|LIFE IN JAPAN
Time in Japan:
Sweet 16 years of coming and going
Where are you from?
I was born in Boston, MA, US.
What brought you to Japan?
The US Navy. I' been interested in Japanese history and culture for a long time and had
been yearning to study authentic karate. So when given a choice of duty station, I chose
Japan, arriving August 31, 1984. That same night I was taken to Shibuya and thought I'd
seen Madonna at least 1000 times. I was introduced to traditional toilets... But I also
soon discovered a dojo, daibutsu, kannon, Chiyonofuji
and onsen to warm, inspire and motivate me.
What do you do?
Five years ago I was asked by the conductor/arranger Yasuo Minami to be diction coach for
the soprano Yumiko Samejima during their recording of traditional American songs. The next
project was of jazz standards, which Yumiko and I did with the famed jazz pianist Louis
Van Dyke in a cathedral turned recording studio in the Dutch countryside. Together with
engineer Paul Pouwer, I did all of the editing and mastering, rendering the finished
product just in time to make the scheduled release date. So now, I'm involved with all
phases of production, from song selection to jacket photo selection.
Who was your biggest influence?
Personally, Malcom X. He taught me freedom in truth. Professionally though, I really owe
it all to Yasuo Minami. He demonstrated great faith and courage to call on me. And since
then he's continued to give himself unconditionally, sharing his knowledge and energy with
everyone. I am eternally grateful, honto ni arigato.
What was the weirdest thing that you ever saw or experienced in Japan?
Standing in front of Kannai Station around 6pm waiting for my friend to see the baseball
game, I noticed a little commotion. A normal looking middle-aged salaryman wearing the
usual garb, was standing at the top of the stairs peeing on everyone that walked by. Then
he just disappeared into the throng. But truth is, there are others I've conveniently
What's the one thing a person should see in Japan before leaving forever?
I've been very fortunate to have seen many things off the beaten path - cherry blossoms in
the wild, rustic villages in the distance while cross-country skiing improvised courses,
sunrises and sunsets from peaks from Kyushu to Hokkaido, over 100 hot springs, remote
temples, and bamboo groves, exotic wildlife, etc... There's so much beauty to enjoy if you
just get out there and appreciate it.
Any advice for a successful life in Japan?
Just like anywhere, balance. Particularly in Japan, it's important not to impose ideals.
Learning this will enable you to taste more of the flavors you like, as you won't have to
be biting your tongue so much.
Donald James Berry spoke to Maki Nibayashi.
Do you know somepne who
has an interesting life in Japan? Email us at email@example.com