Fukuoka Now: Life as a Freelance Contributor

Hannah Smith summarises her experiences.

Hello Japan

I arrived in Fukuoka last September as part of a program offered by my university, which involved spending a year learning Japanese at a university in Fukuoka Prefecture. Knowing nothing about Japan and never having been to Asia, I was nervous to say the least.

I decided that, in order to make the most of my time in what I discovered to be a truly delightful country, I needed to throw myself into it as much as possible: enter Fukuoka Now and the wonderful opportunities it has offered me over the last year.

A friend of mine had interned with the magazine the year before and reading about his exciting experiences, I decided to contact the magazine’s publisher Nick Szasz prior to arriving and find out more.

I’d been in Japan for all of four days before I was itching to get involved. I arranged to meet Nick for a chat near Tenjin Station, and he invited me to attend a restaurant review at the top of a huge, upmarket department store with his wife Emiko, General Manager at the magazine. This was my first taste of restaurant-cooked Japanese food and of life at the magazine! We posed for photos, sampled a whole host of delicious food, and I left hungry to contribute as much as I could during my short time in Japan.

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Over the next year, Nick invited me to work on a number of projects from reviews to interviews, each offering me a unique insight into Fukuoka and the world of media and journalism.

Business Articles

One of the (many) things I love about Fukuoka is how up-and-coming it is. The local government is starting to boost tourism in the region and to encourage foreigners to move to Fukuoka, which really fascinated me.

My first two assignments revolved around Fukuoka’s business/start-up scene. I met two of the creative minds at Innovation Studio Fukuoka to learn about their mission and work to grow the entrepreneurial spirit in Fukuoka.

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Culturally and economically, this first project really opened my eyes to a little of what was happening in Fukuoka in amongst the shops, restaurants, mountains and high-rise buildings.

Following this I wrote a magazine-editorial piece and online article about the new ‘Start-Up Visa’ which came into play at the end of 2015. As a foreigner contributing to a magazine aimed at other internationals, this was a particularly exciting project to work on.

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Interviews

As a contributor to Fukuoka Now, I particularly enjoyed interviewing the many interesting foreigners who find themselves in Fukuoka for one reason or another. Nick first introduced me to Prairie Stuart-Wolff, a potter/photographer/foodie/writer, via her incredible website-cum-magazine, Cultivated Days. I interviewed Prairie at Fukuoka Now’s modern, airy headquarters in Tenjin and talked to her about her fascinating work.

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My piece on Cultivated Days promotes her beautiful art and I loved learning more about her personal journey and sharing it with the Fukuoka Now community. It was fascinating to see the response to this article and how it helped garner interest in her site and enable her to share her passion for Japanese food with even more people all over the world.

I also interviewed Dr. Isabel Jones, organiser of the Working Women in an Ageing Society (WWAS) conference. I was very interested in the gender dynamics in Fukuoka as Dr Jones explained about the various speakers and topics that would be present at this inaugural event. I co-ordinated with the Fukuoka Now team and Dr Jones to write this piece which promoted the inaugural WWAS conference.

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One of my final interviews was with Fukuoka Properties’ Annie Ho, the enthusiastic, energetic lady behind Fukuoka’s number one real-estate hotspot for foreigners and natives alike. I met Annie and her team and learnt all about the successful business she is building in Fukuoka, Singapore and Hong Kong. This was an editorial advertisement promoting Fukuoka Properties’ many services and encouraging foreign investment in this very livable city.

Tours

In addition to speaking to many interesting people living and working in Fukuoka, I also had the opportunity to enjoy being a tourist and participate in a couple of tours of Fukuoka. Writing tour reports was a really exciting part of contributing to Fukuoka Now. I participated in two tours: JTB’s tour of southern Fukuoka and a tea tour in Yame, picking strawberries and tea leaves as I ventured to explore new areas.

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Both of these tours were targeting a foreign audience, and both presented a great chance to learn more about Japanese culture and new places, as well as to indulge in some travel journalism!

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Reviews

I enjoyed all aspects of contributing to Fukuoka Now, but being asked to review something was always one of my favourites. I had a tour of the Fukuoka Museum and visited the quirky Secret Witches Exhibition, a travelling display on loan from Germany.

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Being given the chance to review a summer kabuki performance at Hakataza Theater was also a real highlight. Having always wanted to see kabuki I was really keen to see what was in store during the 4 ½ hour performance! Kabuki tickets can be notoriously pricey so I was honoured to be given a pair. Reviewing events such as this one really made me think from a different perspective: how would this be for someone who had no knowledge of Japanese? Is it value for money? I loved the kabuki and reliving the magic as I wrote my article the next day.

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Fukuoka International Ballet Festival

Fukuoka Now is a hugely successful and well-known magazine in Kyushu, it’s also a real lifeline for foreigners living in the prefecture and I was so grateful to the magazine for all of their online guides, hints and tips. Nick is very open to new ideas and keen to let you pursue your interests.

Having danced since a very young age, I jumped at the chance to cover the inaugural Fukuoka International Ballet Festival (FIBF) from start to finish. I ventured out into snowy Hakata to interview Frank and Machi the organisers; I chatted with internationally acclaimed dancers, including a pair from the Royal Ballet and the Georgia State Ballet and reviewed the inaugural FIBF performance. It was really exciting to promote the event and then see it be so successful!

Get Involved

I can’t recommend contributing to Fukuoka Now highly enough. My time in Japan was enriched no end by working with the team and contributing a huge variety of articles. Nick and the Fukuoka Now team were great at involving me with projects which suited me and fitted in with my other time commitments; I gradually increased my involvement over the year and contributed as much as I could. I mostly worked from home, or met the people I was interviewing in the city, but always enjoyed stopping by Fukuoka Now HQ to finish up a project and have a chat.

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During my time as a contributor, I met many interesting people and developed my passion for writing, tourism and travel. For anyone coming to Japan looking to do something fulfilling and a little different, contributing to Fukuoka Now should definitely be top of your list!

Interested in getting involved? Apply here.

Text: Hannah Smith, for Fukuoka Now

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