It’s not often you can say you watched a live performance from the Queen of Country Music, it’s even more of a rarity to say this country royalty is Japanese. You might be asking yourself: “Wait, queen of what country… country music?” But the confusion dissipates with each introduction; from sight to sound one starts to realize with great clarity the reality that is Tomi Fujiyama. From flashy western button-up to bedazzled belt complete with decorative silver buckle, one look at Tomi Fujiyama you understand that she isn’t your typical Japanese grandma. Knowing no bounds, this charismatic woman is hot with personality and fiery with passionate pursuit – Japan’s Queen of Country.
In the 1960’s American country music began to be woven into the fabric of Japan’s music scene. This genre deemed as a fad by some took root in Tomi Fujiyama cultivating her means of expression as a musician, a performer, and a person. Her talents as a country singer and guitarist took her across the Pacific to the United Sates, where in 1964 Tomi took her place on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry in Tennessee performing on the very same billet as Johnny Cash. She was at the height and heart of country music, and became the first Japanese musician to ever grace the stage of country music’s greatest concert hall.
“Made in Japan” is a film that documents the wonderful journey Tomi embarks on in order to play at the Grand Opry one more time. The movie is heartwarming, humorous, and inspiring; showing how one woman’s life was/is transformed by the love of country music. The documentary was the finale film at this year San Diego’s Asian Film Festival. At the close of the show, Tomi graced the audience with her presence performing live on stage at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Downtown La Jolla. Starting with a “Howdy Neighbors!”, her performance was captivating consisting of just her and her guitar. The resonance of her voice and sound can only be contributed to the culmination of decades of practice, years of performing, and a life full of passion. We may have been an imitate audience in San Diego, but Tomi played with such sincerity, you felt as if you yourself were sitting in the oh-so desired Grand Ole Opry.
Her solo performance was followed by a discussion panel with Tomi Fujiyama, director Josh Bishop and producers Jason & Josh Diamond. The only blunder of the whole event was the lack of an interpreter. An interpreter would have allowed Tomi and the audience to connect and interact fully without language limitations. Beside that little hiccup the event was fantastic, from venue, to content, to interaction opportunities. Tomi was the star of the film and the night; though she goes beyond being the protagonist of her own life. She is a light in the lives of others striving to pursue their dreams.
Photos: madeinjapandoc.com & S. Bystrom / Article: Susan Bystrom