Internet success provides more than shelter in this Shinto-inspired home
Photos by John Gruen
David & Beverly Hosokawa might live in Great Barrington, but their home reflects their experiences and influences from other lands. And while the couple has integrated Japanese and African sensibilities into their Berkshire lifestyle, they also extend their reach abroad to make a difference in the world.
The Hosokawas met 23 years ago on a blind date and married a year later. David worked as vice-chairman and CEO of TMP Worldwide, parent company of Internet jobs site Monster.com, but retired in 1998 following a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. At the time, Beverly was a real-estate broker and massage therapist. They moved from New York City to Delray Beach, Florida, but despite the ample fishing opportunities for David, the couple wasn’t happy there and looked to the Berkshires, where they had often vacationed.
Beverly is enthralled by her husband’s culture. David, a Japanese-American whose grandparents immigrated from Japan, wasn’t raised to embrace it, but with Beverly’s encouragement and interest, he began to investigate. That new interest manifested itself in a magnificent Japanese-style home in Great Barrington, achieved through the guidance of local builder Phil Timpane and his wife, designer Sugar Timpane.
For David, the house served as a reclamation of heritage that his family had decisively shifted away from 70 years ago when his father, a journalist, and his mother were put in an internment camp. One of David’s father’s college professors helped secure their release, employment, and relocation. “It’s kind of ironic that Dave was conceived in an internment camp and was born in Independence, Missouri,” Beverly notes.
What Beverly and David sought most from their new home was a serenity that reflected the Shinto respect for nature. They’ve achieved that with the house’s view of Mount Everett to the west, adorned by a 20-foot-high sculpture from Taos, New Mexico, which rests in the forest and crests a fountain that can be enjoyed from the porch or from an outside deck modeled after a Japanese tea room. The Japanese influence passes fluidly through the house, beginning with the majestic front framed by orange columns representing a torii gate in a Shinto temple. The entrance opens into the getabako, meaning “shoe cupboard,” the part of a Japanese home where visitors take off their shoes. The getabako displays an antique picnic basket and Beverly’s cousin’s flag-adorned hiking stick from his Mount Fuji climb following World War II.
To the left of the entrance is the tokonoma, an area in Japanese homes where items of reverence are displayed. This changes each season. In the middle of the entrance hall is a 1,500-year-old Chinese stone structure carved with multiple deities, typical of one that might stand outside a temple. A garden at the center of the home is modeled after a roji, the garden one passes through when entering a tea ceremony.
Through a hallway to the left are bedrooms, including a sleeping porch that the couple uses in warm weather and a bathroom containing a Japanese soaking tub called a furo as well as other elements that are part of traditional bathing etiquette within the culture. To the right of the entrance hall is the expansive living room, adorned with Noguchi light fixtures and multiple pieces of art from time the couple spent in Santa Fe. It’s large enough to host home concerts, which they frequently do, notably early-music and cello concerts. Their home is used for Close Encounters with Music rehearsals before Mahaiwe performances, and the couple has held concert fundraisers in their living room.
The arts are important to the Hokosawas, particularly Beverly, who earlier in her career managed small dance companies and music groups. She and David sit on the board of Community Access for the Arts (CATA), for which they will host a house-concert fundraiser later this year.
Throughout their home, Japanese flavors are added such as a traditional tansu cabinet (altered to be two pieces) near the adjoining kitchen and an antique Japanese cartwheel contained within the dining-room table. Wall hangings featuring calligraphy—including one family heirloom, a blessing for David’s mother written in old Japanese—help heighten the importance of David’s cultural roots in the couple’s lives.
As much as Japanese culture has been an influence on the Hosokawas, Africa plays an equally important role, thanks to their daughter, Dorree, 16, a native Tanzanian who journeyed to live in the Berkshires at age seven. “I became a mother at age 56. It’s been wonderful,” says Beverly, who was also born in Africa—Liberia—though raised in Alabama. She fulfilled her dream of visiting her native continent for her 50th birthday when she and David went on safari in Kenya. She returned to climb Kilimanjaro with friends. A coincidence involving that trip and an old friend of David’s led to an introduction to the Safi School Project, to which the Hosokawas have offered their support since, bringing them to Tanzania on a bi-annual basis—and resulting in unexpected parenthood.
The Safi (safi means “life is good” in Swahili) model school in Arusha serves the Maasai community—a semi-nomadic ethnicity facing extreme poverty and recurring drought—who live in huts built partially with cattle dung. The project has brought improvements like a retaining wall to prevent mudslides, a safe water well, flush toilets, computer and science labs, desks, a library, and continuing professional education for the teachers. David’s success at Monster.com translated into a real chance in life for the Maasai kids.
“Dave was really instrumental in organizing and doing a strategic plan and planning out and focusing,” Beverly says of her husband’s commitment to the school, which is where Dorree attended. The Hosokawas befriended her older sister, Neema Ndooki, one of the first Maasai women to be ordained a Lutheran minister. Neema introduced them to her family, including Dorree, the youngest of nine children. When Dorree began to live with her sister at the parsonage, the Hosokawas had an idea.
“We got in bed that night, and Dave goes, ‘I think we should adopt Dorree,’” Beverly explains. “It never crossed my mind. I never had my own children. I went, ‘Okay, but let’s talk about this.’ We were retired. We had just moved into the house. We stayed up two nights talking about how it would change our lives because we were footloose and fancy free.”
That conversation resulted in a journey of devotion that lasted several years and wove through bureaucratic mazes in both Tanzania and the United States. Dorree arrived with limited English skills, but recently graduated from Berkshire Country Day School and will attend Concord Academy. “She is very passionate about social justice and equality,” Beverly says. “I think that has a lot to do with Massai women not having a lot of education.”
The Hosokawas travel to Tanzania once every other year as a family, visiting with Dorree’s family as well as the school. Still, all roads continue to lead back to the Berkshires, where their home brings together the family’s varying cultures and passions under one serene roof.