Tohoku Earthquake – 5 years later

I had trouble writing this post.  It’s been nearly seven years since I left Miyagi-ken.  I haven’t gone back like I had planned, and now I don’t see my students coming to Southlake because they’ve grown up (also the age range changed).  As evident with the decreased frequency of updates, I’ve become distant with the country that is my second home.

Nevertheless, I can’t forget about how five years ago, I spent all night worrying about my friends when the casual status updates about an earthquake became something much scarier.  It’s hard to not think about the Tohoku earthquake when NPR was all over the 5 year anniversary and all of us Miyagi-ken JETs pay tribute on social media.  I think it’s good to be reminded though, as the people in the region are still struggling.  Thus, I’ve decided to make this post about some examples of aid and recovery.  There’s a lot of individuals out there who continue to dedicate some of their time to Tohoku through raising money or lifting spirits.  Let this be inspiration to all of us.

The one project that led to this post was the 113 Project.  It is a series of short films directed by Wesley Julian, one of my fellow Miyagi JETs who also created Tohoku Tomo.  The 113 Project provides glimpses of rebuilding from youth, local business members, and expats to show the power of collaboration.  To view the films, visit the 113 Project website.
 photo Sake-Urakasumi-TourBrewery-IMG_9130_zpsjbsip6gd.jpg From 113 Project

Visual kei band X Japan has always been active with charity work, having raised money for both the Tohoku earthquake and other disasters.  This year drummer/pianist Yoshiki put up a special drum set for auction.  He donated the proceeds to the Japanese Red Cross.
 photo Ydrum1_zpsgo1iphrf.jpg From Resonance Media

The question of where to send money often crops up with disaster relief.  While I don’t doubt the Red Cross’ valiant efforts, they have received some criticism, at least stateside.   One charity I can recommend 100% is the Taylor Anderson Memorial Fund.  Not only does each project provide updates through emails from Global Giving, but the charity is run by the father of Taylor Anderson (who was another Miyagi JET).

Lastly, I wanted to highlight RADWIMPS’ annual tribute as an example of how art heals.  Listening to music that pays tribute to the survivors never fails to bring back emotions I thought I had forgotten.  Seeing images does the same.  With the returning sadness is a message of hope that the artists put into their work.  Tohoku is recovering, and the human spirit will triumph.  Since 2012, RADWIMPS has released a new tribute song on March 11.  Here is a list along with the video of the most recent:
2012 – “Hakujitsu
2013 – “Buriki
2014 – “Kaiko
2015 – “Aitowa
2016 – “Shuntou”

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Best of 2011 – Music

The K-pop invasion continued in 2011, but it could not topple the AKB48’s dominance. 2010’s artist of the year managed to claim all top 5 slots in the Oricon rankings for best-selling singles.  Despite this, the past year brought in some fresh faces as well as familiar ones who have decided to portray themselves in a different light.  We also bid farewell to two key players in the visual kei scene. On top of all this, we witnessed the power of music and the human spirits as artists from both within Japan and other countries rallied to help the victims of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

Best PV – “Zero” by Bump of Chicken
Through a combination of animation and modern dance, this PV tells an epic love story filled with action and drama. The characters are silhouetted, which helps make a seamless transition between 2-D and 3-D and also allows the story to be universal.

Coolest outfits – “Go Away” 2NE1
While most people shy away from neon, patterns, vinyl, and dyed hair, this Korean quartet embrace it all. They even have custom sneakers designed by Jeremy Scott. 2NE1 are not your ordinary kawaii girl groups, and they are not afraid to look bold.
2011 music recap1

Most bizarre PV – “PONPONPON” by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
This PV is like a decora acid trip. There are toys, technicolor dinosaurs, pink brains, a pink-skinned Kyary’s giant head spitting eyeballs, and a faceless dancing dude in a dress. Conspiracy theorists even claim that it contains Illuminati symbols.

Best album – THE LAST DAYBREAK by exist†trace
Despite containing only five songs, THE LAST DAYBREAK packs a powerful punch. The ladies of exist†trace have always rocked as hard as the guys, but now they show off their creativity with a soulful ballad and a spooky fairy tale-inspired number.

Biggest tearjerker – “Eternal” by Jin Akanishi
This song is more romantic than sad, but that doesn’t make it any less of a tearjerker. Accompanied by a beautiful piano melody, Akanishi’s voice is gentle and sometimes on the verge of cracking as though he really is trying to tell you that he will love you for eternity.

Catchiest song – “Maru Maru Mori Mori!” by Kaoru to Tomoki, Tama ni Mook
When you bring together two of Japan’s cutest child stars to sing a theme to a drama, it’s bound to be a hit. Based on what my fellow ALTs said, this song and dance was everywhere, and they couldn’t get it out of their heads.

Best single – “Hitotsu Dake ~We Are the One~” by Blue Planet Japan
I was really touched to see so many visual kei artists come together for the Tohoku earthquake victims. They were able to create a beautiful harmony from very different vocals, and passionate guitar solos keep this song from being a “We Are the World” copycat.

Outstanding live performance – D’s “Night-ship D” at A-kon 22
D gave its first overseas live audience a taste of the Japanese visual kei concert experience by having everyone wave around flags or their hands during “Night-ship D”. It was a great way of engaging the audience, and it made their performance even more exciting.

Most disappointing news – disbandment of D’espairsRay
This is more sad news than disappointing, but I regret not getting the chance to see them live, especially since they played a role in my music writing career. We can’t fault them for not trying to find a way to continue; sometimes health comes first. All we can do now is send well wishes to Hizumi and support the other members in their future endeavors.

Most noteworthy debut – U
Fans of the Prince of Tennis and Sailor Moon musicals already knew that U, a.k.a. Yuu Shirota, could sing well. What they may not have expected was how sexy his debut triple single would be. U’s sound blends pop and R&B while adding in a bit of Latin spice, and although he does have one cute love song to remind us of his sweet side, it’s safe to say that this former D-BOY has definitely grown up.

MVP – Sugizo (Luna Sea/X Japan)
Many artists have demonstrated their charitable soul in their response to the Tohoku earthquake. For Sugizo, performing in a charity concert with Luna Sea and raising money through a new single was not enough; he decided to directly lend a hand in Ishinomaki. Like the rest of the volunteers, he spent his time there with no electricity or running water. 2011 also saw two new X Japan singles, two new albums, several collaborations, and a book. For his hard work and big heart, Sugizo definitely deserves the MVP award.

Artist of the year – Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
Very rarely does a new artist make such an impact. In 2011, Kyary kicked off her music career, came to America, created a line of false eyelashes, helped organize an earthquake relief charity event, and released an autobiography—all while still actively modeling. Her debut PV was a viral hit, and she showed the world that kawaii can be weird and goofy. Her free spirit, multitasking abilities, and wacky videos resemble that of Lady Gaga, and if her momentum continues to build, she may become just as huge.
2011 music recap2
Kyary’s signature expression

Artists who will be missed in 2012:

  • Keijiro Yamashita – one of the “Rockabilly Sannin Otoko”
  • Kazuno – vocalist Charlotte
  • Isshi – vocalist Kagrra, and Shiki∞Project
  • Taiji – bassist X Japan
  • Kaito – guitarist of Xenon
  • Rei Harakami – electronica artist
  • Joe Yamanaka – vocalist of Flower Travellin Band and solo artist
  • Chidori – bassist of Anima

Japan Aid Update

It has been a while since I’ve updated with earthquake and tsunami relief information.  The news in America has all but ceased coverage, and life in some areas have returned to normal.  However, rebuilding entire towns takes years so this post serves a dual purpose of showing that every little bit does count for something and of keeping you updated on more charity opportunities.

When I made my post about Japanese celebrities helping out, I hadn’t seen the blog posts by Sugizo of Luna Sea and X Japan.  He actually took the time to go down to Ishinomaki to help out.

My friend and tsunami survivor Canon Purdy recently traveled back to Minamisanriku to hand over the money she raised through her SaveMiyagi charity.  She has updated the blog section of the site with pictures of the rebuilding.  She plans on continuing to raise money and is currently helping out in Ishinomaki with Peace Boat.

One of my Tome sempai, Lucy Onodera, notified me about a charity run her sisters were doing in England.  They’re collecting money to buy school supplies and other necessities for orphaned children.

Speaking of Tome, the city’s mayor sent a letter to Southlake’s mayor expressing his gratitude towards the citizens of Southlake who dedicated their time and money to helping out their sister city.  Remember this banner from the Southlake 4 Japan benefit concert?  It’s currently on display in Tome’s city hall.
ssc banner

A couple weeks ago, the steampunk event Anachronism III took place in New York.  The theme was “A Visit to Edo”, and part of proceeds went to various earthquake relief efforts.  If you missed out, you can still donate to the steampunk-helmed charity Rising Phoenix Circle

If you didn’t catch the Cosplay for a Cause link in my Guide to Cosplay, here it is again.  The profits from the calendar sales will go to the Japanese Red Cross Society.

Blogger La Carmina, actor Sebastiano Serafini, and Soho Hearts are selling a necklace to help the Sendai government in rebuilding areas of the Miyagi Prefecture.
pray for japan necklace
Photo from La Carmina

Smile Kids Japan and Living Dreams have teamed up to help children affected by the disaster by providing basic necessities, toys, school supplies, and counseling services. Smile Kids Japan also contains a video with an update on Taylor Anderson’s Memorial Fund.  Kyodo News also reports that her family has donated money for books to all the schools she taught at.

There will be a free benefit concert at Corner Stone Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas tomorrow.  Donations will go to aid Kesennuma Elementary School and Utatsu Junior High.  If you can’t attend but would like to help, please contact me and I will give you information on where to donate.
FW benefit concert
Check out the concert’s webpage for messages from Japanese athletes and the office of George W. Bush.

It’s great to see so much hard work and dedication being put to helping out those in need.  Let’s continue to show Japan our support.

Listening to:[-club REALISTIC-]” by MoNoLith

The loss of two major figures in J-rock

Most of you have heard the news already about the passing of X Japan’s bassist, Taiji, and Kagrra/shiki∞project’s vocalist, Isshi. Taiji was taken off life support after being hospitalized for a suicide attempt on July 17. Isshi was found dead in his home on July 18. My condolences go to their families and bandmates. The world of J-rock is mourning, as we remember the legacy they left behind.

Sugizo of Luna Sea and X Japan says it best in his blog post about Taiji:
“This parting came too fast, and I still haven’t come to terms with it.
But there is one thing I can say,
as my friends keep departing on their journeys for the other side
and now that so many people have lost their lives in the earthquake:
those of us who are still living should feel heartfelt gratitude for our lives.
Those of us who are still living must not waste the lives we have left.”

Isshi and Taiji, we will miss your music. May you be at peace and rock on forever.