A New Perspective


Knoxville welcomes its first cultural liaison from Japan, just in time for the Asian Festival

This isn’t Mana Muramatsu’s first time visiting the United States; she’s explored many of our big-name cities, like Seattle and New York. She’s certainly no stranger to Starbucks, where she’s laid out a notebook filled with kanji (the characters Japanese is written in) as she sips at her coffee. But unlike on her previous visits, she’ll be staying awhile – two years, in fact.

“I went to big cities for sightseeing,” says Mana, speaking of her previous visits to America. “But this time I can communicate with many local people, so I’m excited about it.”

Mana is a Japan Outreach Initiative (JOI) coordinator, and her job here in East Tennessee is to share her culture with us, and to learn about our culture in return. Already she’s learned a lot; when she first volunteered for the JOI program, she couldn’t have even pointed out Knoxville on a map. “I didn’t know that Knoxville is in Tennessee,” she admits (not that I could have pointed out her hometown in Japan on a map, either).

Mana describes her etegami (above) as picture-letters, a Japanese art form conceived in the mid-20th century. | Photography courtesy of Mana Muramatsu.

Now that she’s here, she wants to see what it’s really like in America, for us in our daily lives. These past few days, she’s been exploring Knoxville and the surrounding areas – taking a walk through Market Square, visiting the International Friendship Bell in Oak Ridge, and meeting everyone she can. “It’s a beautiful city,” she says.

She’s already working closely with the upcoming Knox Asian Festival, and she has big plans for working with local schools and organizations. “I want to go to many schools to introduce Japanese basic culture,” she explains, “like kimono or tea ceremony.” After that, she’s considering creating a summer camp, as well as programs to introduce more modern aspects of Japan’s culture.

Before she gets to all that, though, she has to complete a very important rite of passage – getting her Tennessee driver’s license!

You can meet Mana at the Knox Asian Festival on August 26.

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