Japan's musicians show their hearts

Gackt, Radwimps, AKB48 among stars giving back to fans racked by disaster

by Mark Jarnes

A mid a flurry of cancellations of festivals and other concerts around the nation since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami disaster, there has been a growing number of domestic artists, labels and event organizers — both big and small — who are making use of their music to do what they can to aid a country in crisis.

Jack Johnson and Slash have each decided to abandon their Japan tours, and the Go!Fes and A-Fes, two music festivals scheduled for this month, have scrapped their annual efforts altogether. However, many in the domestic music scene have held out their hands — and voices — to the populace within days of the disasters that wrought havoc in the Tohoku and Kanto regions of Japan.

At the fore of the relief effort is J-rocker Gackt, who is spearheading the Show Your Heart drive, a league of musicians and other Japanese celebrities who have assembled en masse to express the need for donations to be sent to the most badly affected areas. Among the ranks are familiar folk-music veteran Shigeru Izumiya, pop singer-songwriter Maki Oguro and Luna Sea’s Shinya Yamada. “We, as Japanese, need to help one another at this time,” states Gackt on the campaign’s rapidly constructed website, which includes donation instructions. “We need your strength.”

Also on the J-rock front, T.M.Revolution (aka Takanori Nishikawa) is garnering support in his move to organize a charity event that will take place at Zepp Tokyo on March 30. The proceedings will include a concert — one he was already scheduled to perform at the venue before the tragedy occurred — and an auction, with all profits from both going directly to aid the affected areas. Although details are yet to be finalized, he has already gained the support of other prominent members of the Japanese rock scene.

The band Radwimps — who recently scored a No. 1 hit with “Dada” — have also corralled a number of artists together to convey their message of hope and charity as part of a new project called -Itoshiki-. Supporters of the cause are Acidman’s vocalist Nobuo Ooki, charismatic rocker Tortoise Matsumoto and Tomoyuki Tanaka of Fantastic Plastic Machine.

Another group of concerned artists have set up a website called Hope for Tomorrow (, where fans can click on video links to words of comfort, and even songs, recorded by Unicorn, the telephones and Mo’some Tonebender.

In the same spirit of humanity, a host of other local musicians have stepped forward to do what they can to make a difference. Long-running J-pop duo Dreams Come True have contributed ¥10 million to Civic Force, an emergency response NPO, whereas AKS — the management company behind AKB48 — has pledged a whopping ¥500 million. Other artists opening their wallets include Glay (¥20 million), Ryu Shi Won (¥14 million) and Ayumi Hamasaki (¥1 million). K-pop sensations Kara announced they would donate all the proceeds from their new single “Jet Coaster Love,” and violinist Taro Hakase held a free concert at the Mitsukoshi department store in Piccadilly Circus, London, on March 14, where he collected donations to be directed toward the Japan Tsunami Appeal of the British Red Cross.

Seasoned rocker Yuya Uchida — a famous singer since the 1960s, when he was friends with John Lennon, and also an award-winning actor (“Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence”) — will be holding a concert in Hachiko Square, outside Shibuya Station in Tokyo, on March 19 in the name of “love and action!” According to his website, event staff will collect donations with the conviction that “action is better than words.”

Takamasa Ishihara, or Miyavi to his fans, has announced that he will pledge a portion of his upcoming European tour’s profits toward the relief effort. “We will take action wholeheartedly, in hopes to be of assistance to the victims of this terrible disaster,” he writes on his website. “We will be setting up a donation box at every venue.” In similar fashion, the multitalented Shugo Tokumaru released his new single, “Open a Bottle,” for download on March 15, and all revenue will be given to the Japanese Red Cross Society (JRCS).

On another note, Yoshiki Hayashi of X Japan has offered up his famed crystal piano to the highest bidder, and will donate the proceeds along with funds he intends to collect through his Yoshiki Foundation America. The living legend, who prefers to go by his first name, Yoshiki, and currently resides in Los Angeles, was in Japan at the time of the quake and, feeling that he “must do something,” has decided to lengthen his current stay in the country.

Yokohama-based online music store HearJapan has also decided to act and will be donating 50 percent of all sales through March 21 to Japan Platform, another emergency assistance team active in the Tohoku region. In Tokyo, Harajuku-based record label and store Big Love, which has released music from overseas artists such as The xx and Ariel Pink, has made a charity key ring, “and Nite Jewel, Cole from The Samps, Butchy (Fuego, Nite Jewel’s drummer, who also performs with Boredoms offshoot Boadrums) will be doing a charity CD-R,” says Big Love’s spokesperson Haruka Hirata enthusiastically. “We’ll be donating everything.”

As a result of the series of temblors, there has been an inevitable rash of events being called off. Club Unit in Tokyo’s Daikanyama district, where Best Coast and The Morning Benders had been due to perform on March 15, has seen a string of events scrubbed off the schedule board, as have many other nightclubs in Tokyo. “We have to consider audience safety,” explains Unit floor manager Atsushi Hara. “Also, in times like this, we wonder if it’s right for us to be thinking about entertainment at all.”

On the other end of the range of responses among nightclubs, Metro in Kyoto has modified its regular Dance 45 event and other nights at the club to become fundraisers for the JRCS. Metro placed donation boxes at various locations within the venue. “At the request of many artists who play for us, we have decided on doing what we can to help,” says Ryohei Tanaka, the booking manager at the club. “We need to look out for each other in times like these.”

Not only club nights but whole festivals have had to pack it in. Nevertheless, there are some summer events that have offered their assistance to the relief effort. Freaks Music Festival and the Tonofon Festival in May and June respectively have each announced their intent of good will. Freaks Music Festival will donate 5 percent of its early-bird ticket sales to the JRCS, whereas the Tonofon fest will organize a JRCS drive at the event itself. What’s more, nationally renowned Nagano festival Taicoclub, which also takes place in June, has announced that for every advance ticket it sells until the end of the month, ¥1,000 will be donated to the JRCS. “We thought about what we could do to help,” shares Akira Okada of the Taicoclub management team. “Considering the fragile situation, we concluded that money would be the best way to show our support.”

Cash, however, isn’t the only way famous Japanese acts have been able to help. Artists whose Twitter accounts have large numbers of “followers” have practically become emergency bulletin boards. Ayumi Hamasaki and Ryo the Skywalker, with hundreds of thousands of followers each, have been retweeting everything from donation appeals to volunteer recruitment, as well as truly heartbreaking reports of missing family members, in the hopes that someone amid the masses will recognize their names and descriptions.

“What can I do to help?” seems to be a question in the minds of countless music fans in Japan and around the world. As Gackt so simply puts it, no matter what your tastes may be, there is certainly a way to “show your heart.”