TSUNAGU: To Connect: Whether it is connecting employers to job seekers or bringing different cultures together, we at Activ8 value the bridge-builders who make our world a better place every day. Our new series, TSUNAGU, will feature inspirational people who connect North America and Japan through business, education, art, culture and more.
Nancy Matsumoto, Award-Winning Author, Journalist and Editor
From an early age, Nancy Matsumoto loved reading and writing. This led her to study English literature in college, now considered an endangered major, yet one that she highly recommends. She went on to contribute to and author numerous books, newspaper and magazine articles, and regularly writes about sake for her website and other publications. Nancy received exceptional praise, including a James Beard award, for her latest book, Exploring the World of Japanese Craft Sake: Rice, Water, Earth, co-authored with Michael Tremblay. One of her current projects—an English-language translation of a book of tanka poetry her grandparents published in 1960–honors her Japanese heritage. We asked Nancy how her background led her to where she is today, and her advice for those starting a new career.
Photos: Research trip in Japan for Exploring the World of Japanese Craft Sake: Rice, Water, Earth.
(left) Imada Shuzo brewery, Hiroshima Prefecture; (right) Kodama Jozo brewery, Akita Prefecture
Embracing Japanese Heritage
Nancy is a third-generation (Sansei) Japanese American born in Chicago and raised in Los Angeles. Growing up, she did not always embrace her cultural heritage. After graduating from Pomona College in Claremont, CA and working several years as a journalist, she moved to Japan, where she met and became close to members of her extended family. It was during this period that her love for Japan and her interest in her own heritage was born. In Tokyo, she continued her journalistic work, writing and editing for numerous American and Japanese publications, including Time, Newsweek, People, and the Nihon Keizai Shinbun. Writing about Japanese society, business, arts, and culture gave her insight into and a deeper appreciation of her ancestral culture.
Photo: Nancy reporting in Hagi, Yamaguchi, Japan
Struggles with Illness and Moving Back to the U.S.
Nancy’s stint in Japan was cut short when she experienced a relapse of symptoms of lupus, a chronic, inflammatory autoimmune disease and was forced to return to the U.S. to seek treatment. Her battle with the disease sidelined her from her career for a decade. Once she was able to return to work, Nancy began a freelance writing career focusing on agroecology, food and drink, contributing to publications such as Food & Wine, theAtlantic.com, and The Wall Street Journal.
She also began writing about the Japanese World War II incarceration in America, which touched the lives of her own parents and grandparents. Her grandmother Tomiko Matsumoto was a “passionate and serious” poetry writer and an inspiring figure to Nancy. Through their poetry, Tomiko and her husband Gennosuke (pen name Ryokuyō) described what they endured while in the Heart Mountain, Wyoming World War II concentration camp, and later in Chicago, where they relocated after the war. Nancy believes that her forthcoming tanka translation, By the Shore of Lake Michigan (completed with the help of a close-knit team of esteemed colleagues), has both “literary and historic” significance. More than a decade in the making, the book that she calls her “passion project” is forthcoming in 2024 from UCLA’s Asian American Studies Press.
Photo: Nancy with her mother, Lillian Sumi Matsumoto
In addition to co-authoring books on childhood eating disorders and sake, Nancy is currently at work on a book about women who are fixing our broken food system. It will tell stories about regenerative agriculture and ocean farming, and the creation of local and regional food, dairy, and grain sheds. This “alternative food system” that she describes is way to restore ecosystem balance and feed the world in a healthier, more equitable, and climate-smart way.
Building a Community of Support
Through her travels and involvement in various organizations, Nancy has gained a community of lifelong friends, and she is grateful for the way that her writing allows her to grow and stay in touch with her community. Currently living in Toronto, she travels frequently to New York. For the past eight years she has given back to the New York hospital that treated her by volunteering as a lupus peer counselor for people who have been diagnosed with the disease. She has seen first-hand how powerful peer counseling can be, as it allows her to use her own personal experience with the disease to help patients around the world who are either newly diagnosed or struggling with ongoing symptoms.
Lately, Nancy also has been able to make powerful connections through her work in the sake industry. This last set of relationships, along with her involvement in Japanese-American culture, has led to what she considers a “very rich life.”
Photos: (left) With friends and award-winning sake book; (right) A sake pairing dinner in Brooklyn
Advice for Entering New Career
While Nancy has always had a defined idea of her professional goals, she did have advice to share for those now searching for their path in life. She believes that being passionate about one’s chosen career and believing in oneself even in the face of obstacles are the two most important factors when starting a career. She also suggested embracing change and setbacks because they are both unavoidable, and focusing less on monetary gain and more on “what you can offer the world” and bring to your community. “Be open to where life takes you, the experiences you have, and the people you meet,” she said.
We look forward to reading her upcoming books and her continued exceptional journalistic work!
Photo: Nancy participating in a panel discussion in New York City
Nancy Matsumoto Website