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Shakira Johnson

This former Political and Economic Affairs specialist, fixed-gear bike builder, former rugby player, and classically trained cellist certainly has many strings to her bow.
Unlike most first-time visitors to Japan, Shakira didn't start her Japanese journey by exploring Tokyo or Kyoto. Instead, she immersed herself in the Tohoku area by volunteering to help with ongoing disaster relief after the devastating tsunami in 2011. Born and bred on the side of a mountain southwest of Denver, Colorado, she felt most at home in the rural hills - particularly during Japan's famous koyo (autumn leaves) season. But her favourite place in all of Japan is the city of Ishinomaki which she "fell in love" with. After spending nine months there, she was struck by the kindness and can-do attitude of the community; even after suffering incredible hardship. Since being back in the US, Shakira hasn't lost her love for Japan. As well as joining us at InsideJapan Tours, she completed a degree in Japanese and music, and volunteers in the Japanese-American community in Colorado.

What places and activities do you specialize in?

"All of Japan, but especially Tohoku, the vibrant northeastern part of Honshu! "

Please share a unique travel experience you will never forget.

"One of my favourite memories from Japan is of visiting a local kimono shop with my husband and mother-in-law (both of whom were born in Morioka) in the capital of Iwate prefecture, Morioka City.

As soon as we walked through the door, my senses were overwhelmed with bright colour, the incredibly lush smell of swaths of fabric, and a flutter of surprise from the shop owners at the foreigner who had just walked in.

After getting acquainted with the sweet couple who owned this shop, they took me around and told me all about each style of kimono and type of cloth used. They taught me about the culture of wearing fabric to match the season, and the significance of the way the kimono is put on. After the tour, I had the pleasure of being dressed in a beautiful deep purple and burgundy kimono to match the late fall/early winter season. The owners dressed me with incredible care, taking the time to explain the purpose of every rope, layer, and fastener.

I felt like a princess, and loved to share the experience with my husband and mother-in-law because it was a way for us to connect in a deeply cultural and personal way."