Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi
Mail to: email@example.com
Singer/Pianist (She’s been in Japan since ’95)
Ekaterina, a wonderful diva from Russia! She sings Russian folk songs, Japanese songs in 80s and J-POP (Japanese popular songs after 90s). She lives for promoting exchange between Japan and Russia through singing.
Her songs were aired on TV and she has sung the Russian anthem at international soccer matches. But she is always friendly, not haughty and spontaneous.
She is very flexible, enough so to perform at both big halls and small live houses. Her smile is really friendly. Such characteristics she has are harmonized with her transparent voice and attract Japanese people.
From Siberia to Sakhalin
I came to Japan on July 28, 1995. I flew to Niigata from Sakhalin (a large elongated island which is a part of Far Eastern Federal District of Russia).
I was born in Siberia. I began to learn the piano and I organized a band when I was in high school. Then I entered a musical academy. After that, I belonged to a Russian philharmonic orchestra. It was one that did not perform classical music but rather Russian folk songs.
I was in charge of background chorus at first, but I got myself to being a vocalist gradually. There was no small live house in the Former Soviet Union so I had no choice but performing at big stages even though I was young. It was good for me to gain musical experience.
But I lost interest in that work little by little. Moreover my musical office was almost folded. People around me began engaging in dark business and they made money scurvily. I was disappointed at those things and got interested in working in an international environment. I wanted to know whether foreigners had such a dirtiness.
I came up with an idea of going to Sakhalin. A friend of mine lived there and there were many foreign businesspersons who dealt with oil and natural gas there. Sakhalin is abundant in natural resources.
Live performance at the
Belarussian restaurant “Minsk”
(6:30PM- on Wednesdays)
A chance meeting with Japan.
I moved to Sakhalin around 1991, about 4 years before I came here. I wanted to buy a condo in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the state capital of Sakhalin. But it was much more expensive than in Siberia so I couldn’t afford it. Then I found a very old ranch home which was owned by a Japanese before. I didn’t think about going to Japan at all so it was a curious coincidence. That house consisted of three small rooms so I tore down the walls and made it into one big room.
Then I found a job at a hotel which was built from Japanese capital. This was also only by coincidence.
I performed on the stage of a restaurant inside the hotel. Also I dealt with complaints from guests. Many foreigners stayed at our hotel but Japanese guests didn’t make many complaints. They didn’t complain even if they felt bad about something, but instead they didn’t come to stay again.
Also they were very kind to us. I felt they were gentle, cool and true to their words. I wanted to go to Japan because I thought it is a place where such wonderful people live.
A Taiwanese diva.
I was singing Teresa Teng‘s songs. She is a Taiwanese but got popular in Japan and other Asian countries. When I was in Siberia, I had never listened to Japanese songs. But a Japanese guest gave me a cassette tape which recorded her songs sung in Japanese. When I listened to them, I felt tenderness like a breeze because the melody and lyrics of them were so gentle. *Click here and listen to Teresa’s song.
My boss was a Japanese composer. He got interested in me who was singing Japanese songs eagerly despite lacking knowledge of the language. Later he gave me a song called “Eien No Tomo Yo (My Dear Eternal Friend)”. It was written as a sign of friendship between Sakhalin and Hokkaido (Northern Japan). But he got involved in problems with Russian management of the hotel and quit. I saw Russian’s slyness with my own eyes. So I was eager to fly to Japan. I thought that it could be worse if I stayed in Russia so I decided to leave.
Some Russians said to me that I was insane or weird. I think it’s because I always praised Japanese people or Japanese things even though I had never been to Japan at that time. Like that Japanese showed me a wonderful thing or I wanted to see something which my Japanese guest mentioned. My friends heard what I said and observed me wryly, saying that I should move away to Japan if I loved it that much. They also said that the country where I grew up is Russia so I should be proud of it.
Originally there were many Mongolians in Siberia, where I was born and raised; so many Asian people lived there. So we never looked at them weirdly. I have such a background so I began to like Japan, I think.
Okinawan song sung in Russian & Japanese
(With Bonny Jacks, a Japanese chorus group)
Learning Japanese at a public bathhouse.
I flew to Niigata from Sakhalin with my son. Then we moved to Kawasaki, the million-people city adjacent to Tokyo. My coworker at the hotel told me about a friend of his who lived in Kawasaki. That guy was a Japanese hard rock singer.
He didn’t understand Russian at all so we talked to each other in English. He told me about the way of life in Japan, such as education, things which you can/can’t do here and so on. Also he knew a lot about music stores and live houses.
At that time, I worked at a fast food shop in the daytime and sang songs at a night club.
I lived in an old and small room with my son. It had no bathroom so we went to a sento (銭湯: public bathhouse).
The sento was like a Japanese language class for me. I didn’t have enough money to go to a language school so I studied Japanese by talking to old women as I soaked myself in a bathtub with them. At a fast food shop, of course everything was written in Japanese. So I prepared my own manual written in Russian. Or other staff took orders and what I did was only give hamburgers to customers saying “Omatase-shimashita” (a polite way of saying “Here’s your order” in Japanese).
I worked like that as a part-timer so I was always broke. I looked for small and cheap shops and bought clothes and food there. Clerks often talk to you at those kind of shops. So you might think that it would be easier for foreigners to go shopping at supermarkets or convenience stores because you don’t need to talk to shop attendants. But I don’t think so.
For example, I became friends with old clerks at a small fruit and veg. Then I can buy a vegie which is deformed at a cheaper price. If I can eat it, its shape doesn’t matter. Moreover they give you a hand of bananas as a free gift if you become closer with them.
I performed at a night club everyday so I didn’t sleep well. I had clouds under my eyes and my boss at the fast food shop gave me many kinds of vitamin supplements. I was really glad to receive his kindness.
What I always wanted was a place I could have heart-to-heart relationships with people, not an environment which my language got through.
Singing of the Russian anthem at a soccer match between Japan and Russia.
Finding a new dream.
I started liking Russian folk songs after I came here. I didn’t know them even though I’m Russian. When I was a child, people came to my home and sang songs. But they sang famous ones like “Katyusha”.
One day I met with Nina Hyodo, a half-Russian singer who knows many Russian folk songs. I saw her performance at a bar in Tokyo. I was surprised that she knew songs much better than me even though her nationality is Japanese. I felt embarrassed.
Thanks to her, I had a new dream. Nina, a Japanese woman, loved Russian songs that much. So I wanted to sing Japanese songs for Russians and hoped that Russians would get to know them as well as Japanese do.
Not only me but also my former Russian coworkers at the hotel loved Japanese songs sung by Teresa Teng. We had no idea what she sang about but all of us loved the melodies. That’s why I believe Japanese songs must reach Russian people.
You may wonder why I sing Japanese songs here in Japan, not Russian songs. It’s because there are many Japanese who know a lot of Russian songs like Nina. No matter how much I sing Russian songs. I can’t hold a candle to her. Also I love the melody of Japanese songs and the suaveness of the Japanese language. So I sing them.
A song called “Million Roz” sung in Russian & Japanese
I want to be a bridge.
I think Japanese songs are similar to Russian folk songs, especially the melodies. I felt a kind of romance in Russian songs when I listened to Teresa Teng’s works. A Japanese old man said that Russian folk songs suit Japanese taste. That also supports my notion.
I will perform at many kinds of places. And I want to understand Japanese feelings much more. In order to do that, I have to know which kind of songs Japanese want to listen to.
I want to sing Japanese children’s songs and J-POP in Russian. Also I want to translate Russian pops into Japanese and sing them, too.
I hope that Japanese and Russians can understand each other more. What I can do is sing and I hope this will support the cultural interaction between two countries.
Singing for children at a day-care center
What is Tokyo to you?
A city which is full of busy people. But it doesn’t lose tenderness.
Tokyo offers me a lot more opportunities to go to concerts and perform. People support other people who live their lives to the fullest, putting their hearts into everything they do in Japan. To me, that’s a way of being kind.
I was born in a forest. Now I live in Tokyo and there are no forests at all. But I’m happy with that. Tokyo has no nature but it’s filled with tenderness. It’s symbolized by Tokyo’s convenience.
So I’ll stay here. I’ll move to the countryside after I save some money and hope to pass away in Japan.