10.29.2015

Interview with Jewelry Marker and English Teacher Breann White

Jewelry maker and English teacher Breann White.
(Cross-posted on my blog).

Becoming a professional artist takes determination, dedication, an indefinite ride on the daily grind train. Additionally, more times than not, to pay the bills an artist must hold down a solid job, which may or may not fall in the realm of their interests. 

This isn't the case for Breann White. She loves arts and crafts and is able to use her talents as a preschool teacher in at an international school in Tokyo. "[B]eing a preschool teacher fits my personality," she says.

While working during the week, she is growing her jewelry business, Rozen Stones. She makes her wares at her apartment work desk.

"My dad really got me into music and I loved writing and drawing...I dabbled in crochet, sewing, painting, and I love them all...I love making things so...I decided to start making fashion jewelry...I wish I could do it all day."

Although working with children is quite a vocal job, growing up White was on the quieter side.

"I was...[a] shy girl. I loved to...read all the time. My first 'job' was volunteering at a library...I kept getting in trouble for reading and not shelving [the books]."

Nevertheless, she never felt isolated as an only child.

White's workstation.
"I never felt lonely, my parents were always very loving and I had my friends who were like sisters to me. I was pretty active in school activities as well."

White's reason for relocating to Japan three years ago after obtaining a degree in English was, like many, motivated by her interest in the culture. Aside from her love for the anime Sailor Moon, White's contact with an exchange student from Tokyo at her high school was a major impetus for her choice to see Japan for herself.

"She taught me all about Japan and the culture, and I knew I had to visit one day...after high school we stayed in contact and I decided my Sophomore year [of college] to study abroad in Tokyo. I got a chance to reunite with her again when I was studying, and I just fell in love with the city."
After she graduated from college, she moved to Japan's Gunma Prefecture to become an English teacher. There, White was able to partake in a variety of cultural activities like playing taiko drums. During her time in Gunma, she also had an opportunity to visit Kyoto and learn more about Japanese traditions.

"[I] went to all the shrines...I got to do mochitsuki where you pound and make mochi [pounded glutenous rice] for the new year...I [also] got to throw beans at the [bus drivers who dressed up as] demons for setsubun."

Naturally, language is a major aspect of a nation's culture; therefore, White is also trying her best to learn Japanese. She is not yet fluent, but took Japanese courses in college and continues to study in her free time. 

"I want to take the [Japanese Language Proficiency Test] JLPT but I wish it [were] offered more times a year. I alway seem to miss the deadline."

Although White enjoys her job, she admits it is occasionally somewhat hectic. As she teaches young ones, play and physical activity are major aspects of the classroom. Furthermore, the children typically stay at school longer than older students, who she also instructs after her day with the preschoolers is over. It is not unusual for her to return home from work late at night.

"The teachers have to arrive at 9:00 and prep till 9:45, then we play with the kids who are arriving. After that, we do a morning circle as a whole school and ask how everyone is, play a game, or do an activity. Then we split into our classes.

"I have the three-year-olds so we sing...song[s]. Then we have either speaking or "reading class" (we do the phonics sounds)...have lunch, go to the park or have P.E., then we have Theme [C]lass with a craft or a game, then story time...after an hour break [I teach] four after school classes for older children."

White has learned that the work culture in Japan is quite different than in the States or other Western countries. People speak in a circular, indirect fashion known as tatemae(建前), a form of speech where the speaker hides their true opinion, especially if they feel it will not be well received.

"You never really get a straight answer even if you ask someone a direct question, or they have to ask someone to ask someone to get back to you."

There are also many parties that, although not mandatory, are expected to be attended by workers. Those who choose not to go might feel a passive-aggressive reaction from their superiors.

"I feel like employers take things personal[ly] that they shouldn't...things are more direct in the [S]tates, people are more prone to give you constructive criticism...or tell you how they fell. [In Japan] there is also [a] norm of being expected to do overtime without expecting to be paid."

Work is also related to what White describes as one of the more demanding periods of her time in Japan when she switched jobs and had to move from Gunma to Tokyo. 

"I think my biggest [challenge] was moving to Tokyo...trying to find a job, an apartment, and moving all my stuff."

Still, White doesn't see the move as a negative aspect of her time in the country. Unlike some expats who feel Tokyo is too busy, crowded, and generally stress-inducing, White enjoys living in the city, which is arguably one of the most vibrant metropolises in the world.

"There is always something to do even if there isn't anything to do...Sometimes I just stumble upon random events, festivals, parades, street performers, [and] promos from just walking around...for me the good outweighs the bad."

A gorgeous bracelet made by White.
Luckily, between teaching and parties White still finds time to make jewelry for her online store Rozen Stones, which she opened earlier this year.

"I thought hard about my personal style...I have a love for roses...and the stones come from the 'stones' in jewelry. It was initially 'Rose and Stones' but that domain was taken so I change[d] the spelling to make it sound [similar]."

White's jewelry clearly suits the Japanese market quite well as the delicate, girly style is a popular motif in the country.


A pearl necklace with
silver embellishments.
Pom-pom dangle earrings.
"Its good that my own style aesthetics overlaps with what Japanese girls like. But I do like to have bold...pieces sometimes...If Rozen Stones takes off I want to open up a store front in Tokyo. I thought about [including] the States so that I could do importing as well for Japanese goods."
White isn't sure how long she will stay in Japan, and misses aspects of home like "food, family, driving, and owning pets", but she is sure she will accomplish something great in the future. She feels motivated by her business, students, and the many strong women in her family who are encouraging examples of success.

"There are a lot of strong women in my family...business owners, Masters and PhD holders...it's kind of hard to see myself not following in their footsteps."

As for other Black women who would like to come to Japan, White believes they should not be hesitant and follow their dreams.

"Just come! I feel like we [Black women] don't have a very strong presence here. Leave all your worries at the airport and open yourself up to a new adventure."

Breann White graduated from Texas Woman's University with a degree in BA in English. She currently works as an Assistant Language Teacher in Tokyo. When she's not working, she enjoys visiting cafes and restaurants, playing billiards, karaoke, and shopping. Her jewlery can be ordered from her Facebook page or website.

Jewelry Store Website: Rozen Stones
Jewelry Store Facebook Page: Rozen Stones

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