- Ms. Ando, you studied abroad as an exchange student and backpacked around the world while a student at Keio. When did you first become interested in the world outside Japan?
I first traveled abroad when I was 16. My high school sent students to China as part of an international exchange program sponsored by the Tokyo metropolitan government. I loved the Chinese author Lu Xun, so I applied as soon as I could and was lucky enough to be selected as a member of the delegation that year. (Unfortunately, the program is currently on hiatus.) My first time overseas was a series of surprises, and I think that excitement sparked my decision to go backpacking after I started at Keio.
I had always loved English, so I quickly made international friends in elementary school, and I never missed an episode of NHK Radio's English conversation program when I was in junior high. Then in high school, I belonged to the intercollegiate club, where we performed plays in English. My father was a social studies teacher who taught world history, so his stories about European history and ancient China from the Records of the Three Kingdoms gave me a glimpse into the world outside of Japan. As a teenager, I dreamed about what it would be like to go back to the 16th century and join Spain's so-called "Invincible Armanda", so much that I ended up taking Spanish as a second foreign language at university. [laughs]
- Why did you choose Keio University?
I've always loved writing, and I was under the impression that many good writers had graduated from Keio. I wrote poetry in elementary school, novels in junior high, and screenplays in high school, which my friends made into films. At the time, it was just fun and games, but I enjoyed the creative process, and later I longed to be a published author. I got into other universities, too, but for some reason, my mother was adamant that Keio would be a good fit for me. My mother has good intuition, so I'm glad I took her advice and enrolled here.
- Please tell us about your student life after coming to Keio.
When I started university, I realized that I wasn't the type for classroom lectures. [laughs] That's when my days of backpacking began, inspired by Kotaro Sawaki's Midnight Express, which is considered the gold standard of Japanese travelogues. I worked out a cycle where I would get a part-time job, save money, and go on a trip abroad. In Southeast Asia, I could live for two months on 100,000 yen. After broadening my horizons and meeting all kinds of people overseas, I realized that I was much better suited to learning through fieldwork. And before I knew it, I had visited more than 20 countries around the world. But when I was in Japan, I made a lot of friends in my major and in my Spanish classes. I'm a people person, which has proved to be a valuable asset both at school and when traveling overseas.
- Did you attend any undergraduate seminars?
I joined Prof. Naoya Izuoka's seminar on Latin American political studies, but to be honest, I wasn't really a diligent student. Just before the seminar started, I left Japan for more than a month to participate in an international exchange project called "Ship for World Youth," sponsored by the Cabinet Office (then the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications). After befriending several Dutch passengers, I realized that I, too, wanted to study abroad for myself. When I asked Prof. Izuoka what he thought I should do, he said that after a year of being my professor, he agreed that I was the fieldwork type. He told me that I should go and get the experience but that I still had to write my graduate thesis. [laughs] This allowed me to devote myself to my preparations for studying abroad, and to this day, I am still grateful to Prof. Izuoka for his encouragement.
- In your final year at Keio, you studied abroad at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
Even though everyone around me was busy looking for a job, I decided to study abroad because I got into my school of choice. And going overseas afforded me many invaluable experiences.
I headed to Amsterdam at the end of August 2001. That year, the Netherlands was the first country in the world to pass a law allowing same-sex marriage. It also passed a law allowing assisted suicide the same year. Then, less than two weeks after I arrived, the September 11 terrorist attacks rocked the United States. International students from all over the world—from the US and Israel as well as the Middle East—had heated debates about the implications of 9/11. Later, in 2002, the Netherlands decided to adopt the Euro as its official currency. I will never forget withdrawing money at a bank ATM with my fellow international students on the night of New Year's Eve in 2001, the moment the Dutch guilder changed to the Euro. My time abroad was a period of enormous change and upheaval worldwide. While commonplace nowadays, concepts like work-sharing were novel to me when I first came across them studying abroad. The diversity of work styles I learned about in the Netherlands has left a lasting impact on my life ever since.
- You've introduced yourself and your flexible approach to work in your catchphrase: "Occupation: Mifuyu Ando."
After becoming a freelancer, I tried to find an approach that suited me best. I jumped off the deep end into uncharted waters, exploring new fields without limiting the subject matter of my work. I realized that I could use my inexperience to my advantage. Often my ideas and suggestions were welcomed as thinking outside the box, and I was involved in the planning and production of several different businesses. But actually, the era of "Occupation: Mifuyu Ando" is over for me. I suspended all of my social media activity in 2017 and am now solely focused on my writing.
- Now you are writing books to get your message out into the world.
That's right. I feel that the era of social media and internet content is over, and I have returned to what I first aspired to be—a published author. I still have my blog, but I only use it for updates and announcements, not as a medium for sharing my thoughts like before.
When I just started out freelancing, I connected with people over social media, which was the only communication tool I had at my disposal. On the other hand, I was also reminded of the unnecessary competitiveness and anxiety that social media brings. After much deliberation, I quit social media cold turkey in 2017. After spending about two and a half years away from the internet, I was able to re-center myself without being bombarded by information. I think I've finally figured out what I want out of life now and in the future.
Actually, I just started attending a screenwriting school in Tokyo last week. Even though I had some experience as a teenager, this is my first time writing proper screenplays. And it's a different genre from the business and self-help books I've written so far. I wasn't confident that I could produce work as pure as what I wrote when I was a teenager. I was afraid that I had lost my innocence in a way, that I would start making calculations in my brain and end up staring at a blank page, unable to type anything at all. But the feeling of fear itself made me realize that this is something that I want to do. Because you have to really care about something for it to scare you. I’m in my 40s now, but I'm taking lectures alongside twenty-something college students. [laughs] I try to work on my scriptwriting every week, and it's a lot of fun because I know this is the path that I've chosen for myself.
- Could you say a few final words to current students?
You may be feeling anxious about the COVID-19 pandemic. But you could also say that you are currently witnessing a significant turning point in history. Working remotely will become more and more commonplace, and we are starting to find new ways of learning and working. I want students to enjoy this era of change and retain their sense of wonder and curiosity. Keio University was founded amid the turmoil at the end of the Edo period and has remained a place of learning that thrives in times of change, as initiatives like the establishment of Shonan Fujisawa Campus clearly illustrate. Learning at Keio University provides immense opportunities, and I encourage you to look toward the future and remember that there is value in doing the things that scare you.
- Thank you for your time.