Invasion of Privacy: Atsushi Tajima travels world, regales students with experience

Assistant professor Atsushi Tajima, Ph.D., was born in Tokyo, raised in Nagano, Japan for 19 years, and has "been everywhere ever since."

While a "country boy" at heart, Tajima has always found himself in pursuit of the exotic, and his initial work in the Japanese automobile industry fell short of this luster. While his degree in engineering offered a well-paying job amidst Japan's rise as a leading world economy in the '80s, he found his true passion in the humanities.

In his early 20s, Tajima traded his vocation for adventure by applying for an exchange program abroad. For two years, Tajima stayed with the Inuit people of the Canadian Arctic and the Yupik people of southwestern Alaska, where he developed interest in eskimology.

"Coming as an engineer from a first-world nation, I wanted to see something exotic," he said. "I just fell in love with Alaska."

Tajima enrolled in the University of Alaska for his second undergraduate degree in the early '90s, but soon strayed from his initial studies of anthropology. Finding distaste in the top-down feel of studying "primitive" people from a "high class" perspective, he quickly redirected his focus to communication.

"I thought someone doing communication in a second language would be really cool," Tajima said, having only learned English in his late 20s. "Probably the most challenging would have been English literature, but that would be too much," he said.

His years at the University of Alaska ignited Tajima's interest for how knowledge is constructed through the media, including the dynamics of cross-racial and ethnic communication.

This passion drove him to continue his education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for a master's degree in journalism and mass communication. Defying his own expectations, Tajima pressed onward to his doctorate in a continuation of the same program.

"Some say I had a momentum," he said. "I was just too lazy to quit graduate school." In 2006, Tajima earned his Ph.D. on media representations of racial otherness in Japanese nationhood.

A year later, he joined the communication department of Geneseo as an assistant professor, primarily teaching mass communication theory. Smaller and more rural than Wisconsin's university of 42,000 students, Tajima has made himself at home in the Genesee Valley.

"Life is very interesting," he said. "I never thought 20 years ago of coming to upstate New York." He says he sees his life path as an eastbound migration and suspects he'll end up next, "somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean."

In the meantime, Tajima is satisfied with his current work. "Students here are really good, which makes my teaching much easier and more enjoyable." As opposed to teaching something vocational, he said the theoretical material of his courses demands that students think and learn on an abstract level.

Tajima's greatest reward is seeing the improvement among those who enter his courses with indifference and, throughout the semester, find something in the material that clicks and are able to engage in scholarly work.

Though his free time is scarce, Tajima has a variety of hobbies based around a common theme. "I am obsessed with how to coordinate my body action in between centrifugal force and centripetal force." As a former motorcycle racer, a current pilot, and a lifetime horseback rider, he finds thrill in "anything that banks."

He also takes pleasure in fermented foods, with squid gut topping his list.

"If we didn't have those microorganisms, our global food culture would have been so boring," he said. While he acknowledges the common cringe to some of his choice favorites, he points out the culturally ubiquitous fondness for such fermented items as beer, wine and cheese.