Brad Hammond, Engaged Learning Coordinator for the Center for Japanese Studies (CJS), has had a connection with Japan from a very young age. When he was in the 1st grade, his family moved to Japan and some of his earliest memories are from this period in his life. His mother, who taught English from home and at a school in Tokyo, would take Brad with her to many of her classes. He remembers growing up surrounded by her library of Japanese books and dictionaries.

Brad’s father is Filipino and immigrated to the U.S. when he was 19 years old. He spent a majority of his career working on naval bases for a chain of department stores and, at one point, was working in Seattle, WA. This is where he met Brad’s mother. Once married, Brad’s parents moved to the Philippines which is where Brad was born in 1991. They were living on a naval base there when a volcano erupted near the base and destroyed it. Forced to leave, they moved back to the U.S. and ended up living in Virginia. Brad was only one month old. From there, they moved around extensively – to Guam, Japan, Florida, and Seattle.Eventually, Brad’s father moved to Italy and Brad would end up staying in Seattle, WA with his mother where he lived for his middle and high school years. Brad’s father moved fairly frequently, and Brad would visit him wherever he happened to be during the summer months.

Having enrolled in Japanese language courses since 7th grade, Brad’s interest in Japanese studies continued to grow as he worked his way through high school. As an undergraduate, he attended Florida International University in Miami where he double-majored in International Relations and Japan Studies and he obtained his Master’s Degree at the University of Michigan from the Center for Japanese Studies in April 2015. Brad had taken a position with the Toyota Technical Center in Saline, MI in January 2015 and continued to work there through September 2015. He worked for Toyota’s Corporate Strategy Office using his Japanese language skills to do translation and interpretation for contracts, vehicle agreements, etc.

When the Engaged Learning Coordinator position became available at CJS, it was sure to be a perfect fit for Brad. He took the position with CJS in September 2015, and has since worked on coordinating study abroad programs in Japan, running the Japan Internship Initiative, handling community outreach and engagement, and producing/hosting the CJS Radio Hour podcast (available on iTunes and WordPress). One common thread in his current work is thinking about ways in which Japan intersects with community revitalization concerns in the U.S. In Japan, there are a large number of cities dealing with postindustrial problems like population outflow, mainly consisting of the younger population moving to larger cities in search of work, as well as population decline which is due to the fact that the death rate is higher than the birth rate in Japan. These realities have caused a lot of issues in rural and smaller cities. The parallels that can be made with the current situation facing many cities in Japan and what’s happened in Detroit after the decline of manufacturing are plenty.

Ishinomaki is a small regional city that has its own university but is surrounded by a rural region. Since the late 1980s, the city has struggled with problems associated with population decline, a lack of consumers, suffering businesses, a lack of economic opportunities, and so on. All this has led to population loss, economic decline, and the emergence of vacant real estate. After the tsunami hit in 2011, the problems only got worse, as was the case with many other cities in Japan. Brad knows the situation in Ishinomaki well because he had the opportunity to intern with a nongovernmental organization (NGO) called Ishinomaki Laboratory while he was working toward his grad degree.

Seeing the clear parallels between the situation facing Ishinomaki and Detroit, Brad initiated a new program which has come to fruition as a threephase short-term study abroad which will be offered through U-M next year. The program will consist of a pre-departure session which takes place on campus, travel to Ishinomaki to work at an NGO, and concluding with work on a community service project at an NGO in Detroit.

One major goal of this program is to push students to stop thinking of a foreign country as being an “other,” but rather to think and approach the study of foreign countries in terms that recognize the commonalities and problems being faced worldwide. For this reason, the program will seek to create a link between two postindustrial cities working toward revitalization through innovative initiatives in each city. The Ishinomaki Laboratory, where Brad interned, is a workshop that can be accessed by the local community and aims to provide opportunities for creative innovation. Since opening in 2011, the laboratory has seen inventive use of the space as they’ve worked to design and build furniture. Using the resources available in the laboratory, a local group has managed to launch a furniture and manufacturing company that employs local people to make furniture. Similarly, the Brightmoor Maker Space in Detroit is angling itself to become a community workshop for building skills and as an incubator for new enterprise in 2016. The idea behind this program is to promote dialogue and best practices sharing between two projects that share a common goal of promoting economic vitality through creativity.

With postindustrial revitalization a clear passion for Brad, he is considering the possibility of pursuing the field academically sometime in the future. As new and creative ways of revitalizing cities are beginning to be explored, Brad can certainly make an impact on the future success of these spaces.