Recently, JCMU came across some of Linda Stephen’s custom origami art. Linda, an alumna from our 1990-91 academic year program, is now an accomplished artist, with many of her pieces apart of collections around the world. We reconnected with Linda and asked her about what her experiences were like with JCMU, and how they helped her in becoming an origami artist. If you are interested in seeing more of her work, then please visit her website at www.LindaStephen.com!
How and why did you come to participate at JCMU?
As an undergraduate, I was interested in international business. I majored in French at Northern Michigan University and minored in business administration, mathematics and music. I also took classes in German and Japanese. I was attracted by the opportunity to live and study in Japan and to have a support network there.
How did JCMU benefit your future aspirations?
During my year at JCMU, I studied Japanese language, Japanese culture and history (Dr. John Mock), and Japanese art history. I was also able to try out various Japanese traditions – Zen meditation, ikebana, the koto, the tea ceremony, Japanese garden design, cooking. It was an incredible learning experience to be able to visit in person places like the Tokkaido Road (a mile from JCMU), and great artworks in Nara, Kyoto and Osaka. This broad and deep learning experience continues to inform my art and my life.
What did you do after JCMU, and what you are doing now?
After JCMU, I spent another six years in Japan in Shiga. First, I taught junior high and senior high English for three years at Omi Brotherhood Schools in Omihachiman, Shiga, where I earned a Japanese teaching certificate, coached track & field, and welcomed exchange students from Grand Rapids, Michigan and Australia each year. I later worked for Kurdyla & Associates in Osaka as a translator and editor for researchers at multinational companies like Fujitsu, Mitsubishi, and Matsushita. Although I left Japan to attend graduate school in international journalism, I returned to Japan to conduct research for my master’s thesis.
My husband, a native of Shiga, and I left Japan in 1999 to move to New York City. There, I worked in public relations for technology companies and for United Nations’ agencies.
In 2003, I began creating kirigami and origami cards using the medium of Japanese yuzen fabric papers. I soon moved to creating larger framed art, taking commissions, and exhibiting nationally. My origami collage landscapes are now part of public and private collections across the U.S. and Japan, from the City Hall in Omihachiman, Shiga to the JW Marriott Hotel “Sister Cities Collection” in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
In my art, I incorporate invented origami sculptures with hundreds of Japanese artisanal washi papers – from hand-dyed tissue chigiri-e papers to wrinkled momigami papers. My art celebrates the oft-overlooked beauty around us, from an apple orchard at harvest time to a small town parade. See a gallery at www.LindaStephen.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lindastephenorigamiart.
What would you say to prospective students considering JCMU?
JCMU is a true language and cultural immersion experience. Living in rural Shiga, you can see history every day – Hikone castle, hardworking farmers, ancient temples and shrines.
Living abroad can be difficult emotionally – the “culture shock” of struggling with semi-literacy and foreign smells, tastes and rules. Through the community and living space of JCMU, you have support from other Americans – professors, staff and fellow students.
Whether you make the study of Japan and Japanese language your career or are looking for a once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity, your time at JCMU will be invaluable. Even 25 years later, I still remember history lessons learned –and count among my closest friends my Japanese roommates and homestay families.