Travel & Culture

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Japanese culture and lifestyles through the eyes of NHK WORLD personalities

May 12, 2016

In Focus

Sarah Macdonald / Actor

Sarah Macdonald is a woman of many talents: acting, singing, dancing and even archery. She studied at universities both in the United States and Japan. These days, she appears on J-FLICKS and Trails to Tsukiji.


My grandfather was an optical physicist, my uncle is a cameraman, and my whole family seems to be painfully nearsighted. I have been surrounded by lenses my whole life. But I always thought of them as something that put distance between oneself and the world, something in the way.

Then I came to Japan.

People say that Japan values privacy and social courtesy. It is true that displays of affection, arguments - the most personal moments both good and bad are often kept behind closed doors. But films provide a window.

Since joining NHK WORLD's J-FLICKS, I have had the opportunity to view Japanese films through the ages, discussing them with critics, professors, festival directors, and other industry professionals. Horror, Comedy, Romance – how are these concepts expressed and celebrated in Japan?
Now I have a camera directing my eye.

One thing I find incredible about the arts as a whole is that they give us a safe space to confront views that may be contradictory to our own. We go into a museum, theater, or cinema to enjoy art. Our defenses are down. Our knee-jerk reaction to argue our side, our need to be "right" is momentarily shut off. A director once told me that since we have made the choice to go to the theater, to give of our time and money, we become collaborators with the artists in a way. Even if we disagree with something in the play or film, we choose to ask "why?" rather than simply deny or ignore.
Art is active, art is doing.

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We can experience the simple life in a seaside town in Ishikawa.
We can travel back in time to Edo in the Warring States Period.
We can borrow the eyes of a famous painter, a struggling café owner, a grieving widow, a love-struck poet.

I have peaked inside a fishery dealing with immigrant workers coming to Japan, temporary housing units for the refugees of the 3/11 nuclear disaster, and abandoned homes that are slowly being reclaimed by nature.

When the news hits us with a barrage of numbers, with headlines and capitalized opinions, films can show us pictures and ask instead "How does this make you feel?"
Whether it's a documentary or piece of fiction, I believe that films offer us a unique perspective on current society.

Films remind us of the little things too; the healing power of a fresh cup of coffee, of a red bean bun made with love, fried fish from a shack on the shore. Some of the details may be different from our own lives and experiences, but these simple things need no translation.

It's easy to lose oneself in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, and the metropolis can feel cold and impersonal. But I believe that watching a film is an act of empathy. I may be peering through a lens when I visit the cinema, but I always find myself a little more connected to the world around me when I emerge.


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Sarah Macdonald / Actor

Sarah began studying Japanese in high school through the Concordia Language Villages (CLV) language immersion summer programs. There, she fell in love with Yosakoi dancing, which first brought her to Japan in 2006. She returned to Japan in 2010 to study abroad for 1 year at Waseda University, then completed her degree in Japanese language/culture studies at Kenyon College in Ohio. She moved to Tokyo immediately after graduating, and began work as an actor/narrator the following year.

QuestionHow long have you been in Japan?
4 years
QuestionWhat was your original reason for coming to Japan?
I came for work, but had no concrete plans beyond simply "live in Japan"
Question What's your favorite scenic spot in Japan?
The mountains of Shimane Prefecture
Question What's the one thing that's essential to your life in Japan?
My schedule book
Question What is your favorite Japanese word? Please briefly describe what it means in English.
木漏れ日 - Komorebi, meaning the light filtering through the trees. It is one of many words in Japanese that beautifully paints a picture of nature


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