Interview with Hinako Sato -Vice Chair of Events at Women In Music Boston

Hinako Sato

Hinako Sato is an accomplished pianist, accordionist, and educator based in Boston. Originally from Japan, she has been performing and touring for 20-plus years. She is best known for her works with various vocalists, such as an internationally acclaimed ensemble “Women of the World,” and a prominent Greek Tenor Mario Frangoulis, and has performed at prestigious venues such as the Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens Greece, Carnegie Hall, and Blue Note NY, to name a few.

Besides serving as the vice chair of events at Women In Music Boston Committee, Hinako has been working to empower Japanese youth by leading educational programs as a head coordinator and facilitator for some years.

1. Success is such a personal concept — we all see and define it differently. How did you personally define your success?

To me, success means having the freedom to do what you love and making a living out of it. I have always been a freelancer and a multitasker, and I love my own unconventional career path that allows me to combine all of my passion and interests, which include music, art, language, history, education, and so on.

Being able to live and work in a city like Boston, where you have the freedom to choose, think, and express your own self/thoughts/lifestyles, means a lot to me. In a seemingly homogeneous country like Japan, where rules and order play major roles in people’s daily lives, that social system itself can sometimes feel restricting and rather oppressive for people with creative minds.

I always wanted to live and work in a global and multicultural environment. Therefore, learning other languages, as well as acquiring wide range of skill sets, were crucial to realize the kind of success I envisioned.

2. What advice would you give women who want to enter your side of the industry? What are your top three tips?

- — Show up. If something or someone sparks your interest, go out and actually meet them face to face.

— Always be curious and be willing to try out new things.

— Find a mentor!

3. How have the personal and professional experiences in your life contributed to your success today?

My family owns a small music performance venue back in Japan, so I grew up helping them run various concert series and events since I was little. Growing up in that environment made me become a self-starter and a go-getter, which now serves me well as a freelance musician. Having an early start in my performance career was also good because I feel that I already accomplished a lot in the last two decades, which led to shift my focus to other interests like education and community development.

4. Can you share with us some of the challenges you’ve faced?

I feel that I have suffered from the imposter syndrome for most of my musical career to be honest. As a child, I went through an entire decade of domestic abuse and manipulation by my father. When you have a trauma that’s deep rooted in your brain, it’s very easy to have a narrative like ‘Nothing is enough, no matter the efforts you make,’ and to always have self doubt. It was really hard to keep my head high and not get overwhelmed, especially when being constantly surrounded by amazingly talented and accomplished people. When I was a student at Berklee, I definitely had the ‘big pond small fish effect,’ so much that I felt worthless even though I made straight As and ran a business club while working multiple jobs on the side. It was never enough… and that was exhausting.

After graduating, I started working as a freelance musician and educator, not knowing whether I would be able to sustain my living here. As time went by, I realized that people actually valued and appreciated my playing, skills, and what I had to offer. Jobs kept on coming, people were referring me, then gradually my decade long imposter syndrome subsided.

Meanwhile, I have met some amazing mentors — some in the music industry, others in the arts, cognitive science field, etc. — who guided me and helped me identify my core unique traits, strengths, opportunities and so on. I know that this was the final push I needed to overcome the biggest challenge.

I now know that I do have a part to contribute in this world and I am making realistic steps each day to realize my own little dream, and to also hopefully brighten someone else’s world.

5. What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?

Learn to value and appreciate your uniqueness. While there are billions of people, there is no one quite like you. People are like spectrums. Some labels or words can never fully describe who you are and that’s okay. Don’t be afraid to be you!

6. What do you think is the most pressing issue women in the music industry face in your region?

If I am to speak of the current music industry in Japan, I think that there are some major issues. According to the World Economics Forum’s global gender equality ranking, Japan dropped to 114th in 2017, the worst standing among the group of seven major economies in the world. From what I hear among my female colleagues in Japan, many of them have to face the decision of choosing either career or family, not both. I will refrain from listing all the reasons here, as it can take up an entire page on its own. But I would like to contribute advocating for more gender equality, for example, by creating Women In Music Japan chapter so that it can serve as an empowering platform for creative female individuals in Japan to network and collaborate more freely.

7. Who inspires you and why?

Each and every one of my mentors from past to present. They all inspire me to keep on learning, stay curious and focused, be resilient, and become a better version of myself everyday. Their dedication and commitment to educating others are truly inspiring. I am and will always be grateful for their guidance and kindness.

8. What do you look forward to accomplishing in the next year?

Going forward, I plan on creating and curating a new music series in Boston area that features artists that perform World Music or traditional music from around the world. I want to create a space where people can come together to share their love of music, while getting a chance to learn about each unique culture that constructs our complex and colorful world that is today.

My partner Shuhei Teshima and I are also co-developing an educational curriculum that encourages critical/creative thinking through Arts — visual arts, music, poetry, etc.

The curriculum will be first taught online to a group of high school students in Hokkaido Japan, starting in April 2018. Soon, we plan on launching a company here in Boston to provide educational workshops and events with similar concepts for students and working professionals.

9. Tell us more about how you got involved in Women In Music Boston? What is your ultimate goal and what do you need to take it to the next level?

I got involved in Women in Music Boston committee in late 2016, when my fellow colleague Jobeth Umali (now co-serving as vice chair of events in Boston) invited me to join. Having worked with multiple all-female bands, I have always been passionate about female empowerment. I also love event planning, coordinating and such, so it turned out to be a great match! Since then, as a team we have been successfully executing some fun networking events in the area. We hope to continue to host awesome events throughout the year to bring local female artists, students, and professionals closer together.

Personally, my ultimate goal is to create opportunities for people to learn and connect through the Arts (details mentioned in question #8). I think the next steps now are to launch a company, solidify partnerships, and go!

It’s going to be quite an exciting year — stay tuned for updates and follow me on social!

You can follow Hinako at:

Instagram: @hinakosato

Twitter (Japanese account) @hinakosato

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