Japan group wins U.S. gospel fest

NEW YORK (Kyodo) A group of U.S.-based Japanese singers has won a prestigious gospel competition, the first Japanese to win the event, the group’s representative said Tuesday.

The Harlem Japanese Gospel Choir won the choir division of McDonald’s Gospelfest at the Prudential Center in New Jersey on Saturday, Kimiko Matsuo said.

The event is one of the biggest of its kind in the country. Known for the high quality of entrants, about 40,000 people enter auditions and some of the award winners become professional singers.

The Japanese group passed an audition in January and won the main event with its rendition of the hymn “How Great Is Our God,” according to Matsuo.

Gospel, a type of religious music developed by black Americans, is popular in Japan, where fan clubs have been formed.

The group was established in 1997 by Tommy Tomita, a Japanese native who has been showing tourists around Harlem for more than two decades. About 20 members — including homemakers, office workers and students — gather weekly in Harlem to practice.

“To be honest, I am surprised that we won,” Matsuo said. “We did practice very hard, but being a Japanese group singing gospel is unusual and may have helped.”