by Mizuko Ito
Last year, when I organized an event on Animation and the Contemporary Japanese Imagination, I got a call from Rafu Shimpo, the oldest Japanese language daily newspaper in the US. They wanted to send a reporter out to the event, Bobby Okinaka. When I met Bobby at the event I immediately recognized a fellow chanponite with a passion for Japanese pop culture and cross-cultural exchange. When he told me he was starting up an English blog dedicated to Japanese pop culture I asked him if we could do a profile of him and his site. Well, it took us both a while to get it together, but it was worth the wait. Bobby writes on his chanpon background for chanpon.org.
In the mid-90s I was ending out my contract on the JET Program, a teaching and cultural exchange program sponsored by the Japanese government, and trying to figure out what I would do once I returned to the U.S. I had read an article about the future of satellite television broadcasting and it seemed that if there was going to be 500 channels, there would need to be 500 times more producers. So I returned to Los Angeles with a goal to someday create a cross-cultural television program that would show the world the Japan that I had come to know and love.
I eventually found myself working for E! Entertainment Television and one day approached my producer about doing stories on Asian entertainment. She told me plainly that E! was in the business of selling Hollywood to the rest of the world. It was 1998 and Jackie Chan had recently broken into Hollywood with Pikachu not too far behind. I could sense that Asian pop culture was becoming a popular trend and I had to find a better way to tell the kind of stories I wanted to tell.
Around this time the Internet was in its boom years and everyone in entertainment was talking about online content and streaming video. The big advantage to the Internet was that you could achieve wide distribution with relatively little resources. So I made a decision to leave television and to learn this new technology in hopes of someday making an Asian pop culture show and broadcasting it over the web.
Today I have a website dedicated to the promotion of Asian pop culture, so it’s not exclusively focused on Japan. The site is called Joypop. Unfortunately, I still haven’t gotten to the point where my project meets my vision. But since leaving the E! Channel, it’s great to see that Asian American television is finally here with not one, but two channels! (Imaginasian and AZN Television) And we’re getting closer to Internet television, so I’ll keep working at it. Gambarimasu!
So how did I get started on this path? A lot of it is due to my chanpon origins. My father is third generation Nikkei (overseas Japanese) from Los Angeles and my mother is from the beautiful island of Okinawa. I was raised in a military family and when I started high school we moved to a U.S. Army base just outside of Tokyo.
That is where I was first exposed to Japanese culture. Tokyo was my playground and I loved to explore the city. I learned to get around quite easily even with my limited Japanese. I loved to watch Japanese television shows like Dragonball, Takeshi’s Castle and the greatest game show ever aired, Naruhodo the World! So I guess it’s only natural that I chose a career in entertainment.
In college, I majored in East Asian Studies at UCLA. After graduation I taught English in Wakayama Prefecture for three years on the JET Program. Living in the countryside was a great experience for me because I really got to experience Japanese life. If you visit Japan and only see Tokyo, you are really missing out.
I don’t know why I am so interested in cross-cultural communication. Maybe it comes from my early exposure to the world having grown up in so many different places. What I do know is that Asia is overflowing with creative energy and talent that more people need to know about. A great example is what Takashi Murakami is doing with his “Superflat” art movement.
When I’m not working on my media projects, I do some freelance reporting to improve my writing skills. I’ve written for a student-driven website at UCLA called Asia Pacific Arts and a Los Angeles Japanese daily newspaper, the Rafu Shimpo. I’ve also volunteered as an interviewer and video operator for an oral history project on Japanese American World War II veterans called Hanashi.
In my future I will keep working until I can sustain a living doing what I enjoy with my media projects. In my dream world, I am traveling around Asia meeting all kinds of interesting people to interview for my cross-cultural television show. Maybe it will be Naruhodo the World Part Two!
How has your chanpon background helped you?
How has your chanpon background hurt you?
I don’t really think about how my background helps or hurts me. I feel that growing up in multiple cultures has really benefited my life and helped me to have a deeper understanding of the world we live in.
What makes you feel Japanese? What makes you not feel Japanese?
When I look in myself in the mirror I feel Japanese. And to some degree I think I understand the Japanese way of thinking. My poor speaking and reading skills make me feel not Japanese.
What do you miss about Japan when you're away?
I love to watch Japanese television. I miss the festivals, onsen, conbini, riding on trains and beer gardens – just to name a few things. That being said, being in Japan gives me a different sense of self-identity. It mainly comes through in the media. Seeing people on the screen who look like me makes me feel empowered. I wish there were more Asian faces in American media for that reason alone.
What do you miss about overseas when you're in Japan?
For some strange reason, I find that I miss cheese and cereal.
Any websites related to you?
Yes! Please check out www.joypoptv.com – an almost daily blog on Asian pop culture. I’m also preparing to launch a new website with a focus on fashion, so look for it soon!
Posted by Mizuko Ito at 2005年04月27日 17:10