Early in her career, Tomoko performed in several music competitions, from local to international. Once of her most famous competitions was the Queen Elisabeth Competition.
First of all, this Queen did not rule in England. She was born in Bavaria, and was the wife of Belgium’s King Albert I. This Queen Elisabeth as a patron of the arts and a good friend of Belgium concert violinist Eugene Ysaye. He wanted to establish an international music competition for young musician to exhibit their talent, but Eugene died before accomplishing his dream. Knowing his popularity and reputation, Queen Elisabeth herself set up that competition in 1937, in Eugene’s memory. The following year, the competition focused on pianists. The competition just barely got off the ground when World War II intervened. In 1951 it was re-activated and renamed in honor of the queen.
In the 1960s, the competition had a four-year cycle, so the piano was featured only in 1960, 1964 and 1968 -- when Tomoko performed. Competitors had to learn a required piece written for the competition as well as play a piece by a Belgian composer. By that time, the competition was broadcast on television. Finalists won cash prizes and gained international acclaim, which helped their burgeoning careers.
As with other contestants, Tomoko had to pay her own expenses, but was housed by local arts enthusiasts. She also had to spend months ahead of time learning the required pieces and practicing her own technique. When asked why she did such competitions, Tomoko replied, “Humans need competition. Pressure transforms to energy.” She continued, “Enjoy life with its challenges – then succeed.”