On Monday, Oct. 9, the Los Angeles-based Grateful Crane Ensemble will embark on its fourth Goodwill Tour to Tohoku to sing songs of hope and inspiration for tsunami survivors 12 years after the triple disaster struck northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011.
“After our tours in 2014, 2016 and 2018, we were all set to go again in 2020, but that tour was canceled due to the pandemic,” said Soji Kashiwagi, executive director of Grateful Crane, a nonprofit theatre company founded in 2001. “This year, with Japan reopening, we’re looking forward to reconnecting with people we’ve met over the years, and making new friends as well.”
One new group of friends will be in Mizusawa, the Oshu hometown of Shohei Ohtani, where Grateful Crane will perform on Tuesday, Oct. 17, at a community gymnasium attended by Ohtani as a youth.
“We’ll also receive a tour of Ohtani landmarks, including his childhood home, and we’ll get to shake hands with an Ohtani statue which stands outside of City Hall,” said Kashiwagi.
Along with the Mizusawa show, this year’s tour will include 12 more performances over eight days starting on Oct. 11 and ending on Oct. 18. Shows will be performed in Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate, the three Tohoku prefectures hardest hit by the triple disaster.
Local audience members will include seniors living in public housing and children at a nursery school in Fukushima; seniors living in a nursing home in Minamisanriku; an entire student body of middle school students in Ofunato; people with disabilities in Mizusawa; and young adults with special needs in Ishinomaki.
The tour will also include three outdoor concerts that are free and open to the general public. The first two will be held on a Sunday at the Sun Sun Shopping Center in Minamisanriku, followed by another concert the next day at a shopping center in Ofunato.
The group will sing a variety of Japanese and American songs, including “Hana wa Saku,” “Furusato,” “Sekai ni Hitotsu Dake no Hana,” “Ue o Muite Aru Kou,” “Kawa no Nagare no Youni,” “Close to You” by The Carpenters, and John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
Tour performers include musical director Lisa Joe on keyboards and longtime Grateful Crane members Jason Fong, Haruye Ioka, Keiko Kawashima, Merv Maruyama, Helen H. Ota, and Miko Shudo. Michael Palma will be the tour photographer, and Mika Aoki will serve as tour interpreter/guide. Yoshi Irie will be the sound technician. Volunteer crew members include GC board members Mike Okamura and Nancy Takayama, along with Kashiwagi and Ping Wu.
“After 12 years, our message to the Tohoku people is they have friends in America, and we have not forgotten them,” said Kashiwagi. “But more than our songs, the people deeply appreciate the fact that we’ve come all the way from America to perform and to be there to support them. And for that, we can’t thank our JA community here at home enough for all of their support that has made our tour possible.”
Along with dozens of donations from Japanese Americans, major funding for this year’s tour has come from Gary Kawaguchi of Upper Crust Enterprises, the Henri and Tomoye Charitable Foundation, Lorna Fong and Sadako Kashiwagi.
“Through the power of music, we convey the well wishes and support from our community to the people of Tohoku with every song we sing, with every hand we shake,” said Kashiwagi. “We want them to know that they are not alone.”
Tax-deductible donations in support of Grateful Crane and its 2023 Goodwill Tour can be sent to Grateful Crane Ensemble, P.O. Box 1600, Sierra Madre, CA 91025.