Why I care so much about Nagomi Visit: a message from COO Alisa Sanada


Alternative title: Why I stopped telling people Japan was not mysterious or weird

My reasons for caring so much about Nagomi Visit are very personal.

What I want to accomplish through Nagomi Visit is to have as many people

  1. experience and get to know the real Japan
  2. realize that underneath the more obvious cultural differences, there are more similarities that bring us together as humans

Why would I want to work so hard to make this happen?

The simple answer? My experiences growing up Japanese-American in Texas.

I grew up in an environment during the 80s and 90s in the States where Japan was thought of as a mysterious land from the Far East described by books like Memoirs of a Geisha. On the other hand, when I met people who loved Japan they were in love with a magical place only described by the fansubbed anime they were watching.

Now a decade or so later with Japanese words like “umami” being used in mainstream foodie shows, times have changed since then. But it is hard to believe that things are completely different and all for the better when I continue to see articles on supposedly journalistically legitimate newspapers exaggerating how zany Japan is.

Not many people saw the country for what it really was, and this still continues to this day.

To fight these extreme stereotypes of Japan my solution back in the day was to start a website called Real Japan. It was a little bit famous among Japanophiles in the late 90s so there is a slight chance that you may know about it. Well, most likely not. The name of the site kind of gives it away, but basically the website was trying to show the “real” Japan not depicted in guidebooks. Or, at least what I thought was the “real” Japan at the time.

The content of the website was filled with pictures I scanned from various summer family trips to Japan. About daily life like school, music, fashion...I covered whatever I could.

I sometimes look back at some of the content that still can be seen on Internet Archive and I must admit some of what I wrote does make me cringe a bit. Like I would not exactly consider coverage about cool Japanese vending machines an article about the true side of Japan. However, even these articles which were on the superficial side were more “real” than the information that was out there at the time.

Fast forward to the 2010s, I am no longer the Japanese-American teen in the States armed with a website but in my thirties having lived in Japan for 10 years and now the Chief Operating Officer of Nagomi Visit.

There is much more information out there about Japan so I feel like my job is not to write about the “real Japan” but help people get to the source, which is the actual people who live in Japan and let them do the sharing of what is "real."

So what all started from frustration of feeling like one side of my Japanese-American bicultural self was being misunderstood, is now my life’s work.

I know the actual Nagomi Visit itself only lasts a few hours but I want participants to see it as an opportunity for opening doors to communication between people who might otherwise not have a chance to meet and that it will just be the beginning of a great friendship where everyone will see each other as whole people.