|LIFE IN JAPAN
Courtesy of Chris Chavez
Time in Japan:
Where are you from?
What brought you to Japan?
I worked for Tokyo Disneyland. I came the second week after it opened. What do you do now?
I teach tap, jazz and musical theater.
You also sing enka songs, right?
Yes, I came for Tokyo Disneyland, went back to LA, then came back 11 years ago for the
Yokohama Expo in ' where I heard Misora Hibari's music and fell in love with her, became
a fan...remade her music. I sing all her songs in Japanese.
What do you like about her?
I don't know, I just heard her singing that one song, "Minato Machi 13 Branchi."
It happened on the day that she died. I heard her on TV and I thought, "Oh my God,
that's the song I've been hearing during my costume change, every day, two shows per
day... So the melody was so in my mind that when I heard it on TV, I looked over and I was
like, "That's the song. Who's that singer?" NHK had been doing a special because
she had just died. So I heard about her one day too late.
So after that you tried to find out about her?
After that, I got her first video; I couldn't speak or read Japanese so I did everything
by romaji and learned all her songs. I did karaoke like three times and then, from there,
some agent found me and I started working. But it took me four years to get into her fan
club because they didn't think I really knew her, I was the only American... But they saw
me on TV for so long that they finally said, "Okay, she's a fan."
How long have you been working?
About two years. But I've been up and singing. I have my own show, a thirty minute show
where I do her songs all over Japan - and I've been doing that for seven years. But then
recently, someone approached me and said, "You're the only American who can do this.
You've got to do this in English now." But I can't sing in English. My vocal chords
are trained to sing in Japanese imitation. And then they changed everything to pop. So all
I'd sung was enka for 11 years and suddenly I had to sing pop in English. But the CD came
out really good.
Do you like enka in general or just her?
Just her. But I like Japanese music. That's how I started. After hearing Misora Hibari I
can't compare it to anything, not even in America.
So what are the main differences between singing Japanese and American songs?
I can't really say. Because it's her songs and I translated them all into English, it's
still a connection with her so it's fine, I'm just redoing her songs. But if I had to sing
another English song, there's nothing. I just don't feel that feeling that I have when I
sing her songs in Japanese. There's no heart there. I don't have it. I should have it, I'm
from LA... But there's just something that I can't explain, that if you're Japanese you
What's the one Japanese thing you can't live without?
Obviously Misora Hibari and umeboshi.
What's your recipe for a happy and successful life in Japan?
Leave the country at least once a year and get a pet to calm you down.
Chris Chavez spoke to Maki Nibayashi.
Do you know someone who
has an interesting life in Japan? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org