Twenty-five years ago, Regina Doi opened a combined nursery school, preschool and kindergarten at Aoba, Tokyo. “There were 16 children, and I was not quite sure whether it would work,” she said. “Within a very short period of time, we had 80 children. When we had about 150, I was sure.”
Today, the Aoba-Japan International School has two campuses and a register of 550 children of more than 30 nationalities from the very young through ninth grade. Well-equipped, with high scholastic standards and offering a full range of extracurricular sports and theatrical programs, it is accredited by The New England Association of Schools and Colleges and The European Council of International Schools.
Doi laments that the one thing she, as founding director and CEO, really misses is being able to teach. “I have no time,” she said simply.
She attributes her singular success in school-building and additional enterprises to others. “I believe in listening to people,” she said. “It’s very important to put ideas together.” She has brought together a team of professionals who are all good communicators. She observes the principle that “the school belongs to the children. Each child has a place,” she said.
Doi began her career as a lyrical opera singer who graduated from Juilliard when it was affiliated with Columbia University. She worked professionally when she was a child, singing on radio. She comes from a family of nine, “all instrument players. We had our own orchestra sometimes,” she said.
As a young woman she joined the Arts Repertory Theater in New York. She worked with opera companies, and won a scholarship for musical study in Italy and Austria. In New York again, she met and married her husband. For a couple of years she worked with him in business, and had her son, Adam. They came to Tokyo in 1964.
Doi associated herself then with Labo-Schooling, TEC Corp. for Language and Educational Research. “Labo was a service program,” she said. “It was designed to bring living English as a second language to Japanese children between the ages of 4 and 16.” Doi traveled regularly around Labo-Schooling centers, meeting 200,000 children between Tokyo and the Kansai. At that time, she said, she found she “liked the world of children. It’s a very clean, uncomplicated world, and I knew I was good in it.”
After she left Labo, Doi wanted to get closer to her first profession. She was appointed music teacher at Nishi-machi School, where she spent six years. “I learned a great deal,” she said. “Nishi-machi was a very happy place. I always try to re-create that kind of environment.” She moved on to Seisen, where she developed long-term programs as well as teaching music. Then she opened the Aoba school.
How could she take such a bold step? She hesitated. “You just do it,” she said. When her sponsor pulled out, she decided to take the whole thing over. “I wondered if it were a great thing to do, or if I were committing suicide,” she said. Her main concern at that stage had to be clearing debts and staying solvent. She was very concerned too that she should draw up a very interesting curriculum.
She is proud now that her school compares well with all others, “from the smallest to those in the big league. We have a global outlook. We strongly emphasize Japanese-language studies as well as complete English mainstream, all in a family atmosphere,” she said.
Doi has other companies and many aims. She represents a company, Bio Environmental Solution, that has a system for revitalizing and cleaning water. “This is something I believe in,” Doi said. She gave her last concert in 1984, and remembers having had “a wonderful career in music.” She writes educational material, and is now putting out “unit books on computer disks.” She raises and distributes funds without fuss, calling that her church work. She said, “What you do, you should do quietly.”
Perhaps she inherited her amazing capacity for life from her mother, who at 97 runs her own foundation for senior citizens. “I am a traditional grandmother,” Doi said, doting on Adam’s daughter and two boys belonging to a young Korean she thinks of as an adopted daughter. She keeps dogs, and loves to cook. Everything she does slots in with her work for the school. “Everything I do goes back to it,” she said.