Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Countdown to the Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival

The Okinawa Times is running a countdown to the prefecture's 5th Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival, taking place October 12-16. The front page of each day features a picture of someone of Okinawan descent who is planning to attend the event.

Here's the paper from August 30:

Okinawa Times, August 30, 2011

































Sharing space with an article about Japan's new prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, is a pink box declaring only 43 days until the Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival.

Who's picture is featured?


















Yours truly. Hooray! Underneath my picture reads my name and that I'm from New York. To the right it says, "I love Okinawan culture. I'm looking forward to the Uchinanchu Festival."

The countdown to my trip to Okinawa continues . . . 

Friday, August 5, 2011

I Stalked a Japanese Celebrity


Okay, I didn’t actually stalk her, but . . . Well, let me start from the beginning.

The Stella Adler Studio for Acting has been a New York City institution since 1949 and boasts such Hollywood icons as Marlon Brando and Robert DeNiro as its alumni. And this year the school became the training ground for Leah Dizon. She may not be a household name in the States, but the Las Vegas native is a celebrity in Japan.

Leah Dizon isn’t Japanese – her father is Filipino and Chinese; her mother has French ancestry – but she became a “gravure idol” (attractive young singer, model, and TV presenter) after moving to Tokyo in 2006. In the span of four years, Dizon released photobooks and albums; starred in music videos and commercials; and married, had a daughter by, and divorced a Japanese man. 


Now she’s in New York, allegedly pursuing her dream of acting by taking classes at the Stella Adler Studio. At least that’s what a weekly Japanese magazine with a high circulation wanted to know. Feeling the need to update Dizon’s fans, the magazine hired a Japanese journalist friend of mine here in New York to secure an interview with the pop idol. When deadlines conflicted with my friend’s schedule, she asked me to help. My assignment was to find Leah Dizon. The magazine felt the best way for me to do that was to stake out the Stella Adler Studio for Acting. Huh? A phone call wouldn’t do the trick?

Apparently no one seems to know where in NYC Dizon is living, and the magazine was acting on an entry in Dizon’s blog saying she was enrolled at Stella Adler. The entry is from April of this year and is the only post. (Make that was. Strangely enough, that post appears to have been deleted.) After receiving repeated phone calls from the magazine, the folks at Stella Adler wouldn’t confirm Dizon’s enrollment at the school. So the magazine said a stakeout was necessary to track down the 24-year-old star.

Despite the madness of this logic, I agreed to do it, partly because I thought it would be a good learning experience. (I actually thought I would learn how to be a Japanese journalist.) So I postponed lunch with a friend and set out for my stakeout.

One problem became evident as soon as I approached the school. The Stella Adler Studio for Acting is in a regular office building. There is no campus, no student union. The lobby is the typically small type found in generic small office buildings throughout the city, with a doorman at a desk and no other furniture.

Building that houses the Stella Adler Studio of Acting


























Busted by the doorman


Speaking of the doorman, he saw me taking pictures of the exterior of the building and asked if I needed help. I was two minutes into my first stakeout, and I’d already blown it.

At least the doorman was nice and didn’t suspect I was on an important stakeout for a Japanese weekly. I told him I was looking around for a friend who was interested in attending the acting school and asked if I could have some literature. He kindly sent me to the third floor, which Stella Adler occupies. I reiterated my weak story, and nice young man enthusiastically gave me two pamphlets about the school’s programs.

While I was up there, I looked around to see if Dizon was wandering around. She wasn’t. At least I don’t think she was. Every dark-haired girl who walked in and out of the building looked like her. I took the pamphlets, thanked the guy for his time, and went back outside.

Okay, now what? Oh, did I mention that there was nowhere to sit outside the building, either? And that it was hot? I didn't want to alarm the doorman by lingering, so I walked up and down the street, hoping I’d run into Dizon on her way to class. I walked across the street, hiding behind a UPS truck while I stared at the entrance to the office building that housed the Stella Adler Studio for Acting.












































What was I doing?! Tired of standing, I found a courtyard near the corner and sat on a bench in the shade. Perhaps I would see her walk down the street toward the school, and I catch up to her and ask questions about acting and motherhood. It occurred to me that I could’ve taken a couple of pictures of the school and called it a day. I could’ve walked back home after I was busted by the doorman, saying that I didn’t see her. But I stayed. For seven and a half hours. On a hot summer afternoon.

In a way, though, I was actually into it. I wanted to find Leah Dizon. I wanted to tell her that I’m reporting for the Japanese press and that her fans are eagerly awaiting a report about how her life in New York is. So I did a few laps up and down the block, looking for Leah. I went back to the courtyard, thinking Leah would be there, having a snack and contemplating her latest assignment.

Then it happened. I saw her. A group of students holding scripts walked into the courtyard and broke off into pairs. Suddenly, I was staring at Leah Dizon. I looked at her; I looked at the picture of Dizon I had called up on my phone. I snuck a shot of the girl and e-mailed it to my journalist friend. We were both excited! But, wait a minute. The nose was wrong. Still, it could be her. There was a chance. I decided to sit there until the class ended. A guy with a video camera showed up to videotape the different pairs. The doppelganger and her partner left the courtyard to tape their piece. Here’s my chance. I was just about to stand up when I noticed that, although she was thin and attractive, she didn’t have the body or the presence of Leah Dizon. I’d been staring at this girl for more than an hour and probably looked like a freaky stalker, willing her – begging her – to be the subject of my stakeout. Alas, it was not to be. I didn’t say anything to her, but I realized as she walked closer to me that she couldn’t possibly be Leah Dizon.

Acting class in the courtyard


























I went back to the school and stood in front of it for two hours. Different doorman. He didn’t seem to notice me. No sign of Leah Dizon. Feeling dejected, I walked home at 7:30 p.m.

Do Japanese reporters really do this? I wondered as I collapsed on my couch, delirious from my first stakeout. I turned to Twitter and asked my favorite investigative reporter, Jake Adelstein, if stakeouts are standard practice of Japanese journalists. Adelstein replied that reporters often do stake out their subjects. “It depends on what the story is and what you’re trying to achieve,” he tweeted. “It’s harder for people to lie in person.”

I wonder if Leah would’ve been honest with me. I’m actually glad that I didn’t see her, but I wonder how I would’ve handled myself if I had. Would I have come across as a complete dork? This will remain the mystery of my first Japanese reporter stakeout.