Now Reports

Tomek Ziemba

fn174 TK Ziemba 015

Tomek Ziemba
Hometown: Ottawa, Canada
In Japan: 6 years
Identity: Assistant Professor / Radio personality

Originally from Ottawa, Canada, Tomek Ziemba (nickname TK) came to Kyushu on the JET Programme in 2007. Since arriving, however, he has taken a different path to his teaching colleagues. You may recognize the quirky and charismatic TK from his gig on stage as MC at last year’s Canada Day Party where he entertained a crowd of over 1,200 with his fellow Canadian co-host Nita. The party got his side-career as an MC rolling, seeing TK take up offers for weddings and other MC jobs. A year later, TK just started a new full-time job as an Assistant Professor at the Oita National College of Technology. Teaching and researching keeps him busy Monday to Friday, but the ever-busy TK also has a Sunday gig as the personality of the LOVE FM Top 40 Countdown. Live at Solaria Parkside Studio, he counts down Kyushu’s top songs for the week in English and Japanese. TK is a proud Canadian. He says his most Canadian trait is that he loves “being friendly with anyone, anytime, anywhere”. Meet him later this month at the Canada Day party on June 28, where he’ll pump up the crowd again as MC.

So TK… why TK?
Well… TK is the abbreviation of the Polish version of my name. On my passport it says Thomas, but when I was growing up there were too many Thomases in my class (Thomas A., Thomas C., so on…), so to make myself different, I just started going by what my parents called me all the time, which was Tomek. Then when I came to Japan, I found Japanese people had some trouble spelling Tomek. They could say it but they couldn’t spell it, so I just abbreviated it to the first and last letters, which is TK. My name just gets shorter with time.

Where are you from?
From Ottawa, Canada.

What brought you to Japan?
When I was graduating university I was debating whether I should go to teacher’s college, or go on the JET Programme for one year and then go back to teacher’s college with the experience. In the end, I decided to put all my eggs in the JET basket, thinking I’d go back home after one year. But here I am still to this day.

fn174 TK Ziemba 013

So when was that?
That was in the summer of 2007.

And tell us, what are you doing in Japan now?
Right now I am an Assistant Professor at the Oita National College of Technology. I teach English, I’m in charge of the English club and the light music club as well as a homeroom teacher to my grade 11 class.And I’m also the personality, I guess, of the LOVE FM Top 40 Countdown on Sundays from 3pm to 7pm, live at Solaria Parkside Studio, right outside Kego Park. So I’m busy everyday.

Congratulations on the radio show gig. How did you end up on radio?
The radio thing came through a LOVE FM contest at a Fukuoka Now event. I found out about the opportunity/audition through the Facebook announcements and figured I might as well try. I’d done radio a few times here in Oita as a guest host, so I did the audition.

startanjo2012 041

I didn’t win, contrary to what everyone else close to me was thinking. They thought “It’s definitely going to be you”. But I didn’t get it. I was somewhat disappointed, but I got over it. I just took it as a sign that I wasn’t meant to be doing that right now. I thought “If I am really meant to do it, it will happen someday…” and totally thought that nothing was going to come out of it.

startanjo2012 043

So after the event, I sent an email to the people in charge, saying “Okay, if you ever want me to be a guest on a LOVE FM show or something, just let me know.” And then in early or mid-March, before I was leaving APU and while I was getting ready to move to Oita National College of Technology, I got an email from the dude in charge of the station (who I met at the auditions) and he said “I have a deal for you, can you give me a call back tomorrow?” And I was just thinking “What kind of deal? I failed the audition. What do you want me to do… clean your floors or something?” So I called him back and he said “Umm, we’re looking for someone to host the Top 40 Countdown” and I was like “But I failed the audition, I didn’t win.” The whole thing was that if you won the audition, you’d get your own show. And he was like “Oh yeah, we have a show for the guy who won. His show is a one hour pre-recorded show. We’re looking for someone different – someone outgoing, willing to liven up the atmosphere on the Top 40 show,” because it’s (as you would say in Japanese) a ‘high tension’, very energetic show. When they saw me at the audition they obviously saw something in me, to take the Top 40 show from one of their main DJs (DJ Anna) and give it to a n00b, which was me.

After being given the offer, I was debating it at first. Talking to a couple of friends I was like “I’ve got this professional career, but I want to do the radio at the same time – what should I do?” And everyone was just like “Try both, and see where it gets you!” And here I am, doing both and somehow still alive!

Tell us about your show..
The show itself is Top 40 Countdown, it’s kinda like the shows that you would hear back home on weekends ‘Ricky D’s Top 40’ or something like that. Basically, it’s the top forty songs from LOVE FM – which is almost all across Kyushu – the most played and requested songs, and some of the biggest selling songs in Kyushu’s CD stores too. The show is basically me introducing the 40 best songs right now in Kyushu to everyone – not just in English (despite most of the songs being English songs) but also in Japanese. That’s an interesting challenge for me – to host a radio show in not only English but in Japanese, and to deal with two kinds of audiences at the same time.


Speaking of audiences… What kind of audience tunes in to your radio program?
I’ve only done it a few times so far, but I do get lots of listener comments, emails and messages. There are some regulars that send in requests and messages all the time. I’ve had people send messages weekly from Shizuoka or Okayama – which is not even in the listening area.

TK groupies!
YES! I didn’t think I’d ever have groupies! Especially when they haven’t seen my face! I guess I do have a face for radio, as I’ve been told before…

But yeah, I would have to say the messages I get are mostly in Japanese. I’ve had a few in English but not too many, surprisingly. So I’m wondering – are there English speakers listening to the show or not? Which is kind of concerning for me.

What sort of feedback do you get from listeners?
The listeners wanna know more about me personally, so far. Or they have song requests, but it’s a top forty show so you can’t really fit in any requests. You gotta play forty songs in four hours, with commercials, talk segments and things like that. It’s a really high-paced show, and you gotta keep everything on schedule, so unfortunately I can’t really respond to song requests. Sometimes I do get to read emails or messages on air, but for the most part I get a lot of encouragement messages ‘coz I’m new to it. I make that clear on the show – “I’m new to this, and I apologize if I fumble up, especially in Japanese. It’s not my native language!”

But yeah, there’s a lot of encouraging messages from the listeners, which is actually really cool. It really helps, knowing that there are people who are not only listening, but are sending messages saying “Good job, keep up the good work”. ‘Coz it’s really for them that I do the show. I can’t even hear it myself.

It’s a Top 40 show and you have to play the songs within the time, so I guess there’s no selection of music on your part. Otherwise, how much influence do you have on the show’s contents? Can you talk about what you want to?
Well, since it’s so limited and such a concrete format, the producers of the show were kind enough to give me a corner called “TK’s Recommend” in which I introduce some of the music that I’m into. Specifically, they want me to introduce J-pop and Japanese music to the English audience. I’ve been doing that corner for awhile, but they want me to go more mainstream and use artists that are still currently doing music. So I’m trying to tap into all of my Japanese music knowledge and find good bands that are still releasing new material. So I’m learning a lot about J-pop at the same time.

fn174 TK Ziemba 008

Who are your favorite artists / songs and what are you currently listening to?
In Japanese, I’ve been a fan of AAA since they debuted, but they’re not really well-known in Japan whatsoever. There’s a new artist called CREAM that I found out about through the show, actually, and have started listening to a lot. In terms of English music, to be completely honest, since coming to Japan I’ve almost – I don’t want to say given up – but I haven’t had the opportunity to listen to too much English music. It was all just J-pop for the last six years. Since doing the show I’ve been like “Oh, these songs are interesting!” – I’m learning about English music through doing the show, and catching up on six years of lost music.

Have you discovered any perks of being a radio DJ?
I have! What are some of the perks? Since it’s a radio station they have a whole library of music and whenever I have free time they let me come in, listen to any of the CDs that they have in the library and use that for my own study, for my own benefit, maybe pick some of the artists that I want to introduce in the request corner. So I have, like, an endless library of English and Japanese music at my disposal.

Another perk is being in this studio. Even though I’ve only been doing it a month, I already have fans, surprisingly… I don’t know why! And they come to the studio and listen to the show from right outside and wave and hold up signs. Or they send messages via email or fax, then they show up outside the studio and wait for me to read the messages in front of them. So it’s really like… “Am I really that important to you that you have such high expectations?” Like, I’ve only just started, there’s so much more room for improvement! But it’s really encouraging.

fn174 TK Ziemba 007

Are your fans women or men?
I have more women fans than men, thankfully [laughing]. But early in the show I mentioned that I was also teaching in high school, and since then I have discovered that a lot of female students (high school or university students) are listening to the show, and coming down to the studio and sending messages. I think that’s my niche!

You used to post YouTube videos – will you continue?
I want to… I really want to! I started doing those because some people around me were saying “Well, Micaela exists, have you seen her videos?” and I was like “No, not really…” and they just kept on telling me “You would be so much more interesting than her, you should make your own videos.” So I did some on Facebook, got good feedback on there, and people told me I should try going on YouTube so I did. There is so much that I want to do, but especially now that I do the radio on Sundays and I have a very busy schedule. So I just don’t have the time to do YouTube videos at the moment, but I really want to keep doing them. I started off aiming for once a week, but maybe I can realistically do it once a month. But recently the “Tkztvltd” YouTube channel has been dead… unfortunately. It’ll come back!

You’ve done some MC’ing too, do you enjoy it?
The first time to ever do it in Japan was the Fukuoka Now Canada Day party last year. And despite being here for six years, I never knew of the event because I’m from Oita. So I actually had a friend Nita, who was MC with me last year, who said “Oh well there’s this party going on, and they’re looking for some volunteers to help out,” and I was like “Okay, I’m Canadian. I feel pretty proud to be Canadian, so why not just try out!” So I went along to a meeting. She tried to push me to be MC, don’t know why she had that idea, but she said “We should try to be the MC’s” and I was like, “Well I like being the center of attention, I’m used to it from teaching (having control of a crowd) so why not try?”

fn174 TK Ziemba 009

So I did it, and it was quite an experience! I didn’t think there were going to be quite so many people! It was nothing like what I had expected, but it was amazing. And thanks to that, it just opened up many more doors to me – such as wedding MC’ing which I’ve done a couple of times. I’ve got another wedding next weekend, I have to take a week off the radio show to MC! I guess through Facebook and the Fukuoka Now events, everyone is like “Oh, he’s a freelance MC. Let’s get him to do stuff!” So all of this unexpected stuff came out of MC’ing last year’s Canada Day party.

Were you surprised how many people came to the Canada Day party last year?
Absolutely! Everyone was saying it was going to be six to seven hundred max., which is still more than I was expecting, and more than I would ever see in once place in Oita! But there were so many people that showed up. At the end of the night when I heard it was 1,200 over I was surprised. I thought “WOW. That’s almost double the previous year”. I hope that my MC’ing had something to do with it… people didn’t know me but they didn’t leave! [laughing]

canadaday2012_print-145-copy (1)

The crowd was around 60% Japanese guests. Why do think so many Japanese like Canada?
Hmm… good question! A lot of Japanese people stereotypically, I guess, would assume that all caucasian foreigners in Japan would be American. And when I tell them that I’m Canadian and not American – which was their usually first assumption – they’re like “Oh, okay so you must be really nice. You come from such a beautiful country.” Whereas some American friends of mine that talk to Japanese people receive a more hesitant response… I guess there isn’t as good an image of America, as there is of Canada as a country (and Canadian people as well) in Japan. So they seem really friendly and say, “It’s such a beautiful country – you have the Rocky Mountains, you have the Northern Lights, you have French on the East Coast – there’s so much going on in your country, it’s so beautiful and multicultural.”

And I guess that to Japan – a country that’s still just starting to open their doors to the rest of the world – somewhere like Canada which has been open to people from so many different countries for such a long time is charming to them. A country that can be so multicultural yet distinctly Canadian at the same time. They just want a taste of that, I guess.

What are your most Canadian-like characteristics?
I unknowingly say “Eh?” more than I think I should. I don’t say “aboot”, contrary to popular belief. I’m really friendly. I will go up to anyone, or if anyone comes up to me I won’t be like “Please don’t talk to me.” I just wanna be friendly with anyone, anytime, anywhere. I like to have the stereotypical Canadian flag on my backpack – I’m proud to be Canadian. Even though my parents weren’t, they are now, and thanks to their decision I became Canadian.


Last year you and Nita as MC’s had several costume changes. Can you tell us – what will you wear this year at the event? Anything new?
Hopefully! [laughing] There might be a little bit of rehash! It’s hard to get your hands on anything truly Canadian in Japan, but with the help of international shipping and HBC we’re hoping that we can change a few things, and maybe make some homemade costumes this time, because last year we were just scrambling last minute. Originally we didn’t think we were gonna do costume changes, but we did and we ended up doing a lot more than we thought we would! We thought we would just have one Canadian outfit for the whole show. But I had a few extra things, she had a few extra things, and we were changing our minds back and forth over which to wear. In the end it just came out to what it was- lots of costume changes – and it had a really great reaction from the crowd so I think that this year we have to up the stage a little bit!

Who’s are your current favorite Canadian artists now?
Music artists now? Oh geez…

“Oh geez” that sounds very Canadian!
Oh geez, eh? [laughing] Um, but, there are so many Canadian artists that a lot of people don’t know are Canadian… especially in Japan. Like, Justin Bieber – a lot of people just assume that he’s American, and when I say he’s Canadian they’re really surprised! Even Avril Lavigne, who’s famous all around the world – they don’t know that she’s Canadian. So listening to them, and promoting them is good. And thanks again to the radio show, I found out about a new artist called Maylee Todd, who is from Toronto. I guess she’s indie – she’s not really huge – but through the radio show I found out about her. I’ve been learning more about Canadian artists through the show. There’s a lot of Canadian talent out there.

What do wish more Japanese knew about Canada?
I wish they knew more about the East Coast! A lot of Japanese people want to go to Canada to study or work abroad and pick up some English, but they feel more comfortable going to the West Coast because of the greater Asian population there. Whenever I mention that I’m from the East Coast and ask if they’ve been there before – nine times out of ten they haven’t been. I ask them why, and they say “Oh well, there’s not too many Japanese people on the East Coast. So if I don’t know what I’m saying, I might get myself in trouble. I’d rather stick to the West Coast where there’s a lot of Japanese people and Japanese influence.”

option1 (1)

I hope in the future that instead of visiting just, like, BC, Alberta, they’ll go more towards the East Coast which is a completely different side of Canada – Toronto, Ottowa, Montreal – or even in The Maritimes, which is completely different to Ontario or even Quebec, which are even very distinct on their own. So hopefully through my radio show and MC’ing I can get people to go more East and spread out across more of Canada.

Well, a lot of things have changed for you in the past year, so asking about the future may be difficult, because the future seems to be happening now! But where will you be next year? What does the future hold – for you?
Next year… hopefully I will still be alive despite all the busyness that’s going on right now. Hopefully I’ll still be doing the radio show, and have a little bit more control over the creative direction of the show. Maybe instead of introducing J-pop to an English audience, I can introduce more Canadian or English music – that might not necessarily be in the charts – to the Japanese audience. Because it seems that there’s a bigger Japanese audience. So that’s just in terms of the radio show.

Hopefully I’ll be doing more MC’ing in Fukuoka – it’s good to get out of theinaka of Oita, as much as I love it here. It’s good to get a taste of big city life – being from Ottawa and everything – I need some big city as well.

nl film 2012 web-wm 246

Professionally, I just started with this job and I’m already working on some research that is hopefully gonna get published. I will probably be starting a doctorate, hopefully next year. Either a doctorate in medicine or engineering – it’s still wavering either way now. But hopefully I will be starting getting my PHD next year in Japanese – all while doing everything else – so it will be double, if not more what’s going on now.

I just need to make the most out of my time here in Japan, because if I go back home, I don’t wanna regret not doing something I should have done here in Japan. So while I’m here I’ll just milk every opportunity for everything it’s worth.

Anything else you want to add – a message to our readers?
Even though Fukuoka Now might seem only for Fukuokan foreigners or Japanese in Fukuoka – there are still readers outside of Fukuoka that want to take part in events or “kouryu” – exchanges and interactions with other parts of Kyushu. And Fukuoka’s a very central area, so hopefully we get more people from other regions to come to Fukuoka and get a taste of what an international city really is.

☛ Meet TK at the Canada Day Party, happening June 28 (18:30)~ at Tenjin Monolith. Details here!

Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn174, June 2013).

Fukuoka City
Oita Prefecture
Published: May 28, 2013 / Last Updated: Jun 13, 2017

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.