Philly Creative Guide

Creative Personality

Kazumi Teune | Executive Director of the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia (JASGP)

Interview :: Kazumi Teune
by by Ruth Weisberg, 1 Apr 2007

This month's Creative Personality is Kazumi Teune, Executive Director of the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia (JASGP).

April 2007 is an exciting time in Philadelphia, for the city is host to Sakura Matsuri—the 2007 Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival, which will take place from Monday, April 9 to Sunday, April 22, with the festival Gala on Saturday, April 21. This year's event will mark the 10th Anniversary of the Festival, as well as the reaching of the JASGP goal to plant 1,000 cherry trees throughout Fairmount Park.

Kazumi Teune can be reached at: [email protected].

For more information on the Cherry Blossom Festival, call their hotline at: 215-790-3680.

PCG: What initially brought you to Philadelphia? I'm guessing that you never expected to make our fair city your permanent home, or that it would become the permanent home to so many beautiful cherry blossom trees.

KT: I'm a native of Japan. I have a law degree from Gakushuin University (Tokyo) and a Masters Degree in political science and library studies from the University of Hawaii. It was when I was a graduate student at the University of Hawaii and just about to graduate that I was starting to look for a job. I was thinking about moving back to Japan. During the summer, I was at a convention on the University of Hawaii campus, and that's when and where I met my future husband, Henry Teune. He was a Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. I visited Philadelphia for the first time in the fall of 1982 and moved here that same year. Henry and I got married in 1985. Since then I have been living in Philadelphia. My husband is still teaching at Penn. My first encounter with the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia (JASGP) was through the Cherry Tree Planting project which started in 1998. I worked as a volunteer for JASGP for several years, and then in 2001, became its Executive Director.

Kazumi Teune, Executive Director of the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia (JASGP)

PCG: I had no idea about the JASGP and its amazing people and programs. Or just how strong the Philadelphia-Japan connection is. What would you like our readers to especially know about your presence with this organization and its ongoing community efforts?

KT: The Philadelphia-Japan connection started in 1853. JASGP has a publication, Phila-Nipponica: An Historic Guide to Philadelphia and Japan, which chronicles many of our life stories. Many Japanese who visited or stayed in Philadelphia during the late 19th century became prominent figures in Japanese history. JASGP was established in 1994. It's an association of individuals, corporations and organizations in the Greater Philadelphia region. Our mission is to bring the peoples of Japan and the US closer together in understanding, appreciation and cooperation. We do so by promoting and encouraging a better understanding of the business, cultural, social, educational and political practices and customs of Japan and the US. We have networking events, the Philadelphia-Japan Health Sciences Dialogue, and even a Japanese Conversation Club. There are plenty of ways to get involved in the Japanese and American communities in Philadelphia. However until recently, JASGP was not widely known in Philadelphia, even among Japanese in the region. The major breakthrough came when the Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival of Greater Philadelphia was launched as a week-long Japanese festival in 2003. It has since grown and blossomed into a 2-week festival, which will be held in April in Philadelphia.

"...until recently, JASGP was not widely known in Philadelphia, even among Japanese in the region."

PCG: This is the 10th anniversary of the Cherry Blossom Festival in Philadelphia, which certainly has evolved over the years. What are some of the highlights we can expect to see and do at this year's event?

KT: Few things in nature can equal the delicate beauty of the cherry blossom. This year's Cherry Blossom Festival has expanded into two exciting weeks, when all of Philadelphia will be in full bloom during Sakura Matsui—the Cherry Blossom Festival. This is a centuries-old tradition and we'll be bringing together the best in Japanese art, cuisine, dance, fashion, flowers, and music. Here are a few of this year's highlights:

  • April 11: Sake Fest at Loews Philadelphia Hotel to enjoy dozens of sake varieties.
  • April 13: Rittenhouse Square Street Parade. We're holding this for the first time in Center City.
  • April 15: Sakura Sunday at Horticulture Center. This is the largest outdoor event during the Festival. We expect 10,000 to attend.
  • April 16: Sushi Spectacular at Loews Philadelphia Hotel, with sushi chefs visiting us from Japan just for this evening.
  • April 21: 10th Anniversary Gala at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Kazumi Teune, Executive Director of the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia (JASGP)

PCG: When you think about it, your life and experience in Philadelphia is pretty much like a cherry blossom tree. Look how you've both grown and proliferated here!

KT: When JASGP first launched its Cherry Blossom Project in 1998, it was only for a planting ceremony of 100 cherry trees. There were about 20 or so JASGP members and a gala with 200 participants to raise the funds to purchase the trees. The total of participants was only 220.

When we organized our first one-day Festival (Sakura Sunday) at the Horticulture Center in 2003, 400 participated. In 2004, with our Subaru of America sponsorship, we were able to launch a one-week long festival. At the Sakura Sunday in that year, 1000 came, and the total participants were 8000. In 2005, 5,000 came to Sakura Sunday and the total participants during that two-week period was 13,000. Last year, 10,000 came to Sakura Sunday, and the total participants were 20,000!

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