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Nanami Chinatsu: Dancer, Entrepreneur, Change Maker

[Interview by Delaney F.]
This week, we spent some time with Nanami Chinatsu who you may have seen commanding the audience at our ON-1 Vol. 1 event [link]. Although her passion for art and performance has led her to walking the runway for world-renown fashion designers, she also finds the time to be a founder of her own global social impact organization. Nanami made time to sit down with us to catch up on her latest projects before hopping on a plane to her Miss WM 2018 competition in Germany.

ON-1: Thanks for making the time to connect with us again! Could you give our audience a quick intro into who you are and what you are currently working on?

Nanami: Hi, I’m Nanami Chinatsu, born in Japan, based in Tokyo. I have a background as a dancer, pageant model and English teacher, but now I am mainly an entrepreneur working on a project named “proud story” [link]. It’s an international project with the purpose of connecting and uniting the world to empower youth through social support, to put it simply, to let people make friends around the world.

ON-1: How did you break into modeling and what people have you worked with that made a big impact on your career?

Nanami: I have to say that pageant models and fashion models are a bit different, I actually don’t know much about the fashion industry. Pageant models are more for community and culture. As an international pageant model I could join many events in various countries, and I had the chance to walk for many local designers as a representative of Japan. In India I was in Sari, in South Africa I was in African dress, but I still need to be identified as “Japanese”, because that’s what they want to see when they have a fashion show with international pageant models. And it’s so fun! Girls get excited to be in the local clothing, and we made a show of amazing dresses complemented with different skin color, eye color, and body type. We all look different and we all look beautiful.

ON-1: What would you say are the biggest drivers in expressing yourself creatively and how do you manage to do them both in Japan and abroad? Was there a moment in your career that set you on your current path?

Nanami: I haven’t thought about what drives me to do it. I started dancing when I was five, I was just being young and following my inner-self without reason, and then performing and expressing became a part of me. When I was a child I had a dream of dancing in New York City. I was able to realize this in Manhattan, where I continued to train myself. I also became a member of a local dance company, and assistant teacher for children.

After coming back to Japan, I was lucky to join a performance company showcasing Japanese culture. We had performance opportunities in many countries, but my first show with them, the one in Kuwait, was very inspiring. You know, their culture is so different from what is considered Japanese. Even though it was an official project by the Japan Foreign Ministry, we found that the audience wasn’t fully welcoming to us as female performers at the start since our performance was not something seen in their culture. But after the show they were so excited and we got a standing ovation. It was really a touching moment. We made some cultural adjustments, like changing costumes and covering up more to respect their cultural tastes. They didn’t push us out, we didn’t push in, both of us compromised a bit, or in other words, walked a bit closer, and both of us were very happy after the show. The show and the art made the border between us more flexible.

ON-1: You seem to combine fashion, art, music and more into your expression as an artist/performer. What is it about those mediums that inspire you the most?

Nanami: That’s a very difficult question, but I think they are already connected and affect each other, even before I combine them. My role, essentially, has always been the visual part. I sometimes have creative directors, musicians and other artists tell me what they want to make happen, or I use my own inspiration. In any case visual artists need to groom what matters to get the best visual impact possible and my work is to make myself fit the role that is asked of me. Not just training my movement and keeping my shape but even eating Karaage [Japanese fried chicken] to make me gain weight when need be. I also work with other professional artists and creators involved in music and fashion. It’s always fun and exciting to create something with other people.

ON-1: Getting back to your current project, it’s clear that you have a deep interest in social impact. Could you tell us about the “proud story” project and why you decided to become a founder of a global social impact project? How do you balance local and international culture to bring value to different communities?

Nanami: “proud story” is a project to exchange “positive and proud” stories and interact with people in different places around the world. Currently, I am working on this project from Japan. My partners are the social organizations in Philippines, Georgia, Uganda and Eswatini. It’s been half a year now since I officially launched it. Right now we are doing video presentation programs and live-streaming events. My clients are individuals, communities, schools and companies who want to gain international understanding, and are actively learning English or mingling in an international environment. My partners and the children under my partners are involved in the program and events, with the mission to let Japanese people learn more about their country, culture or themselves and entertain the “audience”. When they achieve the mission they are paid for their “work”, it’s the money they earned with their action.

I came up with the idea first simply because I thought it would be fun if the children I’ve known in different communities can get connected and become friends. But I want it to give an economic benefit to the supported children too, because it’s another thing to that should be addressed. However, I want the project to avoid a hierarchy and a poor image toward the supported community or people/children, and that is my priority. I couldn’t find a project that could grasp everything in my wish list, so I started it myself. International culture is the set of local cultures and each culture should be equally respected. We all have different beautiful characteristics, and different blessings. If we can see people, communities or countries with that value, I believe anything international would be more beautiful and friendly.

ON-1: Have there been any special moments that made you realize why you put so much energy into the “proud story” project?

Nanami: I’ve been a member of an NGO supporting educational programs in the Philippines since I was in a college. I’ve witnessed the joy and pride in the community and in the people, even though their economic status is not easy. Actually, I myself was a supported child, and I find it uncomfortable that people expect me to tell sad stories instead of proud stories. I find it strange that a person or a particular country or community can be called “privileged” or “underprivileged”, and that this hierarchy effects the image and pride of the people or community.

A memorable moment, and the inspiration of the proud story project, was the pageant. You can’t imagine how beautiful it is to be with your friends from every part of the world and to talk and laugh and dance together. Every single girl proud of her country and herself, no matter of its economic or political power, showcases her own or cultural beauties and wonders to make her people even more proud. At the final show there’ll be a winner, chosen by how well the girl can represent her country, but during the preparation term there’s no “strong country” or “weak country”, no GDP matters. We always bond during the pageant, I have met many life-time friends there. Contrary to what you might assume, the girls are friendly and drama free.

The pageant was a really colorful and powerful experience, and I started dreaming about creating that kind of project where can show your pride to the world regardless of your economic status. Now I am trying to launch an online platform and organize an international stage, but not just as charitable imagery. I’m not pushing the phrasing of “Let’s save the world, support the needy” – rather I want to communicate “Let’s make friends around the world, support each other and together make the world beautiful.”

ON-1: How does being in Shibuya/Tokyo play a role in your creativity and expression? Do you consider it your hometown or is there somewhere else where your roots are?

Nanami: I was born and raised in Tokyo, but my hometown is in a city on the outskirts. When I was younger, Shibuya was always a place that popped up on TV. Now I spend a lot of the time in there, it’s very exciting and inspirational, but for my place to settle I like to be surrounded by greenery. Living in the contrast of the city and nature keeps me active but relaxed.

ON-1: Do you have anything else you would like to share with the ON-1 community? And where is the best place to follow your progress?

Nanami: I have Facebook pages for “proud story” [link] and “Nanami Chinatsu” [link] so you are most welcomed to follow them. As of now I am focusing on “proud story” so my performer page isn’t that active. ON-1 seems to have many cool and interesting events so it’ll be great if we can collaborate in the future, and if so you must come check it out! “proud story” also has its official website [link], so if you are interested please check and become friend with us!