Japan: Piano Recital Held In Disaster Hit Area

Last year, AAR Japan collaborated with its sister organization, Support 21 Social Welfare Foundation, to sponsor the piano recital held by ‘Naoko TAMURA Piano Class’ in Rikuzentakata City, Iwate Prefecture. The event was the first of its kind since the great earthquake in 2011.

A Place for Children to Freely Express their Emotions

October 7th, 2012 – Family and locals watch over the students delivering a performance.

Prior to the disaster, Naoko TAMURA’s class hosted the largest number of piano students in Rikuzentakata City. However, many things were lost to the tsunami: the classroom, Ms. TAMURA’s home, and even four fellow classmates. Locals were struggling to survive in the aftermath, let alone rebuild. However, calls for its rebuilding gathered momentum saw the first steps towards recovery on September 2011, six months after the disaster, with classes being held in the houses of students who escaped the tsunami. Later, ‘container houses’ in temporary housing districts became the temporary location for classes, with Support21 donating pianos to support the class.
Within the community, there were voices of criticism questioning the usage of temporary housing for children’s piano training, rather than focusing on rebuilding livelihoods after the disaster. However, Ms. TAMURA believed the “importance of a place where the children can express themselves freely, especially after the earthquake.” Children suffered from physical and mental difficulties after the earthquake, many displaying the inability to concentrate, lack of intimacy and outbreaks of dermatitis. However, after resuming normal classes in the temporary housing, there was a markedly improved level in the students’ concentration, with some students exceeding Ms. TAMURA’s expectations in progress.

“To our friends not with us, Let our Music reach them”

October 7th, 2012 – Family and locals watch over the students delivering a performance.

Although student recitals were held annually, it looked likely that 2011 would become the first year in which the recital would not be held. However, after witnessing the student’s willingness and dedication to continue their yearly tradition from Ms. TAMURA, AAR and Support21 made a joint effort to hold the event. With a proposed date of autumn, the students’ motivation increased. Since they could not practice at home, students stayed behind after class or practiced using pianos at school.

On October 7, the day of the recital, students and parents worked together to build the stage. The stage was built outdoors, in the hope that the music would reach the classmates who were not with them today. There were contributions from other groups too, with a professional removal company moving the pianos outside free of charge. AAR helped in preparing the audio equipment and the event program. Although light showers fell throughout the morning as predicted by the weather report, there was an outbreak of clear blue sky 30 minutes prior to the start of the event, something that was reflected in the students’ faces. The event, entitled “Reach the heavens, the first step” began at 1 pm, in the temporary housing parking area.

Ms. TAMURA opened proceedings by reading a passage from the book ‘Not Mines, But Flowers’ (text by Fusako YANASE, illustration by Shoumei YOU), a picture book for AAR’s campaign for the abolishment of landmines, and speaking of the meaning of the day’s event. There was also a focus on gratitude, by expressing thanks to the efforts that made the day possible. The event was then introduced by 7 elementary school students, in the form of dialogue:

“Why are we playing outside today?”
“That’s because we want our music to reach those who are watching us from the sky above!”
“So, we have to do our best!”

Professional Trumpet Performance, and a Group Chorus

The children were left wanting more from Yoshio KOBAYASHI, and hoping for another performance in the future. (Playing the piano is Ms. TAMURA)

The event was split into three sections, with the first section being a piano recital performed by 24 students. The 24 students ranged from a four-year-old up to adult age, and were watched by a crowd exceeding 100 people, which included the students’ families. Due to the event being held near a main highway, the students had to compete with noise from trucks carrying debris from the surrounding areas. However, the music more than managed to overcome the sound of machinery, the air alive with the students’ music.

The second section was a performance from professional trumpet player Yoshio KOBAYASHI. The children in attendance watched wide-eyed and listened intently, gradually breaking out into singing and clapping along to the Ghibli medley end song ‘Sanpo’.
The final section saw all student participants take to the stage to perform a song and dance, ending with a performance of NHK’s earthquake charity song Flowers Will Bloom. The crowd, swaying and humming along with the song, were visibly moved by the performance with some breaking in tears. The end of the performance drew a long and rapturous applause from the audience, marked by the release of an assortment of multicolored balloons.

After the end of the recital, the children presented their families with flowers as sign of gratitude for their continuous support until today.

“These are not just for the 4 classmates we have lost, but for everyone here who has lost someone,” explains Ms. TAMURA. Balloons filled with emotions were released to the skies of Rikuzentakata City.

After the event, Ms. TAMURA took to the stage to address the crowd. “We’ve been treated to an amazing, once in a lifetime experience by the students here. We give our deepest thanks from the bottom of our hearts to everyone who has supported us for this event. I believe our new first step into music has surely reached the ears of the many people who are not with today.”

Later, we were to receive a message from Ms. TAMURA. “More than anything, I’m happy for the fact that we can start planning for our future. After the earthquake, we were fighting for our lives every day and could only think about surviving the next day, let alone talk about our dreams. But after this recital, students and parents alike can start to think about next year’s event, and discuss things with a smile on their face. Every time I see those smiles, I feel that holding the event was the right thing to do.”
It’s difficult to truly comprehend how these students felt as they passed by the devastated areas of Rikuzentakata City to attend their lessons. However, the students’ efforts to reach their precious former classmates via music, as well as the community’s teamwork to ensure the event took place really left an imprint in the soul. Even for me, it was a day I will never forget.

This event has been made possible by the cooperation of Sankyo Amusement Plaza (SAP), as well as your warm contributions. 

Mutsumi SAKA, Morioka Office
Has worked in the Morioka Office since June 2011. Joined AAR JAPAN after working for the private sector. In charge of projects focusing on repair and reconstruction of social welfare facilities for persons with disabilities and the elderly. (Born in Iwate Prefecture)