After vocal studies in Tokyo, he started singing with the Nikikai opera troupe in 1976. A year later, he went to Italy
for further studies, first at the Accademia di S. Cecilia in Rome, then at La Scala, where he sang a small role in Mosè in
Egitto in 1979.
From 1979 to 1985, he was a member of the Vienna Staatsoper. He was basically a comprimario (Beppe, Arturo in Lucia, the Fool
in Wozzeck, Gastone and so on), but also got to sing Almaviva, Fenton, Nemorino, Ernesto and Don Ramiro. I heard him regularly in those
years, and his name on the playbill rather had us roll our eyes. He sang way too open, and consequently blasted out the top notes
in a less than pleasant way.
From 1982, he sang primarily in Munich, but also a lot in Japan, where he had always returned every year to sing with Nikikai first,
and from 1986 with the Fujiwara Opera Company/Japan Opera Foundation. Given my own experience with Yamaji, I was much surprised
when I discovered, many years later, that in Japan, he is a legend – kind of a Japanese Fritz Wunderlich!, since also Yamaji
died young: from a heart attack, at age 38.
In the few years before, he had been the leading Japanese tenor, singing Duca, Nemorino,
Roberto (Le villi) and even Osaka in the Japanese premiere of Iris. Now his open sound, and his trouble with the top
register are still evident in his Japanese live recordings, and he'd better never have touched Osaka (a complete failure), but in
the lyrical repertory, those Japanese recordings show him much improved as compared to his Vienna years.