2023 JAPAN / Los Angeles-based Grateful Crane Ensemble brings joy, laughter and friendship to Tohoku region of northeast Japan, Oct. 10-18, 2023

On Oct. 12, 2023, the Grateful Crane Ensemble performed “Usagi to Kame” story and song at Yotsuba Nursery School, Minamisōma-shi, Fukushima-ken.

By Mike Okamura, Board of Director, Grateful Crane Ensemble

The morning trip by Shinkansen Bullet Train from Tokyo Station to Fukushima Station on October 11 was exciting, but the anticipation of what awaited us was palpable as we didn’t know what to expect since the last Tohoku Goodwill Tour was in 2018.

With the heightened and deadly unknowns in the earliest months of the Covid-19 pandemic the planned fall 2020 goodwill tour was obviously cancelled.

Five years later, the Grateful Crane Ensemble, based in Los Angeles, brought joy, laughter and friendship to the people of the Tohoku region of northeast Japan on its 2023 Tohoku Goodwill Tour during Oct. 10-18.

The nonprofit theater company toured small cities in Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures singing their favorite Japanese and English songs of hope and inspiration to people profoundly affected by the triple disasters on 3/11/11.

“On behalf of our Nikkei community in America, our message to the Tohoku people has been this: “You have friends in America, and we have not forgotten you,” said Soji Kashiwagi, Executive Director of Grateful Crane, and group leader of its Tohoku tours in 2014, 2016 and 2018.

Twelve years after the Great East Japan Earthquake the Grateful Crane didn’t forget and once again pulled out all the stops with performances that were held at a public housing complex in Nihonmatsu, a nursery school and four public housing communities in Minamisoma both in Fukushima Prefecture, a nursing home and an outdoor shopping center in Minamisanriku in Miyagi Prefecture, Kyassen Ofunato commercial complex and a junior high school in Ofunato in Iwate Prefecture and Anetai District Center and a care facility for people with special needs both in Oshu also in Iwate Prefecture, and Minna no Yume no Hiroba in Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture.

The beauty of Japan was ever present but also disaster-impacted areas have been transformed and reimagined into new commercial and public gathering spaces with ongoing development to create new and sustainable development goals (SDG) communities to spark revitalization so former evacuees could return and also attract a new generation of young people.

On Oct. 12, 2023, the Grateful Crane Ensemble performed “Kōhaku Uta Gassen” at Minamimachi Public Housing, Minamisōma,-shi, Fukushima-ken.

Attendees enjoyed Grateful Crane’s renditions of songs such as “Hana wa Saku”, “Furusato” along with an entertaining medley of “Asadora” (morning drama television series) theme songs and a humorous spoof of “Kohaku Uta Gassen, the popular New Year’s singing contest on public broadcasting station NHK (with the audience enthusiastically voting for the white or red team).

The eight Grateful Crane performers energetically and movingly also sang “Sukiyaki”, a Misora Hibari tribute, and SMAP’s “Sekai ni Hitotsu Dake no Hana” to name just a few.  Tears were even shed by the singers and the audience.  American pop tunes from the 1960s and ‘70s were “Imagine”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Top of the World”, “Close to You”, “My Way”, and “Tennessee Waltz.”  Popular with the audience was the choreographed number “Grace” by Fujii Kaze.

In Japan, Grateful Crane received valuable ground support from the Association for Aid and Relief Japan (AAR Japan), an international non-governmental organization that provides direct assistance to people who are socially vulnerable or trapped by conflict, disaster or disability.  AAR Japan’s Tohoku staff coordinated performances in temporary housing and public housing facilities in Fukushima Prefecture in 2016 and 2018 and Fukushima Prefecture and Oshu in Iwate Prefecture in 2023.

2023 Tohoku Goodwill Tour was financially supported by donations from the Japanese American community throughout California and major support from Gary Kawaguchi/Upper Crust Enterprises, the Henri & Tomoye Takahashi Foundation, Sadako Kashiwagi, and Lorna Fong.  For information about Grateful Crane Ensemble please visit https://www.gratefulcrane.com/