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star struck

Heart strings
British violinist Diana Yukawa’s musical journey started 20 years ago with a tragedy on a mountain in Gunma
By Chris Betros

Perry Curtis

On Aug 12, violinist Diana Yukawa climbed Mt. Osutaka
in Gunma Prefecture and played an uplifting composition called Short Story in memory of the 520 people who died in the 1985 Japan Airlines crash. It’s a pilgrimage the 19-year-old has done before in honor of the father whom she never knew, Akihisa, who was on board that fateful flight. “It was my first visit there in three years,” she says. “I was really determined to celebrate my father’s life with something positive this year.”

Yukawa was born three weeks after the crash, and along with her older sister Cassie and her British mother Susanne Bayly, she has spent the last 20 years trying to come to terms with the tragedy. The family’s story—especially their battle to get compensation from JAL—is the stuff of soap operas and has been well documented. Yukawa’s musical talent gained her overnight fame in Japan when she played a tribute on the mountain a few years ago. She has put out two CDs, performed at concerts, and appeared on numerous TV programs.

Yukawa wishes she could have had a different history. “I have been interviewed so many times in Japan,” she says. “I don’t want to be just connected to that tragedy, even though it is my personal history and I have been to Mt. Osutaka many times. I want to take those experiences and use them to make something better for the future.” Yukawa is now working on a new and defining musical sound with elements of classical and pop. She will give her fans a preview at a special concert on Sept 20 at Tokyo FM Hall, an event that will also serve as her coming-of-age celebration. Of her new sound, she says: “It is basically combining different styles and cultures.”

Yukawa chats happily in a very down-to-earth manner. Although she has been studying the violin since she was 5, she dislikes words like “crossover” and “child prodigy.” A full-time music student in London, Yukawa also enjoys a life away from her violin. “I love going to museums and dancing at clubs with friends. It’s important to have a balanced life. And I couldn’t do without my dogs and cats.” It has been a bit of a struggle at times. When JAL withdrew its scholarship a few years ago, Yukawa had to sell her 1656 Amati violin to help her family make ends meet. Thanks to some sponsors, she was able to continue her music studies and now plays a rare Guarneri del Gesu.

Yukawa has been to Japan many times, but is not sure if she could live here. “I love Japan and feel my heritage strongly, but I don’t think I could fit in permanently. I do enjoy playing here. People in so many different age groups come to my concerts.” Her two CDs, which were aimed at the Japanese market, have sold very well and she is starting to think about a third one, featuring her new sound.

So that means many more trips to Japan. In a positive note for the future, Yukawa and her mom flew here on JAL, the first time in 20 years, but she is dubious about the airline. “They are still having problems with safety,” she says. “They don’t seem to have learned from the tragedy.”



 

Q&A


YUTAKA FUKUFUJI
The puck stops here
By Rob Smaal

Hokkaido native Yutaka Fukufuji last month became the first Japanese player to sign a professional contract with a National Hockey League team when the soft-spoken 22-year-old inked a two-year deal with the Los Angeles Kings. A former Kokudo goaltender, Fukufuji has already had some impressive performances in North America since his debut in the East Coast Hockey League in 2003. He was named Rookie of the Month in January that year after winning seven straight games with the Cincinnati Cyclones.

You have been compared to MLB pitcher Hideo Nomo and soccer star Hidetoshi Nakata. Was it your dream growing up to play goal in the NHL?
Actually, I didn’t start playing goalie until I was 11. Before that I was a forward. My dream as a kid wasto play for Kokudo. I thought that was as good as it gets.

Are there any goalies in the NHL you particularly admire?
I’m a big fan of Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils.

Is it tough to communicate with your teammates in the US?
Not really. I learned to speak English watching Seinfeld re-runs on TV.

How about the food over there? Do you miss Japanese food?
I like American food. Buffalo chicken wings are my favorite.

What’s the toughest adjustment playing in the US so far?
Those long bus trips you have to make in the minor leagues. Those are tough.

In North America the game is more physical than in Japan, and even the goalies get into fights. Are you ready for that?
It already happened last season (with the Bakersfield Condors). There was a big brawl and I had to fight the other goalie. I just grabbed his jersey and held on tight, so it wasn’t too bad.

The LA Kings open training camp Sept 14, and the NHL regular season starts Oct 5. The Asia League expects to start on Sept 23/24.

Would you like to comment on this article? Send a letter to the editor at letters@metropolis.co.jp.

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