©Photo by Chiaki Oshima

Mai Shoji, Freelance Announcer and Media Maven

From the FIFA World Cup to Tokyo 2020, Learn About Her Career in Broadcasting

By Shelley Smith
February 29, 2024
Careers, Savvy Spotlight

Explore Mai Shoji's extraordinary path as a freelance announcer and her versatile voice in various media.

Born and raised in Tokyo, Mai Shoji’s career journey reflects a deep connection to her roots and a curiosity about the world beyond. From her early years at Nishimachi International School to her high school days at the American School in Japan, Mai’s educational path took her through an international schooling system from a young age.

Mai in Kimono© Photo by Mai Shoji

A chance opportunity at an audition for the FIFA World Cup opened doors to a career in broadcasting, where she found her voice as a bilingual announcer. Her broadcasting career is extensive, including roles as a weather section anchor on NHK World’s “Newsline,” and serving as a main navigator on J-Wave radio where she had the opportunity to interview celebrities worldwide.

In addition to her broadcasting career, Mai has contributed significantly to various events and campaigns, serving as a bilingual MC and spokesperson for prestigious brands and organizations. She has also been actively involved in modeling, writing and translation, showcasing her versatility across multiple media.

Today, Mai’s journey continues as she balances her roles as a broadcaster, cultural ambassador and pronunciation coach. With each step, she remains committed to fostering understanding and appreciation between cultures, embodying the spirit of global citizenship in everything she does.

How did you discover your passion for various forms of media?

My father is a lyricist and my parents took me to many concerts and live entertainment events from a young age. I think attending these events since childhood naturally exposed me to the industry. I’ve always felt very natural in it. While there was a time when I had a singing career path laid in front of me during my teen years, it was in broadcasting that I found my true calling, using my voice to connect with audiences in unique ways.

Is there a particular career moment that stands out as a turning point or milestone?

The FIFA World Cup that I announced in 2002 was the start of everything. This event opened doors and helped me build connections that have continued to shape my career. Years later, the same people contacted me for other major events like the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. I was the English voice behind the opening and closing ceremonies.

What was it like to be part of such a globally significant event such as the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games?

Mai at Olympics© Photo by Mai Shoji

It was an honor to be involved in the Olympics! But it honestly came with a lot of pressure as well, especially given the uncertainties surrounding its organization due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The experience required intense preparation and dedication, as I had to ensure I performed my best amidst the challenges and health risks. However, it was incredibly surreal and humbling to be part of an event that brought people together from around the world.

Looking back, is there a particular project you consider the most fulfilling? What made it stand out?

One project that truly stands out for me is the experience of writing my book, 22 English Pronunciation and Public Speaking Techniques. Initially, I planned a smaller, casual book about simple pronunciation differences like “R” and “L.” However, after working closely with my publicist twice a week to discuss and shape the book, the book ended up becoming a 300-page endeavor. It was time-consuming and challenging to ensure its relevance over the two years it took to write but it also became a very fulfilling experience for me. Years after it was published, CNN English Express featured my book, providing a platform to spread its message. I was so happy to see my efforts and passion for English pronunciation culminate in something meaningful.

What was the inspiration behind your focus on pronunciation?

22 English Pronunciation and Public Speaking Techniques© Photo by Mai Shoji

I believe that pronunciation is vital for effective communication and manners. In broadcasting, clarity can save lives, yet many underestimate its importance. My experience at NHK World, especially in news broadcasting, made me realize the need to improve pronunciation to better ensure understanding, especially among Japanese audiences not exposed to global news.

As someone who has worked both in Japan and on the international stage, how do you navigate the complexities of bridging cultural gaps and language differences?

For me, it’s all about ensuring clear communication and genuine connection. Whether I’m working in Japan or on the international stage, I prioritize making sure that everyone understands what I’m saying. This means speaking slowly and clearly, and sometimes even imagining I’m talking to someone dear to me, like my grandmother, to ensure my message resonates with everyone, regardless of their background. It also helps to be a people lover! Seeing the good in everyone fosters a positive atmosphere of understanding and respect.

Given your multifaceted career, what sort of things do you do on your time off?

I love singing! I even had an amazing opportunity to perform at the Fuji Rock Festival in 2022. I love hanging out with friends and going to karaoke too. When I’m winding down, I’ll be watching movies with my daughter and mother. In the past when working for J-Wave Radio I had to watch over 300 movies a year. The amount of movies I had to consume at once occasionally felt force-fed but it also shaped a part of who I am today. Nowadays, I can relax and enjoy them in my own time.

For individuals aspiring to follow in your footsteps, especially in the realm of freelance announcing, what advice would you offer?

Freelancing has its ups and downs. It offers flexibility, but there’s always the uncertainty of where the next job will come from. Always be open to meeting new people! Leaving a good impression on the people you meet onsite is the key to getting called back to work on new projects. My motto is to deliver three times more than what’s expected from you. This has shaped my career and why I’m able to continue working in this industry. Many of my job offers are “repeats” where I’m called back by organizations I’ve worked with in the past, such as annual award ceremonies or events. Being yourself wherever you go and remembering your liaison, as in who connected you to whom, are both equally very important. Building and maintaining these connections is key to navigating the freelance landscape successfully.

Looking toward the future, what aspirations or goals do you have for your career and personal life?

Mai Yukata© Photo by Mai Shoji

I’ve been contemplating my next steps quite a bit lately. Professionally, I’m considering launching a pronunciation and public speaking coaching school. It’s something I’m truly passionate about and I see it as a way to contribute positively to communication education, particularly in Japan. Many people here don’t have the confidence to speak English. I believe that improving pronunciation could be one of the keys to the breakthrough they need. It’s something that can open their doors to the global stage. I also believe it’s valuable for my students to have a basic understanding of Japanese culture. Therefore, I strive to ensure they are equipped to share insights into Japanese aesthetics and the beauty of Japan with others.

Find out more about Mai and her work endeavors over on her official website. You can also find Mai’s book, 22 English Pronunciation and Public Speaking Techniques, on Amazon. The book makes a great gift for Japanese friends working on their English proficiency!

Savvy Spotlight is a monthly feature introducing foreign and Japanese women at the frontline of what’s successful, contributing, cool, unique and interesting in the city. If you have anyone in mind you would like us to interview, leave us a comment below with your recommendations!

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