Kinoshita taught himself to play bass guitar, with an eye toward forming a band. Nowadays, he plays in two of them — one in Alabama, and another in his hometown of Nagoya City, Japan, halfway between Tokyo and Osaka on the East China Sea.
He’s also in his 32nd year of a job with international automotive component giant Nitto Denko. “In Japan, people tend to stay with one employer longer than in the U.S.,” he explains. Ten years ago, the company transferred him from its giant Osaka headquarters to an automotive plant in the small town of Piqua, Ohio. It was there that Kinoshita — a softspoken man with an easy laugh, his hair just now going gray at the temples — discovered the meaning of the term “culture shock.”
“Everything was different” than in his familiar home, he says, shaking his head. “Every day, every way, different.” But he gradually adjusted. He also gained a nickname which his company recommends for its expatriates to the U.S., something easier to pronounce than his Japanese first name.
“My name, Kinoshita, literally means ‘under the trees,’” he says. “So I kept thinking ‘trees... trees...’ Then I hit upon “wood ... wood... Woody!’” I asked my vice-president what he thought about it, and he clapped his hands, so I knew I had a good one.”
Three years ago, he was transferred again to Jasper. The picture he had in mind of Alabama, he says, was of “some place very warm; other than that, I had a wide open mind.” He’s found the temperatures here much more to his liking than up North, especially since it allows him to play golf many more weeks of the year. One aspect of Ohio he misses, he says, is that the state charged no tax on food purchases.
Japanese home cooking
Woody Kinoshita is transformed into Kunitoshi again at least twice a year, when he makes a trip home to Nagoya City to visit his mom, his 26-year-old daughter and other relatives. The favorite home-cooked Japanese dish he requests is, oddly enough, spaghetti: but a special recipe his mother makes, with a richer, darker tomato-based sauce than the American variety, and much bigger noodles. “These noodles are large ... like, 3.3 millimeters,” Kinoshita says, betraying his engineering background. His seaside hometown is much flatter than Alabama, but with a lake on one side and a mountain to the north that makes for many outdoor activities for him and his family to enjoy. And the adjoining ocean assures a ready supply of great seafood.
But one of the highlights of every trip home is getting his old band back together. His bandmates always schedule several gigs to coincide with his vacation time.
Nearly everyone has ridden in a car with Nitto Denko parts, Kinoshita says, whether they know it or not. The company manufactures components that are sold to Honda, Nissan, and other Japanese original equipment manufacturers, but the foam assemblies are generally used to insulate sound, air, or water, and are hidden from view. Today is Friday, a casual-dress day at the plant, and Kinoshita — wearing jeans and a windbreaker jacket — sits in the corner of a conference room whose projection screen bears the remains of an earlier Power Point presentation titled “In Focus!” The clock is ticking slowly toward quitting time, as he takes a worn Fender bass guitar out of its soft case and begins to play softly, without an amp, the familiar opening chords of Stevie Wonder’s hit song “Superstitious.”
That era’s R&B still makes up a large part of his Birmingham band’s playlist, he says, when the group plays coffee houses and bars on weekends. “Here’s the thing, the key thing, about the bass guitar,” he says with the air of imparting a secret, as his fingers on the fret board change to an upbeat pattern of old blues. “The bass is the part of the music that makes people want to dance. That’s why I chose it.”
But when it comes to his listening tastes, he says, no music clears his mind of a difficult day at work like hearing a Bach sonata played on piano.
“Some songs you want people to dance, some songs you want people to listen,” Kinoshita says, noting that playing onstage has come naturally to him and stage fright has never been a problem. “Except for one little thing...if I have to talk into the microphone, I freeze up.”
But his three-piece band, with an American drummer and a fellow Japanese player on lead guitar and vocal, generally allows Kinoshita to stay microphone-free.
The group has a distinctive name — the Two Jimmy Band — made more distinctive by the fact that nobody in the band is named Jimmy. The origin of the band’s name is lost in the members’ collective memory. “I honestly have no idea,” Kinoshita says. “It’s a name with no meaning. But sometimes, no meaning can be a good thing.”
Dale Short’s e-mail address is email@example.com