If you turn on any of the television news channels in the States, the majority of news you are likely to see contains a message of gloom and doom. The 6 o’clock nightly news might have a pleasantly upbeat story to cap their hour-long review of the day, but my skepticism keeps me from viewing these reports as anything more than rating-boosters. In an attempt to grant the community building efforts in northeastern Japan the legitimacy their tremendous efforts deserve, I am going to take a time-out from my own gloom-and-doom blog posts to share some heartwarming stories of perseverance.
Those who have visited Japan for any length of time likely know that festivals relating to Shinto beliefs, national history, or the change of seasons are common throughout Japan’s many prefectures. The Kozuchi Shinto shrine of the coastal town, Otsuchi, held one such festival annually. However, last year’s tsunami waters destroyed, washed away, or damaged many of the shrine buildings that housed festival equipment. Despite the lack of floats, masks, costumes, and drums, townspeople decided to celebrate the annual shrine festival last September, as they have for years. Community members, ranging from the youngest children to the elderly, gathered to enjoy the celebration and look forward to an even larger festival in 2012.
Performing arts groups in Ofunato town faced a situation similar to Otsuchi; six of the town’s thirty local groups lost all their equipment in the tsunami. Even so, they joined together to hold a folk festival at the town’s cultural center on November 6th of last year. It took seven groups’ cooperation to form a single team that performed the “Tiger Gate Dance.” A representative of one of the seven groups commented, “We want to convey vigor to the people in our area who have suffered even a little from the disasters.”
Disaster has often acted as inspiration to artists. Japanese singer, Kumiko, drew inspiration in her own way from the courage of March 11th survivors. On the day of the earthquake and tsunami last year, Kumiko was scheduled to perform at the Ishinomaki City Hall in Miyagi Prefecture. Along with several others, she fled to higher ground when the quake hit. In an interview with NHK, Kumiko spoke of how she actually lost the will to sing and perform in the wake of everyone’s losses. It was only the reopening of a music store in Ishinomaki that restored her musical inspiration in the form of thirty repaired pianos. After seeing volunteers from across Japan and overseas helping restore the shop’s pianos, Kumiko drew a parallel between the pianos and herself. This February, Kumiko invited residents of Ishinomaki to sing with her at a special benefit concert—over 200 community members attended.
In addition to Kumiko, Ishinomaki had a visit from Cindi Lauper in March. Lauper performed for schoolchildren at an elementary school and presented them with ten cherry blossom trees, which she wished would stand as a symbol of hope for their future growth.
With the tsunami’s one-year mark passed and so much recovery work left to be done, it’s inspiring to know that communities are turning to time-honored festivals and the arts as a way to persevere. If any readers know of other ways in which the arts have played a role in a community’s recovery from a certain event, please write a comment about it. I think it’s easy, sometimes, to forget the power that artistic expression lends to one’s emotional recovery, and I would love to hear more about it. How successful the arts will be in bringing people back to affected Tohoku communities is unclear, but surely events like Otsuchi’s shrine festival and Ishinomaki’s musical performances help those living in the region to know they are not alone.
For ways to help cultural groups in tsunami-affected areas, please visit: http://www.nippon-foundation.or.jp/eng.