Yairi using tsunami pine for guitars

Chunichi Shimbun

Yairi Guitar, the famed guitar maker in Kani, Gifu Prefecture, is using pine trees knocked down by the March 11 tsunami to fashion instruments in hopes of engraving the disaster on people’s memory through music.

The guitars will be played in a musical planned for March in Tokyo’s Ginza district performed by some 100 disaster survivors. The performers will sing songs accompanied by the guitars to express gratitude for the reconstruction support both from home and around the globe.

Tokyo composer Tateo Teramoto, 65, who is working on the musical, came up with the idea of making guitars from pine trees when he learned that many planted as a windbreak were swept away and then drifted back to the coast.

“Wooden guitars produce a wonderful sound because they are made from trees that grew by listening to the sounds of the wind and birds. The wood that heard the roar of the tsunami will convey the feelings of the victims and survivors,” Teramoto said.

Teramoto asked Yairi Guitar, with which he has been dealing for 20 years, to make the instruments by using pine trees that drifted ashore on Nobiru Beach in Higashimatsushima, Miyagi Prefecture.

The trees had been planted as a windbreak on the beach but were washed away by the catastrophic tsunami and then were washed ashore together with collapsed houses and other flotsam. He asked a friend in Higashimatsushima to have two of the trees cut into lumber and sent to Yairi Guitar.

The job of hand-making the guitars out of this wood was assigned to Kenji Koike, 65, a craftsman of 46 years who has produced guitars for Keisuke Kuwata and other famous artists.

Pine is often used as a material for guitars, but the wood Koike received had been soaked in seawater and contained excessive moisture.

“It would take more than 10 years to dry them completely,” he said.

Guitars made from wet wood have poor sound quality. “Even so, I want to bring these trees back to life. Many real lives were lost and washed away with these trees,” Koike said.

“The quality of the sound doesn’t really matter. The guitars can last almost forever, and I hope the memory of the disaster will be passed down with them for generations,” he said.

Currently, Yairi Guitar is seasoning the wood and hasn’t figured out yet how many guitars can be produced.

Teramoto planned the musical with Hiroshi Maetani, 51, his former band member who lives in Higashimatsushima. It was he who found the felled pine trees on the beach. Maetani’s house was washed away by the tsunami and he evacuated to Teramoto’s place a month after the disaster.

“I think there are many survivors who want to say thank-you for the support from all over the world,” Teramoto said. The pair decided to produce a musical as a way to convey their appreciation.

Teramoto is working on the story and the music as he listens to the stories of survivors. He has already composed a few songs depicting the town before and after March 11 as well as Miyagi’s local specialties.

To find performers for the show, Maetani launched a project with local volunteers to solicit candidates. As a result, 102 people aged 8 to 82 from Miyagi Prefecture have been selected and have already started rehearsals. They are all nonprofessionals but are receiving instruction from a professional choreographer and Teramoto so they will be ready for the stage come March.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Nov. 16.