People | 20 QUESTIONS

Natsuko Aoike: ‘Appreciate the moment you are living in’

Staff Writer

Name: Natsuko Aoike
Nationality: Japanese
Occupation: Announcer, actress, columnist, ukiyo-e producer
Likes: Traveling, dance, nomunication (a portmanteau that combines nomu, or drink, and communication), brunch on rooftops
Dislikes: Judgment, frogs, insects in the city (in nature is fine)


1. What do the kanji that comprise your first name mean? Would you say they match your personality? This is actually the hardest question I get asked abroad because there’s not much meaning to my name — my father simply loved the nickname “Nat-chan.”

2. What do you like about living in New York? I feel like people are more “human” in New York. Everyone minds their own business but there’s a sense of solidarity — even amid the chaos. The energy is frenetic and you have to live harder just to keep up.

3. Where do you go to escape New York? I generally don’t need to, but I start looking at flights to the Caribbean when it gets too cold.

4. When you think of Japan you think of … Tamagogake-gohan (a raw egg mixed with steamed rice and seasoned with soy sauce) — especially freshly cooked white rice and super fresh eggs. I literally eat them everyday when I’m back in Japan.

5. Describe your favorite memory of Japan. I went diving for the first time in Kumejima and I was terrified of the ocean. Once I dove into the water, however, the scenery was mind-blowingly beautiful. I thought I had ended up in Ryugujyo, (a castle under the sea in “Ueshima Taro”).

6. What’s your favorite Japanese word or phrase? Tanabota, which is short for tanakara botamochi (or “good luck when you least expect it”). Who doesn’t like an unexpected treat

7. What’s your favorite phrase in any language? “Live in the moment.” I used to think or worry about the future so much and not notice what I was feeling at that time. In New York, I learned that life is much more satisfying when you appreciate the moment you are living in.

8. Describe your most embarrassing moment. The number of times I’ve misread kanji in my life on live television.

9. What’s the most exciting/outrageous thing you have ever done? I quit my job at a TV network to swim with wild dolphins in the Bahamas. I went on a small ship called Dolphin Dreams, which carried less than 20 passengers and spent a whole week searching for dolphins. We would dive into the ocean whenever we saw dolphins, day or night. I still remember the sweet faces of three young dolphins I ended up swimming with for more than an hour.

10. If you could share a bottle of wine with anyone from history, who would it be? Katsushika Hokusai. I’m so curious about ukiyo-e these days and I’ve heard so many legendary rumors about him. I would love to get to know him and see how he approached his work.

11. What song best describes your work ethic? (U.K. singer-songwriter ) Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten.” I never have a plan but somehow it works out.

12. What superhero would you most like to be? One of Charlie’s “Angels.” I want to be sexy and tough.

13. You recently worked with rock band Kiss to help promote ukiyo-e worldwide. Any memorable moments? The Kiss Japan tour news conference. We had a huge banner of kabuki-style ukiyo-e near the stage and Paul Stanley instantly said “Oh, ukiyo-e!” when he spotted it. It’s already cool that the members of Kiss are trying to help this art form, but the fact they love the art is the best part.

14. Is ukiyo-e production in danger of extinction? Not a lot of people know that ukiyo-e woodblock print techniques are being passed down and artisans are struggling to find successors. The word “ukiyo” means “now” and the concept of the art is to capture the contemporary scene. By collaborating with the pop icons of today, we want to create an awareness that, hopefully, inspires a new generation.

15. What other traditional forms of Japanese art do you like? Origami — it was the first thing I learned as a child. It made me popular in class when my family had to move to Atlanta when I was 8 years old and couldn’t speak English.

16. What’s the strangest request you’ve ever been asked in your line of work? To pinch my nose.

17. Tell us a quick joke. A guy asks me to go on a date and texts, “Do you like Korean barbecue?” I answered, “Sure!” The next thing you know, he directs me to a Gyukaku barbecue restaurant. When I point out that Gyukaku is actually Japanese barbecue, he says, “What’s the difference?”

18. Who would win a fight between a lion and tiger? The lion — I’m a Seibu Lions fan. (The Seibu Lions have won more trophies than the Hanshin Tigers.)

19. What do you want to be when you grow up? A happy grandmother.

20. Do you have any words of advice for young people? Go out, meet people!! Laugh out loud!!

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