Celebrating Magnificence: Eriko Jones – Rainbow Bridge Connector
by Renée Tillotson
Eriko believes in connections. She sees that her love for meeting people has led her along the life path she is meant to go on. Besides connecting people with animals, and she connects people of one culture with people of another culture.
Eriko trusts her intuition and the connections she makes. One day while still in high school in Yokohama, Japan, she saw a TV show about dolphins and killer whales. An animal lover and a good swimmer, she determined that becoming a dolphin trainer was the perfect job for her. So she set off for college in San Diego, California, home to SeaWorld.
While at college studying biology, Eriko lived with an American family for two years, a foundational time for her to connect with this culture. Attending the International Aquarium Conference, she met the president of the Long Beach aquarium who introduced her to important people at SeaWorld. Even though her goal was to train sea mammals, Eriko’s interpreting career started before she graduated from college when Sea World needed a Japanese translator.
In her 5 years at SeaWorld, she went from interpreting to working with vultures and owls, then assisted in rescuing seals and sea lions. Eventually she graduated to her dream – training dolphins, which she did for 3 ½ years. Eriko especially enjoyed working with her fellow trainers, passionate animal lovers like her. In a competitive situation, they welcomed her warmly, even though she was from another country. She made strong connections at SeaWorld, on both the human and animal sides.
Eriko feels happy for the dolphins – they lead a joyful life with restaurant-quality fish that Eriko herself would gladly take home and eat! Most of them were born at Sea World – the trainers and other dolphins are their family. They love their trainers, the attention they get and the learning they do.
Eriko reports that dolphins are curious, smart and cute and have the intelligence and playfulness of 3 year old kids, with a similar attention span. Their training needs to be fun and energetic, so they don’t get bored. A good dolphin trainer needs to be consistent and give clear messages. This unique skill set helped prepare Eriko for her next life change.
She left SeaWorld when the Navy gave her husband a sendoff from San Diego. She was ready to have children and excited to move to Hawaii! She and Jeff eventually gave birth to little Ken, now an adorable, precocious 6-year-old with a big vocabulary. Eriko is an exceptional mom, partly because of what she learned connecting with the playful dolphins!
Part of Eriko’s attraction to Hawaii stemmed from her interest in learning hula. Here again, she followed her connections. Her mom’s English teacher introduced Eriko to a non-profit Japanese hula group called ISEC, who needed a translator for their students of Kumu Malia Helela. Eriko has been translating for Malia ever since, both in Japan and, mostly, here in Hawaii. After a couple years, Malia began working at Still & Moving Center, and Eriko then made a new point of connection… with us!
To bridge the gap between Japanese students and Americans, Eriko has needed one foot in each of the two cultures. People from Japan, she notes, tend to be reserved, and they rarely share openly or soon after meeting someone. Eriko has preserved the Japanese qualities of being respectful and humble, highly honorable, and kind to others – putting others in front of oneself.
Eriko’s evolution towards openness began with her college home-stay with an American mother who had spent the first 20 years of her life in Africa, and a father from Croatia. Eriko watched this cross-cultural connection at work in the way the couple parented their five kids, ages 3-14 years in an American context. She benefited from the emphasis on self-confidence and speaking up. It still took her 16 years to feel confident publicly speaking English. Being married to an American and raising a bi-lingual little boy has no doubt helped her assimilation process. Look at her now on the microphone at Center Stage in Ala Moana shopping center presenting a group of hula dancers from Japan!
Around Eriko, the Japanese hula students become very comfortable and trusting; they enter the fast track to opening themselves up. Having opened herself up, she’s emotionally sensitive to others, so she knows how to convey feelings. Her translating comes from the heart, not just word by word.
She also holds a strong bond with and understanding of kumu Malia. When Eriko explains what Malia has said in English, her students often weep, they are so touched. Students are grateful to Eriko for being an ambassador to Malia, and they often also ask her counsel before communicating with their kumu. She’s the cushion in between the Japanese students and their teacher.
Her cross-cultural roots make Eriko particularly valuable as an interpreter. Eriko especially appreciates the spiritual aspect of hula and Hawaiian culture. She finds many similarities between Hawaiian and Japanese cultures through the shared appreciation with nature. In translating for Malia for the last decade, she’s gained an authentic insight into Hawaii. She finds Malia’s most important lessons to be humbleness, respectfulness and GRATITUDE! She watches Malia hold a circle of gratitude before the start of every class she teaches.
People lead such busy lives, both in Japan and USA, they often forget to appreciate others and nature. The essence of Hawaiian aloha, as conveyed by Mālia, is to constantly express gratitude for worlds of nature and of the people around us. Eriko now forms a bridge between three cultures: Japanese, American and Hawaiian.
This year, Eriko has taken a more active role in Still & Moving Center’s outreach to the Japanese people living both here and in Japan. She’s translated much of our website, and interprets when we have visiting groups from Japan. Together with Katharine Harts, Eriko is spearheading an AIReal Yoga class translated into Japanese. She can see, as I did not, how beneficial and appreciated our many services can be to people from Japan – serving as the connector!
Eriko recently became a role model. The daughter of one of Malia’s Japanese students came to Honolulu to study with Malia, holding the intention to become a kumu hula. By the time she left, however, she’d changed her goal: now she wants to become an interpreter, like Eriko!
Eriko never knew she could be a fashion model until we asked her to be in a photo shoot for our new Queen of Hearts clothing line last month. And she never knew she could act until she took part in our Ramayana enactment last week. As I have found out, this lady is full of fun and surprises, and always ready for life’s next adventure that will open new doors to the next rainbow bridge.