Transportation has played an important role in Tomoko’s musical journey. Every week Tomoko drives into San Francisco to teach.“I love to drive!” Her love of travel started early; “I remember looking over the Yokohama harbor, and wondering where the ships were going.”
Tomoko took public transportation to get to her early music lessons and high school, and she traveled over an hour from Yokohama to the Tokyo University of the Arts (Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku).
When Tomoko left Japan for the U.S. she saved her money, and flew across the Pacific. Professor Herbert Jan Popper facilitated her immigration by listing her along with a group of Japanese singers for a Japanese opera that was going to be performed for UCLA. She was also able to get exchange student student to help her stay in the U.S.
As a student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, money was tight for Tomoko. She tried for a San Francisco Foundation award that would help finance her studies. Tomoko remembers, “ That morning was rainy, and I had only one dollar, not even enough to take a taxi.” Instead, Tomoko took a bus, holding her umbrella to keep her nice outfit dry. She thought to herself: “I am going to make it.” When she got to the auditorium, a competitor arrived in a Cadillac, and someone held out an umbrella over her head. After Tomoko played the required selection, the judges liked her performance so much that they asked her to play another solo piece. The competition took all day, and Tomoko had to go home alone on the bus at 8pm, when there were few buses at that hour. Two days later she found out that she won.
Tomoko had always wanted to visit Europe because of its long musical tradition. When she graduated from the Conservatory, Tomoko also wanted to compete internationally. Her friends helped pay her flight, and they connected her with other musical supporters. After her competition, “I traveled around Europe -- Rome, Firenze, Nice, Cannes, Munich, Zurich, Sweden -- on a Eurail pass for two months.” Tomoko adds, “I always thought this would be my last trip to Europe.”
Since then, Tomoko has traveled several times to Europe: for other piano competitions, to support her daughter’s skating competitions, and to visit the homeland of her Hungarian husband.
And she still loves to drive around Europe….