Alumni Spotlight: Jonathan Kushner (Tokyo)

Please introduce yourself and where you’re from!

Hi everyone, my name is Jonathan Kushner and I live in Tokyo with my wife Miyuki and two high school daughters. Originally from the U.S., I grew up in a small town outside of Baltimore, Maryland. I also lived in New York City where I did my graduate studies and worked early in my career.

I like traveling to new places for work and for fun. In addition to finding great local places to eat and exploring nature, I am into sports. I enjoy swimming, cycling and running, sometimes in that order although most definitely not in order of my ability – I’m still a developing swimmer! I completed my first marathon two years ago and finished my first triathlon last year. This year, I’ll aim to do both while enjoying the atmosphere and gaining inspiration from the world’s top athletes at Tokyo 2020.

Where and what did you study?

I studied International Relations, basically political science and economics along with a focus on international business and Japan/East Asia Studies. I got a masters from Columbia University in New York, after undergraduate studies at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. Miyuki and I met in graduate school; since she’s from Japan and I’m from America, we used to joke that we studied “international affairs.”

Where were you placed on JET and for how long?

I was in Ise in Mie Prefecture, home of the Ise Shrine and the birthplace of Shinto. I was there for just one year, which was a kind of “gap year” for me between university and graduate school.

What is your current career?

I’m the Chief Communications Officer for McDonald’s Japan and I lead our corporate relations function in the Japan market. We have about 2,900 restaurants from Hokkaido to Okinawa, with more than 150,000 employees serving over 1.5 billion customers a year. I look after our external and internal communications, investor relations, government relations and public affairs activities. In addition to getting to work on all the fun and engaging food promotions, I’m excited to focus on making sure we use our size and scale as a brand to have a positive impact on local communities and operate sustainably.

What were some memorable experiences you had on JET and/or how did the JET experience as a whole shape you to who you are today?

Some of the most memorable experiences for me on JET were the weekend trips and getaways to explore Japan with other JETs. In particular, I remember an ambitious cycling trip we took up to the Sea of Japan coast touring the Noto Peninsula. Terrific scenery, delicious food and drink, onsen, and great company, and very possibly the start of my affinity for adventures on two wheels!

Overall, the JET experience solidified the connection to Japan that has shaped my career and life. I was able to take a deep dive during that year on the language, culture and people of Japan. It whetted my appetite and left me hungry for more.

How did JET help you in achieving your current career pathway or any professional endeavors?

JET was a stepping stone that launched further studies on Japan and the Japanese language. It opened my mind to how to engage with many people who had very different backgrounds from myself, including Japanese and JETs from other countries. Being able to experience teaching English in Japanese schools gave me a better understanding of how most Japanese citizens are educated.  This taught me a valuable lesson about how to motivate and coach Japanese teams which has served me well in my career as a manager. 

Do you have any advice for JETs who might be looking into a similar pathway after their time on the program?

Your experiences in Japan on JET will shape you and become a part of who you are forever. It’s easy to think that you should map out your entire future and stick firmly to a master plan. But it’s important to follow your heart and take advantage of every experience afforded you along the way. Sometimes this might seem like a detour, but detours can be very exciting and can lead you to many more avenues of self-discovery. 

If there is one thing a career in Japan has taught me it’s that you need to be patient. By slowing down and focusing on putting your heart into whatever you’re doing rather than just planning your next move, your path will naturally lead you in the right direction. 

Speaking of pace, maybe it’s helpful to think of career more like a marathon than a sprint? You might be relieved to finally cross the finish line but remember to experience what it feels like along the way. And when you reach your goal, stop just long enough to savor the accomplishment before setting your sights on the next challenge!

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