The only daughter of a Japanese mother and a Lebanese-American father, Michelle was born and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. While living here, amidst a diverse community in a small beach town on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, she also visited frequently her mother's relatives in Osaka. This ‘worlds apart’ experience, Michelle relates, not only allowed her to practice both her spoken English and Japanese but also gave her an interesting perspective on cultural identity.
At the age of six Michelle began traditional Japanese taiko drumming. What started as a weekly after-school activity soon turned into an absorbing hobby that eventually led her to perform throughout the United States as a high school and university student. Michelle says, she did occasionally resent giving up every Saturday to practice, but even so appreciated the discipline it instilled in her and the deeper connections she was able to make with Japanese culture.
Michelle took advantage of living aside the ocean to become a strong swimmer and surfer by her early teens. As a university student she returned home in the summer holidays to teach surfing lessons, leading both children and adults through challenging situations – even, on occasion, helping them to swim out of rip currents.
Michelle studied Astrophysics and Feminist Studies at the University of California in Santa Cruz (UCSC), where she learned to connect an interest for the natural world with social justice. She wrote her senior thesis on the intersection of taiko drums, race, activism, Japanese history and the Civil Rights movement. In her final year, she worked as a teaching assistant to civil rights activist Bettina Aptheker, helping to plan and teach feminist theory classes to freshmen undergraduates.
During her days at university, Michelle also became a founding member of the UCSC Chapter of Camp Kesem, a free summer camp established to support children of parents with cancer. In this role, she was in charge of community outreach but also lent a hand with fundraising, camp operations and hiking with the children she mentored.
On her graduation, Michelle returned to Japan, where she moved to a small town in Nagano Prefecture in central Japan to teach English in local elementary and junior high schools. Her new home, deep in the mountains, was covered deeply in snow for five months of the year, which provided her with the opportunity to utilise her surfing skills to become an adept snowboarder. In summer, Michelle took to climbing the surrounding mountain, which included some of Japan’s highest at over 3,000m. Life in Nagano was also an opportunity for her to deepen her written abilities in the Japanese language, which hitherto had largely been conversational. She also continued to practice taiko drumming and began learning the art of Japanese cuisine.
After three years in Nagano, Michelle moved to Tokyo and quickly settled into the frenetic pace of the metropolis. Here, her love of food is well-served by the rich and wide ranging culinary culture of the capital. Whenever the chance arises she travels outside the city to explore the countryside, especially surf beaches in summer.
Michelle joined Walk Japan’s Customer Service Team in 2018 and became a Tour Leader in 2019.