Challenge: Creating Japanese Culture Exchange with East Germany (B)

New York, N.Y. After returning from East Germany, I went to negotiate with the Japanese government. I first asked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Minister said, “Absolutely not. We have neither diplomatic relations nor communications with East Germany and therefore we cannot do anything.”

I said I was not willing to give up and would go back to East Berlin once more. I persuaded Nagoya’s Chubu Nippon Broadcasting (CBC) to receive the East German orchestra, and then worked with CBC to try to persuade the Japanese government. Eventually the government said, “Although we cannot issue visas, we may be able to do something.” Finally, some hope.

Then, Another Challenge

At that time, planes between Japan and East Germany had to stop in Anchorage for refueling. Alaska, of course, is a U.S. territory. Even though I had not made contact (it might be a spy job?), my office received a phone call came from the U.S. Department of State. They told me if the East Germans did not have U.S. visas, they could not stop over in Alaska.

I promised that all the members were musicians and not even one person would take a even step out of the plane. This was not enough. When it came to members of the Communist Party, it was absolutely unacceptable. So I had to provide a list of all of the orchestra members to Washington.

After many months, the Department of State said there were two on my list who were Communist party members, one a trumpet player and the other a journalist (this journalist later became East German Minister of Culture).

So, off to Berlin I went again. They admited these two were indeed Communist Party members. The East Germans agreed the trumpet player could be replaced but they refused to eliminate the journalist.

Dr. Rakowitz was a celebrity composer, author of Joseph Haydn’s biography, a world leader in music history, and had written many other books. They presented me many of his books. 

I returned to Washington and explained, “If you can monitor him 24 hours a day and  promise he will not meet Japanese Communist members and politicians during the trip, we will allow it.” 

I had to give them signed, written documents. Strangely enough, the Japanese government said the same thing as the United States. It is a fact how Japan at that time was so connected to America. I stayed in the room next to this person during the whole trip so I could monitor him.

Poverty without ‘Valuta’ (Western Currency) 

These historical concerts were performed at the Osaka World Expo in Japan in 1970. The concerts were a great success and their reviews were tremendous. The Japanese were able to listen to performances of the legendary Gewandhaus Orchestra from Leipzig, directed by Kurt Mazar, for the first time in history. 

I Noticed a Strange Thing as the Tour Progressed

All 140 of the orchestra were fine and healthy at the beginning of the tour, but I was worried as their eyes grew blurry and they lost weight. The German Agency for Cultural Affairs had given each orchestra member about $30 per person as a daily allowance.

When I asked them what they were eating, they told me only bread and bananas. Everyone was trying to save money. They had brought a lot of canned food in their musical instruments cases. Some caught colds as they became malnourished. These musicians were by no means poor in their country but were poor in Japan.

I decided to give a party with lots of food every night after the concert, serving a buffet. Everyone was then able to eat with delight. They desperately saved the money, bought a lot of Japanese appliances, and went home so happy.

I had to pay enormous fees for their excess baggage charges. Some members had brought tattered suitcase and I had negotiated with the airline to get them new suitcases. This was the difference between rich and poor; Japan and East Germany at that time. 

Because of my deep relationship with East Germany, I had a close relationship with other Communist countries. Each year, there was a conference of the Agencies for Cultural Affairs of the Communist bloc countries. I was invited to the conference and introduced as a new partner to every countries’ head of Culture.

As a result, each country welcomed me, and I began to work exclusively in the U.S., and my company flourished. Even now I am thankful that this was the result of my first courageous visit to the unknown East Berlin.

Soon afterwards, diplomatic relations opened between East Germany and Japan. Even today I am very proud of what I did back then to play a part.

Originally published as Vol. 17 in Weekly Biz, March 10, 2018; translated by Jim Luce.

See: Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura Column in Japan’s Weekly Biz




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About Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura

View all posts by Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko was born into a distinguished old family in Kyoto, Japan, and graduated from Toho conservatory of Music in Tokyo. In 1961 she came to U.S. as a pianist sponsored by the Boston Symphony. She studied at Boston University, New York University, and received her Ph.D. in Oriental Medicine from New York State University and the International Academy of Education in Tokyo. From 1968 to 1992, she promoted cultural exchanges from East to West and vice versa, and became a world famous impresario, producing 2,000 events each year all over the world encompassing over 140 countries. In this connection, in 1972, she went to Dharamsala to find the lost Tibetan Folk Opera, and met His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with whom she remains a lifelong friend. In 1973 and 1991 she arranged and funded personally the tours of the Folk Opera of Tibet to the West. She has received many medals and honors from different countries. Her tireless life long work in Philanthropic field is vast and well known ranging from Save the Beacon Theater, Save the Boat People, Help the Homeless, natural disasters of earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as relief to AIDS and HIV positive children in Africa. She has been a dedicated Board Member to both the J. Luce Foundation and Orphans International for years. Her work focuses on the Tibetan people; Tibetan children remain especially strong in her heart. She raised fund for the new academic building for Manjushree Orphanage in Tawang, India and supported many aspects of the school. See HuffPo pieces entitled Japanese Holistic Healer in NYC to Build School for Tibetan Orphans in India, A Japanese Dinner with Raul Castro’s Daughter, and NYC Gala in Support of Tibetan Orphans Set for January.

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