Lisako Fukuda-NiChionnaith: ‘What you play reflects your real personality’


Special To The Japan Times

Name: Lisako Fukuda-NiChionnaith
Age: 43
Nationality: Japanese
Likes: Earrings, eggs as food, chatting with friends, playing music
Dislikes: Sad news, losing my temper

1. How did you end up in the west of Ireland? My older brother suggested I study English in Ireland. His friends in Dublin suggested I attend a summer music school on Achill Island. That was in 1999.

2. What do you miss most about Japan? Friends from school and work, the food, hot springs and my mother’s advice.

3. Describe the view from your kitchen window. I can see Sliabh Mor (Mount Slievemore), the highest mountain on Achill Island, as well as rhododendron bushes surrounding the premise.

4. What’s your favorite word in Japanese? 真摯 (shinshi, or “sincerity”). I also like 心遣り (kokoroyari), which can mean being thoughtful or considerate.

5. What instruments do you play? The fiddle is my main instrument. I also play a bit of tin whistle and one or two tunes on harp.

6. What first attracted you to Irish music? My very first experience at a pub in Dublin in June 1999. Every single musician there was enjoying the craic, which made the atmosphere great. I thought to myself, “This is real music!” You see, the kanji for music in Japanese — 音楽 , or ongaku — consists of the Chinese characters for “enjoy” and “music.”

7. How have your parents influenced you? They both lived abroad before they married so their education was internationally orientated. They also gave me the foundation for music in my life by sending me to classical lessons.

8. What did your parents think of your decision to follow your dreams? When I got a job in Dublin in 2001, my mother sounded surprised and sad because we were very close. Nonetheless, she never asked me to come home nor discourage me from living in Ireland. She has been very understanding and supportive. My father was also understanding, too.

9. Was it difficult to break into the Irish music scene coming from Japan? I was aware that, being the only Asian playing among Western musicians, I certainly stood out, and the audience made comments about me that were sometimes hard to take, even though they probably meant no harm. However, the times I was down also helped me to think about how I was going to play Irish music.

10. How would you describe an Irish music session? It’s the music Irish people have lived with throughout history. It happens a lot in pubs in Ireland as a form of a session, like jazz. By playing the same tune together, musicians are exchanging something between each other, almost like a conversation.

11. What has Irish music taught you? Irish music sessions are not only about music, they’re also about communication. So what I’ve learned from Irish music is that what you play reflects your real personality and you cannot hide it although you might be subconsciously trying to hide it in verbal conversation.

12. Which musicians do you most admire? Foreign musicians who have taken up traditional Irish music after turning 20, especially self-taught musicians. I can’t imagine taking up the fiddle and learning tunes completely new to me in my 20s.

13. If you could play with any musician, dead or alive, who would you pick? My father-in-law John Kenny (Sean O’Cionnaith). He died before I got to know my husband but he talks about his father with respect, especially when he talks about his musical background.

14. What was your worst job? My previous two jobs, because they both damaged my health.

15. What do you do if you wake in the night and can’t get back to sleep? Read. A few different books are always at my bedside, usually one or two novels and/or essays and a Japanese cookbook. I would love to have a recent issue of a Japanese magazine that is hard to find in Achill.

16. What is your ideal day off? Sleep in until nearly noon, have a big brunch, play a few tunes with friends in the afternoon, enjoy a couple of pints early in the evening, eat a bowl of noodles for supper and go to bed early.

17. What is your worst habit? People might say smoking is my worst habit but, for me, it’s my short temper.

18. What was the best meal you ever had? Where was it? I can recall spaghetti and meatballs cooked by a Dutch-Italian friend during a music festival in Achill about 10 years ago. The taste I don’t quite remember, but the scene I will never forget!

19. What makes you nervous? When I am either pressed for time or interviewed in English for TV or radio.

20. Do you have any words of advice for young people? Do not be afraid to be different from others. Uniqueness is important but it is hard to be unique. You might have to feel like a loner at times but be proud of who and what you are. Experience will help you to be unique when you realize that nobody can experience exactly the same thing in the same way as you have done.