Staff Interview Vol 14: Kazu

Kazu Aotani

Co-president of JBAB (formally JREX) and Japan Festival Boston, and owner of Snappy Ramen and Snappy Sushi

 

He’s lived in Boston for 30 years, and he has a strong desire to show gratitude to the city of Boston.

Q. Why did you come to Boston?

A. I heard a story about a person that had traveled across the US. Fifteen minutes into that conversation, I found myself dreaming about the US. At the time, I was a truck driver during the day and a college student at night, with no friends or relations in America. I knew no English, and had no interest in American culture. I met the person that had crossed the US, and made the decision on August 12, 1985 at the age of 24, to move to Boston. I had no hesitation in moving to the US because I was young, but I did not have the guts to move back to Japan- now that I’ve been here for so long, from about 5 or 6 years ago I’ve been super homesick all of a sudden. I started from the bottom – washing dishes at restaurants, working at sushi restaurants, butler for Consulate General of Japan. After working for several businesses, I opened Snappy Sushi on Newbury street. In 2008 I opened Snappy Sushi at Davis square, and in 2013 it became a Ramen joint. I had to work to make ramen that tasted good, and it’s motivating when I hear customers say that the ramen tastes good. At the Festival, Snappy Ramen will be serving Veggie Ramen, which is the only vegetarian ramen option at Japan Festival Boston; as well as Tokyo-Shoyu ramen at snappy sushi.

 

Q. What do you like about Boston?

A. I’ve been here for 30 years, and time and time again I feel that Boston is a great city. As a young adult, I wanted to be in the warmer west coast, but as I got older, I’ve fallen in love with the very clear four seasons, the nature surrounding the city and the great food. I especially love the night-time scenery. Japan is too man-made, but there’s a balance between nature and the city. There are periods of darkness, no lights from vending machines and convenience stores open 24/7. The lighting in most homes are a warm light, many of the buildings are historic brick buildings- there’s beauty in the harmony of a modern metropolis and historic architecture.

 

Q. Why and how did you get involved with Japan Festival?

A. I was responsible for the food booths at the 2012 event-and afterwards, I became one of the co-presidents of Japan Festival Boston. I relate very strongly to the mission statement, “show our gratitude to the city of Boston”. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to live here for 30 years, to start a business in this city, and learn a lot about the world and life in this city. There’s a lot of gratitude that is not often seen, but all of that is what makes Japan Festival Boston special. Because we’re thankful of the people and the world that surrounds us, we’re able to hold this festival.

 

Q. What is your responsibility as co-president?

A. I am responsible for the event as a whole being co-president. I feel that it is my responsibility to make the Festival enjoyable for all- including the organizing committee members. I want people to remember the festival as a great time, and be in people’s memories for years to come. I want people to come back to Boston, visit more often, and also come back to our event. Last year, we had 60,000 attendees. This year, we’re not only expanding our event space, but we’re also bringing higher quality to the event. Every year, at the end of the event, we  sing “Hotaru no Hikari” – a song that is often sung at commencement ceremonies in Japan, signaling the end of an era but also signaling a new beginning. The overwhelming relief we feel when we sing it, and then finish the event is insane. I cry every time. I want this to be a memorable event, and I want people to associate the city of Boston and our event as a place for authentic Japanese culture as told by the Japanese community- and I will continue my work with the festival to achieve this.

 

Q. What is message to our audience?

A. PLEASE HAVE FUN! I will continue to work hard to make sure everyone has a fun time. 

 

 

 

Editor’s note- as a translation of the original Japanese interview, there is no way to do translate Kazu’s native Kansai dialect and humor justice. Please come visit the event, or visit Kazu at Snappy Ramen or Snappy Sushi, and see how amazing of a person he is.- Kei

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