Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley (24)

Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours 15: Poland – Part 1
Performing in Poland immediately after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster

Happy New Year! This is the beginning of the year of the rooster.
Japan is an earthquake-prone country. In 2016, an earthquake in Kumamoto caused severe damage. Recovery from that has not gone smoothly. And almost six years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster. Sorrow arrives suddenly. We tend to forget past natural disasters. No! Japanese never forget.
Japan is a country of disasters. Every year, earthquakes, typhoons, floods, and volcanic eruptions occur somewhere in the country, causing serious damage.
However, the earthquake and tsunami disaster in the Tohoku area in 2011 was a natural disaster that far exceeded people’s imagination.
On the 13th, two days after the disasters, while everyone in Japan was still confused and worried about the consequences of the East Japan disasters, I flew to Poland to participate in a memorial event celebrating the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth. My performance had been planned a year earlier by the Japanese Embassy in Poland.
Much time has passed since then, but I would like to write briefly here about the performances and other experiences that I had on that trip.
On the appointed day, our group went to Narita Airport with mixed feelings. I assumed that our flight might be cancelled because the same flight on the previous day had been, but our Finnair flight took off on time. I worried both about Japan and about my family whom I’d left behind in Japan.
However, the tickets had sold out at both locations for our concerts in Poland, and, as a Japanese and as a performer, I could not cancel those events… Thinking about that, we eight Japanese left Japan and arrived in Warsaw.
I had expected that it would be very cold there, and was relieved to find that it was not as cold as I had imagined.
On the following day, we met with the local staff at the venue to discuss the stage lighting, sound, and props. After lunch, when we were about to get ready for our rehearsal, an envoy came from the Japanese Embassy with a grave expression on her face, bringing the news that we were being ordered to cancel the performance. She told us that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had issued a notification to Japanese Embassies worldwide that all cultural events were cancelled indefinitely. The eight of us were shocked and discouraged. We had come so far. Why…?
With sadness in our hearts, I decided that our group should do some sightseeing in Chopin’s city on the 15th, the day that would have been our performance day.
Warsaw was totally destroyed by the Germans during World War II. That was the same condition as the cities on the coast of Japan that had been destroyed a few days earlier by the great tsunami.
Since the end of World War II, Warsaw has been rebuilt, little by little, with great effort by its citizens, based on drawings, photographs, and the memories of people who had escaped the destruction. The city was restored exactly as it had been, down to the cracks in the bricks. Restoration work continues even now.
I was moved by the Polish people’s strong spirit, passion, and patriotism, and wished for reconstruction of the disaster-stricken Tohoku region.
Although we had been forced to cancel the performance in Warsaw, we were suddenly informed that the decision had been made to hold the performance in Krakow as originally planned. We were delighted, and went there by train the next morning.
Krakow is about 300 km. south of Warsaw. It was the capital of Poland until the early 17th century. Krakow was saved from destruction in World War II, and it is now the oldest city in Poland. Krakow had accepted many Jewish refugees starting in the 14th c. For hundreds of years, Jews lived freely in Krakow, where laws gave them social autonomy.
Immediately after we had checked in to our hotel, we were driven to the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum in the former German concentration camp. It was the place in Poland that I most wanted to see. In this essay, I will not touch on my impressions when I saw the traces of the place of the holocaust.
In Krakow, every day, reports on the disasters in Japan appeared in the media. In addition, our visit was covered by both newspapers and television, and I was interviewed. As a result, the performance venue was flooded with visitors, and the seats were sold out.
The venue was the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology. The museum’s collection of more than 7,000 Japanese art works includes many ukiyo-e woodblock prints by Hokusai. Feliks “Manggha” Jasieński’s donation of his huge collection of Japanese art was the impetus for the establishment of the Museum. When Jasieński published a series of miscellaneous short essays (“sketches”), he took his pen name, Manggha, from Hokusai’s sketchbook with that title.
In connection with the Krakow performance, we had unexpected, emotional experiences that I will never forget. Those experiences were, of course, related to the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. I’ll write about them in the next essay in this series.

(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, February-March 2017, issue #90)

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