Article from The Internationalist Spring/Summer 2022 Vol. 68
Keiko (Isobe) Hotta (or “Isobe-san,” as she is known at Nishimachi) will be retiring from Nishimachi after forty years of service to the school. “Who is she?” some of you may ask, but if I tell you that she is Hotta-san’s* wife, you may say “Aha!” and know exactly whom we are talking about. You may not know Isobe-san personally, but she may know you. She worked as an accounting clerk at Nishimachi and issued all of the tuition invoices from the early 1980s through the 1990s, and knows so many of you from that period by name.
She has seen many changes at the school over the decades, and I asked her to reflect on her forty-year life at Nishimachi—and on working with nine heads of school.
I felt so humbled to be interviewing her. Isobe-san was a new addition to the business office two years after I started at Nishimachi as a student in second grade. My impression then of Isobe-san was that of a “very pretty lady with long hair.” I would never have imagined that thirty years later I would be working with that very same pretty lady with the long hair. Sometimes when we talk about work at the office, she will unconsciously call me “Mayumi-chan,” as if I were still that young girl. That takes me right back to the 1980s, and gives me this tingly and nostalgic feeling.
Isobe-san, who now sports a short bob (which suits her very much), started working at Nishimachi in August 1982. Her friend of a friend knew someone who worked at Nishimachi and mentioned that Nishimachi was looking for an accounting clerk who could speak English. Having had accounting experience and finding herself ready for new opportunities, Isobe-san was recommended for the job. She was interviewed by Miss Matsukata, and they had a wonderful conversation about Nishimachi’s similarity to the school in England where Isobe-san had done her English-language studies. Miss Matsukata impressed her as someone who was fair to all, and, from what Isobe-san heard from others, whose life revolved around the school; students came first and foremost. When the school was first founded, Miss Matsukata drove a jeep, and she feels that she was a person who devoted her entire life to education.
Isobe-san started out as an accounting clerk, but after several years moved up and became assistant to the chief accountant for two years before assuming her current position with human resources.
Forty years is a very long time. Over the years Isobe-san met and married Kazuhiko Hotta, a Nishimachi colleague, and taught Japanese tea ceremony when the students learned in class about it.
She has so many memories. “In 1982, all new hires spent some time with Miss Matsukata at KEEP (the Kiyosato Educational Experiment Project) in the town of Kiyosato in Nagano prefecture, where we bonded. Miss Matsukata also had a welcome dinner at a shabu-shabu restaurant in Roppongi for us. I still remember all that so vividly,” says Isobe-san. She was happy with her job at Nishimachi from the start. There was the congenial work environment and her wonderful colleagues (with whom she often socialized, not to mention the long breaks.
Although there have been many changes at Nishimachi, Isobe-san thinks the most significant development has been computerization of the school. When she first started working, the school had reached a fork in the road and was debating whether to go with Windows or Mac. Ultimately, Nishimachi became a “Mac school.” IBM computers were used initially for accounting matters, and reports were printed on dot-printers. What a change! On the other hand, the basic ambiance of the school and the strong bond among staff members has remained unchanged over the years.
Because of the nature of her job, Isobe-san’s interaction with the students on campus was very limited, and one of the only opportunities she had to meet them was in her Japanese tea-ceremony classes. She chaperoned students to Arisugawa Park a few times for cherry-blossom viewing, but that was it. I was surprised and asked, “But didn’t you get pulled out of your office occasionally to chaperone a field trip in cases where a parent hadn’t shown up and the adult-to-student ratio was off?” Isobe-san replied with a big grin and a laugh (from under her mask), “Of course not! If I were to have gone out for the whole day, what would have happened to the paychecks that had to get to the bank? Wouldn’t that be a bigger problem?”
Despite that, she does remember some students from the eighties and the nineties. She specifically mentioned Colin and Jason Sharp and Toshi Katoh. Isobe-san smiles as she recalls a snowy day long ago. She was putting chains on her tires for the drive home, and some boys came by to watch. Seemingly, they were very impressed. “Wow! You can put the chains on by yourself?”
After Isobe-san and Hotta-san were married, they would auction off a birthday baking experience at Hotta-san’s parents’ bakery to benefit the annual Nishimachi auction (now gala). They did this for a little over ten years, and it was always a big auction hit. The children of the parents who had the winning bid went to the bakery and were able to try their hand at making bread, pizza, and cake.
I was in utter shock when I learned that, in her free time, multitalented Isobe-san toured Japan on a motorcycle. A motorcycle! I could not picture this soft-spoken, petite little lady behind the wheel of a big bike tooling along the highway!
Isobe-san has been coming to school, and been busy, every day for the last forty years, so I was sure that she had many things planned for after retirement. To my surprise, she said, “I don't have any plans, but I do want to travel again, to go to Europe, and to France in particular. I haven’t been there in three years. I want to be able to travel in the off-season when the sights aren’t so busy.” Another thing she would like to do is sort through the recipes she has been collecting for years and digitize old photos.
Taneda-san, who is a colleague of Isobe-san’s from the business office, remembered one of the teachers describing Keiko-san as “charming” after seeing an old photo of her, and that one word stays with her. And with me I will miss being called ‘Mayumi-chan’ on occasion, and seeing the “very pretty lady” that I knew from my elementary school days in the office. I hope to run into the charming Isobe-san and her splendid and cheerful husband, Hotta-san, in the not-too-distant future, when they’re not too busy with their travels. Thank you for your forty years, Keiko-san!
*Hotta-san, whom many of you may remember, served as Nishimachi’s Community Liaison, or ski and Kazuno organizer for twenty-seven years. He retired two years ago.