities.  Besides my editing duties, I also supervise the editorial team of NY Japion, but everyone else is clearly on one staff or the other.  In order to handle all the stories we cover, we employ several freelance writers.  We would like to have more permanent staff in the future, but our profits need to reach a certain level to be able to do that.  I think of our business model like a staircase, and in approaching our one-year anniversary we are in a good place but would like to go up to the next step.  Once we reach that point, we can make changes such as increasing staff and adding more articles to Chopsticks.

Q: How do story ideas come about?  Do you follow trends both here and at home?

NK: I have been in the States 13 years, so keeping up with current trends in Japan requires a lot of research.  We watch these as closely as we watch trends in NYC.  For example, our March issue features ramen and this was in response to the recent emergence of ramen restaurants here in the city.  We saw Momofuku and many places like that have great success, which is great, but at the same time we also wanted readers to know about real ramen.  For the Japanese it is like our national food, and it can be said to be deeper than sushi as well as cheaper!  We wanted to break the association that Japan = sushi and broaden the frame of reference Americans have in regard to Japan.  So I would say that presenting the “real Japan” is a motivating force behind the articles selected for the magazine.

Sometimes ideas for columns accidentally come about.  In our February issue we had an extra page so we decided to devote it to explaining the Japanese holiday of Setsubun which is largely unknown in the States.  However, the response to this addition was overwhelmingly positive!  This surprised us and led us to think about putting similar content in future issues.  For example, in May we are planning to profile Children’s Day.

Q: What is your favorite thing about editing Chopsticks?

NK: I’d have to say it’s the chance to learn about many different things and what’s going on back home.  If you live in Japan, you probably just go about your daily life without paying special attention to things, but from my position now I have to be much more observant.  Things I wouldn’t realize by living in Japan I see now because I have to be aware of them, and this is more interesting.  To give you an example, when I was in Japan I had little interest in anime but now I’m hooked on the Gundam SEED series!  Ironically, if I was living in Japan I don’t think I’d have been exposed to it at all.  This is a job that allows me to make these kinds of discoveries, so I’m grateful for that.

Through Chopsticks, I feel like I can easily experience aspects of Japan that would be less accessible back home.  They might be available, but you wouldn’t necessarily go out of your way to do them.  I can compare it to a department store, where all the best of the best has been picked and by just going through you can sample everything.  In the same way, the Japanese world in NYC offers a taste of different aspects of Japanese culture and you can experience them in a very compact way that would not be possible in Japan itself.  For example, going to see Noh at Japan Society is easier than going to see this kind of performance at home.

Q: What lies ahead for Chopsticks?  Are there any plans for expansion?

NK: Chopsticks NY has been successful, so we are thinking of expanding into other U.S. cities in the future.  Of course, it would have to be places with high Japan awareness like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, etc.  In addition, we would like to put more strength into our online version (www.chopsticksny.com), which at the moment only reflects the magazine’s content.  Going forward, we would like to possibly create original website content.  This also ties into another idea of more reader involvement.  We would like to increase our contact with our audience via events and special projects.  One way we are implementing this is with the current cover artist contest.  We want to make Chopsticks a more interactive media in the future!

Can’t find a copy of Chopsticks New York?  Read it online at www.chopsticksny.com.  Or check the list of distribution locations on their website.

leave a reply

Page Rank