Hiromi Naka recently arrived in Madison on a two-year mission to highlight the existing ties between Wisconsin and Japan, to develop new connections and networks, and to raise awareness about her country.
She has arrived in a state that, over the years, has developed numerous connections with Japan. For example:
- Wisconsin established a sister state relationship with Japan’s Chiba Prefecture in 1990, to promote educational, cultural, science, and technological exchanges and create bonds of friendship and understanding.
- Students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison can study Japanese language and literature, history and art history. Other University of Wisconsin System campuses and several high schools around the state offer Japanese language instruction.
- Kikkoman Foods Inc., a Japanese producer of soy sauce, opened its first U.S. production facility in Walworth, Wisconsin, in 1973. The plant has grown to be the most productive naturally brewed soy sauce plant in the world.
- Japan ranks among Wisconsin’s top five export markets, totaling $858 million in 2012, behind Canada, Mexico, China, and Australia.
The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership (CGP) and The Laurasian Institution designed the JOI program to help deepen understanding of Japan by sending Japanese individuals to U.S. sites to coordinate community outreach activities.
“I like to go places where I have never been,” says Naka, who has spent much of her life outside of Japan. “I like cultural exchanges because it helps people to understand each other.”
Because of her father’s work, Naka, 38, grew up mostly in Seoul, South Korea, where she attended a Japanese school. At age 16, she moved back to Chiba Prefecture, just outside of Tokyo, and attended a high school for girls.
“It was difficult to fit in, but I survived,” she says.
She went on to earn an undergraduate degree in art therapy at Tamagawa University.
Naka later received training and obtained a license for teaching Japanese language to non-native speakers, which opened the door to a series of overseas teaching experiences.
First, she taught at a Japanese language school in England for six months, with students ranging in age from 8 to 70 years old.
Through the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers program, she spent two years in China’s Inner Mongolia region, teaching the language to high school students. Then, she taught for a year at a university in Vladivostock, Russia.
Most recently, she turned to the JOI program for her next adventure, landing her in Wisconsin. As a student, she had visited California, but this marks her first experience in the Midwestern United States.
The JOI program was designed to increase understanding of Japan, particularly in the U.S. Midwest and South, and to jump-start Japan-focused outreach programs, according to David Dettmann, CEAS outreach coordinator, who is serving as Naka’s host-site supervisor.
Each JOI coordinator and host site develops their own program, based on the strengths and interests of the coordinator. The program provides coordinators with funding to travel to schools and communities.
Naka’s work will include connecting with existing resources and building a network that can be sustained after the two-year program.
“She will involve others in her presentations and programs, so it’s not all on her shoulders,” Dettmann says.
“My main goal is not only to increase people’s interest in Japan, but also to cultivate fields of international mutual understanding through outreach activities,” Naka says. “I look forward to visiting local K-12 schools, libraries, community centers and campus for Japan-related outreach.”
She is available to give presentations on a range of topics, including life and education in Japan, manga and anime, youth culture, seasonal events and ceremonies, and Japanese music, art and performing arts.
She also is prepared to lead a variety of activities, including origami, chopstick challenges, making New Year’s cards, Japanese cooking, Japanese songs, calligraphy, and tsumami zaiku (making fabric flowers).
“Please contact me to arrange a program that will best suit your needs and interests,” she says.
— by Kerry G. Hill