Japan: Delivering Smiles to the Disaster-Affected Areas through Impersonation and Folksong Performances

From October 19th to 21st, performer Mr. Nekohachi EDOYA IV along with folksinger Ms. Keiko CHIDA, shakuhachi player Mr. Kota YONEYA, and shamisen player Mr. Shigeharu SUGAWARA held public performances at 9 locations including community centers and social welfare facilities in Iwate Prefecture. In April, Mr. EDOYA visited an evacuation shelter in Oshika Peninsula, Miyagi Prefecture where he delivered smiles to the children there, but how have the disaster-affected areas changed after 6 months since the initial tragedy? Yoshitaka SUGISAWA of the Tokyo Headquarters Office, who accompanied the performers on the 20th, reports on the event.

Animal Impressions and Folk Music Loved by the Audience

October 20th, 2011- Mr. Nekohachi EDOYA performs his animal impersonation at the Toni Regional Community Center.
The first visit we made on October 20th, the second day of the series of performances, was at the Tohni Regional Community Center in Kamaishi City. Approximately 50 people gathered from neighboring houses and temporary housing facilities to see the performance. The venue sits on a coastal hill that overlooks the ocean. On the day of the earthquake, the people were witnessed the tsunami surging forward toward them from this location.

When Mr. EDOYA made his appearance on stage, the audience erupted in applause. The audience was immediately drawn in by Mr. EDOYA’s talk. As soon as he showed off his impression of a Japanese nightingale, a favorite from his repertoire, the audience let out a roar of joy. One impression after another, from mimicking a cricket to a swan, Mr. EDOYA’s performance provoked both laughter and amusement amongst the audience. 

October 20th, 2011- From the left, Mr. Nekohachi EDOYA, Ms. Keiko CHIDA, Mr. Kota YONEYA, and Mr. Shigeharu SUGAWARA at Shiki no Sato in Otsuchi Town, Iwate Prefecture.
The second half began with Ms. Keiko CHIDA joining on stage and performing a folk music piece. As Ms. CHIDA started off with “Sotoyama-bushi,” a traditional folksong from Iwate Prefecture, her voice echoed through the venue. The way in which she took requests from the audience and flawlessly sang each song was spectacular. Furthermore, she performed “Nanbu Ushioi Uta” in collaboration with Mr. EDOYA who imitated a cow, and the curtain came down with a great round of applause.

Mr. EDOYA said, “All I can say to you is ‘Keep it up’, but I hope you can pull out some strength by listening to and laughing at my animal impressions. And the next time you hear the chirping of a real nightingale, I hope that you can think about me and my words to you.”

When we asked the audience for their thoughts, everyone replied with much satisfaction – “Seeing him live was amazing”, “His talks are fantastic. You never get bored. What a performer!”, “I had an amazing time.” Some audiences were even reunited with their friends at the venue, and I deeply felt that such events provide extremely valuable opportunities in bringing together the community.

October 20th, 2011- We met a woman at a temporary housing complex in Toni Town, Kamaishi City, who was using the hand-made tote bag that we had previously distributed. Mr. EDOYA left his autograph on the Sunny-chan doll strap.

Performing at Temporary Housing Complexes, Facilities for Persons with Disabilities, and Facilities for the Elderly

After finishing their first performance, Mr. EDOYA and his company visited a nearby temporary housing complex. In order to cater to those who have limited means of transportation to the local community center, they decided to hold the same performance at the meeting hall of the temporary housing complex. We had traveled to Otsuchi Town about 10km away by afternoon, and they did another series of performances at Shiki no Sato, a facility for persons with disabilities, and a local archery dojo that had been used as an evacuation site until August. When Mr. EDOYA visited Oshika Peninsula in April, the performances were mostly held at evacuation centers. However, after more than 6 months since the disaster, the evacuees had left most of the evacuation centers, and so the performances were held at the temporary housing complexes. I felt that a big step towards recovery has been made.

October 20th, 2011- A snapshot of Otsuchi Town devastated by the tsunami. Most of the debris has been cleaned up and the bare foundation of the building is visible.
In between the performances, Mr. EDOYA and his company made a stop at an abandoned pachinko parlor in Otsuchi Town. Currently, this location is used as a storage site for photo albums that were picked up and gathered in Otsuchi Town where the tsunami was particularly severe. Mr. EDOYA quietly watched the townspeople as they browsed through the mountain of photos, carefully checking one album after another, in search of their photos or of their friends.

After finishing the last performance of the day, Mr. EDOYA said, “The smiles of those people, how nice they were. People always feel better when they’re surrounded by other folks.” Mr. EDOYA successfully delivered smiles to approximately 560 people across his 3-day performances.

October 20th, 2011- The stacks of photo albums wait for their owners at the old pachinko parlor in Otsuchi Town. Mr. Nekohachi EDOYA quietly gazes from a distance.

October 20th, 2011- Mr. Nekohachi EDOYA is able to pull smiles out of anyone with his performances and talks.
October 20th, 2011- With support from Key Coffee, coffee was distributed as gifts to the entire audience at a facility for elderly in Rikuzen-takata City.
October 20th, 2011- Audiences send off Mr. Nekohachi EDOYA (right) at a temporary housing complex in Kamaishi City where their last performance was held.

Yoshitaka SUGISAWA (Tokyo Office)
Has been working at AAR JAPAN since May 2010, in charge of domestic activities.
Worked in a private company after graduation from university before joining AAR JAPAN.
Engaged in emergency assistance for flooding in Pakistan in 2010.
(Born in Ibaraki Prefecture)