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   Teri Teramoto: A great contribution to Japan-Australia tourism

Diane Vukelic

Teramoto-san really inspired this Japan Stories project. Although I've been on the AJS-NSW Board with Teramoto-san for a couple of years, I hadn't really heard many of her stories of how she first became involved in Australia. So Teri, how did your connection with Australia start?

Teri Teramoto

When I started work, I really wanted to become a secretary in the best part of Tokyo, Marunouchi. I aimed to apply for the Secretarial Division of Mitsui, Mitsubishi, or Sumitomo, but at that time, in the late 1950s, I was rejected because I came from a single parent family; my father was killed during the war. The big Japanese companies wanted two parents and also you had to commute from your family home to the company. There was no way I could apply. So I had to look at foreign companies.


Why did you want to become a Secretary?


It was because when my mother started working at a government hospital in the country in Shizuoka, her pay was very low; she wasn't a university graduate, and she was a female and middle aged, not young 20s. When she got a job I think, she was 35 or so, and her starting salary, I do remember, was 6800 yen; that was in the early 1950s. So I was determined to never work for such low pay. I decided that my monthly salary should be more than 10,000 yen. To get that sort of money, you had to have some special skill. So I thought I would become a secretary. I started looking at foreign companies. And I sent probably half a dozen applications to ads I saw in the Japan Times. And among them there may have been Qantas. But I never even thought about what a flight hostess does.

I got a very quick response from an American company located next to the Maru Biru, in front of Tokyo Station, and I started as a junior secretary. And I was very happy to work there, because my first salary was 28,000 yen per month.


So you exceeded your expectations?


Yes. At that time, even at trading companies such as Mitsui and Mitsubishi, the starting salary for a Tokyo University graduate man was 18,000 yen. So I was very happy. And my senior secretary was about 40 years old or so, an excellent role model. I was good at electric typing, and I enjoyed working at that very special company. When the American top people came, and we had to use the telex, you had to read tape, punch tape. I could read every single letter.


And was that in all in English?


All in English. And I had to send telegrams by letter: A for America, B for Britain, C for China…that sort of thing, there was no fax, nothing that like that at the time, 1958. I enjoyed it very much. Then one day, my mother called, “A telegram came for you. It says, ‘Please contact us regarding your hostess application to our company.’“ And she was very upset. “What is this hostess business?” I didn't remember that Qantas had said flight hostess. At that time, being a Japan Airlines stewardess was a very, very high ranking job.


Did your mother think you were being recruited as a different type of Ginza hostess?


I told her, “I don't remember”, but there was a telephone number. So I phoned an office very close to my office. “I received your telegram, what should I do?” They said, “Can you come for an interview?” They said 10:15 or something. So I snuck out of the office because it was just a few blocks away, saying “I'm going to the General Post Office, it might take half an hour”. I was the only person for an interview by the Tokyo station manager, Captain Duffield, a former captain.

My spoken English was very poor because although I was doing typing and reading, I had not much chance for conversation. Captain Duffield said, “Have you have you ever flown in an aircraft?” “No, sir”. “And would you like to?” “Yes, sir”. “And do you have any friends flying?” “No, sir”. Anyway, the only thing I knew about Australia was that they don't like American English. That was all I knew. So I said, “Yes, sir”. “No, sir”. “Yes, sir”. “No, sir”. Then he asked me, “Do you know Australia's capital city?” “No, sir. But I know it’s not Sydney, not Melbourne”.

And he said, "If you are selected as a Qantas flight hostess, because we will invest in your training and the uniform and other things, we want you to fly for at least two years. Can you do that?” “Yes, sir.” That's how I got it.


And did you move to Australia then?


Oh, no. At first it was just a trip.


And had you flown before that?


I had never, ever been on an aircraft. That was 1964, before the Tokyo Olympics, some fifty years ago.

There were three of us. We didn't know each other at all, due to individual interviews. So when we got to Haneda Airport, we greeted each other. “Are you going to Sydney, Sydney or Qantas?” We arrived inSydney and the training started. At that time, the only city hotel was the Menzies Hotel. We were accommodated at Double Bay, at the Savoy Lodge – it is still there. And we had a room each. There were only three flights between Sydney and Tokyo at that time, and including the three of us, only 12 Japanese flight hostesses. So that was how we started. There was no advance training in Australian English and I really had trouble with the Australian accent. It was all on the job training, first class meal service, economy meal service, and so on, full-time training from nine o'clock to five o'clock.

We were so exhausted by the English environment. So we used to sleep in and then when the Qantas car came to pick us up to go to the training school, we just had time to wash our face and take a packet of Arnott’s Scotch Fingers; we ate one packet each on the way to Mascot. One packet each, every morning.

Then we had 10 o'clock morning tea, morning tea and biscuits. And the lunch was a mockup lunch, an economy class meal, and voice training after that, we were eating everything. Followed at three o'clock by afternoon tea and more biscuits. Then, coming back to Double Bay, we rushed to a restaurant because we were so exhausted and hungry. We went to the area of Double Bay's 21 and Cosmopolitan restaurants. We looked at the menu; we couldn't read it properly. We found hamburger steak... I know what this is, but it was tasteless. We were so disappointed. So we looked around, and there was a Chinese restaurant nearby. In the following days, we started to go to the Chinese restaurant. And even in the Chinese restaurant, we couldn’t understand the menu. There was no plastic sample, nothing. Short soup, long soup. “What is long soup? What is short soup?” Well, I tried short soup today, then the next day long soup.

I wrote a postcard every day to my mother: “What I ate today”. The short soup was wonton, that long soup was noodle soup.

Perhaps two months later, our instructor came.

Japanese girls, come on and get on the scales”.

You are putting on weight every week. So when you go to your uniform fitting, they won’t be able to finish your uniforms, because you've been eating too much”.

At that time the uniform was a very tight American style, GI-look with a hat and a tiny waistline. And every week our waistlines were getting bigger and bigger.

And the instructor said, “What are you eating? Write it all down”. So after that there were no more biscuits, no Scotch fingers, just black tea and no biscuits for morning tea. No dessert, no bread. We didn't even know the word diet at that time. But we did eventually fit into the uniform.

Then I had a trial flight to Hong Kong, with an check instructor Mary Letcher. She stood up in the rear, watching me.  There was only one female cabin attendant in the Qantas Boeing 707 at that time. I couldn't smile because I was so serious. But she kept saying, “smile, smile, smile”. I do remember her smell of perfume and what she said to me.

Then after the three month trial finished, Sydney Head office told us to go and buy our kimono. I was very, very excited. The Qantas Japan Managers' Secretary accompanied me and individually, we went to the best kimono shop in Ginza, one that goes back to the Edo period, a famous kimono shop.

And I tried on many many kimonos. And every year after that, for I think five years, I was allowed to buy a new kimono every year. I loved wearing them.


A new kimono to wear on the plane? It must have been very expensive, in Australian money. So you didn't have to wear the uniform?


The manual said that you should greet passengers in full uniform with hat and white gloves and high heels. Then, after takeoff, you go to the toilet to quick change to kimono, then appear in First Class. At that time, in the 707, there was only one female attendant, and the rest were (male) stewards. So I was just assisting the stewards with what the passengers wanted. Not serving drinks or meals.


Were there many Japanese flying?


The majority of passengers were Japanese passengers, top business people, in first class. There were no Japanese tourists at all at that time. And after say, late 1960s or early 1970s, Japanese tourists started coming in groups. When I saw the first group of Japanese ladies 30 or 40 people in a flower arrangement group, coming for a flower arrangement international in Sydney or somewhere, I was so surprised because everybody was dressed nicely in kimono and tight obi and sitting on the plane for 13 or 14 hours. So they were very formal, very formal days. That was probably the early days of group travel.


Mid 60s uniform                                              New uniform 1974

1975 uniform designed by Emilio Pucci


Gosh, things have changed. So you did that for how many years?


Fifteen years. And then Qantas made an offer, “Choose whatever you would like to do on the ground, you can either create a new position, or pick up something you like”. At the time, there was no Promotion Section in the Japan office. Because if people wanted to go to Australia, Qantas was the only airline. Japan Airlines entered the market later.

I was very, very interested in how to develop the Japan route. That was when I first grounded in 1980. The first thing I did involved a simultaneous interpreting student course at ANU. I was the one of the first twenty students in the simultaneous interpreters’ course organized by the world-famous Muramatsu-san (of Simul International, the Japanese interpreter for the Apollo moon landing). He was on my flight one day and he said to me, “I am planning to start a summer simultaneous interpreters course. Would you like to join us?” I wanted to study more English, so I joined but I never graduated because I was studying between flights. Timing-wise, simultaneous interpreting was being recognized as essential but the majority of interpreters were American English speakers. I strongly felt that as more Australians became involved in international conferences, there would be a need for interpreters who understood Aussie English and background.

And I knew somebody from the Australian National University in Canberra, and he told me that the ANU University House was often almost empty. Scholars stayed there at certain times, but otherwise, many of the rooms were vacant; they were single use rooms, with a bedroom, a living room and bathroom with bathtub and shower, and a cafeteria and a formal dining room, with all sorts of facilities. Good, very, very good accommodation.

So I said to the ANU University House manager, “How about a simultaneous interpreters course to study about Australia?” I went to Canberra to inspect the facilities. That was how English study in Australia started, the first ever Japanese students who came to study. It was 1980.

At that time, the Australian Ambassador was John Menadue. For the first young Japanese group studying Australian English, he gave us a tea party. That's how I become close to the Australian Embassy. Ambassador Menadue was leaving Japan and I organized an “Australia Night” at Nikkei Hall in Otemachi where he announced the introduction of the Working Holiday visa for Japanese youth. Mr. Menadue knew that the majority of Japanese travel agents had products based on a 5-night stay in Australia. His idea for the working holiday visa was that Japanese young people could stay longer and really get to know Australian people and their way of thinking and the Aussie lifestyle, without disrupting Australian youth employment.

Teri had a role in developing the Japanese honeymoon market to Australia


Then in the mid-80s when John Menadue was appointed Qantas CEO, he came to the Tokyo office and told the staff, “There will be morning flights and evening flights daily! Including a Tokyo-Brisbane stop!” All the staff were very surprised. "What's in Brisbane? Landing early morning, six o'clock in Brisbane, there’s nothing to see and nowhere to go”.  Since 1958, Qantas had three flights weekly Tokyo - Sydney - Tokyo.

I started my marketing study and research. I was given three months to explore what the best market for Qantas would be. At the time, Hawaii was very popular among Japanese honeymooners.

I went to the Bridal Section of the Imperial Hotel, Hotel Okura, New Otani, Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku, and many other wedding facilities like Chinzanso, Meiji Kinenkan, Happo-en, Nihon Kaku, and I made a report about the motivation of honeymooners, who made the destination decision, how many days they planned and what budget they had and so on. Finally I asked Head Office to give us a Monday departure flight. Most weddings were held on Saturday or Sunday, so the newly-wed couple would start their honeymoon trip on Monday. It was very successful. When promoting the honeymoon market in Japan, it was important to understand the Japanese Shinto shrine calendar of lucky and unlucky days  (called rokuyo, a one-year calendar of auspicious - taian - and not so auspicious - butsumetsu - days). I made a list of 365 days. Later I was able to obtain a 5-year calendar and I made a 5-year sales plan for Qantas which went very well.

I focused not only on the Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya areas. I researched the countryside, every prefecture, their industries and on- and off-seasons. In agricultural prefectures, in particular, rice farmers might be very busy until end of June but could take July off, so the young couple could go on a honeymoon. It was very interesting to understand their motivations and movements. I also gave many seminars to Gold Coast inbound operators about what the Japanese honeymooners expected.  

So for Brisbane  I went to the Lone Pine koala sanctuary and said, “Please open for Japanese people at eight o'clock”. Nobody would be there at that time. But at eight am they could spend plenty of time cuddling koalas and feeding kangaroos and taking photos. Then they could enjoy morning tea, and after that head to the Gold Coast. At that time the road still wasn't completed and it took time.

Within  a very short time, the Gold Coast boomed among Japanese honeymooners. Qantas total passenger numbers went from zero to half a million (some of which was shared with Japan Airlines.)


That's amazing. What do you think is the highlight of your career, your personal highlight?


My time in marketing was very, very good; whatever I did, I was successful. Travel agents told me that in some cases, if they sold Gold Coast products to a honeymoon couple, their parents wanted to come along as well. So sales of two passengers ended up as four passengers!


No! I don't believe that.


It really happened!

Teri’s brother Takeshi (Tad) Teramoto also came to Australia and worked in the airline industry


My brother was working for a government office - I have only one brother - and he was doing very well, despite not being a Tokyo University graduate. And one day I asked him, “When the National Diet is sitting, why do you have to overnight in the office? Why can't you come back home?” He was a Minister's Secretary, something like that; whenever the Kokkai (Diet) was on, he had to be available to provide the Minister with answers to questions. So one day he told me he wanted to change career; he was scared of being too much entertained.

There was no Working Holiday Visa at that time. So I knew somebody through my skiing friends, among them was Mr. Ted Biggs, a Rio Tinto executive from Melbourne; later he became AJS-Victoria President. His daughter was in Japan and my skiing friend.  I told him that my brother wanted to experience a different career in Australia but I had no one to help me.  Ted Biggs said that he knew a very wealthy family operating a big farm in Toodyay, outside Perth. With his introduction, I flew to Perth and Toodyay and met the Lee-Steer family and asked on behalf of my brother.                                       Tad Teramoto heads to Perth to work as a Japaroo, 1966 

The farm was very big, twice as big as metropolitan Tokyo; it was raising horses for horse racing. The family had a family airport in the property with a private plane to go to anywhere, even shopping to Perth. Sir Lee-Steer became the Lord Mayor of Perth later and began a sister-city relationship with Kagoshima City. My brother was doing Jackaroo work and they called him the first Japanese Jackaroo, so "Japaroo".


I'm from Western Australia so I know about Toodyay. So what did your brother end up doing?


He was there about two and a half years. Later he strongly felt he needed to study English, which he did.

Then my Qantas Tokyo Manager asked me, “I understand your brother is in Australia, ask him to come back, bring your brother on your flight”. So I did. He was interviewed and joined the Tokyo office of TAA (Trans Australia Airlines, the government-owned domestic airline), as first sales executive and later Station Manager.

Qantas was the government-owned international airline and TAA was its domestic arm. Another airline was Ansett, a private company; later, I think in the 1980s, Ansett also started International flights Sydney-Osaka. Then Tad was asked to look after Ansett International temporarily. Later he came back to TAA again. So he worked for TAA, Ansett, and after he retired from domestic airlines, Tourism NSW for many years.  He was Manager Japan for the Sydney Marathon for almost ten years, but because of COVID-19, he closed his office in 2020.


Story of Teri’s move to Sydney


So all that time you were living in Japan. What was the trigger to come to Australia?


Suddenly one day the QANTAS Station Manager asked me, “Can you come in early tomorrow?” I went to his office at eight the next morning. He said, "Would you like to move to Sydney Head Office?"

I said, "Why me?..I like Japan. I am happy here in Japan. I have never thought of living overseas. So no, no, I don't want to." So that was the end of that. Then, a year later, he asked me again, and he dropped the words, "This is an idea from the top". So I said, “Oh, Menadue-san... I might think about it". That was in 1989.

So once I had made an interview trip to Head Office, Qantas prepared a permanent visa, Medicare and accommodation, initially in Coogee. Later I found an apartment in Kirribilli near Milson's Point.


So when you moved to Australia, did you plan to move here permanently?


Well, when I first moved to Sydney Head Office there was a general strike in NSW and no trains, buses, ferries and even no overseas telephone service (including to Japan) for a few days. But as I was not a union member I walked across the Harbour Bridge to the office in George Street. And during (Bob) Hawke's time, there was a domestic pilot strike. Then the Tienanmen Square tragedy in China. I was so busy, I did not really have time to think seriously about it.

But later I told my boss (in the Inbound Marketing Division) that I would go back to Tokyo to sell my apartment. I arrived in the morning. I knew a real estate agent through friends and he told me that my apartment was very well located and he had a waiting list of people interested to buy. The couple who bought my apartment did not even inspect it but just made a quick decision from the floor plan. It was a very quick trip; within the day it was sold and the money was in my account. No inspection or advertising. The buyer trusted me as the owner. I thought that was Japan. Similarly when Qantas shipped my household goods through Nippon Overseas moving company, there was an atmosphere of trust between Japanese businesses.

Teri retired from Qantas in 1994 after an esophageal cancer diagnosis. In normal times, she is still travelling regularly between Japan and Australia.

In 2021 she again received a cancer diagnosis (bladder cancer in March and stomach cancer in June) but the operations by specialist doctors in Australia have been successful and the hospitalizations were short and her recovery quick.

A doctor noted that these latest issues may have been due to the radiation exposure Teri received 76 years earlier when she and her mother and younger siblings had to travel through Hiroshima on 7th August 1945, the day after the atomic bomb blast.

Teri was a member first of the Japan-Australia Society in Tokyo, and then when she moved to Sydney in 1989, she joined the Australia-Japan Society of NSW, in the era of Bruce Dureau’s presidency of AJS-NSW. This makes her one of the longest continuous members of AJS-NSW. Teri has served as an AJS-NSW Board member since 2009.


Australia was very lucky to have you because your contribution to the development of the whole tourist industry with Japan is quite extraordinary. And those things could just have easily not happened. But you saw the opportunity. Thank you for telling us your story.

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