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Member Highlight: Eleanor Rubin

How long have you been a member of Japan Society, Boston? And, what drew you to JSB?

I think I've been a member for about 12 years. And I have long had an interest in Japanese art, especially woodcut ukiyo-e, prints, and more contemporary Munakata prints. But also I grew up in California, and it has its own kind of complex history with Japanese people, which I learned about.

About the time I was in high school, I learned that Japanese people in California had been rounded up and taken to concentration camps. And that's been of interest of mine.

[Eleanor in Japan]

What are you passionate about?

I’m really passionate about art, as I mentioned before, and music and also social justice. So

(the US’s history with Japanese people) was one of the indelible things I learned about as a high school student.

I had an opportunity to go to Japan in 2006 and interview an artist for a book that was eventually published by the Center for Japanese Studies of the University of Michigan. I can show you the book. It's called Imagination without Borders. And I interviewed an artist named Tomiyama Taeko.

[Cover art for Imagination without Borders]

In Kyoto I was able to visit a man whose skill was in Indigo dyeing. And I was able to go to his studio and learn about the process of indigo dyeing. So that was my wonderful opportunity to visit Japan.

But I would say even as a young child, we were always taken to restaurants and introduced to Japanese food and something about the experience of it, the aesthetic of it, the taste of it that I can't even explain. Yeah, my interest has been there for a long time.

Do you have a favorite event or program that you ever did with the JSB?

Well, I was invited to one of the Thayer Award events that honored a person who was my colleague at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Martha Wright. And that was really a wonderful event. Not only did they honor her, but they showed a film about the dog, Hachiko; a fabled story about being a faithful dog who always met his master at the train station every day.

[Eleanor in Japan with Hachiko statue]

And so that was a wonderful event in many, in many ways, and it brought together people from the Japan Society of Boston who I hadn't met before. It was very festive and important. So that was pretty indelible.

I also get the newsletter, so I'm aware of a lot of events and everything from the recipes to the stories to the interviews, so I really value being part of that.

[Eleanor was the Coordinator of Access for Visitors with Disabilities at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston from 1978 to 2002.]

Another way in which my interest in art and music and my work at the museum kind of connected was through a story that I learned about Hikari Ōe, He was the son of Kenzaburō Ōe, who is a writer and political activist and who just recently died. His son was a boy with disabilities. Kenzaburō writes in a very personal way about how he had to come to terms with that, and even make a major decision that the boy should live because he was so profoundly disabled at first.

So that's a story that that really captivated me, especially because Hikari, as told by his father, hadn't seemed to be much aware of the world until he heard bird songs in the forest. So it was a story about disability and nature and how Hikari’s interests broadened to music. He actually became a composer. So that's an important story to me. And I've even tried to write the story as a children's book.

[Cover for Eleanor’s Children’s Book]

What about JSB do you think makes it special from other groups in the Boston area?

Well, I don't know a lot of other groups that specialize in the arts and culture of Japan in the same way and are as inclusive of people. I met Peter Grilli who is one of the important people there, again, through the MFA and through mutual interests. So you know, for somebody like me, who doesn't speak Japanese and has only been to Japan once, it's a very important way to stay connected and to learn.

So I would just encourage people to get involved because it helps you to be alert to things that you may not know about.

Many Americans would benefit from learning about other perspectives.

Yes, so those are kind of key moments in my connection to the Japan Society and to Japan.

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