USJLP – Day 1

I’ve always loved writing. I started my first daily journal as a third grader, and didn’t skip a day for a year – I remember because my third-grade teacher awarded me a medal in front of my class for it. I started writing poems as a senior in high school and kept it up through most of my twenties. I started writing a blog in 2009. But all of these have been in Japanese. I’ve never kept a journal in English. English sneaks in here and there when I write for myself in long-hand, making memos of to-do’s, or just to organize my thoughts sometimes. Despite the fact that most of my schooling has been in English – and the fact that I’ve just written a 166-page doctoral thesis in English – I’ve never felt the urge to write my intimate thoughts down in English. And although I now have lived in the States for more than two-third of my life, somehow, I’ve always preferred writing in Japanese.

So, why start now?

Because I want to write a rather personal book, and I have to choose as to whether to do it in English or in Japanese, I want to practice, and see how I do in English. And because US-Japan Leadership Program started tonight. And like I thought it important to share my experience with those who would have less access to a similar opportunity when I became a fellow at Tanglewood Music Center in 2009 (that’s why I started the Japanese blog), I feel that it’s important to share my experience at US-Japan Leadership Program with as many people as possible. (More on US-Japan Leadership Program at:  http://www.usjlp.org/)

I was first nominated to it by a composer whose piece I was assigned to play for Texas New Music Ensemble’s concert. Todd Frazier, the composer, also happened to be the director of Center for Performing Arts Medicine at Houston Methodist Hospital, where a research was being conducted on the neurological benefits of music by using fMRI and EEG, and a past delegate of USJLP. I researched its website, and on the sponsoring foundation, and applied. Once I got in, I was given the short bios of the delegates and was super-impressed to the extent of suffering from an imposter syndrome. Even after I’ve spent nearly five hours meeting and socializing with them tonight, I am still intimidated. There is a researcher looking for life on Mars. There is a “futurist” who, through algorithm and computer simulations, predict the technologies, life-styles, medicine, etc. of the future. There are government officials. There are high-ranking military people, journalists for major news papers and magazines, writers with multiple books under their belts, entrepreneurs with great big ideas and budgets, social activists fighting for equal rights for various minorities and underprivileged, a high-profile visual artist, news reporter whose face I recognize, etc. etc…

But I may be intimidated to this extent, partially because I’ve internalized the marginalization of arts in this society. Why has USJLP insisted on including artists of various disciplines among the delegates every year? And really, what the president of US-Japan Foundation said, that the relationship between two nations can improve and develop through personal relationships, is true. He listed a number of examples: Henry Stimson who saved Kyoto from becoming a military target because it was the site of his honeymoon, John Manjiro who acted as an interpreter for Matthew Perry and may have successfully averted a military invasion, etc. etc. At the end of the examples, he included himself. How his hatred toward Japan in 1949 turned around by befriending a Japanese newcomer to his high school. We are here, not to compare and compete on our accomplishments and honors, but to exchange our ideas and perspectives, as people of diverse backgrounds with a shared desire to contribute to improve this world through an open-minded dialogue and understanding.

I copy-paste here one of my submitted writings to this program, as a way to remind myself on why I wanted to be here and what I have to contribute.

I am a Japanese female professional pianist who likes to think about things, like the fact that not so long ago “Japanese pianist” and “female professional” were oxymorons. As a world-traveling classical musician, a recording artist, an educator and an entrepreneur, I believe in the power of music to heal and enhance harmony between people beyond their differences. Music is about
communication beyond words. Many of the misunderstandings and social biases, such as stereotypes, arise from the limitation that words impose on our human communication and connection. I believe that a communal experience of music reminds us of many things that are universal about our sensory experience, what we find beautiful, and the fact that we share our space and time.

I grew up in Hong Kong, Japan and the U.S. My first concert tour was as a seventeen-year-old soloist with the Bolivian National Symphony Orchestra in their country. Since then, I have traveled to perform in many parts of the world including places like former Eastern Germany right after the fall of the Berlin wall, and Macedonia right before their 2001 insurgency. I have seen the world, its diversity, inequality, and struggles, and choose to remain an optimist, who believes in the power of hope and the importance of sharing. I have been collaborating with the Center for Performing Arts Medicine at Houston Methodist Hospital to establish concrete data on the benefit of arts in medicine. Because the shared experience of music encourages empathy, I have organized concerts to raise funds and awareness for social issues including domestic and sexual abuse and violence. I am always looking for new ways of making my music more socially relevant. I am looking forward to meeting, and learning from everyone at USJLP, and to share ideas, music, and good times!

On chocolates, open-mindedness, and true empowerment

On chocolates, open-mindedness, and true empowerment

I love dark chocolates. Cacao, apparently, also boosts your metabolism. So, I eat it every morning, as a spoonful of cacao powder […]