June Aomori Spotlight with Shonda

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Hey, Aomori! Please give a warm welcome to this week’s featured JET, Shonda Cunningham! Shonda is placed in Aomori City, where she has been living for the past ten months.

Is there anything about your placement city that you think is cool, and that you would recommend to other JETs?

I really appreciate the traditional & ancient history that can be found and enjoyed here (e.g. the Tsugaru-shamisen, Nebuta Festival, & Jomon historical sites). There’s so much to discover!

Where are you originally from? How does your hometown/area differ from where you live now? 

I’m originally from New Jersey. My hometown is Newark. There are several similarities between Aomori City & Newark. For example, their populations are roughly the same–around 300,000. Newark is the largest city in the state of New Jersey just like Aomori City is the largest city in Aomori Prefecture. They both happen to be important port cities for shipping. The similarities are numerous, but I think the most obvious difference between the two are the people & cultures. The ethnicities in Newark are extremely diverse. There are African-Americans, Africans, Caribbeans (e.g. Jamaicans, Trinidadians, etc.), Hispanics (e.g. Mexicans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Ecuadorians, Panamanians, Portuguese, Brazilians, etc.) & Whites. As a result, the kinds of foods one can enjoy, the languages that can be heard and the cultures that one can be exposed to are abundant!

What are your hobbies? Have you discovered any new hobbies since coming to Aomori?

I rarely have time to enjoy hobbies since I’m always so busy with work. But my favorite hobby is relaxation. I also love listening to music, shopping, playing billiards and/or bowling, spending time with close friends, dining out and surfing the internet. Recently, I started studying the Tsugaru-jamisen. I’m not very good at it, but I hope to get better and one day participate in a taikai!

 How did you become interested in Japan? Have your opinions about Japan changed at all since you arrived

I’ve been interested in Japan since I was 3 years old! I was born in the late 80s. During the 70s & 80s, Japan had become a global, economic superpower! Many people in the U.S. felt Japanese cars, Japanese electronics, Japanese business practices…Japanese EVERYTHING was the best in the world! I was heavily influenced by this thinking through people like my father and older brothers. My father always drove only Japanese cars and my brothers loved Japanese video games & animation! Everything of great quality seemed to come from Japan, so I thought Japan was a utopia! Even before moving here, but especially after, I’ve since realized that Japan is not as perfect as I once thought. My view now is more realistic. As great of a country as Japan is, there’s no country in the world that is perfect and without some problems and challenges.

What do you hope to do in the future?

I still feel like an indecisive little kid who wants it all! I’ve wanted to be an ambassador…a lawyer…a CEO…a spokeswoman…I haven’t figured out what specifically I’d like to do, but I know I want to do something major. I want to help as many people as I can and have the greatest impact on the world as possible. I know I need more education to do so; so at some point I plan to go back to school–perhaps law school or for an MBA. I want to improve the economy & quality of life of everyday people.

What is the coolest/most interesting thing you have every done? 

I’ve been fortunate enough to have done many cool & interesting things! Just one example is when I helped make sake at the Takenami sake brewery in Itayanagi. If I remember correctly, the brewery dates back to the Edo Period. I remember thinking to myself: “This place is older than America! What an honor to be here!!” My picture and interview ended up being published in the local newspaper! I was a mini-celebrity for a couple weeks!!

How many countries have you visited in your life? Which country was your favorite?

Outside of my native country–the United States–I’ve only ever visited two others thus far–China & Japan. I’d honestly have to say, I liked both equally for different reasons. I miss the cheapness & heartiness of the food and…well, everything in China! Also, the people are really REALLY friendly and outspoken. But on the other hand, Japanese people tend to usually be very polite, kind, respectful and patient. And since I’ve been studying Japanese for a long time, I think I can survive better here than I would in China with no Mandarin under my belt!

What is the strangest Japanese food you have ever tried?

I think horse is probably the strangest. The first time I had it was two years ago when I was still a college student studying in Tokyo. We took a day trip to Yamanashi and stopped in a winery near Mt. Fuji. After trying a bite, I was surprised at how delicious it was!

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