Jonathan Brewster is the Director of the NC Japan Center, a unit within the Office of Global Engagement. Brewster oversees a wide range of activities that build relationships and serve the academic, research, business and cultural needs related to the interactions between Japan and North Carolina.
Tell us about the NC Japan Center.
The NC Japan Center was founded way back in 1980 by our former NC Governor Jim Hunt. Governor Hunt is well-known for, among other things, his motivation to reach outside of our state to develop long-lasting relationships with other countries and to find areas of collaborative value.
Originally, the NC Japan Center was created purely for economic development between North Carolina and Japan, and over time, this focus transitioned into three areas: academic, cultural, and economic development support. We provide top-class, non-credit Japanese language courses to the public, at all levels. Our courses are taught by experienced native speakers, and the curriculum has oversight from the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature. We also manage the Harry C. Kelly Memorial Fund, which is focused on financially supporting faculty in developing sustainable research relationships with Japanese institutions, as well as our STEM-focused students in their Japanese language studies. We also support the university’s Japanese academic partner relationships and work with other offices and units to support Japanese exchange students here, as well as visiting study groups.
For our cultural focus, we develop and host Japan-related cultural events and workshops throughout the year, including Japanese holidays, a summer camp, flower arranging, and bonsai workshops. Additionally, we help support the Japanese-American community in North Carolina by providing resources, connections, information, and other forms of assistance for members of that group. Finally, we work with the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina and regional economic development offices to support their work in recruiting Japanese businesses to North Carolina and strengthening and maintaining those relationships.
What made you choose this field of work as a career?
Having worked for about a decade in Japan, I found that in my various roles I was really best at bridging the cultures of Japan and western countries. By articulating Japanese and Western customs, business practices, and societal relationships and mindsets through my lens of personal experience, education, and background, I was able to put others at ease and engender a spirit of cooperation and commonality. It was always this kind of work that I enjoyed the most, and when the opportunity presented itself to apply for the directorship of the NC Japan Center, I jumped at the chance. Everyone has been very supportive, and I really love what I do.
What does a typical day look like for you?
When I arrive at the Spring Hill House in the morning, I first check my emails for any high-priority items. I then access online news outlets for any pertinent news related to Japan (a habit I formed whilst working at Fujitsu). I usually have a checklist of items to accomplish on any given day, and there’s always an event, presentation, workshop, class, or company visit to prepare for, and documents to draft. I also always do my best to make time to answer inquiries sent from individuals who are interested in Japan; for work, study, or simply a tourist visit. I remember how “alien” Japan was for me before I went there the first time, and I want to mitigate any intimidation a person might feel. I’ve also learned quite a bit about how to study, work, and live in Japan the “hard way,” and I take great pride in assisting others in avoiding those hard lessons and learning from my experience. I especially enjoy being consulted by our NC State students, who are passionate about their Japanese studies and want to travel to Japan to experience the culture. I remember when I was in their shoes, and I want them to make the best use of their time and enthusiasm.
How would you describe your job to someone who is interested in your field of work?
I would describe my position as being an educator, ambassador, salesperson, and relationship-builder all rolled into one. Someone interested in this field of work must like working with people, presenting in front of large groups, working with kids, and have a passion for both Japan and for strengthening and building relationships between Japan and the West (in this case, North Carolina!). I really love this job because it’s a combination of all the roles I mentioned above, and I’m very motivated to continue growing the center to be a nexus of valuable resources for all parties in North Carolina with a connection to (or interested in) Japan – we’re here to help and support you in any way we can.
Learn more about the NC Japan Center.