As a child, Nanami Chinatsu was interested in two future paths: performing on the stage as a dancer or helping people through social activities. Today she combines both these interests in her career. Moreover, her love of international culture has helped her to connect with people all over the world.
Chinatsu did not begin studying English formally until junior high school. However, she developed a natural awareness of other people and cultures thanks to her parents.
“They’d have parties and invite foreign colleagues. I also remember my mom reading English books and singing English songs to me when I was very small,” she recalls.
Chinatsu came up with a unique method of self-study in her last year of high school. “I would choose an English magazine article and look up the words I didn’t know. Then I’d practice reading it aloud — 100 times a day, every day for a week!” she explains. “Since I was also into performing, I treated it like a script, as if I was an announcer. The more I practiced, the smoother it got. In this way, I could remember lots of vocabulary, as well as natural expressions and sentence structure.”
She continued with this method into university, where she majored in English. A keen dancer, Chinatsu studied ballet from age 5 before switching to jazz dance as a teenager.
“I took a year off halfway through university and went to New York to study jazz dance. It was a dream come true!” she says.
After graduating from Sophia University, she chose a rather unusual way to further her interest in overseas culture and helping others. “I started entering beauty contests,” she says. “I was inspired by Miss Japan 2006, Kurara Chibana, who came second in Miss Universe that year. I was impressed by how she turned to humanitarian activities after that.” Chinatsu has represented Japan in five different contests, although none were as big as the Miss Universe pageant. Her favorite so far has been Miss Heritage in 2015, which was held in South Africa.
“The focus of this contest is sharing cultures and I spent time with over 50 young women, aged from 18 to the late 20s,” she says. “It’s nice if you can win the contest, of course, but the real prize for me was spending time with the other contestants from all over the world. Everywhere we went, we were chatting and laughing. It’s like a school graduation trip, except the participants are wearing high heels, not school uniforms!” she laughs.
Last year, Chinatsu started her own company to concentrate on a project to bring together teenagers from around the world. The project is called “proud story,” after the Japanese term jimanbanashi. It helps teenagers find friends by sharing stories of their experiences and daily lives. For now, Chinatsu is working with youth in four countries where she has connections — the Philippines, Uganda, Georgia and eSwatini (as the former Swaziland is now called).
“These days, most kids seem to have some access to social media and the Internet, so they can swap information online. However, my idea is to connect teenagers from different backgrounds and give them a chance to exchange their stories positively. Eventually I’d like to bring groups to Japan and give them a platform for making presentations about their lives, while also experiencing Japan,” she explains.
“My advice for anyone with a dream is not to set limits on yourself: Take any chance that comes to you. And enjoy yourself! It has to be fun,” says Chinatsu firmly. “In my case, my dream was to make friends all over the world. How do you do it? Start by respecting other cultures. In this way, you can break down stereotypes while building friendships.” (Louise George Kittaka)
Words to live by
東京都出身。上智大学英語学科卒業。在学中にニューヨークでダンスを学び、帰国後はミスコンの世界大会に参加。日本代表として世界60ヵ国の女性たちと肩を並べる。現在は日本文化を世界に広め、英語を教える活動や、世界の子どもたちと日本の子どもたちの交流を図るproud story プロジェクトを展開中。