Tonari no Piano: On Music, Cross-Cultural Understanding, and All That Jazz
Dr. Jillian Marshall
My article reflects on the friendship I shared with my neighbor in a rural fishing village during my time with the JET Program and on music’s power to create lasting cross-cultural understanding. In those two years, I learned that life abroad begets an inevitable negotiation once the pink clouds of exhilarating novelty fade away: we must acknowledge cultural diﬀerences, lest we fail to truly overcome them. Had it not been for my neighbor—a 66-year-old piano teacher who invited me to play at her house every week—this challenge might have proved too overwhelming. When she later oﬀered unsolicited support in a time of personal distress, my eyes were forever opened to the subtleties of Japanese culture and how music facilitated this bond. Ultimately, this article’s testimony of our unlikely liaison supports my broader mission to illustrate music’s ability to create cross-cultural understanding through its transcendent language of emotion, corporeality, and imagination. After all, if music can bridge gaps between two societies as diametrically opposed as Japan and the U.S., its soft power and diplomatic possibilities are endless.
About the Author
Jillian Marshall, PhD, is a writer, educator, and musician. After graduating from the University of Chicago in 2009 with a degree in East Asian Studies, she spent two years with the JET Program as an ALT in Awaji Island, Hyogo from 2009-2011. The experience changed her life, opening her mind (and ears) to the music of Japan. Jillian went on to earn a doctorate in the musicology of Japan at Cornell University in 2018; her research on Japanese traditional, popular, and underground music has been supported by the Fulbright Foundation, MTV, and the U.S. Department of State. Jillian currently lives in New York City, where she writes and teaches the language and history of both Japan and China as well as music. Her first book, tentatively titled Listening In/To Japan: Musical Lessons Across the Pacific, explores music, community, and society in contemporary Japan. It is set to come out in 2022 with Three Rooms Press.
About the JETs on Japan Forum
The JETs on Japan Forum is a partnership between USJETAA and Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA (Sasakawa USA) that features selected articles of JET alumni perspectives on U.S.-Japan relations. The series aims to elevate the awareness and visibility of JET alumni working across diverse sectors and provides a platform for JET alumni to contribute to deeper understanding of U.S.-Japan relations from their fields. The articles will be posted on USJETAA’s website to serve as resource to the wider JET alumni and U.S.-Japan communities on how alumni of this exchange program are continuing to serve as informal ambassadors in U.S.-Japan relations.
Submissions are encouraged from mid-to-senior level professionals who are established in the current fields OR current/recent graduate degree students in both masters and doctoral programs. Click here for more information on how to submit a proposal for consideration.