OF THE HOUR
MARIKO KUNITOMO VOLUME I • ISSUE V
OF THE HOUR is an artistic endeavour to combine the dynamic fields of photography and design with the art of candid interviewing, canvassing and exploring the human condition through personal testimony provided by friends, family, strangers, and everything in between.
OF THE HOUR
MARIKO KUNITOMO VOLUME I • ISSUE V
oes your name have a specific meaning in Japanese? It does. My mom and my grandfather decided that they didn’t want to write my name in Japanese in the traditional way using the typical characters you would use. Depending on the day, month, and year that you’re born, there’s a lucky number that correlates with the number of strokes in your name. Ma is the word for “million,” ri is “pear,” which symbolizes the positive aspects of royalty, like having your own history and being well-educated. And then ko is just a really common way to end female names. It stands for “child.” So my sister is Yukiko, my mom is Mikiko, my aunt is Yoko, etc. Nowadays the names are becoming a little weirder and more unique, but whenever I go back to Japan and tell people my name is Mariko, they’re surprised.
but if you break it down that’s what it is, really beautiful and about the details.
And what about your surname, Kunitomo? It’s interesting because I think the Kunitomo line splits largely into two clans. There’s the Kunitomo family from Honshu, the main island, who are known as a very big, wealthy family who made guns and did a lot of metal work. And then there’s the Kunitomo family of Kyushu, which is where my dad is from. We were owners of liquor stores – I don’t think we ever made our own sake though. So I come from the liquor store owning side, not the cool gun making side.
Do you ever feel that it’s too rigid or too clean-cut? Yes. The inner philosophy of it is really beautiful, but the way it manifests itself in society is very overarching, overbearing, and formal. That’s one thing I don’t like; I like respect, but I don’t like the intense formality of it. You think that once you get married, you’ll have nicknames for one another – if you marry a John Smith, you don’t expect to go on calling him Mr. Smith, you’ll call him John, Johnny, or whatever. But in Japan they don’t do that. There was this article posted recently stating that Japan’s population is dwindling and it’s because the younger generation, people our age, aren’t having sex. Well, they are, but they are mentally and emotionally incapable of establishing a healthy sexual relationship. So as a result they don’t know how to commit or devote themselves to someone and then don’t get married or have kids and aren’t developing families, and it’s really sad. The article is really interesting because the writers and sociologists are saying that it’s because their parents and the older generations haven’t shown them enough affection. Even just a hug – I don’t remember the last time I hugged my dad, and even with my sister it’s sometimes slightly awkward. With other people it’s fine, it’s just that within the family there’s this really intense formality.
Having spent a lot of time growing up in Japan, but living in the States, what is one of the most beautiful aspects of Japanese culture to you? I think the level of respect. It’s really cliché or stereotypical saying that, but the respect they have toward their elders and toward aesthetics, especially visual presentation – almost anyone goes to Japan and can see the amount of attention and detail put toward making something look good, whether it be the art of flower arrangement or the storefront of a café, or even packaging. Some people would say, “That’s such a superficial aspect,” but the aesthetic way through which they see the world is a reflection of internal peace, balance, and harmony. It sounds super zen and cliché,
Has that affected relationships within your family? It has been nice in the sense that I really respect my parents and know that they have gone out on many limbs to raise me well and with good values. My sister and I have been lucky enough to get the positive benefits out of it. At least for me personally, I feel significantly more American than Japanese most of the time. I guess my parents and I talk a lot, but we don’t confide in each other. I’ll talk to my dad and I’ll talk to my mom about how my sister is doing and I’m sure my parents talk to my sister about how I’m doing, but I won’t talk to them directly about issues I have. Emotionally, I’m completely closed off. They notice if I’m not doing well, but they won’t ask me how I
am because they know that if I really want there was snow on the ground and when to tell them, I will. she was potty-trained there was snow on the ground, so during her first spring, she Do you sometimes wish you could was desperately searching for patches of change that? snow to use; it was really cute. It’s more that I’m curious as to what that would be like, if our relationship were more So you’ve lived in Boston primarily, is intimate. But it’s not like we don’t bond there anywhere else you’ve lived? over other things. My dad studied law when Yeah, I was born in Queens in Forest Hills. he was an undergrad in Japan and so we’ll Well, I was born at Lenox Hill Hospital in get into political conversations or – he Manhattan, but lived in Forest Hills for loves literature and is really well read, and four years. I still remember the disgusting, I love reading. And so we will be like, “Oh retro, shaggy green rug. And then my dad my gosh, Truman Copote is a genius,” and got transferred to Boston and we lived near I’m starting to pull books off of his shelf Wellesley. We lived in one house for a little more and more. And with my mom, we go under a year and then moved to the other shopping. Of course we talk about other side of the block. So I’ve lived in the same stuff too, but we bond as it is. So I feel neighborhood for my entire life, essentially. pretty well-balanced; I don’t feel deprived I still live in the same house. Otherwise, I’ve of any relationship with my parents, it’s just never actually lived in Japan. The longest a curiosity to see and experience what other I’ve stayed was probably a little over a kids experience growing up. month, and even then I’m always moving from one city to another. From September At what point in your life have you felt of 2012 I was in Argentina for a little less closest to your parents? than a year. I think pretty recently when my dog got really sick. In mid-September my dad called How did it feel to come back to New and said that Maya wasn’t doing very well York after Argentina? and that he didn’t know if she would make It was bittersweet. I have a very, very small it to the weekend and said that I should group of friends here. I’ve never been an probably come home. We went through a extreme social-networking-know-everyone family tragedy when my grandpa died, but kind of person; I keep a close circle. And so I was in third grade and so there was only it was definitely nice to be back and to see so much that I, myself, understood at that them in this context again, but at the same point. And at this point we know what it time I made such close friends in Buenos means if my dog were to die. She’s fine now Aires that it was actually the first time I and she got better, but we were all really had to say a legitimate goodbye to friends, emotional, tearing up at the time, all very ever. I said goodbye at four in New York, but sensitive to how on edge we were. And I at that time I didn’t even understand I was guess having that common thing that we moving. And I see my high school friends were all invested in brought us really close every year when I go home. So that farewell together. My sister even came home from was really heart-wrenching. But I came med school and it wasn’t just to see my back knowing that I would eventually make dog, it was about being there for our parents my way back down there. because our dog is part of the family and if she goes, it’s like losing a sister. I felt really Give me two things you miss from your close to my parents at that point, which I travels wasn’t expecting at all, but it was nice just The people, just Argentines in general. And to be there. the geography itself. It’s a beautiful country that has everything. If you start from the How long has Maya been in the family? north, it shares a border with Paraguay and She’s 13 now and she’s turning 14 in Brazil it has the Iguazu Falls, one of the December. We just want her to see one Seven Natural Wonders of the World. It’s more winter because she’s a complete completely tropical; I saw a toucan. snow baby. When we brought her home
That’s how you know you’re in the tropics Exactly! I couldn’t believe I was in a jungle, it was crazy. But if you go toward the west, it’s more arid and they have vineyards in Mendoza and Salta. And they have these amazing rock formations that were almost like Colorado or New Mexico: very dry and red. And then you work your way down into the Pampas region, which is just flat and goes on forever. As you work your way down further it gets colder and they have skiing regions that are essentially based around this German community. And then you go all the way down and you hit Patagonia and the biggest glaciers that you can see in the world. And then you have Tierra del Fuego, which is “The Land of Fire,” ironically, and it is the closest that you can get to the South Pole in the entire world. I never made it down to most of these places. But the country just kind of has everything and you can argue that the U.S. does too, and a lot of people would say that I’m not giving the U.S. a chance – which is true – but to add further, you have the Argentine people. In a way, they are very stereotypically Latin American in that they’re very warm, welcoming, social, and very passionate, whether it be politics, sports, or going out at night. They’re very intense, but not in the sense that New York is intense, which is a very surface-level intensity, but they have this intense passion to live for the now. What is one of the coolest, sexiest sayings you picked up in Argentina? I don’t know about sexy, but the way that Argentines swear is so creative and amazing. An example being, “Hijo de puta andate a la puta que te parió.” It’s like, “You sonof-a-bitch, go back to the whore that gave birth to you.” Or they say, “La concha de la Lora.” Lora is this general name of some whore, and so it is essentially another version of “You son-of-a-bitch.” It’s funny because it’s so sexual and gross and vulgar if you translate it, but if you hear them swear, you’re thinking, “Wow, what is this beautiful thing you just said?” And it’s funny because whenever I get back together with friends and we practice Spanish and share drinks, we just go over all the swears we can remember. But the most Argentinean thing anyone can say is che – it’s their way
the first time in my life that I was made so aware that I’m not white or whatever the dominant ethnicity is. I don’t know Do you miss the men of Argentina at about treating me differently, but the catcalls were specifically to me. They would all? You don’t even know. Yes, I do. It’s a lot be like, “Hey china.” I was just made very, more machista, the social climate there. very aware that I stood out. It was kind of You could say it’s traditional or you could uncomfortable at first. say it’s sexist, it’s very hard to say and it depends on the situation, obviously. I liked How did you acclimate? it when men would walk me home or when I would ignore it. When you go out, especially, they would open a door for you – and this there’s a very extreme version of yellow is normal, for all ages. People offer you help and the men are very handsome. They have the mix of the Italian, the Spanish, and the Latino. of saying “dude” or “hey.” So I really picked that up and really like it.
Would you say that you haven’t experienced very much racism in America? Personally, I don’t feel that I’ve been in an environment where the opportunity would arise for someone to be racist toward me because I’ve grown up in such a politically correct environment. But when I was abroad though, I was out with my friends and a group of younger kids in late middle school or early high school did the whole squinty-eyed gesture and said “Ni hao” to me. And at that point, you know that person is genuinely making fun of you. That was offensive and I kind of got riled up, but normally it takes a lot to offend me, even in a racial context. I just brush it off and don’t let it offend me.
“it was actually the
first time I had to say a legitimate goodbye to friends, ever. I said goodbye at four in New York, but at that time I didn’t even understand I was moving. So that farewell was really heart-wrenching. But I came back knowing that I would eventually make my way back down there.”
Earlier you said there was a blurred line between Argentinean culture being more oriented toward a more maledominated sense of life and sexism. Did that unnerve you at all while you were there? Yeah because there’s such a stark awareness of difference between genders. On the one hand, you have chivalry – taking care of you, accompanying you, opening doors for you, helping with bags, groceries, luggage, etc. And then on the other hand you have cat-calling and a lot of aggressive, forward men. The cat-calling is always something tell you to watch out for in Buenos Aires. After a while, it becomes normal and can be harmless, but then again it does say something about the society. Sometimes it’s not degrading at all, but other times it can be very vulgar and you feel like you’re being verbally harassed. I think that’s what happens when there’s such a divide in gender roles, racially too. When I went to Argentina, it was probably
fever, which I’ve also experienced here. The best thing to do is to just ignore it and brush it off and focus on what you’re doing. In a way it made me more comfortable with being Asian. I’ve never felt uncomfortable; I grew up in a super white, suburban pleasant town and there would be times when I would totally forget that I’m not white. But being thrown in that opposite environment made me more aware and more proud in a way, of not being quite the same.
What has the happiest moment of your life been? This is probably just because it’s freshest in my mind, but when I was saying goodbye to the friends I made in Argentina it was obviously very sad and bittersweet, but looking back it was the moment when it really hit me, how close I had become to these people. It really restored my faith in humanity because before I went I was still really attached to my high school friends, and having gone to a foreign country I had never been to before, I was amazed that I was able to bond with people so well and on such an intimate level. One night it was about five in the morning, one of the nights we’d spent smoking, chatting, drinking, and listening to music, and we’re all sitting in a circle and José, a friend who lived near me, goes, “Let’s play a game. We have to go around in the circle and say one thing about each
person that makes them them and then one thing you like about them.” And one of them said, “Mariko, we’ve all become really great friends at this point and if you need to confide in us or if you need advice, you’re welcome to come to us anytime. Don’t be a stranger.” And when they said that, it felt really nice because friends don’t usually come out and say that. And that’s when I felt like, “Wow, I’ve made real friends here.” That’s always the problem with studying abroad: finding and making local friends, but not just to go out with.
to take for granted. Even when I was in Argentina, my grandparents would call my Argentine cellphone and even if it was for a brief three minutes just to say hi, I would be sure to always give them the time.
because we were in Kumamoto, which is where my dad’s family lives. We went to the hot springs. It was my mom, my sister, me, my grandma, my grandma’s cousin, and my grandma’s aunt. So it was essentially four generations of women at the onsen. It was Are there other things that you hope during summer so we had to wake up super others will learn not to take for early and we saw the spot of red coming up, getting bigger and bigger, even though it granted? Don’t take humanity for granted, and I mean didn’t look like it was moving at all. It was it in the sense of being personable and the first time I had really seen a sunrise having that human connection. Just finding and there was nothing in the way, nothing little opportunities to do things for people in the water, and it was so impressive. and to appreciate things they do for you.
“I loved my grandpa, but for some reason I never appreciated his phone calls, but after his death, I realized that those were not things to take for granted.” Do you think you’re easy to read? Yeah. I feel like there’s this whole mystique to being the hard-to-read person or the mysterious girl that everyone is after. And I just think, “Okay, that’s cool,” but I’m not going to be that person. More and more, I am realizing the importance of being straightforward. Things are much simpler and honest when you don’t try to make yourself into something you’re not. Do you have any regrets about things that have happened or things that you have done in your life? My entire family is in Japan, so we only get to see them about once a year. And so my grandparents would call us and ask, “How’s the weather?” And we would write letters. And my grandpa would always come up with nicknames for me; he’d call me Mona Lisa, he’d call me Lassie, etc. And I loved my grandpa, but for some reason I never appreciated his phone calls, but after his death, I realized that those were not things
What’s the nicest thing that anyone has ever done for you? I think it was that time in Argentina when this guy shows up – he was cute – and practices his English with us and we gave him the typical New York attitude, brushing him off and not giving him the time of day. But he said his friends were coming and could drive us home. And we were kind of freaked out, it sounded like a terrible idea. But it wasn’t that at all. He got us home and made sure that we got to our doors and each of us texted each other once we got into our apartments. It was just people looking out for people. And there are those times when those situations go wrong that make you so cautious and unwilling to put faith in other people. But sometimes just take the risk. That’s why we’re human.
Having been to so many places, what is one of the most important things that you’ve learned from traveling? I’ve learned a lot about people in general, but I’ve also realized that you don’t always have to plan things out. There are people who want to know exactly where they’re going to be right after graduation, where they’re going to move to, what job they’re going to have, what city they’re going to be transferred to after – they want to know everything. And through travel, I like to have a general idea of where in the city I’m going to travel to so that I don’t waste time, but if you go out with the intention of finding something good, it sometimes just works out.
What do you think will happen in your future? What do you perceive? Describe the most beautiful sunrise I really want to get back to Argentina. I’m not sure what I want to do there, but I’m you’ve ever seen It was in southern Japan. I don’t know confident that I’m cooperative and flexible exactly where it is, but we were off of Kyushu enough to adapt to any task the environment
demands of me, whether that be a corporate world or more of a NGO setting, I know that I can do it. So that’s where I see myself. I kind of want to go to make sure it wasn’t just a study abroad experience. If you were to give your teenage self some life advice what would it be? Don’t fret, there’s a lot more coming, whether that pertains to friends or to boys or to trouble or good things. I think one of the typical things teenagers do is to blow things out of proportion and to not be able to put things into the right frame of mind. If there was any philosopher whose ideas you really believe in, who would it be? When I read Nietzsche, I felt my thoughts were being articulated back to me. I was like, “Wow, this guy knows exactly what I’m thinking.” And I think that’s why it’s important to read because that happens a lot when you do. You realize you’re not the only one. There is a lot of his unique thought that I eventually subscribed to, but half of it was me finding words that expressed my own attitude toward life. It was comforting, a reaffirmation of my own self. When people hear about Nietzsche, they think of Nihilism and the Übermensch or the Apollonian and Dionysian conflict, but there’s more than that. And the reason I like him so much is because – obviously, I have a very particular reading of him because I read him mostly with one particular professor – he considers himself more of an artist, not an intellectual or a philosopher. So when you read his aphorism, his poetry, his songs, he’s such an expressive and beautiful writer and it’s this will to do and change that I really like. This is one of my favorite quotes by him: “We are misidentified - because we ourselves keep growing, keep changing, we shed our old bark, we shed our skins every spring, we keep becoming younger, fuller of future, taller, stronger, we push our roots ever more powerfully into the depths - into evil - while at the same time we embrace the heavens ever more lovingly, more broadly, imbibing in their light ever more thirstily with all our twigs and leaves. Like trees we grow - this is hard to understand, as is all of life - not in one place only but everywhere, not in one direction but equally upward and outward and inward and downward; our energy is at work simultaneously in the trunk, branches, and roots; we are no longer free to do only one particular thing, to be only one particular thing.” I like that idea of moving and that we don’t stand still, whether that be in a physical sense or in emotional or mental growth. And this goes back to what I said about humanity. We are human and intellectual, but I feel that we forget how natural we are too and that there are still so many aspects of being human that comply with nature – and you’re never the same from one moment to the next. And that’s an idea from Nietzsche that is passionate and resonates.
â€œWhen I read Nietzsche, I felt my thoughts were being articulated back to me. There is a lot of his unique thought that I eventually subscribed to, but half of it was me finding words that expressed my own attitude toward life. It was comforting, a reaffirmation of my own self.â€?
Published on Feb 24, 2014
Published on Feb 24, 2014
Volume I • Issue V OF THE HOUR is an artistic endeavour to combine the dynamic fields of photography and design with the art of candid inte...