Actress, University Teacher, Vocal Coach, and Singer, Aya is not easily thrown into just one category. She is a self-made, strong, modern woman, not afraid to take on new challenges. Having recently starred in the critically acclaimed play Nagasaki Dust, she made some time for us in her busy schedule to talk about her unique experience in Japan.
JD: I know you’re a busy woman, so thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us.
–Aya: Busy? No, not at all! (laugh) It’s my absolute pleasure and honor.
JD: Great! So tell me a little about yourself. Who is Aya?
–Aya: I don’t know, to be honest. I once spoke to a director who thought I was perfect for a role because of my multifaceted personality. At first I was a little insulted, did he mean I was duplicitous? Disingenuous? I hope, I feel, that I have so many aspects of me, growing up in Singapore, England, the U.S., and Japan, and having done such a wide variety of things in my life, that it is rather that I have many Ayas, all true to who I am.
JD: I totally agree, there are many aspects to a person – many layers combining to make one whole person. You’ve traveled to many different places around the world and have lived in a number of countries. Where is home for you?
–Aya: I again, don’t know. If we go by the longest time I have spent in any country, I think Japan would be home. It has become more and more my home, but it doesn’t mean I am not willing to leave it for new adventures.
JD: How long have you been in Japan now?
-Aya: Can you believe it? 14 years. And I meant to only be here for a year to earn enough money to go study in Italy! But, I suppose it’s a common story here.
JD: That it is indeed! I’ve heard similar stories of people staying a lot longer than intended so many times now, hehehe.
Do you think Nagoya / Japan has changed in the last 14 years?
-Aya: Do we want to get into the politics? I am dismayed at the recent changes in Japan, but at the same time, I am glad that at least SOME young people have started to take an active interest. I think that Japan has become more westernized and that is good in some ways but bad in other ways too. I think that globalisation has so many benefits, but at the same time, no country is truly unique anymore. You can find a Starbucks in almost every developed country for example, you know what I mean? Anyway, in regards to Japan, the decline in the education system has been something I see first hand and it scares me. Especially with the recent changes made by Abe. This insanity must stop. Japan, my nation in so many ways, needs creative thinkers.
JD: I couldnt agree more! I was rather shocked to hear the plan for axing the Humanities programs in Universities. Step in the entirely wrong direction, I think. Speaking of new directions though, in Japan, you are Hafu (or Half Japanese). Did you ever have any difficulties growing up with one foot in both cultures (east and west)?
-Aya: I think it is unfair in a way to say I only had hardships in Japan. Sure, I had weirdos stare at me, try to abduct me, talk about me like I wasn’t there here in Japan when I was a kid. Now, I have people constantly telling me either that my English or Japanese is sooooo good. But, even when I went to some of the most international of schools, I had some difficult times growing up. I remember someone putting “Happy Pearl Harbor Day” on the white board when I was in middle school and pointing at me and laughing. I wanted to say “Hey, I am only HALF Japanese”. I got teased a lot for my bentos, I can tell you! I remember my good friend Adam, whom you interviewed recently, coming up to help me out after I tried, through my elevated vocabulary to indicate, quite unsuccessfully, that I was native speaker of English, by saying “Dude, she speaks better English than you”. But you know, you have to laugh. After a certain time, you just have to see the humor in it. I enjoy playing with my dual background these days. Haha.
JD: How would you say that experience has influenced you as a person?
-Aya: It makes me a better actor, a more culturally sensitive person, and makes me more aware in general, I feel. It helped me to grow strong in many ways, and it keeps me very vulnerable I think too. I went through a long awkward phase that stays with me and motivates me to this day.
JD: With the recent case of Arianna Miyamoto, the winner of the Miss Universe Peagant, making headlines and getting her story heard, what changes do you see in Japan’s future in regards to the “Hafu” experience ?
-Aya: It’s not even about being “Hafu” anymore. We all are “Hafu” really, aren’t we? Even if it isn’t race, people grow up in multiple cultures. We are all mixed. Japan is still so focused on this fallacy that they are mono-racial. It is bull-crap. We have Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, American, Ainu, Okinawan, and many more races in our mix and it isn’t a recent thing. We are Japanese because we are culturally so, not racially. As the Hafu documentary shows, things are changing. But the issue of mixed race is a global one, and the issues may seem prevalent here because we live here, but it is not solely here. I know I have experienced problems in many countries, outside of Japan.
JD: That is a very good point indeed! What advice do you want to give to others who come from a mixed race background and are currently living in Japan, or plan to live here in the near future?
-Aya: Anger and resentment doesn’t help. Educate. Sure, I get upset when people are racist towards me, when some student says to me “You’re not Japanese”. If you get angry, it satisfies you. Instead, I just try to get them to think about their assumptions and their prejudice. I think that is the only way to deal with being mixed here in Japan. Anger hurts you. Education helps everyone.
JD: Well put! I totally agree that education is the way forward. So what’s next in store for you?
-Aya: Hopefully being a doctor soon! I am finishing up the first half of my doctorate. My band, the Champagne Soaked Cookies, is about to hopefully release our first original song. It is extremely personal to me so I hope you will all enjoy it! The Bite-sized Cookies, a sub-group of CSC, will be doing a Christmas gig as well. Other than that, I am working on a short play, Ever After, for Aichi Vision and am preparing for a big role in a well-known and loved play, opening in early summer next year. It’s one of my bucket list roles so I will be working hard physically, vocally, and mentally for it!
JD: Wow! Good luck on all your endeavours! Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule. Always a pleasure to talk with you.
There you have it, folks. …. proof that you can turn all your hobbies and passions into something truly special, if you put forth the right dedication, effort, and vision. Everybody has something special…some special ability that’s just waiting to be shared with an audience, no matter what it is. Never let your dreams, no matter how lofty, play second fiddle in your life in Japan; because with a bit of luck, some dedication, and a whole lot of passion, you can turn them into concrete reality!
If you want to catch Aya live in Nagoya, make sure to check out:
Ever After, Aichi Vision October 11th, 11-21pm
Champagne Soaked Cookies, Absolute Halloween, GC LIVE, time TBA, Oct 31st,
Bite-sized Cookies Christmas Event, Sienna, 7:30 pm, Dec 19th,