Rosanna Zambon

by Vivienne Kenrick

Many years ago, a Tokyo woman had a house to let in Sengawa. She used to laugh ruefully at the peculiarities of some of her short-term tenants. Then she had a pair who were the best, who she hoped would stay a long time, whom she spoke of affectionately as “a lovely young couple.” They were Rosanna Zambon, a singer from Italy, and her husband, a Japanese entertainer who had taken for himself the name of Hide Demon.

“I was 17 when I came here for the first time, in 1967,” Rosanna said. Her family home was in a small place between Milan and Verona in the north of Italy. She agrees that her region deserves its reputation for ancient beauty, richness in medieval and Renaissance cathedrals and palaces, and proximity to mountains and lagoons. For her in her girlhood, singing was what mattered more than anything else.

“I attended a music school, and used to sing with a band,” she said. “One of my uncles came to Tokyo for the Olympic Games in 1964. He was a pianist. Later, his brother who was a singer joined him. The two worked in clubs and hotels and different centers. Then they decided they needed a female singer, and sent for me.”

That became a golden age for the two men and their niece, though visa regulations for foreign entertainers were stringent. Rosanna came initially for six months. “I wanted to make some money for my parents, and I asked my uncles if I could stay longer,” she said. With them she traveled to Taiwan, performed on American bases and returned to the glittering Akasaka circuit. She was very popular with her audiences.

“A Japanese male singer was looking for somebody to sing duets with him, and he asked me. He was Hide Demon. Somehow when I first met him I felt he would be my husband,” said Rosanna. She struggled with lyrics, as she had to learn to sing in Japanese. They sang their duets on radio and television, in person at dinner shows and international concerts. “We were a big hit,” Rosanna reminisced.

The first six months turned into six years. The two married. Rosanna’s uncles moved away. Hide, who was not strong in English or Italian, insisted that since Rosanna had become a Japanese wife living in Japan, she should learn Japanese correctly and completely. She did. Their first boy was barely in his teens, and their second boy and only girl several years younger, when Hide died. He was 47.

“I was left with three children, and didn’t know what to do,” Rosanna said quietly. She thought about going back to Italy, but her children, Japanese-speaking and -educated, didn’t want to be uprooted. A star in Japan, she thought she could count on keeping her name in lights. She had the assurance of regular appearances on televised shows. As a fluent linguist as well as an established and popular singer and entertainer, she was often in demand for talks and interviews. Importantly, she could draw upon her Italianness to add to her individuality and public appeal. She was already scoring successes in making videos and writing magazine articles, teaching Japanese women how to cook pasta and use everyday ingredients in Italian ways. Rosanna decided to stay.

Her children are now young adults and on their separate ways. Her first son is married, and Rosanna expects to become a grandmother. Her second son is a vocalist in a group, and her daughter is a fashion model. Rosanna still looks young and fresh. She still keeps her enthusiasm for going out and about. “I have a wing in my foot, even though my favorite place is home,” she said. “It is my pleasure to work for everyone.”

She reaches people with her sunny Italian warmth, her natural charm and her instinctive common touch. She keeps up her television shows, and includes appearances in dramas. She has published eight books on Italian food. She accepts speaking engagements, “singing and talking,” from many kinds of groups of all ages near and far, and will develop any topic they ask of her. “Health, love, children,” she gave as examples — “subjects that all women are interested in.”

During the dozen years that Rosanna has been the sole prop of her family and herself, she has been brave and effective. “Japan is good to me,” she said. “And so I do my best.”

‘Woore at the Borders

Vivienne Kenrick’s latest book, “Woore at the Borders,” recounts the history and connections of the Kenrick family with the village Woore in Shropshire, England. The late Douglas Kenrick, lord of the manor, was the first New Zealand businessman in postwar Japan and president of the Asiatic Society of Japan. The book is available at the Foreign Correspondents’ Press Club, tel. (03) 3211-3161, and from Vivienne, fax (03) 3280-2485.