Hiroki Yamato in Japaanese script

Hiroki Yamato

The Road Through Harlowton

Last summer, Hiroki Yamato drove east from camping in the Helena National Forest. He stopped in Harlowton to wash his clothes at the Tomlinson Laundromat and soon had a “good feeling about this town.” Going to Wade’s for breakfast, he met Jerry Miller who showed him around and introduced him to people and took him to Kiwanis.

Hiroki stayed for three days camping in Chief Joseph Park. He went to the Stockman bar and “met several nice, drunken people. I liked it here very much.”

Returning this summer, Yamato has been meeting many “nice, non-drunken people.” But within his first several days, he was asking himself, “Why am I here?”

Mr. Yamato, age 61, says he has been mildly depressed since coming to Harlowton. But, that’s nothing new for him. “I have been working with my depression slowly and learning the lessons of defeat.”

He says that, “Life has always had too little or too much for me. I have been too passionate. But, now I am learning to be more disciplined.”

Hiroki knows the USA quite well having lived here for 10 years and visited the states many times. He met his former wife Marilyn when she was an exchange student in Japan in 1966, “I fell in love with her, but tried to forget when she left for America.”

Before long, Yamato decided to take a year off from college and go to visit Marilyn. But, he didn’t have enough money in his pocket to get a visa. So, he traveled through Russia and Europe ending up in Sweden washing dishes.

When he made enough money, Hiroki got his visa and made his way to Philadelphia where he found Marilyn teaching high school. There were some initial complications with a third person. A man, actually a Japanese man. Marilyn eventually asked Hiroki to stay. But as with many romances,  “Her love for me started when mine for her ended.”

Hiroki took a boat back to Japan. En route, he received a telegram from Marilyn saying, “I will come to Japan. Marry me.”

“I couldn’t say, ‘No.’” Hiroki says that has been a common problem for him. Being unable to say, “No.” Marilyn arrived in Japan four months later on Hiroki’s birthday in April 1969.

The two began living together (and were married in Tokyo in 1971) as Marilyn began teaching conversational English and Hiroki finished his last two years of study for a political science degree at Waseda University. Yamato aspired to be a staff journalist for the highly-regarded Asahi News. But, the competition was fierce.

A graduating college student in Japan is supposed to have a job waiting when he receives his diploma and that was NOT the case for Hiroki. Marilyn kept saying, “Let’s go home.”

Hiroki begged her to let him apply to take the Asahi employment exam. Only one in a hundred applicants were employed in those days. If he failed, they would go to the USA. “I wanted that job so much.”

Hiroki failed the first exam, but kept begging and was able to pass on his second try. He, however, got turned down by Asahi at his interview. The two moved to Osaka where Hiroki worked as a delivery man and entered the first depression of his life.

After Marilyn returned to the US on her own in 1971, Yamato made a contact with a “hot shot” journalist and convinced himself that he could get a newspaper job with the man’s help. He intended to go to Vietnam and write articles, but was refused entrance visas in Hong Kong, Bangkok, and New Delhi. Adding to those “defeats,” he arrived in Paris a month late for a rendezvous with Marilyn.

Hiroki continued on to Midland, Michigan, to see Marilyn who said, “Hiroki, I believe in you. But, I don’t trust you.”

Yamato tells that, “I can be quite persuasive.” Hiroki and Marilyn returned to Tokyo after a month in Michigan. He reported to the hot shot journalist who was upset for Hiroki using his name as a reference for visas. Mr. So-and-So told him, “Are you washing your face with miso soup?” (Translated as “Are you crazy?)” There was no journalist job for him.

Hiroki sank into his second depression. But Marilyn, who was by then fluent in Japanese, found him a job with an automotive parts buyer (Orion Industries) through the newspaper. He worked as a translator for the business, which was run by ex-GIs, although he admits, “English was always my worst subject.”

(As a side note, Hiroki says Americans should know that, “We study English so hard when we are young to take exams and learn the language. But, Japanese are often too shy to speak it.”)

In one of his favorite drinking spots, Hiroki met the editor of Punch magazine and got a freelance writing job with the weekly. Punch had a million circulation at the time and presented news, features and politics to the public. Yamato wrote for its Charisma Series interviewing famous people.

When Hiroki continued to drink too much and have bouts of depression, Marilyn returned to the states in 1974 with their first son Daisuke (Andy). (Andy now works for PBS in New York City and second son Ben is a chef in Denver). Yamato took to translating books from English into Japanese spending two years by himself.

But, he missed his son and returned to Michigan for a visit of a month. Marilyn was going to graduate school at the time. She asked, “Why don’t we try it again?” Hiroki didn’t say, “No,” and proceeded to live in Michigan for ten years from ‘76 to ‘86.

Mr. Yamato spent much of his time touring the US and sending articles back to Japan. He says, “I know the country better than most Americans.” He also was employed for a time as a translator for Amway Products in Grand Rapids.

For the last twenty years, Hiroki has worked as a freelance writer for which he is known in the industry. His articles always are done with a byline and are mostly about America. He comes back to the US every two years.

His most memorable article was one written on the famous car designer Delorean. He had to cross the US from New York City to Hollywood following Delorean’s footsteps to get his interview. Hiroki says, “I put lots of me in everything I write.”

Depression is a major recurring theme in Hiroki Yamato’s life. “Half of my last 40 years I have spent in bed. Now, my only desire is to write about my life and depression.”

Hiroki was diagnosed with manic-depressive illness in the 80s and took lithium for a time and other drugs in later years. But, he gave up on medication and hasn’t taken any for 14 years.

Yamato rented a little place in the Flats on coming to Harlowton this spring so he could write a book based on his many years dealing with depression. He has no TV, internet or newspaper. “I am getting quite a lot of writing done. It is some of the best medicine for my depression. I also have regular hours, eat better and walk a lot.” Hiroki hopes to get a 300-page book written while he is here. He is already halfway there.

This is not Yamato’s first turn to write on depression. He made his first attempt (the first volume of his Trilogy, Letters from Horizon) many years ago with an unpublished manuscript when he was living in Michigan. Last summer, he wrote “On the Road Again: Letters from Horizon” which was about what he saw on his travels. This summer’s work is awaiting a title, but is focused again on depression.

“I have put up with depression, then it would go away for a while. This time, I can’t be satisfied with a while.” In years past, Hiroki says he was trying to “get out of myself.”

Hiroki has recognized in recent years that, “I am my own worst enemy. I needed to face myself and make friends with myself. Self control is the key.”

Yamato believes that a stroke he had during his last US visit when he was traveling through New Mexico, “changed my life, so I am becoming quite a different person. I am determined to end the depression. Or die fighting.”