Dialogue building as a social service


Patricia Wakida — writer, editor, book producer and former JET teacher — was back in Japan last October doing what she does best: networking.

Under the auspices of the Japan-U.S. Community Education and Exchange, Wakida was one of seven fellows selected from the United States last year to develop collaborative projects between nonprofit organizations in the U.S. and Japan. An NPO established with the financial support of the U.S. government and bodies like the Nippon Foundation and Japan Foundation, JUCEE aims to encourage community-level bilateral exchange between the two countries.

Wakida took a sabbatical from her regular job as development and projects director of Calif.-based publishers Heyday Books. She spent six weeks in Japan, providing her consultancy services to the editors of Kyoto Journal, a nonprofit, award-winning English-language magazine.

The Kyoto-based quarterly publishes poetry, essays, fiction, photojournalism, book reviews and articles on Japan and Asia. Designed and edited by primarily expat, all-volunteer staff, the journal has a circulation of 18,000, mostly in North America.

While most JUCEE fellows intern with Japanese NPOs focusing on social issues, Wakida saw Kyoto Journal as a powerful tool for increasing dialogue and understanding between Japan, Asia and the West. “The people working with K.J. are some of the most interesting, creative writers and artists in Asia,” Wakida says. “But what the staff was lacking was marketing and organizational knowhow to reach a wider audience. I saw the opportunity to come in and show them what I’ve learned by working for a nonprofit publisher in the U.S.”

Her work did not go unappreciated. “What Patricia has contributed to Kyoto Journal is remarkable,” says John Einarsen, founding editor. “Starting with making our database more manageable, she pinpointed our marketing needs and showed us how to set up an internship program to attract new creative talent.”

Wakida also recommended donating subscriptions of the magazine to international centers in prefectures around Japan. “I knew a lot of JETs living in the countryside who were suffering from intense culture shock and boredom,” says Wakida. “Having a magazine like Kyoto Journal on the shelves at these international centers could open JETs to alternative views of Japan.”

Wakida, who is a fourth-generation American of Japanese descent, joined the JET program in 1995. A former English Literature teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area, she came to Japan to observe how the Japanese viewed World War II during the 50th-anniversary year. “I’ve always been interested in World War II,” says Wakida. “My parents were in the Japanese internment camps, and I’m a descendent of Hiroshima people. I feel that whole experience is mine.”

Based in Iwata, an industrial town in Shizuoka Prefecture, Wakida worked one year as an assistant language teacher. The experience provided her with an unusual opportunity to explore her Nikkei identity. “There was a large community of Japanese Brazilians working at the Yamaha factories,” says Wakida. “At school I was teaching their children and felt a real connection with them. We shared the same bad Japanese-language skills and also the identity conflicts of being Nikkei returning to Japan.”

Wakida visited Nikkei Brazilian churches, nightclubs and community centers in Iwata to document their stories. After the JET program, Wakida spent a year living in Hiroshima while improving her language skills. She then moved to Mino, a mountain village in Gifu Prefecture, where she worked with the renowned German paper-maker Stephan Kohler.

“Stephan was a contributing editor of Kyoto Journal,” says Wakida. “In his papermaking farmhouse, I found and read every back issue. Kohler also travels extensively to meet international artists and activists, and I joined him one time on a trip to Kyoto escorting a group of indigenous Taiwanese craftsmen and storytellers. That’s when I met John Einarsen.”

Back in California, Wakida started subscribing to the magazine, but stopped teaching English. “I love sharing ideas. What excites me is making ideas public. In Gifu, I learned the basics of papermaking and once you have paper, you have the means to record ideas. You then bind the papers together and you’ve got a book. That’s what inspired me to then do an apprenticeship with a traditional letterpress printer and handbook binder — essentially, I was tracing the steps of ancient but effective media.”

In 1999, a small California publisher had just started a nonprofit division and was looking to hire someone who could write grant applications, run nonprofit programs and do public relations. The publisher was impressed with Wakida’s experience and enthusiasm, and hired her. The following year, she received a major California civil liberties grant to publish an anthology of the Japanese-American internment experience, a book that she co-edited and researched.

While in Japan as a JUCEE fellow last year, she toured the country giving lectures on the internment experience at local international schools, and donated copies of the internment anthology to libraries. “It’s important to record this kind of information for future generations,” stresses Wakida. “Look at how much the world has changed since World War II. Here in Japan, much of traditional culture has been stripped away and people have lost a sense of liveliness, creativity and imagination. There is a real hunger here for what traditional culture offers.”

Wakida mentions numerous NPOs around Japan doing meaningful projects in these areas, but points out that they suffer from a lack of connections to a diverse audience and to the strength of the English-language media. “I see JETs getting involved as an excellent way to develop collaborative projects with similar NPOs outside Japan,” she points out. “JETs can then take these experiences back home and connect them to new jobs, cultural exchanges and other opportunities. That’s one of the big dreams I’m pushing.”