People | PERSONALITY PROFILE

Doreen Simmons

by Vivienne Kenrick

Quite simply, Doreen Simmons is unique.

Is there another who, graduated in classics and theology, is also a professional sumo commentator? Is there another intellectual, a Mensa member, who lectures, travels and writes, who at age 68 decided to go bungee jumping? Could there be another actress and singer with “a Mozart voice” who says she calls herself “a novelty percussionist having a vast assortment of scrapers and clackers”? At different pubs three times a month, she plays the bodhran, the Irish drum, and thinks she may be the only bodhran player who has also accompanied bluegrass performances and a belly dancer.

Doreen has zest for living, originality and confidence.

She says that she is so busy because there are so many things that she loves to do, and she can never say no to an opportunity. In Japan she has immersed herself in a variety of different activities, so different people know her in different guises, and respect her for her talents and wide knowledge. Versatile and energetic, with a capacity for uninhibited enjoyment, she takes an educated approach to every interest. “I have a passionate desire to know what is going on,” she said.

From Nottingham in England, Doreen is a graduate of Christ Church, Cambridge.

She began a teaching career in England. She answered an advertisement for a teaching position in Singapore, and was appointed. She married in Singapore. Before returning to England, husband and wife spent three months in Japan. “I went back to teaching in England, but I never forgot Japan,” Doreen said. Once more she applied for an advertised post, was accepted, and came to teach and live in Japan.

She continued, “In time, I was looking for a desk job. I found a superb one at the Foreign Press Center, that had decided to have someone to edit translations of Foreign Ministry press releases.” She also edits letters and documents in the foreign affairs departments of the House of Representatives and the House of Councilors, and for the National Diet Library.

Doreen sang in choirs throughout her school days. In Tokyo she sings with the St. Alban’s Church choir and the British Embassy Choir. A recent BEC performance ended with her doing a solo folk song. The audience sat spellbound for several seconds before the applause for the whole performance began. “That was one of the highlights of my life,” Doreen said.

She is multilingual and also has the gift to assume other voices — “raucous male impersonations, ultra-sweet, throbby animal voices,” — for which she is in demand for commercial recordings. Bookstores still sell the Agatha Christie tape for which Doreen supplies the voice of Miss Marple.

Doreen lives in a Sumida neighborhood near the sumo stables. In her old-style district, she dons a “yukata” and joins the Bon dancing in the streets. Since 1992 she has been making English-language sumo commentaries for NHK satellite television, numbering over 160 live shows to date. Earlier this year she was one of three judges invited by the EU Delegation in Tokyo to decide the design for a “kesho-mawashi” to be presented to Bulgarian sumo wrestler Koto-oshu on his promotion to ozeki. Subsequently she attended the presentation ceremony in the prime minister’s official residence.

In 1980, Doreen joined the scholastic body The Asiatic Society of Japan. She has addressed the society, and has been a member of its council and assistant corresponding secretary since 2000. She undertook the computerization of its Bulletin, “my main claim to fame in that quarter,” she said.

Over 20 years ago, Doreen made her debut with Tokyo International Players. She is a triumph whatever her role. With TIP, and in other groups, her parts have included a drum-banging soccer hooligan and a drunken Irish tinker, a dead woman and a strangled woman, a happy medium and an invisible spirit, a dying rhinoceros and a transvestite geisha.

Travels took her to the Antarctic, the Middle East and Australia, where she bungee jumped. With a team from St. Alban’s, she joined a Habitat for Humanity workforce, and celebrated her 71st birthday digging foundations for homes in Mongolia. She continued this labor for two further years. She also “fell in love with Mongolian tattoos” and had a “neat little upper left arm job” done in a parlor in Ulan Bator.

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