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Live and learn
A little English goes a long way
with actress Yumiko Shaku
Like most Japanese, Yumiko Shaku had an aversion to learning
English when she was in high school. Her classes were boring
and she was afraid to speak out loud. But now the 26-year-old
actress has put her fears behind her as she co-hosts NHK's
popular Monday night program Eigo Shabera Naito (You Should
Speak English) along with Patrick Harlan, Kazuya Matsumoto
and navigator Jon Kabira.
The 30-minute program features the happy-go-lucky group chatting
with Japanese celebrities who can speak English about their
experiences overseas. Foreign movie stars and singers visiting
Japan often make guest appearances. Shaku's first test
came last year shortly after the show debuted when producers
asked her to interview Cameron Diaz in English about Charlie's
Angels. "I was so nervous, but we managed. Diaz came
back this year for Shrek 2 and was amazed at how much my English
had improved. At least I don't have a complex about
it anymore," said Shaku, who most recently enjoyed
hamming it up with Will Smith when the actor planted ten kisses
on her at the premiere of I, Robot.
Shaku is constantly cheerful during this, her first interview
with English media. Born in Tokyo, she got a taste of English
when she had a one-month homestay in Oregon at 14. Her desire
to get better at English piqued when she starred in the 2001
Hong Kong movie Princess Blade. "I could understand
what the director was saying to me, but I couldn't
really express myself," she said. After starring in
Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla and the fantasy TV series Sky
High, Shaku was approached to be on Eigo Shabera Naito, now
in its second year.
"I was concerned at first, but knew I would have no
better opportunity to learn English, and it's such
a fun team," she says of Harlan and Matsumoto. "We
get a lot of feedback from viewers of all ages. At first,
many said their English was the same level as me and they
were really enjoying the chance to improve by watching the
program. It's like they were studying together with
me. A lot of viewers commented on the program we did on location
in South Korea."
Shaku says she like alternating between movies and Eigo Shabera
Naito. "Movies are make-believe; this program is more
natural, I can be myself," she explains. When she's
not working, Shaku likes to pursue her hobby of jazz dancing.
One growing area of interest for her concerns children's
issues, which stems from Sky High. "I played the gatekeeper
at a celestial world where the souls of those who were killed
by another or committed suicide were sent. I had to decide
whether they go to heaven or hell. The series made me think
more about life and death, especially the appalling increase
in violence toward children in Japanese society."
Photo credit: Chris Betros
A technology specialist based in Tokyo since 2001, Owen Jones
has long dreamed of trekking to the South Pole. On October
26, the 44-year-old Englishman will make that dream a reality
as he leaves Japan for Punta Arenas, Chile. From there, Jones
and his four teammates will fly to Patriot Hills, an icy airstrip
near the edge of Antarctica, before commencing their 1,170km
journey across the frozen continent. Once the trip is under
way, Jones' progress can be monitored at www.duesouth.jp.
How long, and how, have you trained?
I've been training since November last year, back-country
skiing in Hakuba, and doing general fitness training on the
Nordic Track ski machine, working out in the gym, and hiking
Mount Fuji and the Tanzawa trail numerous times. For the last
three weeks I've been pulling car tires every morning
around my local neighborhood in Nishi-Azabu.
What is the attraction with Antarctica?
I first remember being interested in Antarctica about 20 years
ago-I recall being very envious of a friend who managed
to over-winter at one of the British bases there. In 1997,
commercial tours to Antarctica became available, and I went
to the Antarctic peninsula on my honeymoon. I determined that
I would return at some point, although I certainly didn't
imagine then that I would undertake a walk of the magnitude
I am now preparing for.
How will you celebrate upon reaching the South Pole?
By planting some flags made by my children. I also hope to
have a shower at the American base there. After 60-70 days
working hard on the ice in the same clothes without any way
of cleaning ourselves, we will probably be rather smelly.
What's your favorite Antarctic creature?
It has to be the Emperor Penguin. The males incubate the eggs
while standing huddled together in the bitter cold of the
Antarctic winter-they don't eat and lose half
their body weight. They only get relieved when the female
returns to feed and raise the newly hatched chick three months
You are also doing this to raise money for charity. What
organizations will benefit?
I'm raising money for Save the Children, ActionAid
and Friends of the Earth.
What will you miss most about Tokyo while you're
Sleeping on a comfortable futon and not having to pull a 70kg
sled every day! CN
Photo credit: Ruth Davis