JapanCulture•NYC recently welcomed aboard Dannie Compono, aka kawaiidchan, as Arts and Entertainment Editor. A College of Staten Island graduate with a Bachelors Degree in Studio Arts and experience in applied/studio arts and art history, Dannie specializes in oil painting and traditional anime/manga style illustrations. She is currently the Office Administrator at Art Lab, Inc, Staten Island’s premier fine and applied arts school and gallery, and she has exhibited her works in many galleries. She hit the ground running with JC•NYC, writing a review of When Marnie Was There as well as announcements of upcoming events. Let’s take a moment to meet Dannie and to find out how she became a Japan enthusiast.
JapanCulture•NYC: The obvious first question is how did you become interested in Japanese culture?
Dannie Compono: Well, it was a lot of reasons – but I suppose how it all began was that, when I was a child, I watched cartoons such as Dragon Ball
Z and Sailor Moon and when I would look them up on the Internet, it soon became evident that they weren’t made here, but in Japan and were in Japanese! Once I discovered that, I looked up other anime, since I really took a liking to the way the story lines were so in-depth and the characters were so unique looking and relatable, unlike most American cartoons at that time. I watched anime in their original Japanese with subtitles and just fell in love with the language, culture, and food. I remember that my favorite aspects of the culture and such that were introduced to me through anime I frequented were – and this is going to be a weird list – hot springs, bento boxes, ramen, onigiri, Japanese school uniforms and tea ceremonies. Of course, my love of Japan and its culture is more mature these days!
JapanCulture•NYC: You’re a visual artist who has participated in group exhibitions in New York. Have any Japanese artists influenced your work? Is there a particular style within Japanese art that you like the most?
Dannie Compono: Yes, I have shown my paintings, mixed media and illustration pieces in various galleries in Staten Island. Recently, I have shown some of my anime/manga illustrations, and they have surprisingly gotten a lot of attention! I was so proud and even sold my very first fan illustration – in a gallery setting – of the character Ritsuka from the anime series/manga Loveless, created by female mangaka Yun Koga.
As for Japanese artists/art that have been an inspiration to me – I would have to say, which may seem surprising, the artists from the 1920s and 1930s in Japan. I did a study last year on the style of that time and fell in love with the big sparkly eyes, long slender figures, flowing hair and bright colors. Tezuka Osamu is one of the artists that comes to mind in this era; he started creating manga in the early 1930s at a young age and even as the years went on, he kept the similar old style, which I admired him for.
As for other Japanese artists I like, two recent ones, of whom I came across around the same time and share a similar style, are illustrators Higuchi Yuko and Ishiguro Ayako. They both have a whimsical, modern, playful style – with a lot of animal-oriented works, mainly cats, in fantastical situations and environments. They both incorporate Japanese mythology and folklore into their pieces as well, which I am a huge fan of (kappa, tanuki and kitsune being some of my favorites). I also love their use of color and their line weights. But I also, of course, have a huge admiration for Japanese ukiyo-e, painters, woodblock printers, such as Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Kuniyoshi.
JapanCulture•NYC: What prompted you to take Japanese language classes? Do you feel that understanding the language helps you understand the culture as well? If so, how?
Dannie Compono: Growing up watching anime was what peaked my interest in the Japanese language. I enjoyed the way it sounded and dare I say, I thought it sounded cool/cute? So in junior high/high school, I started to take out Japanese language books from the library and would practice some on my own; I even started teaching myself calligraphy and would draw out kanji (even though I didn’t know what they meant at the time). I thought the written language was beautiful. I became discouraged when none of the schools, even my college, offered Japanese language courses. Then, a couple of years ago, I came across Japan Society and found that they had affordable language courses – I saved up and jumped right on it!
Yes, definitely, knowing the language helps to connect to any culture, in aspects such as being able to read certain texts, cook certain recipes, travel to places you didn’t think were accessible prior – knowing the language of a culture you are interested in really opens doors for higher learning. Traveling to Japan again after learning so much of the language will be so much more enjoyable!
JapanCulture•NYC: As a native New Yorker, how do you describe the growing popularity of Japanese culture in the city? What are the trends that you’ve observed?
Dannie Compono: As a native New Yorker, born and raised in Staten Island, when I was younger and just getting into anime/manga, there really wasn’t a huge demand for them yet, so they were very hard to find. I would have to travel to Chinatown in Manhattan to get a majority of my anime DVDs, merchandise and cosplay items. As the years went on and anime became popular on television, especially with the Toonami block on Cartoon Network came around in 1997, then stores on Staten Island and all over began having anime and manga sections that grew larger and larger. Now it has become a more household name, I think. As far as other aspects of Japanese culture growing, such as Japanese restaurants popping up – izakaya, ramen shops and sushi bars – Manhattan has many high-rated establishments and [going there] has become the “hip” thing to do in the city. There are some of the more underground places like Decibel and Sakagura, having a certain desired authentic vibe to them, which makes you feel like you have been immediately transported to Tokyo! On top of the restaurants and shops specializing in anime/manga/collectibles/cosplay, there are many Japanese art galleries in Manhattan, as well as Japanese community centers, which hold events, gallery openings, and language courses – which I think are the most important. It is a good way to become immersed in Japanese culture without actually being there. All of this has definitely grown in the last 10 years in New York, I think.
JapanCulture•NYC: I know it’s always hard to answer “What-is-your-favorite-Japanese-__________?” questions, so how about I simply ask you to give me a list of your Top 5 favorite aspects of Japanese culture.
Dannie Compono: Wow, this is a tough one! If I had to limit it to just the Top 5 . . .
The first would be the simplistic, modern architecture in homes. I love tatami flooring, low tea tables (I own one, and it is in my living room!) and ikebana arrangements.
Second would be anime/manga. Depicted in the collage [above] are two of my favorites – on the left, Berserk, by mangaka Muira Kentarou and on the right, Hellsing, by mangaka Hirano Kouta.
Third would be Japan’s language. Depicted in the collage is the kanji character 愛 [ai], which means “love”
Fourth would be Japanese cuisine. It is way more than just sushi. One of my most favorite dishes, depicted in the collage, is unagi don, which is eel over rice, smothered in a savory sauce. But aside from that, other honorable mentions are sushi, onigiri, omurice, ikayaki, okonomoyaki and takoyaki. Just to name a few!
Lastly, it would be the beauty of Japan – such as the short-lived sakura blossoms in spring, or the ever-changing face of Mt. Fuji.
JapanCulture•NYC: Finally, what is your primary goal as a contributing writer/editor of JapanCultureNYC?
Dannie Compono: Being a Japan enthusiast in the language and all aspects of culture, I was interested in [finding something] that meets my two passions: Japan and art. Over the years, I have attended many Japanese-related events in the NYC area, ranging from movie screenings, culture conventions, restaurant openings, concerts, festivals and more. I also enjoy meeting new people with similar interests & networking. I am very fortunate to be part of the JapanCulture•NYC team and I look forward to helping the site grow and thrive! There is definitely a growing Japanese scene here in NYC, and now I finally feel like I am a part of it!
Stay tuned for more articles by Dannie and be sure to follow her on Instagram at @kawaiidchan!