It’s not easy to get ahead without a high school education but Mako Hattori managed. Hattori, 47, a well known TV personality and traditional Japanese dance instructor, recalls growing up in Nihonbashi. “I started working when I was 15 because I wanted to help my mom, who was a single mother raising me and my younger brother,” she says in fluent English. “She was working as a geisha in a restaurant, making barely enough to support the three of us. I never saw her buy things for herself.”
Hattori’s one passion back then was ballroom dancing and her mother encouraged her to take lessons. “The instructor also ran a modeling agency, so I started modeling for magazines and doing food-related TV commercials. My first one was for Ajinomoto," Hattori says. At 16, she was chosen to be the Kanebo campaign girl. Then TV work started coming in and she got offered a guest spot on a cooking show, followed by a regular spot for five years.
Not satisfied with her life, Hattori tried something adventurous and went off to New York by herself in the early 1980s. “I canceled all my work in Japan. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I got a job in a Celine store, working in the basement checking inventory. I did that for a year and really enjoyed myself. Then Mari Yoshimura, whom I had worked with on my cooking show, asked me to do a live U.S. segment for her music program ‘Yoru no Hits Studio.’ For the next six or seven years, I wasn’t really living anywhere. I was in and out of Japan, a freelance reporter for various programs.” Hattori says she taught herself English and Spanish, keeping a dictionary with her all the time. She estimates she has been to more than 75 countries.
Now married and mother to a 17-year-old daughter, Hattori still leads a busy life. “These days, I have a regular variety show on local Sendai TV show. I go there twice a month. Otherwise, I appear on different variety and travel programs, at talk shows, events, as a guest speaker, or do MC work where a bilingual speaker is required, such as orchid fairs, international ballroom dance competitions and so on.” Hattori also teaches Japanese dance under the name Shoko Yamamura at her Tokyo studio. “I have about 50 students ranging in age from 4 to 73,” she says.
Being in an international marriage, Hattori is frequently asked for advice on the subject. “You have to love the other half’s culture and language. You have to have space in between and respect that space,” she says. “I did everything bilingually with my daughter from the first day. When she was 3, she didn’t want to speak in Japanese, so we didn’t. Then after four months, she tried it again. I made it a rule not to mix languages as she was growing up.”
Many people who have “grown up” with Hattori often spot her when she is out and about. “It’s funny. They watch what I buy at the supermarket. Some people think they know me so well from TV and start talking to me as if I was a neighbor.”
She attributes her longevity in the business to a willingness to be versatile. “Show business is always up and down. In Japan, some personalities are seasonal. You see someone who is the flavor of the month on every channel; then they are gone. I think older people can provide better quality programming, but so often they don’t get a chance. I was able to keep busy in between, with my dancing, cooking and other activities.”
Looking back, Hattori says she has no regret about not finishing high school or going to university. “I think I made the best choices for myself that I could. Through my work, I had so many experiences, so I guess life is my college.”
For more info on Hattori, visit http://www.keepsmiling.co.jp/profile/pdetail.php?tid=hattori or http://tokyoshousenkai.blogspot.com/© Japan Today