As a kid herself, Akiko’s education experience was different in Japan, where her teacher -student relationships were much more hierarchical and traditional. After sharing her dreams of being a teacher with her teacher, she remembers them saying, “You’re not an educator.” That was it. “It makes me laugh now,” says Akiko, “because I am a teacher!” Pursuing her interest in art felt equally intimidating and rigid in Japan. You had to fit into a certain mold.
Being the free spirit that she is, Akiko hopped a plane to California at age 18, where she enrolled in California State University, East Bay. She didn’t know anyone in the country and couldn’t speak English. She began as a graphic design major, planning to go into commercial art. From her discouraging experience in high school, she didn’t think she was good enough to become a fine artist.
However, as fate would have it, her art teacher in college, Corban LePell, thought differently. “He encouraged me to change my major to studio art,” says Akiko. “He really believed in me. He was so supportive and kind to all of the students. He was more like a friend than a teacher.” Akiko graduated with a B.A. in Studio Art in 1998.