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  4. 2024.7.12

Charting the journey from the UN to writingノンフィクション作家、川内有緒さん

© COURTESY OF ARIO KAWAUCHI
Level

ノンフィクション作家、川内有緒さんの経歴は自由でユニークだ。日大芸術学部から米大学院でのラテンアメリカ研究へ。米コンサル会社などを経て、 倍率2,000倍の国連職員になるも、5年半で退職し、作家に転身。軽やかに自由に人生を楽しむ川内さんにその原動力を伺った。


When you’re very young, it’s easy to have more than one dream and to wonder about pursuing more than one career path. But it seems like the older you grow, the fewer options you have. But that doesn’t necessarily have to be so, according to Ario Kawauchi, who switched lanes from working at the United Nations to becoming an award-winning writer. “When I started, I didn’t have any grand plans,” laughs Kawauchi. “I just had enthusiasm and curiosity. But I did put in a lot of work. In hindsight, every drop of effort became a part of who I am now.”

She adds that she based many of her decisions on her interests. “After graduating from a university in Japan, I went to the U.S. and came in contact with international politics. I didn’t want to go to work for a Japanese company so I went to graduate school in Washington, D.C.” This was Georgetown University, where she majored in Latin American studies. “My father had gone on a lot of business trips to Latin America and I was curious about what it was like there.” Graduate school turned out to be the toughest experience she had ever endured. “I was studying Spanish at the same time that I was writing papers in English. I was studying and prepping all the time.”

After graduating from Georgetown, she went to work for a consulting firm in D.C. and went on to do analysis work for a Japanese think tank. “But before turning 30, I decided to stop being a work nomad. I sent out my resume to the U.N. in Paris and was accepted. It was my first grown-up job.”

Kawauchi grew up in Tokyo’s Ebisu Ward. An American family with three teenagers lived next door, and Kawauchi had English lessons from the eldest brother. “That was my first contact with English.”

After the family returned to the U.S., Kawauchi’s mother sought other teachers in the neighborhood to ensure her daughter continued learning English. “Until high school, I studied under a strict teacher who taught real, conversational English. We had to read and recite O. Henry stories aloud. Back then, it was grueling.” But then the teacher would give her a treat, like taking her to a Hollywood movie. “We saw Stand By Me and later I would ask what the dialogue meant and discuss it with her. I appreciate her effort.”

What’s her big takeaway from living and working abroad? “I think it’s a willingness to embrace differences between people, whether they’re cultural, racial, physical. And I’ve never had the habit of overthinking my life. I got used to just pulling the plug and making a go of it.”

Kawauchi worked for the U.N. for five-and-a-half years. “It was a mind-blowing experience. My colleagues were from all corners of the globe and many spoke at least one other language besides French and English. I learned a lot about life and work. On the other hand, I discovered that the U.N. is a very bureaucratic organization. There’s an incredible amount of red tape involved in everything. I needed to secure a budget and do the paperwork to send out even a single package from the office. And meetings came with a lot of arguing because everyone was so opinionated.”

When she thought about sticking it out at the U.N. until she grew older however, Kawauchi balked. “I couldn’t envision myself at 50, still mired in U.N. bureaucracy.” But while working in Paris, she had been working on a collection of essays. When a publisher in Japan expressed interest, she said her goodbyes and left for Tokyo. “After that, my daughter was born. I got a lot of invitations to go and do aid work in developing countries but I turned them all down. I knew I couldn’t take any more risks with my life. For my daughter’s sake, I needed to be stable and responsible.”

Which is an adventure in itself. (Kaori Shoji)

Words to live by

Bon voyage.
フランス語の「ボン・ボヤージュ」は「よい旅を」という意味です。仕事でも日常でもいい旅をしていたい。自分で自分の人生をつかさどることができる人が言う言葉だと思います。皆さんもぜひ、よい旅を!
 

プロフィール

川内有緒 (かわうち ありお)
1972年、東京都出身。日本大学芸術学部卒業後、米国ジョージタウン大学で修士号を取得。米国企業、日本のシンクタンク、仏パリの国連機関勤務後、作家に。『バウルを探して 地球の片隅に伝わる秘密の歌』(幻冬舎)で新田次郎文学賞を、『空をゆく巨人』(集英社)で開高健ノンフィクション賞を受賞。近著に『目の見えない白鳥さんとアートを見にいく』(集英社インターナショナル)。

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