I was the First Japanese Woman to Meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama

New York, N.Y. Some people wish to know about the relationship between me and His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, as I was the first Japanese woman to meet him.

5a40168021000015005f5befHis Holiness the Dalai Lama with his friend Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura, 1971.

The trigger was Tibet’s “Folk Opera.” In 1971, I saw a picture of “Tibetan Opera” in the classic National GeographicAt that time, I was looking for various rare performing arts as international impresario, so when I learned about “Tibetan folk opera,” I thought I must go to see!

I looked for information. But since there was no Internet, I looked it up in the phone book but there was no information headlining Tibet. There was only one Tibetan restaurant listed in New York at that time and hoping that they knew anything about it, I went there. I heard that ‘the country of Tibet does not exist anymore, and the Dalai Lama has exiled to India.” At that time, I was absolutely ignorant of Tibet and the Dalai Lama.


But I could not give up on Tibetan opera, and so I called the restaurant again two days later. They said, “A few days ago, the Dalai Lama’s office was opened in New York.” So I visited the tiny office with a small desk and a telephone. A brother of the first secretary of the Dalai Lama was there alone. I was so surprised! He looked almost exactly like my younger brother in Kyoto!  

I thought at the time that Japanese and Tibetan genes might be related (there are now survey results that Japanese and Tibetans actually have common DNA). While talking about various things, I decided to go to Dharamsala to see the Dalai Lama and investigate this Tibetan Opera. That’s where this story begins…

Old Tibet was so difficult to reach and entering the country was impossible

The country of Tibet was situated at a steep high mountain range of the Himalayas, the people were mainly nomadic and Buddhist. It is said to be “Eternal Shangri – la (utopia),” it is hard to reach. For many years, it was closed to other countries and no one could enter.

Russia, the U.K. (India was then a colony), and China occasionally attacked Tibet, but since the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party’s National Government (People’s Republic of China) in 1947, Tibet was gradually dominated and occupied by the Chinese.

Finally, in March 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama’s life was threatened and he decided to escape Tibet in the middle of the night wearing a disguise. He and his entourage crossed the steep mountain ranges of the Himalayas and arrived nearly one month later, at the historical village called Tawang, now on the Indian side of the border.

8 India’s Prime Minister Nehru welcomed His Holiness the Dalai Lama
to establish the Tibetan government-in-exile at Dharamsala, India.

Tawang is home of the Manjushree orphanage I support, as well as the large monastery of the fifth Dalai Lama and the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama.

Shortly after escaping to Tawang, with the support and protection of India’s Prime Minister Nehru, His Holiness established the Tibetan government-in-exile at Dharamsala (India), and has now been in exile for almost sixty years.

His Holiness the 14th  Dalai Lama 

The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of Tibet. He was born on July 6, 1935 in a farmhouse in the small village of Taktsel in the northeastern part of Tibet. At the age of two, he was certified as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama. The 14th Dalai Lama is believed to be the incarnation of Kannon Bodhisattva, symbolizing Buddha’s mercy, and the guardian patron of Tibet.

In 1989, His Holiness was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his struggles with nonviolence to win Tibetan freedom. He has visited all over the world and received more than 150 awards and honorary doctorates. He has called for peace, non-violence, a mutual understanding of different religions, and disseminated the concepts of universal responsibility and compassion. 

The Dalai Lama is actively involved in dialogues with leaders of other faiths and participates in various events frequently in order to achieve harmony and mutual understanding between different religions.


More than 10,000 exiled Tibetans live in Dharamsala, where the 14th Dalai Lama has been exiled for more than 60 years. Here we have the base of Tibetan Buddhist Culture. The number of people interested in Tibetan Buddhism year by year has increased, and visitors to this city from all over the world are increasing.

Dharamshala_4Dharamshala, India, is the seat of Tibet’s government in exile
and home of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.

The Tibetan Exile Government was established there. Every Tibetan who lives scattered outside of Tibet in the world votes for the election of their President. Currently Dr. Lobsang Sangay holds this office, elected as President by popular vote first in 2011 and then again in 2016. Dr. Sangay nominates his cabinet with the Tibetan Parliament’s approval.

Although this government-in-exile is not official, it is recognized around the world as a “country without land. “The Dalai Lama of the past was a leader of politics, religion, economy and the lives of all Tibetan citizens, but this 14th Dalai Lama retired from politics and economics in 2011. He remains the supreme leader of the Tibetan Buddhism.

Originally published as Vol. 3 in Weekly Biz, September 30, 2017; 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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