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Friends Who Travel: New Beginnings

14 Mar

565445_10200410616127932_612219788_nSometimes the beginnings of stories don’t always start at the time or place you expected. It often takes time for people to begin on their path to do what they love; it takes time to learn, time to grow or time to stop thinking and start doing. Rie Watanabe is a Saitama, Japan native and her true creative beginning was when she came to New York.

It was between deciding to move to New York City and actually arriving here that her graphic design skills really flourished. She was able to experience a new kind of culture and diversity unlike anything she ever had in Japan. And because New York City is an amazing place in which numerous countries are represented, Rie says, “this inspires me a lot. I didn’t experience [diversity] enough in Japan,” she continues. Her eyes were opened to a newness that sparked her creativity and pushed her to challenge her skills.

On the path to getting better, she has also made it her goal to work with new people who also have big, creative goals. In collaborating with them she hopes to learn as much as she can and try to absorb the positive and vibrant energies of the city and the people around her. When asked where she sees herself in five years, Rie answered, “I will still be a work-a-holic and hopefully still creating designs and making people smile in the process.”

Rie’s work reflects the fun and passion that she herself embodies. Check out some of her latest work here:

Friends Who Travel: Taking Risks

4 Feb capa-crua


His has been the last face I’ve seen when leaving work for the past two years, and thanks to Leon Rodrigues, it was one thing that helped me continue coming back each day. Because of Leon’s positive and open soul, it was and still is easy to connect with him and a pleasure to have around at work. This is most likely why, as a photographer, he finds it so easy to connect with his subjects whether they are people, roadways, buildings or bridges. He has a knack for finding beauty in many places.

This Brazil native has been in New York City improving his English and pursuing his dream of being a photographer. He is a dedicated and hard worker. He has the skills and the willingness to learn which will propel him even further as he experiments with the sights of the city and the passions within him.

1. Why did you decide to move to New York?

I decided to move to New York to improve my photographic skills. That was the main goal, but that is not only what you get when you live here. Besides my photography, I’ve grown so much as an individual, that my photography also happened to have grown with me.

2. So Far what is your most important goal while you are living here?

I planned to study both photography and English for as long as I could. But as time passed, my goals changed, and today I’m trying to accomplish my dream, which is being a full-time photographer.

3.What do you need to do to be successful?

Success for me is doing what you love. I always say that when I take a day off from school I work to photograph. It’s like I am taking a paid vacation, because I don’t feel photography is a job. It’s fun and it’s free. You don’t need to follow any protocol, you go and you put your vision on it. I don’t feel I have reached success, but sometimes it’s pretty good to have your work recognized by somebody who you respect.

I learned from a couple of experiences that success depends on how much you’re willing to risk and also on where you are. If you take chances and go all the way for it, the probability that you will succeed is greater than if you stay in the same place forever. New York is deeply engaged with the culture of success, but it’s not for everybody (especially if you’re not born here). But who knows? Maybe if you try harder, success will find you along the way.

For more of Leon’s photos, visit his website,

Friends Who Travel: Challenge Accepted

4 Feb 三位一体


Her quiet, often reserved demeanor as a student in my English class was a not-so-subtle contrast to Akiha, the artist. Since first meeting Akiha Yamakami three months ago as a new student in my English class, I enjoyed how thoughtful, engaged and respectful she was. I also really enjoyed her laugh and smile. It was infectious, much like the incredible, vibrant sculptures, paintings and clothing she creates:

She is from Nagano, Japan and though she is miles from home, New York City has proven to be a long-distance creative challenge she greatly accepted; but not before a few doubts and fears were settled. It takes confidence and grit to move beyond what’s comfortable and though it may have taken her six years to realize, Akiha has proven she’s tough enough to stay.

As an artist, Akiha had to test her inner power to be sure that she was physically and mentally prepared to keep up in the jungle. Luckily for her, and for us, she survived and is still surviving, using her art as the blade to cut through the vines of uncertainty and complacency. She’s surviving as an artist in New York City and that is really all she could ask for.

1. Why did you decide to move to New York?

womanWhen I was 22, I came to New York by myself. I enjoyed it. It was really comfortable here. But, I felt that New York was a place where things are made, meaning I would have to fully demonstrate my power [in order to stay here] and at that time I didn’t have power. Ever since then, I started to think, “I want to see how good I really am.” Six years later, I landed a new project in Washington, D.C. to perform and display my art on stage at a contemporary dance project. I had to make the decision to stay in Japan or leave. I decided to leave because I thought that if I miss this, there will never be a second chance.

2. So far, what is your most important goal while you are living here?

My most important goal is to do a solo show and launch my label. Also, I want to earn a living as a artist.

3. What does it mean to be successful?

Successful to me, is to earn a living as an artist.

Enjoy Akiha Yamakami’s artwork below and feel free to visit her website, for more information.

Friends Who Travel: The Journey

17 Jan

ImageImagine having a dream. More like a vision of yourself somewhere different from what you’ve known your entire life. A place that’s far, much different than what you’re used to and uneasily attainable.

Ai Matsui, from Japan, had dreams of meeting River Phoenix and speaking English fluently. Sometimes dreams take a while to come true and for Ai, it wasn’t until she made a choice between the unknown and the place she called home that her dreams would become a reality.

30-year-old Ai was running her own English school in Japan (she had learned to speak fluently by then), enjoying the pleasures of a long-time relationship and of being surrounded by friends and family. It was comfortable, it was simple, but it was not her dream.

A trip out of the cubicle, which was her life, was what would bring her joy, she knew. Just a vacation to explore something new was all it was supposed to be. When she landed in New York City for the first time, she felt excited, curious, fearless, but most of all she felt free.

Over sushi one afternoon, while reading a newspaper as New Yorkers often do to avoid unwanted conversation from other diners, Ai scanned an advertisement for a job opening at a Japanese elementary school in New Jersey. There are singular moments in life that alter everything else that is supposed to happen in your life. Coming across that job posting might have been Ai’s moment.

She was set to head back to Japan in three days but she felt the need to apply for that job before she returned, so she did. With the same Newspaper in tow, she boarded the plane three days later and made the long journey home.

Though back in Japan, a piece of New York followed her. It came in the form of a call just two days after returning. The school that she had applied to wanted to meet her, interview her and possibly offer her a job within the next few days. Ai was shocked, excited and also halfway across the world. For fear that they might change their minds and choose a nearer prospect, she accepted the interview.

A difficult decision made, a quick check of roundtrip flights and a couple thousands of borrowed money later and Ai was right back on a plane heading to an interview for which she was unsure of the outcome. Uncertainty clouded her mind as she passed over lands and waters that drew her farther from all that was certain in her life. With just enough money for the flight and a roundtrip cab ride from the airport, Ai held onto her only baggage for her trip, a purse, and headed for New York City.

The interviewers thought she was insane. They were perplexed and in awe of her determination, that it could lead her to travel across the world not knowing if her journey would be successful. Luckily for Ai, it was. She was offered the job at the school as well as a sponsorship that would allow her to stay in New York for at least three years. This, in Ai’s eyes, was exactly what she considered success.

“Back and Forth” would have been the title of Ai’s life at that point in her journey. She arrived back in Japan thrilled for the chance to live out her dream of finally experiencing somewhere new and different. For this would be the first time in her 30 years of life. She was also filled with an unshakable dread. She was offered an opportunity that would change her life but with it came the burden of also changing, in a major way, the lives of those she would be leaving behind: her students, her staff, her boyfriend, her friends and her family. She would be leaving behind all the things that made up who she was and she only had one month to make it happen.

But, one month later, it was done and she was in New York working, making money and experiencing all the good and bad that comes with New York City living, especially for a first-timer: loneliness, culture shock, fun, and danger. She was in the midst of it all and again, she felt free.

Three years can sure speed by, especially when at the end of those three years there’s a chance that life as you’ve lived it must again change. Desperate to find a way to remain in New York though her Visa was soon to expire at the school, Ai’s radar was tuned up. She met the owner of a Manhattan English school who was looking to hire so she made sure it would be her.

She worked at the front office at Bluedata International Institute, moved up from front desk assistant to counselor then to the school’s Director in just two years’ time. She negotiated her terms and because of her strong work ethic and loyalty, was then granted a sponsorship for her green card.

True freedom was the goal. To travel and work where she pleased. She stuck through all of the turmoil, uncertainty and naysayers. She was able to see through the fog because her passion was just that bright and summoned her to keep trudging. Her story is one that boasts hard work even when it doesn’t seem like anything will come of it. Her story is of success and as Ai continues to live and learn with passion and hard work a her guide, she will no doubt reap their positive rewards.

To Master your Passion, Be Like a Sponge

11 Jan Samples
IMG95013920131223095537The music blared through the speakers. It thumped rhythmically as the song neared it’s end and then, after a few deep breaths, she stepped out right on beat to a crowd of roaring applause. It was officially over, she had just completed her first New York City fashion show and Kristen J, her fashion brand, was open to the public.I thought back to her long hours of hard work, finding time and energy after her 9-5 for her true passion: women’s fashion design. She often traded sleep for sewing, creating pieces way into the early morning hours. Though that’s the nature of fashion if you want to be great, Taurice proved long ago that she was made for this and she would let nothing stop her. Her designs are an extension of who she is, standout, confident and fun and it’s the reason I am always excited to pick her about why she does what she does and how she makes it work.

1. Why New York City? 
I chose to stay in New York because it’s where the heart of fashion is, where my inspiration comes from. In order to pursue my career and expand my brand, there are so many available connections and options for advertising in New York. Another huge reason is that the majority of well known brands have their offices based in the city, and unless you’re are planning on living in Paris, this is where you want to be to surround yourself with people who are veterans in the fashion industry. The more you absorb, the more you grow.
2. As a designer, what’s your biggest goal right now?
My most important goal right now is to get my clothing into stores and get as much exposure as I possibly can within the next few months. I want to build an empire and make a name for myself in the fashion industry. Eventually, I would love to have my own store but at this very moment I plan to focus on production and advertising. There are quite a few locations that are very open to up-and-coming designers selling to their stores so my job right now is to get my samples ready, present my prices and reach out to my set demographic.
3. How do you define success? Do you feel you are successful?
Being successful is being better than you were yesterday. Success is not only making a profit from your clothing line, it’s self-fulfillment. When I see someone wearing my brand, that’s success. When I look at my finished product, that’s success. Also, the rush I feel during my fashion show, that’s success. The fact that I push myself every day to keep chasing my dream and not let anything or anyone prevent me from doing what I want means I am successful. I absolutely love what I do and it’s not for the money, it’s just where my heart is. I feel that in order for me to continue being successful I need to remain grounded and continue thinking outside the box. It’s so easy to follow the straight and narrow path, but I like a challenge. This is what helps build character and that’s something I have a lot of.

Friends Who Travel: Designing Success

11 Jan IMG_3132
Humility and kindness can really get you far especially when paired with determination and fearlessness. These are just some of the qualities that Tomoyo possesses and they are the reasons why she’s sure to make a name for herself in fashion one day soon. Since meeting Tomo several months ago when she was a New York City newbie arriving from Tokyo, Japan, I admired her artistic spirit. Color and creativity was present in the way she wore her clothes, in the designs on her nails and even in how she spoke. I enjoyed learning about her passions and goals and I wanted her to succeed in all that she strived for.
Tomoyo has a plan to make her way into the New York fashion scene, using everyday images as her inspiration. And while it has been, and will probably continue to be hard work, her never-give-up attitude is sure to see her through to the end.
1. Why did you decide to move to New York?
While I was in fashion school in Japan, I was considering what to do after I graduated. I thought about maybe going to The UK or to Belgium because I wanted to experience working with high-end brands like Givenchy, Celine, or Alexander McQueen for example but the tuition and fees to attend schools there were too expensive for me. But I didn’t want to give up so I did some research and soon I learned about a fellow Japanese classmate who was going to Antwerp Fashion Academy and was looking for someone to assist with her collection. I signed up for the Academy in Antwerp for 3 months and I volunteered to work on her line.
I went into the situation excited and ready for a new experience but when I got there, I realized it wasn’t for me. The teachers were strict and the classes were so hard. Many students had trouble passing the exams and graduating. If they passed the exams, it then was difficult to find a job. I then thought that maybe I didn’t need to be there. I already studied fashion for 4 years and I felt I had enough experience to at least try for myself so maybe I didn’t need to continue with school.
I thought about another place that’s best for creating fashion, New York City.  It’s home to so many brands that I like and also there are many new creators who live in New York so I thought about interning for some different brands. I chose to come to New York City because it’s open and easy for a foreigner to navigate. I had many great experiences but I think that moving to New York was a great decision.
2. So Far what is your most important goal while you are living here?
I’m not sure yet. I’m still figuring it out.
3. What does it mean to be successful? Do you think you are successful?
My success is that I can design clothes and accessories that I like and when people want to wear them, it makes me so happy. To be successful, sometimes people need to do what they don’t like. I mean fashion designers need to design things that they don’t like for business sometimes. I don’t know if I am successful or not, but I think I am a lucky girl so far to have had these experiences. I need to continue working hard and learning more about fashion design and business to reach my success.

Friends Who Travel: Snapshots from East to West

6 Nov 006

009“If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere…” This famous line in the even more famous song, “New York, New York” sung by Frank Sinatra, makes you believe in one city’s powers to make your dreams come true. To some New York just seems like any other metropolitan with its crowds, bums, filth and crime, but for others, they flood the New York City waterways, tunnels and airways because just getting here is making it.

One of my former ESL students Shun Takano is fresh meat in NYC and like some of the other millions who came here to pursue a dream, he really, really wants to be successful. This young photographer came from Tokyo just two months ago with the essentials for city life: determination, character and creativity. He is navigating his way through the fog of culture shock, excitement and uncertainty and I am thrilled he allowed me to speak with him about this new chapter in his life. Enjoy as Shun shares his reasons for trekking West, leaving friends and family behind, and pursuing his goals.

1.Why did you decide to move to New York?

I’ve always had a curiosity about New York. I came here from Japan in order to improve my photography career. I work as a fashion photographer, taking pictures of models and people. For this job it is necessary for me to communicate with people in English. Most models come from foreign countries [and English is usually a common language]. I probably could have stayed in Japan and taken photos there however, I wanted better quality. If I improve my English, I can communicate with a lot of people and direct models in more detail. Furthermore, there is a possibility of getting more work [by being in New York].

New York is one of the biggest cities in the world. It has the latest fashion, art, museums, music and sports. Actually, some photographers who are at the forefront of the industry live in New York. I am in touch with new trends and cultures in New York, which is different from Tokyo, and I want to cultivate my talent to create a great experience here.

2. So far, what is your most important goal while you are living here?

My most important goal is to be able to enjoy New York in all aspects. It is not only important to take pictures, to get to know a lot of people, to get a job and make money, but also to enjoy my life in New York. I don’t want to have any regrets when I go back to my own country. Also, I want to be able to take pictures with good imagination and strong confidence.


3. What do you try to capture when you take photos (what emotion, culture, idea)?

It may be hard to explain. When I shoot, I always prepare some images first. These images come from photo books, fashion magazines, and favorite movies of mine or sometimes I pick some images from my travel experiences and portray them in my own work.

4. What does it mean to be successful? Are you successful?

I can say very clearly that I’m not successful yet. I’m still on the way to being a success. It is a long way to get it. For me to be successful, I want to be a person who takes pictures every year until I am old like a grandpa. I have an image of whom I want to be like, he is a Japanese photographer named Hiroshi Yoda. When I was in Japan, I had an opportunity to work with him and I like his style. He is over seventy years old now, and he is still active, passionate and with unabated skills. Also, he has a beautiful studio of his own and he is still working there. To be successful, I need to keep my mind positive and not lose my passion and curiosity for photography. Sometimes I just need to go bonkers.

Please Enjoy some original photography by Shun Takano below & visit his website


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