Masako Unoura-Tanaka, who survived the tsunami, is interviewed by Austin Augur II (right) with his father, Austin Augur I, serving as interpreter.

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

A week of Los Angeles-area events marking the fifth anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan’s Tohoku region in 2011 concluded on March 11 with “A Night of Remembrance, Education, Culture and Prayer” at the Aratani Theatre in Little Tokyo.

Activities planned for Noguchi Plaza were curtailed because of heavy rain, but the evening program, which included the world premiere of the documentary “Kyō/Today/今日” and a musical tribute, proceeded as scheduled.

JACCC President and CEO Leslie Ito.

Japanese American Cultural and Community Center President and CEO Leslie Ito said that the courage of the survivors reminded her of “the enduring value of gaman … to not only keep going but to flourish and build something that is stronger.”

She added, “As a Yonsei, I believe that this grave event brought the Nikkei community together with our fellow countrymen and women, and it warms my heart that so many Sansei, Yonsei and Gosei have gone back to help lend their hand, their financial resources and help to tell the stories of this region.”

Consul General Harry Horinouchi said he was pleased that TV Japan covered the local commemorations by doing a story on a reunion between members of the Ofunato Fire Department and the L.A. County Fire Department who worked together on search and rescue operations immediately after the disaster.

Masayuki Hirahara (piano) and Nori Ito (flute) gave a musical tribute.

Thanking Southern Californians for supporting relief efforts, he said, “Let’s continue to work together side by side with Tohoku people to build a better tomorrow.”

“Kyō/Today/今日” producer/director Austin Augur II, a historian and actor who is himself part Japanese, began filming in the Tohoku region 18 months ago and was able to show the finished 40-minute documentary to the people there last month. He focused on six individuals of different ages, genders and backgrounds, including a teacher, a fisherman, a university student and a Buddhist priest.

“They don’t want to be forgotten,” Augur said of the survivors. “… I promised them that I would give them the biggest platform possible to share their stories with the world and to get their message out that they will not be washed away, they’re strong, they’re resilient and there’s still hope .. They are really focused on not letting this drag them down …

“They felt so happy inside that people would care about them, who have no connection whatsoever … They finally feel that they can … start to recover, start to regain healing inside for themselves and their community … They said, ‘Please come visit.’”

Augur introduced members of his L.A. production team: Adam Brick, web/media design; Chris De La Cruz, story editor; Ashley Wittmann, senior editor/colorist; Heather Auger, promotions/locations; and Seth von Paulus, sound design/sound mixer/mastering composer.

Rinban Noriaki Ito gave a prayer at the exact time that the tsunami struck. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

Pianist/composer Masayuki Hirahara and flutist/composer Nori Tani performed a musical tribute to the people of Tohoku that included “Hana wa Saku” (Flowers Will Bloom), which has become a theme song for the survivors. The performance was dedicated to the late Kiyoshi Oda, who introduced Hirahara and Tani last year.

The two musicians also did 3/11 benefit concerts on March 12 in Irvine and March 13 in Huntington Beach.

Masako Unoura-Tanaka, founder of the Love to Nippon project, spoke about her 3/11 experience in conversation with Augur, whose father, Austin Augur I, the film’s field producer in Japan, provided English translation (although Unoura-Tanaka speaks fluent English).

Unoura-Tanaka was in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, driving with her aunt when the earthquake struck. At first they thought the car had a flat tire, but then they noticed that the whole road was moving. Believing they had about an hour before the tsunami hit, they continued to their appointment before fleeing the area.

Traffic was backed up, and Unoura-Tanaka was amazed that no one tried to save themselves by driving off the road or abandoning their cars. Her gut feeling told her to go to higher ground, and she and her aunt did just that, joined by a young man they met along the way.

The U.S. production team of “Kyō/Today/今日” includes (from right): Austin Augur II, Adam Brick, Chris De La Cruz, Ashley Wittmann, Heather Auger, and Seth von Paulus.

The trio survived by reaching the roof of an apartment building in the nick of time. They spent the next 28 hours there, hearing explosions and seeing everything from cars to refrigerators float by. For her presentation, Unoura-Tanaka brought a box containing memories of that experience, including a blanket and a sweater.

Rinban Noriaki Ito of Higashi Honganji gave a prayer for the victims at 9:46 p.m., the exact time in California that the earthquake struck Japan in 2011. (On March 10, a commemoration was held on the Santa Monica Beach at 9:46 p.m. to coincide with ceremonies in Tohoku, where it was already Friday afternoon.)

Austin Auger I, who lived in Japan more than 20 years and has visited the Tohoku region many times, said that the documentary has had a positive effect on Otomo Sensei, the Buddhist priest, who lost his father in the disaster and wasn’t ready to move on three years ago. “Seeing the video gave him courage to move on, gave him inspiration to tell his congregation we need to do this together and move forward.”

To see a trailer, visit

Photos by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo (except where noted)

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