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Member Highlight - Karen & Alex Gruzen

Updated: Sep 5, 2022

How long have you been a member of JSB?

August 2019. My husband and I were longtime Texas residents who have recently returned to our northern roots.

What drew you to the JSB?

We attended the April 2019 Japan Festival Boston on the Common and joined JSB soon after. I joke that my husband and I are a “bubble couple,” who spent some exciting young adult years in Tokyo 1990-1994. (Photo #1 shows our Meiji Jingu New Year card) Alex was with Sony (In photo #2 below, he’s on the left in the snazzy company vest, Akio Morita is on the right!) and I worked at the Hotel Okura (Photo #3 shows our wonderful staff participants in the annual English speech contest. Thank goodness they never judged my Japanese!). We have fond memories of that time abroad together. JSB’s book club first caught my eye — I am doing some writing of my own — and my interests quickly spread to events like Onigiri Action and other home cooking, the PEM-JSB Hanae Mori talk, Pico Iyer’s Harvard Book Store appearance, and eventually the language classes. An upside of the pandemic has been Yuko Handa’s amazing leadership in expanding JSB’s offerings while also liaising with other Japan societies across the country. The variety of events has exploded!

What about JSB makes it special from other groups within the Boston area?

The group is welcoming and personal - Yuko and Naoko make an effort to get to know everyone - and it has access to so much talent within Boston’s business and academic communities.

Do you have a favorite event or program that you have participated in with JSB?

The program on Paul Tuller’s Japanese house in New Hampshire was magical, what a dedicated builder! I hope to get up there to visit it sometime. The spotlight on Donald Ritchie’s The Inland Sea was very sentimental and nostalgic. The JSB language classes are terrific! And the online “conversation rooms” are not as scary as I once thought. In particular, through language classes I’ve met many young people who have come to know Japan through manga and anime — pop culture I never paid much attention to during my time in Tokyo. I really enjoyed listening to Susan Napier’s JSB talk on her book, Miyazakiworld: A Life In Art.

How would you describe yourself and what you’re passionate about?

I consider myself a lifelong learner! We’ve lived abroad a few times and continue to love travel, visiting new places and meeting new people, especially with our four children who are young adults now. Japan is a special place, and we had hoped to return this fall, but will try in spring when things open up a bit more for individual tourists (fingers crossed!). We’re also enjoying being back in the northeast, traveling in New England (Photo #4 is a recent college homecoming), experiencing four seasons again, and reconnecting with old friends.

Interested in becoming a JSB Member? Click here or reach out to for more details.

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