Ritsuko Tsunashima-Kukonu
riarumi talks to Ritsuko Tsunashima-Kukonu, Founder of Poohko Hawaii. Ritsuko tells us her feelings about Hawaii, where she has been living the past twelve years, her high times and low times so far in her life, her thoughts on how to deal with risks in life, and her opinions on gender equality in Japan.

Who is the real me?

I am woman in her 40s living in Honolulu. My work involves PR, Marketing, Social Media, Business Coordination, and so on, in Hawaii.

I follow my hunches a lot, and very quickly forget difficulties and hardships that stem from work. Every time I try something new, I ask myself, “will I regret it, if I don’t try now?”

I was always the kind of person who wanted friends from other countries and here in Hawaii, I have more local friends than Japanese friends.

What prompted you to move to Hawaii in 2003?

I moved there to live with my Hawaiian husband whom I met in Japan. I originally wanted to live in Japan, as I’m an only child. However, my husband had difficulties finding a job in his field in Japan, because his Japanese was limited.

In 2007, you founded Poohko Hawaii. Could you tell us about your company and what it is you do?

I didn’t have any friends when I first moved to Hawaii. I was also not allowed to work in Hawaii without a work permit or permanent resident status. I was using the internet and came across a blog. Blogging was very much in its early days in Japan back then and so I started doing that casually. I wrote about what I did, what I ate, what kind of shops were popular in Hawaii and local news. I updated my blog on a daily basis and found that my fan base was getting bigger. Social media or smart phones didn’t exist back then and so I used my digital camera to take photos of food, scenery, and so on, and uploaded them onto my blog. I had a hard time taking food pictures at restaurants though! People were staring at me, wondering what I was doing! But my husband was very supportive and, nowadays, everybody does this with smart phones.

I launched a company with my husband and officially started a website. We began by just managing the website. Then our business grew. We now do PR, marketing, social media marketing, business coordination, translation/interpreting, and consulting. We were very much jumping on the social media bandwagon! Based on the fact our own Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have a huge fan base, we now also manage our clients’(shopping centers, boutiques, etc.) social media.

Ritsuko Tsunashima-Kukonu
You have also been working as a freelance interpreter and translator since 1996. Could you tell us about that and how you got into it?

My dream was to become an interpreter. I started as a translator of written materials, as I had a sort of misconception that spoken translation – interpreting – is a job that only people who have lived abroad for a long period of their lives can do. But I couldn’t give up my dream. I started going to an interpreter training school and gradually entered into the interpreting industry.

What compels you to continue to work and live in Hawaii? What do you enjoy most about life over there?

Hawaii is a place I found myself comfortable working in. Usually, if you are an interpreter or a college professor, you probably wouldn’t do other jobs. However, my friend who is a college professor also does a sales job at a retail store. He doesn’t have any financial problems or anything, he just like meeting new people through his sales job.

This goes to show that you can’t judge people by what job they do, especially if you live in Hawaii. A lot of people have ‘different faces’. That’s the interesting aspect of living here. In terms of myself, I do media, business coordination, and interpreting/translation, but I also sometimes help my friend at the KCC farmer’s market.

Ritsuko Tsunashima-Kukonu
You studied English Literature and Linguistics at Otsuma Women’s University. How was the university experience for you? Do you feel your time in university has proven useful in your career since then?  

I don’t think my time in college directly affected my career. We didn’t have so many things like English conversation class at school and I was not able to speak English fluently, like I can now. English/American literature also didn’t influence my career either.

So what advice do you have for any readers who are thinking they would like to pursue a certain career, but are perhaps afraid of the many risks and obstacles in doing so?

Trying something new and difficult always comes with risks. But failing to give it a shot makes you feel regret. I started pursuing my dream of becoming an interpreter, because I thought I would regret it if I didn’t start now.

To those who are pursing your career: keep trying and your dream will come true. Even if it looks deterring or difficult, and even if the goal or destination may be a bit different from what you originally planned, you will be able to find something you like.

You’re bilingual in Japanese and English. How does being bilingual serve you personally in your career, and how important generally is speaking English?

I feel my English skills broadened my potential, for example, with meeting foreign people. Knowing the ideas, opinions and cultures of foreigners, you will be able to truly see the world. And by doing so, you can also better appreciate the good sides of Japan.

Ritsuko at the Hawaii Five-0 Premier
Ritsuko at the Hawaii Five-0 Premier

What are some of the main difficulties and obstacles have faced so far in your life?

I have never thought there were difficulties in my career. I am the kind of person who doesn’t interpret hardships as hardships. (laughs)

In my private life though, I lost my mother in January. I really experienced deep sadness and feelings of loss. However, I read spiritual books and am feeling much better now.

What have been some of the highlights of your life so far for you?

A particular highlight would be first starting my interpreting job. I remember I would cry a little, just from thinking, “I am doing what I was dreaming of.” Some career and interpreter/translator magazines even featured me as a successful career woman.

Also the fact that I can work at POOHKO HAWAII in Hawaii now is an ongoing highlight.

How is home life? What do you do to relax?

I read spiritual books, travel, and hang out on the beaches.

Do you feel there is a gender equality imbalance in Japan?

Yes, there still is. I worked really hard when I started working at 22, at which time the Equal Labor Law was also enacted. I wonder if women could go back to work without having any problems, after taking maternity leave in Japan? In Hawaii, there is no problem with that, most of the time. If a company discriminates against female workers based on that, the company will be punished by law. Japan may have the same labor laws and regulations, but things are a bit different in the actual working environment. Having a child and pursing a career at the same time is not a ‘greedy’ thing for women to have. They should be able to do both if they want.

How do you think both women in Japan can address this? And how can men address it?

Women should be confident in both having and raising children (if they wish to) and pursing their career. More men are becoming supportive towards women with raising children, but it’s still not enough. When my husband and I were visiting Japan, we saw a woman taking care of her crying child on the airplane, while holding another baby. But her husband was playing a game on his phone. To us, his attitude clearly seemed like, “comforting children is a woman’s job”. My husband got upset, asking why this Japanese husband doesn’t want to help his wife with taking care of their kids. I’m not sure if they feel embarrassed or are just blissfully selfish. But they definitely need to be more supportive.

What advice would you like to share with young women who are at the very start of their careers, or are yet to begin?

Get to know society, and learn its social systems first. Acquire a basic knowledge of many things and then start to explore your own field in more depth. You may feel deterred along the way but the things you learn will always be helpful later in your life and you will be able to use them in your career.

Are there any famous quotes or philosophies on life that you particularly like?

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” – Helen Keller

It’s a funny thing about life; if you let go of one thing, something better will come.” – William Somerset Maugham

Ritsuko Tsunashima-Kukonu