Tohoku kids to get Irish cheer

by Mami Maruko

Staff Writer

Irish musicians will bring songs, drawings and messages to encourage and give hope to survivors of the March 11 catastrophe — especially the children — in the Tohoku region from Dec. 6 to 8.

Musician Liam O Maonlai and the chorus group Anuna will visit towns in Tohoku along with Irish Ambassador to Japan John Neary, and hold concerts as well as cultural exchange programs at schools and concert halls. They will visit Soma and Iwaki in Fukushima Prefecture, and the town of Ogawara in Miyagi Prefecture.

The performances “will offer hope and encouragement which will remain in people’s hearts and bring Irish and Japanese people closer together,” Neary said Monday.

He said that although recovery efforts are in progress in Tohoku eight months on from the disaster, “we felt from the outset that the tragedy and loss faced by the people and communities could not be addressed by material assistance alone. There was a strong need for spiritual support, too.

“Music has a special place in Irish culture,” Neary stressed. “It has always been important to Irish people, especially in times of tragedy and loss. It has been a strong bond for communities which have been separated, for example, through emigration. We hope that our Irish traditional music will reach out to people who have suffered so much, in particular children.”

Both Anuna and O Maonlai held charity concerts in Dublin after the March 11 disaster, and proceeds were donated to aid the relief efforts in Tohoku.

In Japan, the musicians will reach out to almost 1,000 elementary and junior high school students during their three-day visit to Tohoku. At one of the destinations, O Maonlai will collaborate with the Japanese rock musician Hiroshi Yamaguchi, and perform in front of about 100 students from schools for disabled children.

At the other two destinations, Anuna and O Maonlai will bring their songs to elementary and junior high school students in the disaster-hit areas, many of whom may have lost one or both their parents in the disaster.

In preparation for the project, Anuna’s leader, Michael McGlynn, asked students at Mount Anville Primary School in Dublin to draw pictures for the Tohoku children under the theme “friendship.” Five more schools in Dublin, Wexford and Mayo followed, and several hundred pictures were drawn and will all be brought to more than five schools in Tohoku.

Students from Mount Anville Primary School also sang the children’s song “Yuki” in Japanese. Video footage of the performance will be shown to Japanese students during the exchange programs following the concerts. The musicians will also sing Japanese songs together with the children at the exchange events.

“Although Ireland and Japan are very far apart, cultural exchanges are not limited by geographical boundaries and music is a universal language that touches us all deeply in our hearts. ‘Songs from Ireland for Tohoku’ is our way of saying we are your friends and we will be with you on this difficult journey,” Neary said.