An Interview with Helen Rindsberg

President of the Cincinnati Asian Art Society & long-time member of Japan America Society of Greater Cincinnati.

Helen Rindsberg is this month's feature for the Member Highlight Series. She is the 2019 recipient of the prestigious Kaneko Award. The Kaneko Award was established in 2017 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the America Japan Society of Tokyo (AJST). The Kaneko award is given to those who have worked for many years to promote people-to-people exchanges between Japan and the United States, especially those who have worked at the grassroots level. The award is named for the AJST's first president, Count Kentaro Kaneko, who graduated from Harvard University. Among his many noteworthy accomplishments, Kaneko convinced Theodore Roosevelt to oversee the treaty to end the Russo-Japanese War and worked for the League of Nations.  


What does it mean to you, receiving the Kaneko Award?  

[It] is a shock because it's recognition for something I love to do, that I feel is so important. As the globe becomes more interconnected, people break down and become more aware of other cultures, especially similarities. [For example] every culture makes art, and every culture makes religious art. It's finding the connections that help people expand their world view. 

What is your opinion on the key to mutual understanding between two cultures?

Open communication. Being open to learning something new. That's the key.

What would you say to others who are learning how to establish themselves as a global citizen to help them become more open to other cultures like the way that you are today?
Well, one, you've started the right way because you're willing. Then, [you should] connect with one of the many wonderful organizations here in Cincinnati. I mean, there is Japan America Society of Greater Cincinnati and Gifu Sister Cities but if you're not sure which country, go to the World Affairs Council. Go to the Asian Food Festival. Go to the new international festival being held on March 14 in Northern Kentucky. Start looking for things here in Cincinnati that can help you, just put your toe in. Meet a few people, ask questions about what you see, because most people are really happy to answer questions if you show the littlest bit of respect for what they're doing. There’s the Asian Art Society. If you're interested in the arts and you want to learn something, there are many events happening like the Evolution of Manga. There’s plenty of things here in the city**. You don't need to necessarily travel.
**List of Upcoming Events at Cincinnati Art Museum
March 12: Exhibiting Manga at the British Museum
March 22: Wu Zhongxiong from Shanghai to Ohio

April 26: Dance and The Arts of India

What motivates you to be so involved in the Japanese and Asian communities? What is your personal motivation?

I love the culture. I just love it. That’s it. That's the short answer. I just love Japanese culture. Yes, it's not perfect. What culture is? There's so much of it that resonates with me. 

What are some of your favorite things about Japanese culture? 

I've always been into the fine arts, but also folk art has always been appealing to me. So I'd say art like folk art and fine arts. Believe it or not, when I changed jobs, the economics of Japan has also remained a huge part of [my interest] because it's so interesting to see how the Japanese organize and solve problems versus the way America organizes and solves problems. 

In your opinion, why is it important to be involved with Japan America Societies? 

You learn so much. You meet such cool people. 

Why is it a good choice to become involved in a Japan America Society? 

Because the kind of events that Japan America Society puts on gives you a chance to meet with people. Oftentimes, it helps to have a topic to talk about. You know, you're not just sitting alone thinking what can I talk about with that person. Like oh, it's the New Year's celebration. Oh, there are some games we can talk about. There’s the quiz show at the Bonenkai, which was a riot. I hope you keep doing that. I think when you go to something where there's a common something that you can talk about, whether it's the music, art, or the dances, it's a start. It's an icebreaker. That’s what Japan America Society can provide.

What is your philosophy towards how you work?

My teaching philosophy is probably my basic philosophy. I’m always open to learning new things because I'd love to be able to share what I know with other people. If you've got a good story to tell, people can connect right away. Being open to those kinds of stories where just you immediately connect with people. 

What do you think is your greatest accomplishment? 

My students. That's what my husband says, your legacy is going to be your kids and your students. Probably at the top would be our homestays, because we've been so much closer to them and have had 24 hour contact. You know what, my greatest accomplishment is growing as a teacher every day. I would say because I'm not finished by a long shot. That's a goal that I have: to keep learning and growing all the time. Part of it is to help people connect whether it is to help my students get a better education, or here at the art museum to connect them with the artwork and have them go “that’s really cool. I think we'll come back.”

If you were on a deserted island, what three items would you want to bring? 

Writing materials. I do like to write. I'm working on the journal from our previous trip right now because we have journals for all our trips. Something to clean myself with, like soap! That's the Japanese and me, I guess. The third is my lifelong companion, Steve, because people are more important to me than things. 

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