Tsunami stricken Fukushima
This was my first time visiting Japan and I knew very little about the country before arriving. Therefore, I feel blessed that my first experience singing with Anúna was for the Japanese people in Fukushima, the most heavily damaged region stricken by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The Ambassador of Ireland sponsored a series of projects in which several Irish artists provided comfort and cheer to children in the region through benefit concerts. The Japanese put a lot of stake into the healing power of music, but this is especially true for a country that has recently endured a catastrophic natural disaster. Anúna and Irish musician, Liam Ó Maonlaí, gave performances to primary age and secondary age Japanese students over the course of two days. Although I am an American, by virtue of singing with Anúna, I was a part of these extraordinary events.
We were told that this region is devastated. Yet, on the surface it would not be immediately clear to a visitor why the region continues to suffer. On a driving tour of the worst hit neighborhoods, we noticed that large areas have been cleared and in some cases rebuilt. The cleanup was thorough and swift. It is not the aftermath of the tsunami itself that has devastated the region, but rather, the ever-present radiation that continues to exist in the ground, drinking water and continues to touch every part of the residents’ lives. The children are not allowed to play outside because there is radiation in the ground. The food supply, such as crops and animal products, has been infiltrated. A pathway is cleared and sprayed down daily for students to walk on to and from school in the hopes that there will be less radiation exposure. To us it was a poignant and telling moment to see those children, wearing their matching uniforms and matching backpacks, walk in lines along these pathways as they made their way home. I found their return to everyday life and their display of routine impressive, but also emotionally unsettling. They have been through immense upheaval, yet they go on with their regular lives attending school, going to work and buying goods. They exhibited a sense of ‘normalcy’ that the rest of the world hopes and prays for in that region.
The children were very excited for the ‘foreigners’ to arrive. In their shy demeanor, they insisted on saying ‘Konnichiwa’ in the hallways, and the entire campus was abuzz with excitement. During the performance, students sat in rows organized by age, with five-year olds in the front.
As we began our concert, the children were so surprised by our entrance that they began murmuring and standing up to understand what was happening around them. They continued to be mesmerized as we sang and moved around the space. We ended our program by having the children join us in the traditional Japanese song “Yuki”, our own special version of which we had prepared for them on the bus ride to the region. Young children stood up to sing with us, and instruments were given to older student for them to join in on the fun!
photo: Yoko Nozaki
At the close of our concert, the 4th-6th grade band performed for us. It was a true education for me to see what these children ages nine to eleven were capable of musically. The talent displayed by the forty-member band was outstanding. There were xylophones, accordions, melodicas, hand drums, timpani and piano. Never mind that these were not ‘traditional’ band instruments, this elementary school ensemble had an extraordinary gift to offer. They were rhythmic, musical, and the pieces were completely memorized. The entire program had the air of respect and appreciation for our presence at their school. I was fully impressed and felt that instead of our concert being the catalyst for healing them, they instead healed us with their impressive display. As the Japanese children exited the hall, they were not shy in their desire to touch us. Plenty of high fives, handshakes, hugs and pictures with the peace sign were exchanged.
The effect Anúna can have on an audience of any age, socioeconomic status, or culture is profound. These children were enthusiastic about our performance and fascinated with Anúna’s ritualized movement, shimmering voices and historical costumes. Our presentation was completely foreign to anything they have ever experienced and their reaction, given in the universal language of children, was pure joy!
After this experience, I was certain that I would have been happy to spend the entire tour doing several benefit concerts for the children in Japan. As I sang with Anúna, I held a sense of hope that this little gift we gave them was enough to at least offset their pain for a while. I gazed at those adorable little girls and boys, who were fascinated with our program, and I wanted to weep for them. They looked and acted exactly like my son and daughter, who are five and seven, and I found myself making comparisons. They are all full of life, smiles and joy! I couldn’t help but think of their great potential. Yet, I was able to see resigned acceptance and pain behind the eyes in the parents who were seated in the back of the hall. They exhibited an ache and a yearning for what was lost, but also a great appreciation for what we were there to do. It took all of my strength as a performer to avoid deteriorating emotionally while we were sharing our music and I utterly failed in my composure during their concert and gift giving ceremony. It touched and shook me, particularly because I am a parent and understand so keenly the hopes, dreams and fears that we all have for our children. It did my heart good to know that we were a part of an effort to support the victims of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.
Many heartfelt thanks goes to Onahama 1st Elementary School, Yuko Maeda, Plankton Company, The Embassy of Ireland to Japan, and Anúna for organizing the benefit concerts in the Fukushima region. The Japanese peoples’ greatest desire is for rest of the world to not forget what happened and continue to reach out to them. Japan, with your extraordinary attention to service, giving, kindness, beauty and healing: this privileged musician will not forget you.
[PC here: Thank you so much, Kira, for such a personal, heart touching blog. I will follow this soon with information on a musical project/website called "Sing for Japan", put together last year by Marian Dolan, Yo Matsushita, and Sherri Lasko, which has raised money and awareness for the plight of the people in Fukushima.]
Visit Sing for Japan: http://www.thechoirproject.org/sing4japan/
Visit them on FB: http://www.facebook.com/#!/singjapan