Updated: Jul 25, 2022
Every month on WOMENCANFLY.CO’s blog series, The Way, we introduce inspirational women who live abroad. In this segment, we meet Maiko Kimoto who is studying vocal music at an Italian conservatory. She worked as a university lecturer teaching music in Japan but at age 27, she went to Italy to study music. She currently lives in Massa, Tuscany with her Italian husband who she met in Italy.
Below, Maiko and Miyoko play ‘Hatsukoi’ (First Love). Enjoy!
Longing for Italy, a country full of music
Maiko got interested in music when she was in primary school. She saw Takarazuka (an all-female theatre production troupe who perform remakes of traditional and contemporary films and novels) when she went on her mum’s work trip which inspired her.
“I wasn’t very interested in Takarazuka at first but when I saw it I was completely captivated and as soon as I left the theatre, I asked my mum to let me learn how to sing!” As soon as Maiko came back from her trip, she started taking lessons. Her passion for music hadn’t faded away and she majored in vocal music at university and graduate school. After she graduated, she lectured to university students who wanted to become music teachers in primary schools. A turning point came during Golden Week (a week from late April to early May where there are many national holidays in Japan) in Maiko’s second year of working. A Japanese pianist was holding a five day vocal masterclass in Bracciano near Rome. Although there was a five person limit, Maiko passed the selection process and got a chance to go. At age 26, Maiko flew to Italy during spring. “I fell in love with Italy as soon as I arrived. Music has become a part of my lifestyle and the city is overflowing with it. I decided I’d come back soon again.” Maiko enjoyed her job as a university lecturer but at the same time she felt conflicted and questioned if she was making the music she actually wanted to make. The five days I spent in Italy are something Maiko holds dearly as they were a precious time for her to be honest with her feelings and reaffirmed her love for music. When Maiko returned to Japan, she started to earnestly prepare to study abroad. The following year, she prepared for study abroad expenses and visas and she resigned from the university. In 2016, Maiko returned to Italy and took her next step.
As soon as Maiko was able to speak Italian, her life in Italy became so much more enjoyable. Maiko started studying Italian when she was in her first year of graduate school before she decided to study in Italy. “There are operas in various languages like French and German but my favourite was how it sounded in Italian. I wanted to specialise in Italian opera so I started studying Italian.” Maiko wasn’t good at English when she was a student. She knew she wasn’t the best at learning languages but continued to study Italian because it was fun. Maiko wanted to sing with an understanding of the detailed nuances. She continued to study Italian so she could sing with the same passion as she felt with Japanese songs. “I wrote in my journal every day in Italian and my teacher corrected it. I think it’s important to express yourself in your own words.” Language should be a means for communication but studying it as a student tended to make it feel like Maiko was just preparing for tests. That’s why she now focuses on dialogue without worrying about small mistakes and is okay with her language skills as long as the meaning is conveyed. Now when Maiko reads Italian lyrics, she is able to understand the meaning without any Japanese translation. It’s said that there is a link between the lyrics and the life of Italians. “I thought the type of dialogue used in opera would only be used for theatrical purposes but every Italian speaks with that passion on a daily basis.” Maiko’s husband also says things like, “You’re beautiful” and “It suits you” to her every day. “When I was in Japan, I focused on my insecurities but in Italy, everyone compliments me which has made me become confident.” Italians are good at seeing the good in others. They grow up with compliments and know their charms. In Italy, Maiko learned to love herself.
Italians work to enjoy the moment
Italians are good at expressing their true emotions. Laugh when you’re having fun and argue when you disagree. Maiko sees Italians fighting with their arms wide open every now and then. However, for Italians, it’s not an argument, it’s just a “loud discussion.” Italians also enjoy themselves to the fullest. You don’t have to give up having fun when it’s right in front of you to save money or worry about your life during old age. They don’t think about what happens after they die so few people take out death insurance. Maiko questioned whether there was a relationship between the high unemployment rate and the temperament of Italians. “Italians have a strong desire to do what they love for their job and after seeing some of my friends, I think there are some people who think that being unemployed is better than getting a job they don’t want to do.” Many start their own businesses if they can’t get a job they want. Many of Maiko’s friends run general goods stores and cafes and there seems to be a low barrier to starting businesses compared to Japan. Their enjoyment of the present is also reflected in their way of taking vacations and it’s common to take one for nearly a month in the summer. “I got married last summer but since it was vacation period, I wasn’t able to buy a ring because most of the makers were closed.” It seems that it’s common to keep customers waiting. Maiko's new house was scheduled to be completed in December 2018 but still has not been completed as we speak now in April 2020, two years after schedule. That’s Italy for you!
Italy's marriage and population growth rates
Italy is known to have low marriage and birth rates.
One of the reasons is the high unemployment rate. Due to the high cost of living including rent, many people can’t earn a stable income and give up on marriage and having a family. For those who have enough income, Italian law requires a considerable amount of money and time to get a divorce so now more couples are choosing common-law marriage. Also, the expectation that housework and childcare are roles for women and for working women, marriage and childbirth are factors that interrupt their careers. Schools in Italy end around 1 pm so one parent needs to be at home in the afternoon. Many mothers have to leave their jobs to focus on taking care of their children. It’s difficult for women to balance work and raising children without the understanding and cooperation of their families. “Thankfully, my husband understands my music and work. He encourages me to continue doing what I love, so I've been able to focus on music more since getting married." Maiko’s husband works full-time now and Maiko works part-time while going to school. After she graduates, they want a child. She feels it’s important for her family to cooperate and balance each other’s transitions in life.
The Japanese song ‘Hatsukoi’ that Maiko wants to spread in Italy
Maiko now attends the conservatory four days a week to teach music to Japanese students on a temporary basis. “Italian students are active. I get a lot of questions during class and I know it’s embarrassing to make a mistake. It’s common for students to openly tell the teacher that they have different opinions and thanks to this, I’ve become stronger.” On weekends, Maiko continues to assist Japanese language schools. Many Italians are interested in Japan, and Japanese culture is loved by many. “There’s something I want to do now. I want to spread Japanese songs to Italians. I want lots of people to listen to the beautiful music made by Japanese composers.”
Since classical music was born in Europe, most of the songs played abroad are made by European composers and lyricists. However, there are many beautiful songs in Japan made by Japanese composers who have studied music in Europe.
Maiko left Japan in search of the music she wanted to make but what she felt in Italy was the beauty of Japanese music.
One of the songs that Maiko wants to share with Italians is Takuboku Ishikawa's ‘Hatsukoi’, embedded at the beginning of this article. The poem, which is composed in the form of tanka (a short, classical, Japanese poem), never uses the word ‘to love’ while the persona sings about their first love.
Crawling on the sand of a sandy mountain My first love’s Day when the pain is distant By Takuboku Ishikawa
We wonder how a Japanese song that sings about love without saying ‘to love’ sounds to Italians who communicate their love in a straightforward way. We hope Maiko and Miyoko’s playing of ‘First Love’ reaches as many people as possible.
Thank you for reading this, and We are always here for you!
Women can fly.
Much love, xxx
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