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W.Va. native finds new home, career in Japan

By Laura Reston

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On humid summer days, Sean Gaston likes to sip tea at a café built atop an ancient, Japanese temple.

The West Virginian native lives halfway across the world in Tokyo, where he works for a Japanese entertainment company called XING.

His division -- SumahoMAMA or "Smartphone Mothers" -- creates educational apps for children.

Gaston focuses on developing and marketing apps for the company.

He conducts market research about American educational trends and works alongside American firms to coordinate new app launches. A former interpreter, Gaston occasionally translates for the office and offers advice on American culture. He also debugs and designs app software.

The company has recently released a new app called "Touch and Sing Along Picture Book." Gaston describes the app as "a collection of popular kids songs presented in an interactive environment to encourage learning for kids aged 2 to 7."

It was originally a project spearheaded by a group of Japanese mothers who hoped to teach kids basic skills through new technology, Gaston said.

The brand has thrived among Japanese audiences, but struggled to enter the American market, Gaston said. He has attempted to make the product friendlier for the Americans. 

"iPads and smartphones are a great way to introduce traditional learning concepts such as the alphabet, numbers and science to kids," Gaston said. "It also offers an outlet for kids' natural curiosity and creativity."

Gaston has come to enjoy the fast pace of Japanese life. Every morning, he watches Japanese businessmen scurry from platform to platform on the subway network that connects the sprawling metropolis of Tokyo.

"Even today it amazes me to see people running up escalators and cramming into trams for work," he said.

He also loves following the fashion trends and cutting-edge technology that he sees around Tokyo. 

But Gaston sometimes longs for certain aspects of West Virginian life.

"I miss my roomier house back in Morgantown, with a big backyard for barbecues," Gaston said.

According to Gaston, land prices around Tokyo have skyrocketed, forcing people to rent "smaller, somewhat cramped homes" where backyards are a rare luxury.

Furthermore, although Tokyo boasts a wide variety of foods from around the world, Gaston sometimes longs for simple West Virginian cuisine.

"It's still hard to find home cooking like barbecued chicken, chicken-fried steak, pepperoni rolls," Gaston said. "And decent Mexican food is almost impossible to find, even in the large cities."

Gaston first traveled to Japan to teach English immediately after graduating from West Virginia University where he had learned to appreciate exotic cultures and "Japanese history, antiques and food."

As he explored Tokyo for the first time, Gaston rekindled a love for Asian culture.

He has worked for Asian companies ever since then, although he briefly returned to the United States to complete a bachelor's and master's degree.

"I love West Virginia, but found it easier to find a job in Asia, particularly one that satisfied my craving for all things Asian," Gaston said. Reach Laura Reston at laura.reston@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5112.


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