Japan: Delivering Flowers and Music to Persons with Disabilities and Their Families

The Colors and Aromas of a Rainbow of Flowers, to Welcome Mother’s Day

As part of the ongoing recovery activities in the earthquake-hit Tohoku region, Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR Japan) is carrying out a campaign called ‘Delivering Flowers and Magokoro (literally meaning “true heart”) to the Disaster-Affected Areas’. Supporters from all over Japan have welcomed the idea to deliver flowers to the desolate disaster areas from which the tsunami has taken everything. On May 13th, 2012, we visited the social welfare facility ‘Oguni no Sato’ in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture.  ‘Oguni no Sato’ is a temporary housing complex for persons with disabilities (PWDs) and their families who have been hit by the disaster. We delivered flower seedlings along with messages of support from all over Japan to the 50 families living there.
May 13th, 2012 - The flowers delivered to the disaster area were purchased at ‘Flower Shop Hanayu’. After the original building was destroyed by the tsunami, this florist shop is now part of a temporary shopping village in Onagawa Town. The store’s owners are husband and wife Mr. Yukio SUZUKI and Mrs. Michiko SUZUKI, shown here with local children. Right: AAR Japan staff Miyo ITO (Onagawa Town, Oshika County, Miyagi Prefecture)

The flower pots delivered were gerbera and miniature roses. The supplier of the plants was ‘Flower Shop Hanayu’, a florist shop at a temporary shopping village in Onagawa Town. A medley of flowers greeted us upon arrival, together with the fresh scent of the miniature roses. Mr. Yukio SUZUKI and his wife Michiko put their hearts into wrapping each flowerpot.
Before the earthquake, Flower Shop Hanayu was located on the coast, but it was wiped out by the tsunami. The family ran for their lives towards higher ground, and later on found shelter at an evacuation center. In July 2011, they reopened their shop in a temporary shopping village supported by AAR Japan. “The store’s sales are half of what they were before the earthquake, but I’m just thankful I was able to reopen the store…. I feel close to tears” says Mr. SUZUKI whilst reading each campaign message of support collected from all over Japan.

A Mini-Concert By Kobe Musician

As soon as we arrived at ‘Oguni no Sato’, the residents of the facility guided us to the hall being used as the community meeting room. Many persons with intellectual, mental and/or physical disabilities, together with their families, live in this temporary housing complex. For the day of our visit, we had arranged a mini-concert to be held at the meeting room, with the flowers to be presented after the concert.

For the concert, singer-songwriter Junji SUGITA from Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture, kindly came to perform. Mr. SUGITA had previously volunteered his services, holding concerts in disaster-hit areas in 1995, after the Great Hanshin Earthquake. Other than composing his own songs, Mr. SUGITA has also written a song for AAR Japan’s picture book ‘Not Mines, But Flowers’, which calls for the abolition of land mines. The song is titled ‘Even Without Wings’ (‘Tsubasa Ga Nakutemo’), and the proceeds from the CD are being generously donated to AAR Japan.
The song ‘Even Without Wings’, which talks about wanting to deliver flowers to people in a distant land, seemed perfect for our campaign of delivering flowers to those suffering in the Tohoku region. Thus, thanks to the efforts of Ms. Mari WASHIDA (a director of AAR Japan), we were able to invite Mr. SUGITA and have him sing for us as we delivered flowers to the disaster area.

May 13th, 2012 - Flowers and messages delivered to the residents after the mini-concert (Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture)

“Even without Wings, I have come to meet you”

At the community meeting room of ‘Oguni no Sato’, Mr. SUGITA sang and played the guitar, starting with Louis ARMSTRONG’s ‘What a Wonderful World’, followed by timeless Japanese classics such as ‘The Misty Moon of Spring’ (‘Oborozukiyo’) and ‘My Country Home’ (‘Furusato’), along with his original songs. Lastly, the musical score for ‘Even Without Wings’ was passed around the audience, and everyone enjoyed singing the song together.
It was the first time these residents enjoyed a live musical performance in their temporary accommodation. When Mr. SUGITA started to sing, they quickly picked up the rhythm with their bodies and merrily hummed along from start to finish. There is a simple melody to ‘Even Without Wings’, and so the lyrics “Even without wings, I have come to meet you, to bring you a flower” were joyously sung by everyone – to the point where Mr. SUGITA had to play an encore, after the audience expressed their excitement by saying ‘that was great’ and ‘we want to hear more!’ at the end of the song. Mr. SUGITA also seemed to enjoy himself, saying “Despite not having my audio equipment, you have listened intently to just my voice and guitar – I can feel your emotions. When I saw your smiling faces singing along to the songs you first heard here today, I realized how glad I am to have come here”.

May 13th, 2012 - Mr. Junji SUGITA (centre, back), who had kindly come all the way from Kobe, had the residents join him in a hearty rendition of ‘Even Without Wings’ (Ishinomaki city, Miyagi prefecture)

Conveying Open-Hearted Support through Flowers, Messages and Music

After the mini-concert, we delivered the flowers, along with messages of support received from all over the country. One of the residents, Ms. Rumiko ABE, received a yellow gerbera along with the message ‘Stay smiling, be well’, sent from a woman in Shiga Prefecture in the western part of Japan. In reply, Ms. ABE said “Thank you for sending this message all the way from Shiga. I will carry on with a smile”. Ms. ABE had to move several times between different evacuation centers with her daughter, who is bedridden with severe disabilities. At one point, they lived in a car for one month. In July 2011, she finally managed to move into the “Oguni no Sato” temporary housing complex.

May 13th, 2012 - “Thanks to the performance of Mr. SUGITA (left), I feel encouraged. The flowers and message have also made me happy” says Ms. Rumiko ABE. (Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture)

At the meeting room, some of the residents spent time talking and listening to each other’s dreadful experiences in the aftermath of the earthquake, offering encouragement to one another. Maybe it is because they all have children with disabilities, that they can share each other’s hardships. Through the flowers, the messages and the music, AAR Japan conveyed the open-hearted support from people all across Japan to the residents of “Oguni no Sato”.

May 13th, 2012 - Ms. Toyoko TSUKADA was carried away by the tsunami, but managed to save herself by climbing onto the roof of a house. She now lives together with her son, who has a disability. “When I was hit by the tsunami, I thought it was over, but then my son’s image flashed into my mind, and I realized, I had to stay alive. I have survived, so I should cherish this life.” She received a message from a man in Aichi Prefecture saying “Don’t let yourself down, keep your head high. There is no need for anything more than this”. To which she replied, “You have given me courage. Thank you very much!” (Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture)

May 13th, 2012 - Ms. Yuko ABE (left) receives a pot of mini roses with a message from a woman in Gumma Prefecture saying “I hope the flowers give you energy and cheer you up”. To which she replied “I love flowers, so I’m really happy. My daughter and I will make them grow. One can separate the roots of roses, so I want to try and multiply them”. At the time of the tsunami, Ms. ABE ran desperately to escape; had she waited only a few minutes longer, it would have been too late. For several days she was unable to contact her daughter Misaki (right), a child with severe intellectual disabilities. (Ishinomaki City Miyagi Prefecture)

Tokyo Headquarters Office: Miyo ITO
Public Relations