Hi Blog. Old friend Anthony is showing great sustainability in his work as an elected town councilor–as the article below shows. However, as commenters to Japan Today noted, the article neglects to mention one more factor in how difficult it is to be where he is today: “Gives readers the wrong impression that any old Gaijin could do this if they want to. You have to become Japanese first!” Anyway, good work, Bianchi-san. Keep it up! Debito in Sapporo
New Yorker, now councilman in Japan, aims to inspire American high schoolers
By Kevin Kuo
Kyodo/Japan Today, Undated, downloaded May 22, 2008
Courtesy of Dave Spector
NEW YORK —
Anthony Bianchi, a native New Yorker and current councilman in the rural Japanese city of Inuyama, recently hosted the first-ever Japan Day at his alma mater in Brooklyn, bringing with him some 30 students, local artists and craftsman from the Aichi Prefecture city as part of a cultural exchange program.
Widely known in Japan as the first North American councilman, the 49-year-old is currently serving out his fifth year in office in the central Japan city. But in his native Brooklyn he is mostly seen as an active alumnus of Xaverian High School with a penchant for promoting better Japan-U.S. relations.
‘‘The experience changed my life,’’ said Joe Giamboi, a senior who traveled to Japan last year. ‘‘It opened up the world to me.’’
The cultural exchange program, Building Bridges, aims to expose teens like Giamboi to the many aspects of contemporary and traditional Japan while also offering students an opportunity to showcase their musical talents to a foreign audience.
The program was established five years ago by Bianchi and Joe Loposky, Xaverian High’s music program director.
Since its inception, more than 100 Xaverian students have traveled to Japan to experience living with Japanese families, performing their repertoire of American tunes as well as opening up their perspectives on the world.
‘‘It’s more than just a home-stay program,’’ Loposky said. ‘‘Our boys are going over there to serve. They perform Jazz and Doowop, examples of American culture that Japanese over there may never have a chance to experience.’’
Building Bridges alternates trips annually, sending teens to Inuyama one year and then taking Inuyama residents to Xaverian the next.
This year the visitors from Inuyama City, a quaint locale of approximately 73,000 residents, showcased their talents and crafts for the program’s first-ever Japan Day festival.
The American students were offered chances to don traditional kimonos and watched a master craftsman bind the laces onto geta or traditional Japanese shoes.
They were also awestruck by Ouson Ito, who artfully combined her Japanese calligraphy with dramatic performance.
Ito, who began learning her trade at 6, drew the word ‘‘musubu’’ which means link or connection. She described how the original Chinese character consisted of two kanji, on the left a character representing string and on the right happiness.
She drew the character with the hope that Xaverian High School and Inuyama city would continue to maintain strong ties in the future.
The ties are already being established by other young students, such as Patrick Borja, a senior who thinks of Japan as another home. Though born in America, he has traveled to his parents’ native home in South America.
‘‘Japan has become my third home,’’ Borja said, explaining that ‘‘through the experience, I came back with greater confidence.’’
While Xaverian does not yet have a Japanese program, it is testing the waters with the hopes of setting up a teacher exchange between schools in Inuyama and Xaverian that would be mutually beneficial, Bianchi said.
Bianchi, whose first experience in Japan came through a home-stay program advertised in a newspaper, hopes that the program will encourage students to build international friendships.
‘‘If it weren’t for that home-stay experience in Japan, none of this would have happened,’’ Bianchi said, referring to his life in Japan. ‘‘I think it’s important for people to meet. I hope the relationships continue to develop and blossom.’’
The councilman smiled when asked about the similarities between his hometown in Brooklyn and his new home in Inuyama.
‘‘I liked Inuyama because it had a nostalgic feeling,’’ he said. ‘‘It was like an Italian household where they had three generations under one roof.’’ He said jokingly that one of the main differences between families in Inuyama and Brooklyn is that in Inuyama, ‘‘they don’t eat pasta.’’
Despite having distinct cultures, in both places he sensed a commonality in their deep respect for community.
The Building Bridges program, while not funded by Inuyama City, has benefited from Bianchi’s role as councilman. The city government has provided buses and the use of facilities which is sometimes ‘‘more helpful than money,’’ he said.
Before becoming a councilman, Bianchi worked first as an English teacher on the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program and then spent eight years with Inuyama City’s Department of Education.
His move to the political arena was sparked by his desire to improve the city he had grown to love.
Although he doesn’t think of himself as a politician, Bianchi has had a significant impact on the image of Japan and Japanese politics both in his hometown of Brooklyn as well as in Japan.
One parent of a student who traveled to Japan last year said of Bianchi’s role as a councilman of Inuyama city, ‘‘I think it’s fantastic. I didn’t know an American could do that in Japan.’’
He hopes that his experience will encourage others to take more active roles in their local communities and governments.
‘‘Sometimes you think that you can’t change Japan because it’s this big monolithic thing.’’ he said. ‘‘To some people it represents change…I think it gives other Japanese the encouragement to do something…If you don’t like how the government is run, you can do something about it.’’
In his thick Brooklyn accent, the gregarious Bianchi repeated, ‘‘Hey… If I can do it you can do it.’’