A view of Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, taken by Darrell Miho on Jan. 26.
A view of Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, taken by Darrell Miho on Jan. 26.

The Grateful Crane Ensemble, a non-profit theater company based in Los Angeles, will be going on a goodwill tour to Japan this April to sing songs of hope and inspiration for tsunami survivors in Tohoku, and for local residents in Hiroshima.

Departing from Los Angeles on April 3 and returning on April 14, the tour will feature Grateful Crane members performing at temporary housing communities and shopping centers in the tsunami-affected towns of Minamisanriku, Ishinomaki and Onagawa. In Hiroshima, the group will tour the Hiroshima Peace Park and Museum, with plans of bringing a message of peace through music and song to hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors).

The Tohoku portion of the trip is sponsored by a generous grant from the Northern Japan Earthquake Relief Fund (NJERF) organized by the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California (JCCCNC) in San Francisco. Additional tour supporters include Tomiye Sumner, Frank Kawana, Frank and Betty Hiji, Gary Kawaguchi, Tammie Kanda, and Randy and Mari Tamura.

“We want to extend our thanks and appreciation to the NJERF in San Francisco, and to all of our donors for making this goodwill tour possible,” said Soji Kashiwagi, executive producer of the Grateful Crane Ensemble. “Thanks to their support, we will be carrying on the Issei and Nisei tradition of ‘otagaisama’ — helping one another when help is needed.”

Tour performers include the cast of Grateful Crane’s hit show “The Camp Dance: The Music and the Memories”: Jason Fong, Haruye Ioka, Keiko Kawashima, Darrell Kunitomi and Kurt Kuniyoshi, with special guest Mary Kageyama Nomura, aka the “Songbird of Manzanar.” Musical director Scott Nagatani will accompany the group on keyboards.

This year’s tour was inspired by the strength, dignity and resiliency of the Tohoku people, according to Grateful Crane’s Keiko Kawashima, who went on a volunteer trip to Miyagi Prefecture last June to meet and sing for tsunami survivors.

“I was inspired by their positive attitudes and their inner strength,” said Kawashima. “But having seen their current living conditions and the situation on the ground, I saw with my own eyes the great need that’s still there, and how that need is going to be ongoing for a long time.”

News coverage and photos out of Tohoku have shown that much of the area has been cleaned up, but on the third-year anniversary of the tsunami, over 100,000 people are still living in temporary housing, and will remain there for the next several years.

Meanwhile, nearly three years later, mental health issues have become a factor among some of the people, many of whom are seniors and children.

Darrell Miho of Ai Love Japan has traveled to Japan seven times to help the people of Tohoku. As Grateful Crane’s guide on this trip, Miho was in Tohoku again in late January to arrange for tour performances and to assess the current situation. When asked about the needs in the area, the first thing he mentioned was the lack of safe places for children to play.

“The only space that’s available is in the parking lots of temporary housing communities, where the danger of kids getting hit by moving cars is constant,” said Miho.

In response to this need, Miho, in partnership with Grateful Crane, has embarked on a fundraising campaign to build a playground for the children at a temporary shopping center in Minamisanriku.

Miho and Kashiwagi have both been in touch with Michael Anop, an American based in Tokyo who has started a non-profit called Playground of Hope. Since April 2012, Anop’s volunteer-based organization has installed over 15 playgrounds throughout Tohoku at day care centers, schools and temporary housing communities.

Playground of Hope’s concept, according to Anop, is to build playsets not just for kids, but for the health and well-being of entire communities. “When the kids come out to play, their parents come and get a chance to socialize with other parents,” he said. “Grandparents come and sit on the park benches and tend to the flowers. It’s a safe space for the entire community.”

Kashiwagi hopes to present the playground to the people when Grateful Crane performs there in April. “I’d like to be able to say, ‘This playground is our gift to you, from your friends in America.’”

The fundraising campaign to build the playground began in late January. Currently, over 95 percent of the funds needed have been raised, leaving approximately $1,500 left to reach the fundraising goal.

Tax-deductible donations for the playground can be made payable to Grateful Crane Ensemble and mailed to P.O. Box 1600, Sierra Madre, CA  91025. For more information about the Tohoku tour, go online to www.gratefulcrane.com.

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