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Nahid Yoshinari: 'I love to involve the audience in the music'

By Louise George Kittaka
The Japan Times
December 04, 2020

A native of Iran, Nahid Yoshinari, 51, combines her work as an announcer and translator at NHK World Radio Japan with various activities that introduce her culture to people in the country. In addition to performing Persian music, dance and poetry with her two bands, she also conducts cooking classes. Yoshinari enjoys tennis and traveling in her spare time, and doesn’t like receiving prejudice based on nationality and religion.

1. What brought you to Japan? My Japanese husband. I worked for the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Japan External Trade Organization in Iran, and we met when he was there for business.

2. What do you do at NHK Radio Japan? For over 20 years I’ve been translating the news, and music and cooking programs, from English into Persian. I read the narration for these programs, too.

3. What are the best parts and the most challenging aspects? I love this work because you can meet people from different countries talking in different languages. But my colleagues and I don’t have much choice in making the programs, and usually have to translate what is given to us.

4. What kind of music do your bands play? I was lucky enough to find some very nice musicians here who were eager to play Persian music, so I usually perform with my two bands: Persian Traditional Music, Ava and Persian Music Seda. The latter performs pop songs.

Nahid Yoshinari teaches Persian, enjoys cooking and has some tips on the best Persian restaurants in the Tokyo area. | YUTA OTSUKA

5. Do you ever perform solo? Yes! If I’m somewhere and people want to hear my songs and I don’t have my band members with me, I will sing a cappella and dance to recorded music. I also try to introduce some parts of Persian culture, such as poetry.

6. Did you perform on stage back in Iran? No. The Iranian Revolution happened when I was 11 and, under the new government and law, girls were not allowed to perform in public. But when we gathered at home parties of friends or relatives, everyone danced — and those with confidence would sing. I think I had a lot of passion for performing!

7. How do you choose the songs for your concerts? I usually sing Persian love songs or songs depending on the season. I also try to have at least one or two in Japanese, or I sing my Persian version of the Japanese songs, because I think people can enjoy feeling the similarities or differences between the languages. And I arrange a song to sing with the audience at the end, since I love to involve them in the music we play.

8. Are you still playing amid the pandemic? Persian Music Seda is going to perform Oct. 31 at Choonji, a temple in Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture. Due to COVID-19, we’ll be performing on the temple grounds, which are spacious and beautiful. It will be streamed online, too.

9. You also teach Persian cooking classes. How did you learn to cook? My mother and elder sister are both very good cooks, and in Iran we have a lot of home parties where we make and eat food together.

10. Do you cook Japanese food? Yes, I went to Japanese cooking classes here for two years and that helped me to have a better understanding of what Japanese people want to learn about other food cultures and what suits their tastes.

11. If you were to cook a traditional Persian meal for guests, what would you make? Gheimeh and Iranian rice. Gheimeh is a kind of stew made from split beans, meat, dry limes, potatoes and tomato paste. It’s a food that every Iranian family makes at least once a week.

12. Any recommendations for Persian restaurants? Caspian in Tsurumi Ward, Yokohama, and Jame Jam, a small cozy restaurant in the Asagaya area of Tokyo.

13. How has COVID-19 affected your life? Well, all our events for the Persian new year in March 2020 were canceled, and my work was reduced. I started teaching Persian online, which was a new experience, and I was able to meet new people who later came to my cooking classes in person.

14. Did you start anything new during the #stayhome period? Yes, my new hobby which I started this year — gardening. It’s very relaxing, and now I love my flowers and herbs very much.

15. What is one surprising thing about your home country? Oh, there are many! We have four seasons like Japan — yes, we have snow in Iran — Persian foods are not spicy (but they are definitely tasty) and we speak Persian, not Arabic. And Iranian women are strong, educated, passionate and beautiful.

16. What is one thing that most people don’t know about you? I studied botany at university in Iran.

17. If you have visitors from overseas, what is your favorite place to take them? The Nezu Museum in Tokyo, where they can see the beauty of a Japanese-style garden and feel peace in the middle of this huge city. And I would like to take them to Kusatsu, an onsen (hot spring) town in Gunma Prefecture. In Iran we have hot springs and hammam (public baths), too.

18. What’s the best thing about living in Japan? It’s safe, people are nice and the weather is good (except for recent years, when we’ve had many typhoons).

19. What do you miss most about your home country? Walking to a bookshop and choosing any book that I want, standing in line at a bakery to get a fresh hot nan bread, and running into friends and relatives by chance on the street.

20. What is your favorite Japanese word? “Go-en” (fate/chance). Since coming to Japan, I had the go-en to meet some very nice people. I am grateful to them, as they helped me to become who I am now.

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