Building Cultural Bridges

By Debby Denehy

Shikano ‘93 recalls time spent at UIW as a period of growth, when she explored her talents and expanded her world.Shikano ‘93 recalls time spent at UIW as a period of growth, when she explored her talents and expanded her world.

In April 2005, Mikiko Shikano '93 BA found herself back in Japan after more than 25 years in the U.S. She had been a thriving artist in Baltimore, MD, painting prolifically and selling her art in galleries throughout the city. But a desire to be near her elderly father drew her back home to Japan.

“In a way, I am like a foreigner in Japan,” says Shikano, who knows how it feels to adjust to new cultures. She adapted in 1979 after arriving in the states to marry her fiance. Shikano knows how challenging language barriers can be, and now helps others cope by teaching conversational English to students in her native land.

After Shikano's divorce in 1984, she remained in San Antonio and found employment as a bookkeeper. To advance her new career, she sought an accounting degree at San Antonio College and later transferred to Incarnate Word to complete a four-year program. She said, “I was so proud to be a student of Incarnate Word, especially when I saw the beautiful holiday lights all over the campus. I loved the smallness of the school and made many new friends.” Professors here opened her eyes to art and she swiftly switched her major.

After receiving her BA with honors in 1993, Shikano was accepted to study at the prestigious Schuler School of Fine Arts in Baltimore. In 1997, she became its 70th graduate -- and the first Japanese one. There she learned detailed techniques in painting along with the patience and discipline of a fine artist. She said, “I needed to be careful not to compare myself to others but to keep improving myself. This policy is still true to date.”


imageShikano created the cover of her ‘93 graduating class yearbook using a woodblock impression.

Her paintings were sold along the east coast in the well-established Bendann Art Galleries. The owner favored her artistic style and featured her works in shows and exhibitions where they captured several awards, until she felt called home in 2005.

In Japan, Shikano was quickly reminded of how long she had been away and had to re-learn much of the language. Knowing first-hand how tough communicating can be, she decided to use her experiences to help others.

"Learning English in a Japanese school is mandatory; yet, most Japanese cannot speak English,“ says Shikano. "Fortunately, I was able to draw on skills I developed in the states. I teach one-on-one and pay attention to each person's needs,” she says. “I tell my English Conversation students that knowing English is like having a good tool with which to communicate, and studying is how you sharpen the tool.” She also teaches art to elementary-age children.

She adds, “It's rewarding to share my understanding of both cultures and languages. Students value my experiences and what I've learned.”