The New Guy

Salutations! Matt Ketchum here, the new executive director of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Japan, recently returned to Tokyo from two years working in the spooky IT forests of Seattle, Washington. Thought I’d check in with all of you, our beloved members, and let you know just who the new guy is.

Matt Ketchum, Executive Director
Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Japan

First off, let’s talk about the big, star-spangled elephant in the room: I’m American. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I grew up immersed in the city’s sports culture. Baseball and football weren’t of much interest to me as a kid, but the Penguins were this magical ice hockey team, led by an ice wizard from the Great White North named Mario Lemieux. He guided an international, rag-tag team of gruff-looking, gentlemanly puck ninjas to Stanley Cup after Stanley Cup. Almost from my birth, my impression of Canada was one of power, respect and diversity, and that certainly remains the case today.

JAPAN TIES

My relationship with Japan is a bit more complex. I’ve been a musician for some 20 years and an event producer for close to 10. This all began in high school, when I started going to independent rock concerts at hole-in-the-wall venues.

Pittsburgh has never been a major music hub, so few international indie acts ever came through. But, for some reason I still don’t understand, each summer vacation during high school was flush with outstanding independent Japanese bands. I had been aware of Japan before, although I wasn’t into typical “Japan” things. But watching those bands wail and flail on stage was something special that I felt I had to pursue in my own way.

I juggled Kant’s dialectic and the radical tax reform of Emperor Go-Daigo (1288–1339) during college, and upon graduating, found myself, like all Millennial liberal arts majors, mysteriously unemployable. But I had a secret weapon: Japanese. I used it to land a job teach-ing English in Miyako, a small port town in Iwate Prefecture, in the northeast of the main Japanese island of Honshu.

Abundant seafood, open-minded musicians, a well-paying, easy job and a low cost of living — Miyako’s slow life, as they called it, was pretty good. But then, on March 11, 2011, after 2:46 p.m. all of that was washed away by a 37.9-metre tsunami and I was left standing in a hilltop temple, homeless, watching the city burn.

I am very much looking forward to working with the chamber to take it and our members to new heights.

VALUE OF COMMUNITY

That’s a longer story, but it taught me some significant life lessons, and kick-started my career. After two months of organizing response teams in Miyako, I was moved to Tokyo to work with art galleries and NPOs active in Tohoku. Then I moved to market research. All the while — some six years — I was booking tours, recording albums and building digital analytics tools in support of the music scene I fell in love with in high school, and with the conviction instilled in me by the events of 3/11 to do good through it.

To this day, I donate my time to work with Tohoku initiatives, and have hosted panel discussions, sourced wine for galas, screened documentaries internationally, spoken at universities about disaster response, published photo journals and more. Additionally, I have built record labels, data science platforms and logistics management solutions in support of the Japanese independent music scene. Of all the neat things I could say about that, one of my favourites is that I’ve booked rock and roll honeymoons in the Japanese indie scene for couples from Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany.

Which is to say, this is what I bring to the chamber: a visceral understanding of the intrinsic value of community, learned through extensive first-hand experience with disaster and art, and the skill set to understand and wrangle the various components that create it learned through focus groups, project management and stakeholder mapping. Suffice it to say, I am very much looking forward to working with the chamber to take it and our members to new heights.

Salut,
Matt

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