Why this Takarazuka alumna, who rose to become an executive at an NHK-affiliated company, decided to pursue a career in music | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Why this Takarazuka alumna, who rose to become an executive at an NHK-affiliated company, decided to pursue a career in music

The second life of Yasuko Naka, a singer of Irish traditional songs

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Yasuko Nakasa gently holding her beloved Irish harp (photo by Masakazu Yoshiba)

In 1984, singer and Irish harpist Yasuko Naka made her third attempt to enter the Takarazuka Music School, fulfilling her wish to become a member of the school. 72nd class classmates included former top star Jun Shibuki, who is still active as an actress, and Yuki Amami, who was one year younger.

However, Naka left the Takarazuka stage after only two and a half years. From there, her life took a dramatic turn. After leaving Takarazuka, she joined a video production company that produced NHK programs as a part-time worker, and with her natural vitality, she was promoted to an executive position at the company. Even so, the desire to sing never left her. The Irish Embassy in Japan, the birthplace of Guinness beer, authorized her to sing the country’s national anthem and to deliver folk songs, making her a unique presence in Japan.

The reason for taking the exam was the timetable of the music school

The competition for the Takarazuka Music School entrance exam is nearly 20 times more competitive every year. Ms. Naka passed the exam on her third try.

Her first attempt was in her third year of junior high school.

The first time I tried was in my third year of junior high school,” she said, “When I saw the weekly schedule of the music school that came with the application form, I immediately decided, ‘I’m going here! I immediately decided to go there.

When you think of school, various subjects such as Japanese, mathematics, English, and social studies come to mind. However, “Takarazuka was different. There was an orientation at the beginning of the week, but the school was packed with dance, Japanese dance, and singing lessons. Every day was full of things I wanted to do.

At the time, I was living in a boarding house away from my parents. Many of the lessons were given by teachers who were top-notch in their field. Most of her daily life guidance came from her “seniors” at the music school. From etiquette to how to clean up the school, there are so many details. Of course, there is no room for “objection” to such guidance. This is the moment when the “tradition” of Takarazuka is passed down from generation to generation.

I didn’t think they were strict at all. I didn’t think they were strict at all. I thought it was essential to perform on such a large stage.

“I can open the door to new people without hesitation.
“Being able to report, communicate, and consult.
“I can use polite honorifics without sarcasm.

By living their daily lives under the strict discipline required to keep up with their performances, they naturally acquired manners that would be useful even in the working world.

The glittering and dazzling world of Takarazuka

Naka made her debut as a daughter of the “Dance Flower Group,” a vaudeville troupe with more than 100 years of tradition.

Her stage name was Yasuko Soda. My fans talked about the fact that there was a daughter actress who was performing under her real name (laughs).

Her classmate was Jun Shibuki, who went on to become the top star of the Tsuki group, and one year behind her was Yuki Amami. The average tenure of the troupe was nearly ten years, but Naka left after only two and a half years.

I love Takarazuka,” she said. (I’ve loved Takarazuka since I was in music school. They stood out and had an amazing aura. But they were too bright for me. I didn’t think they were the right fit for me.

My time with Takarazuka may have been short, but it taught me what I needed to know when I went out into the world. I can’t thank Takarazuka enough, and I don’t think there will ever be another time when I was so happy to be able to do what I love.

In fact, when she entered the music school, she was told in an interview with the school that she had “passed” the exam for the second time. If she had entered the school as she was, the two top stars who dazzled her so much would have been her juniors. There was a reason why this was not the case.

There is a famous singer who was enrolled in Takarazuka Music School before Ms. Naka’s enrollment and later became active in the entertainment industry. The Takarazuka Revue wanted to nurture her as a star, but after she graduated from the music school, she left the troupe just when she was “about to start. An entertainment reporter who knew the situation at the time said, “For Takarazuka, she was a ‘star. She left Takarazuka at a time when they wanted to nurture her as a star, so they may have felt that she was unfair to them. I wouldn’t be surprised if an unwritten rule was established at that time that students from the singer’s company should be carefully screened.

If I had been able to enter the school a year earlier, my view of Jun Shibuki and Yuki Amami, who were “too bright for me,” might have been different. Fate is something you never really understand.

A pose reminiscent of her time with the Takarazuka Revue (photo by Yoshiba Masakazu)

From “Tea Fetching” to “Corporate Executive” in Second Life

Many Takarazuka alumni seem to be troubled by the fact that it is difficult for them to return to society in their second careers, but Ms. Naka has demonstrated her ability in a different field of work.

Her first career change was at a production company specializing in NHK TV programs. She collected images and expert comments from all over the world on topics such as world and Japanese history, special features on the end of the war, politics and economics, and extinct animals.

When I went out into the world, there was so much I didn’t know. There are so many things you don’t know when you’re out in the world, and I was so embarrassed by everything that happened.

Even so, the toughness she had cultivated in Takarazuka, where she spent time under strict discipline, came into play. At that time, at the height of the bubble economy, it was normal to go home after midnight, but he built up his credibility at work and became one of the most famous “singing and dancing production desks” in the industry as a Takarazuka alumna. What was supposed to be a part-time job, starting as a tea fetcher, turned out to be a director of this company in his thirties when he was asked to become a director of the company.

While he was enjoying a successful second career, in his late thirties, a thought crept into his mind, “I can’t go on like this. The reason for this was the Irish folk song “Londonderry Air,” which he had heard at the age of 10 and could not get out of his ears. The song, which has the same melody as “Danny Boy” and whose lyrics are more famous now, was published in 1913, the year before World War I. It was a melody that pierced my heart with the sadness of a father and mother thinking about their child going off to war.

I didn’t even know what it meant in English. I didn’t even know what it meant in English, but I received the message from my childhood that I must not let go of this song.

Irish folk songs do not have musical scores. Irish folk songs do not have musical scores, but are music that has been handed down from generation to generation, and each person sings the same song in a different way. Fascinated by Irish music, Naka began singing at an Irish pub in Jiyugaoka, Tokyo. As she continued to do so, she received the ultimate compliment from an Irishman in the pub: “Your songs remind me of my hometown. This made me want to do more.

I had to hear the real thing. I need to breathe the same air, eat the same food, and be blown by the same wind. That’s what’s important. At the age of 38, my first trip abroad was to Ireland, and there was an atmosphere that said, ‘Welcome home.

From a “Reunion” with Irish Folk Songs to a Singing Debut

When she was 41 years old, she made a demo tape of her own work and made her debut as a major singer.

He was 41 years old when he made his major debut. “I wanted to sing, so I thought of playing the piano or guitar, but I was too old for that (laughs).
I wanted to play the piano or guitar, but I was too old for that (laughs). That’s when I came across the Irish harp.

She wanted to feel and convey the simplicity and devotion to others that pervades the Irish nation, and her voice, imbued with sincerity, was passed on from person to person. The Irish-Network-Japan, which was organizing the dedication of the Ise Shrine, offered her the chance to sing the Irish and Japanese national anthems, saying, “We would love to have you sing at the dedication of the Ise Shrine. The Irish ambassador was impressed with her voice when she first sang in 2015, and she has performed the role for three consecutive years until 2018.

After making my major label debut in 2007 and performing my first harp solo in front of the Irish ambassador in 2013, people have been saying ‘arigato (thank you). Since then, people have been saying “arigato (thank you)” to me. So I want to build on this by singing sincerely.

The melody I heard when I was ten years old brought me here. This is not my own will anymore. Whenever I sing an Irish song, someone will reach out to me,” she said, holding the Irish harp like a minstrel conveying the message entrusted in the song.

While still teaching singing at a voice-over school, she has published a songbook of Irish folk songs, ” Tales of the Green Country” (Aiku Shuppan ), which has long been a dream of hers.

She said, “My main goal is to convey the songs and character of Ireland itself. When I was in Takarazuka, I tended to focus on the results in front of me. When I was a member of Takarazuka, I tended to focus on the immediate result: “Why can’t I perform like this? But now I can think that I’ll be happy as long as my work is ready five or ten years from now. I think my ideal life would be like a strolling chief.

In the midst of the Covid-19 disaster that has lasted for more than two years, it has become difficult to even see what tomorrow will bring. Her life at Takarazuka Music School may have been a detour at first, but even in her second career after leaving Takarazuka, she rose to a position envied by others. However, even so, she faced what she wanted to do honestly and built up her career with sincerity. That style is something that anyone can do. When I think of something, I try it first. Whether you do or don’t, and how you open the door, depends on how you feel.

In Ireland, the three-leaf clover “shamrock” covers the land. As a mark of respect for Ireland, Ms. Naka wore a green costume for the interview (photo by Masakazu Yoshiba).
  • Photo by Yoshiba Masakazu

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