Sophians Talk about Japan and the World

Sophia Wove My Dream into Reality : Aiming Now for New Heights as a Stage Actor

Jay Kabira
(Musical Actor)

From Failure to a New Dream at Sophia

Jay Kabira Musical Actor

At junior and senior high school I liked drama and musical so much that I even formed a club with my friends, but I was mostly interested in playing soccer.

I belonged to the youth team of the Yomiuri Football Club (as it was then), and I went on a soccer exchange to Texas State University in the aim of becoming a professional player. I caught the eye of the coach and was even selected as a member of the US National Best 11, but that was as far as I went. A new coach arrived, and his style didn't match mine. In the middle of the season, I was told I was no longer a regular in the team. At his words, the unforgettable sound of despair echoed in my head [laughs].

I had no choice but to head back to Japan. I danced for joy when my transfer was accepted by the Department of Comparative Culture in the Faculty of Foreign Studies (now the Faculty of Liberal Arts) at Sophia University, but to be honest I was lost when I started at Sophia [laughs]. Becoming an English teacher and soccer club adviser was the best I could dream of then. But for sure I had a great time on campus, especially taking part in the Sophia FC Eagles, which welcomed me as a key player.

One day, a friend who knew that I had experience in drama gave me a flyer for the musical Fame produced by the Tokyo Student English Play League, also known as Model Production. I had seen the film version several times and loved it. I was excited for the first time in a long while. When I looked at it more closely, I found that the audition was taking place the next day. Although I wasn't at all prepared and didn't even have an audition tape ready, I decided to try because I had nothing to lose. Fortunately the director, Yoko Narahashi, approved my audition and I even got the part I really wanted. After our actual performance we received a standing ovation. It was then my heart was set on becoming an actor not a teacher.

My grades were nothing to brag about, but somehow my graduation thesis focusing on the identity of people like myself with dual cultural backgrounds impressed the teachers, and I was recommended to enroll in graduate school. But I didn’t because I wanted to graduate soon to pursue my dream of becoming an actor.

Realizing My Potential as an Actor

Jay Kabira Musical Actor

I made my debut while I was still at Sophia, and later I got a part in Bando Tamasaburo's production of Romeo and Juliet. However, this was under the condition that I graduate on time. The problem was, because I became busy with practice and so on, I was at risk of not having enough credits. Professor William Currie, who became president of Sophia in later years, saved my life. While everyone else thought my ambition of becoming an actor was not realistic, he understood and supported me. With his support I managed to get just enough credits to graduate. He was a tremendous mentor, and I am sincerely grateful to him.

At the time I graduated, the musical scene was booming. Unlike now, when the competition is fierce from the very start, in those days we could energetically force ourselves into the business [laughs]. Thanks to soccer I was fit and athletic. Also older actors treated me kindly, so my stage career was taking off smoothly. But my western looks made it difficult to be cast for TV dramas and movies, and opportunities didn't really come along. Then I was approached to become a soccer commentator on the show News Station on TV Asahi.

My aim was to become an actor, so I turned down the offer several times. But my big brother Jon gave me a push, telling me to think of it as acting the role of a sportscaster. The most important thing in show business is to be recognized, he told me. So I gave it a try and I loved it [laughs].

At first I was a bit reluctant to be seen as "a soccer guy," but I gradually became used to it. I no longer draw any lines in my career by the type of work I do. Evidently I'm good at adjusting myself to any settings [laughs].

However, I still want to improve my acting and to be recognized as an actor. And now I have another ambition: I have an idea for a story about two young guys set in Okinawa, Kansas, and Tokyo in the 1960s. I would like to ask someone to write the script and then make it into a musical at first and eventually into a movie. I am excited about this fun challenge.

Frog and Toad: A Musical That Reminds People to Be Kind to One Another

Jay Kabira Musical Actor

I love doing things for kids to get them excited. When I was coaching children's soccer my training was so hard I wondered whether they would be able to keep up. I did it because I wanted to give them a great experience. I aimed to be their role model, an adult to look up to rather than just fooling about like a kid.

Such an attitude may be shared in the musical I am performing in this Christmas. Based on a series of popular children’s books, A Year with Frog and Toad is a whimsical musical that tells the story of two friends, Frog and Toad, and other woodland creatures, It is not only for children. It’s such a wonderful musical that I really want adults to see it too.

The original Broadway version was nominated for three Tony Awards: Best Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Book of a Musical. The music is stylish jazz with Manhattan Transfer–type harmonies, yet the lyrics are from children’s songs, such a mismatch is great too [laughs].

It was staged in 2006, 2007, and 2009, and now it is being performed again for the first time in six years. The production has been refined and made more stylish. About half of the casts are new so even people who have already seen it will be able to enjoy the musical once again.

Anyhow, as I am playing the toad, it took some time to get the character right. I don’t wear a toad outfit or walk on all fours. The color of my suit and many buttons are reminiscent of a toad, and my movements casually but carefully project an image of a toad as I move my hands or when I sit down. The audiences may grin when they recognize such an act.

After March 11, 2011, throughout Japan there was a heightened sense of contributing for others. Such a sentiment may be fading away as time passes. Then for sure this musical will remind us again. After seeing it, everyone wants to be kind to their loved ones, their families, their friends, and above all to themselves. I look forward to seeing you all in the theater.

Jay Kabira Musical Actor

Jay Kabira Musical Actor
Jay Kabira
Musical Actor

Born in Naha, Okinawa, in 1962. Graduated from the Department of Comparative Culture, Sophia University. Debuted as a musical actor while still at university. Currently active as an actor, TV personality, sportscaster, and narrator. Known as a soccer fanatic, Kabira provides live game commentary and soccer information mainly on TV Asahi, especially on the News Station show. In addition to TV work, he is also active on the stage, in movies, and on radio. Although he takes on serious performances too, many of Kabira’s roles make use of his talents as a musical actor.

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